MVPs and LVPs, Cy Youngs and Yuks
From Pujols and Mauer to Lidge and Carmona, the 2009 season had its highs and lows
Our calendar says it's (uh-oh) October. So it must be time once again to hand out another set of end-of-season awards. Since Teri Hatcher and Cameron Diaz were unavailable to come to our little gala, guess we'll have to do these honors ourselves. Well, here goes
Most Valuable Players
NL: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals
What do you say we just give this man the Most Valuable Pujols award every darned year and open the regular old MVP competition to the rest of the human race? Might as well. Pujols has been in the big leagues for nine years. When the voting smoke clears next month, he'll have finished in the top four in eight of those nine MVP elections. That's more top-four finishes than Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, by the way -- and exactly as many as Willie Mays. And this guy hasn't even turned 30 yet. Do we even need to make the case for him this year? He's going to lead the league in homers, runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, total bases, extra-base hits, runs created and possibly walks. Looks as if he'll finish no worse than third in batting, RBIs and doubles. And he'll do all this even though he's been intentionally walked more times (44) than any player in history who wasn't named Barry Bonds or Willie McCovey. It's easy to forget now how Sir Albert lugged his team into first place before Matt Holliday showed up to shore up the surrounding offensive cast. But let's refresh your memory. In the pre-Holliday portion of the Cardinals' 2009 festivities, they were 20-35 when Albert didn't drive in a run -- and 32-12 when he did. In other words, when he didn't knock in a run, they had a worse record than the Pirates. And when he did, they were better than the '98 Yankees. So, uh, any more questions?
AL: Joe Mauer, Twins
When you watch the Twins, do you ever feel as if you're watching The Legend of Joe Mauer erupt before our eyes? Well, you should, because this man can't be a real person, can he? Before Mauer came along to do his Ted Williams impersonation, two catchers in the history of the universe had ever won a batting title -- neither of them in the past six decades, incidentally. By next week, Mauer will have won three of them -- which would be more than all 2 billion previous catchers combined -- by age 26. But this year, he decided to branch out and start doing stuff that almost nobody at any position has done in his lifetime. Unless he goes 0-for-the rest of the year, he's going to become the first American Leaguer since George Brett (1980) to lead the league in batting (.366), on-base percentage (.442) and slugging (.591) in the same season. And he's tossed in 28 homers in his spare time -- which happens to be almost as many as Pudge Rodriguez, Matt Wieters and Russell Martin have hit put together (29). But if you've digested all that and still think the MVP of this league is somebody else, jot this down: If Mauer finishes the year with numbers this high in all these categories, he'd be the first AL hitter to do that since Ted Williams. And before Ted, only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Earl Averill were in that club. Any time you're hanging out with a group like that, while playing a position like catcher on a team that had no business being in contention till the last weekend of the season, there's a term for that: M-V-P.
Least Valuable Players
NL: Milton Bradley, Cubs
Is "disaster" too strong a word to describe the calamitous marriage of Bradley and a team that had won more games than any club in the National League in the two years before he showed up? All right, how 'bout "catastrophe"? Or "fiasco"? Whatever, the ever-combustible Bradley had himself about as cataclysmic a Cubs mini-career as anyone since, well, who? George Bell? Mel Rojas? Benito Santiago? Bradley waged regrettable wars with his favorite umpires, bleacher creatures and media pals. He yanked himself out of games, lost track of the outs and -- maybe most amazing of all -- didn't do the one thing he'd done all his life: hit. He made it to home plate 553 times -- and still thumped fewer homers (12) than Kurt Suzuki, hit fewer doubles (17) than Everth Cabrera, drove in fewer runs (40) than Mike Fontenot and slugged under .400 (.397) for the first time since he was an Expo (2000 and 2001). We'll never know what might have been if Bradley had just hit .318 in April instead of .118. But it's too late now. The saddest part of this story is that this man doesn't just need a new team. He needs help.
AL: Alex Rios, Blue Jays-White Sox
Chicago White Sox
The qualifications to win one of these LVP awards has never been real tightly defined. But in Rios' case, it almost seemed as if the Blue Jays were slapping his LVP credentials on a giant billboard this summer when they essentially announced: "We'd rather give this guy away for zilch than have to pay him his actual salary." And so, faced with the prospect of being able to save $59.6 million on their car insurance, they told the White Sox: "You want him enough to claim him? He's all yours." And off Alex Rios went to the South Side, where he's made his baffling underachievement in Toronto look almost like stardom. For his 137-at-bat White Sox career, he's now hitting .175, with a .208 on-base percentage. That would rank, if you're curious, as the worst OBP in White Sox history by any position player who got that many at-bats. Rios also has done something we're pretty sure only one other White Sox position player (the unforgettable Ed Stroud, in 1971) has ever done in this much playing time -- hit into as many double plays (six) as he's driven in runs. Which isn't easy, especially for a player this talented. The White Sox do get five more years to straighten this fellow out, seeing as how he's under contract through 2014. What we don't know yet is: Is that the good news or the bad news?
NL: Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals
We want you to know we woke up at 5:40 a.m. today. Not because the alarm went off. Because the Cy Young debate in our brain went off, and wouldn't stop. We don't ever remember a Cy Young vote that was this tough, this complicated, this likely to wake us up in the middle of the night. But we've been informed by high-ranking ESPN.com authorities that if we don't finish this column, we'll be banished to our own personal moon of Jupiter. So we had to decide. And we find ourselves casting a vote for a man who didn't even lead his own team in wins. The pitcher who did -- Adam Wainwright -- is an excellent choice. Just not as excellent as Carpenter or the incredible Tim Lincecum. We ranked those three in 30 different categories. Wainwright's big selling points are wins (19), innings pitched (a league-leading 233) and second-half ERA (1.96). But he also has had significantly bigger run support. And Lincecum and/or Carpenter trump him in every other department on our sheet. But separating those two is 99.99999999998 percent impossible. Lincecum leads the league in strikeouts and quality starts. He's had the most "dominating" starts (game scores of 75 or better). And the Elias Sports Bureau reports that no pitcher has ever had as many strikeouts (261) and as low an ERA (2.48) as Lincecum and not won the Cy Young. So how could we not vote for him? Uh, it might be the insomnia taking over. But actually, here's how: We don't believe in using "wins" as the ultimate Cy Young barometer anymore, the way folks did in, say, 1956. But they're not exactly irrelevant, either. Lincecum and Carpenter have had just about identical run support (5.83 and 5.84, respectively) and bullpen support (three blown saves apiece). They've also averaged about the same number of innings per start (7.0 and 6.9, respectively). So theoretically, their win totals -- in this particular case -- should tell us something, right? And what they tell us is that one guy (Carpenter) went 17-4, even though he spent a month on the disabled list, while the other guy (Lincecum) was just 15-7. Carpenter finished the year on a 12-1 run of brilliance that would have been a 15-1 finish if his bullpen hadn't mugged him for three blown saves. Lincecum, on the other hand, needed to win Thursday just to get to 5-5 since the All-Star break. And friends, we've looked at every Cy Young election since the modern voting system was instituted in 1970. There's no historical precedent for a 15-game winner taking home a Cy over another starting pitcher with more wins, a better ERA and a better park-adjusted ERA-Plus. None. So we're going with Chris Carpenter. But one thing we'll never call anyone who votes for Lincecum or Wainwright is this: wrong.
Apologies to: Lincecum, Wainwright, Dan Haren.
AL: Zack Greinke, Royals
Kansas City Royals
It isn't Zack Greinke's fault he pitches for the Royals. Let's get that straight right now. And it isn't his fault that he isn't employed by a team that plays in the AL East, either. He can only pitch against whoever shows up 60 feet, six inches away. So as best as we can tell, all 32 starts he made this year were against real major league teams. And yeah, that includes the Pirates. So we're not here to judge what might have happened if Greinke had faced the Yankees and Red Sox eight times like Roy Halladay. Or what his numbers could have looked like if he'd pitched, like CC Sabathia, in a pitcher's monstrosity like Yankee Stadium. Or how much different his workload might have been if his team had been forced to ride him as hard as the Tigers pushed Justin Verlander. We understand all seasons aren't created equal. But we also understand that, however it worked out, we don't think anybody in the American League has outpitched Zack Greinke this year. We salute the brilliance of Halladay, Sabathia and Verlander. We're aware that Felix Hernandez has had four unbelievable months (14-2, 1.95 since May 24). But the season started in April. And it's been Zack Greinke's year. He had the best ERA in the AL before the All-Star break (2.12). He's had the best ERA in the AL since the All-Star break (1.97). He started the season by giving up two earned runs in his first 45 innings. He goes into his final start of the season with two earned runs allowed in his past 42 innings. The Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger tells us Greinke has a 1.24 ERA against teams with winning records -- and a better ERA in his non-wins (3.23) than Sabathia's overall ERA (3.31). And baseball-reference.com tells us Greinke has a league-adjusted, park-adjusted ERA-plus of 213 (meaning he's been 113 percent better than your average pitcher) -- a figure matched by only three AL pitchers (Lefty Grove, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez) in the live-ball era. We could go on like this for a month. But you get the idea. Lots of deserving candidates here. But Zack Greinke has been the man.
Apologies to: Hernandez, Halladay, Sabathia, Verlander.
NL: Brad Lidge, Phillies
In a sport that defies explanation anyway, Lidge has had a year that makes explanation officially impossible. Not that that has stopped him from continuing to be what he's always been -- the all-time stand-up pro's pro. He's been there at his locker after all 11 of his excruciating blown saves, trying to explain the unexplainable. But as hard as he may have tried, explaining this mess just couldn't be done. Could it? Think about this: Is there any other line of work in which a person could spend a year doing his job better than anyone else in history has ever done it -- and then, the very next season, spend a year doing that same job worse than anyone else has ever done it? That doesn't even make sense. But it happened to Brad Lidge. From no blown saves last year to 11 this year (the most by any NL closer since 1998). From a 1.95 ERA last year to 7.34 this year (not just the highest of anyone in history with 13 or more saves, but the highest by any reliever who pitched this much, period). From a year in which he went 19-for-19 saving one-run games (counting the postseason) to a year in which he has blown nine of 15 in one-run games (by far the most in baseball). Somehow or other, the Phillies still won their division by a mile. So they played over their closer's lack of closing. But the one thing they couldn't do was save Lidge from collecting this Cy Yuk Award.
AL: Fausto Carmona, Indians
Speaking of pitchers who hurtled over the old cliff, how about this fellow? A mere two years ago, Carmona won 19 games, had a winning percentage over .700 (19-8, .704) and was practically viewed as CC Sabathia's trusty assistant ace. This season, only two late-season starts against the comatose Orioles and White Sox saved Carmona from having the worst ERA in Indians history. He finished the year 5-12, with a 6.32 ERA. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he's only the third pitcher in the division-play era (joining Steve Blass and David Cone) to plummet, within two years, from a 19-win season with a .700 winning percentage to a season with a sub-.300 winning percentage, an ERA that high and this many innings pitched. But that isn't the only reason Carmona scarfed up this Cy Yuk. He was the league leader in most starts failing to get past the second inning (three). He only won once in 14 starts between mid-May and mid-September. And he racked up (A) the highest WHIP (1.76) in baseball, and (B) the highest in franchise history by any pitcher who made this many starts (24). That wouldn't be very good in any scenario. But it's a nightmare for a team that just had to trade away the last two AL Cy Young award-winners -- and wouldn't have complained if it had a one-time 19-game winner who showed any sign of being ready to help replace them.
NL: Chris Coghlan, Marlins
It isn't every year that two rookie starters as sensational as J.A. Happ and Tommy Hanson swoop in and go 12-4 and 11-4, respectively, with sub-3.00 ERAs for teams that needed every pitch they threw. But who is the last rookie hit machine remotely like Chris Coghlan? Ichiro? Derek Jeter? Nomar Garciaparra? Well, if those are the names we're comparing this guy to, that pretty much ends the debate about this trophy, wouldn't you say? Coghlan has cranked out more hits (157) than all but three men in the entire National League since his May 8 debut, has more hits (108) than anyone in the sport since the All-Star break and has the highest average (.332), on-base percentage (.394) and OPS (.861) of any NL leadoff hitter for the season. His 48 hits in September were the most by any rookie in 81 years (Chuck Klein, 1928). His 95 hits in August and September combined are the third-most in back-to-back months by any NL player in the expansion era, behind only Pete Rose and Dave Parker -- and the most by any rookie in 62 years (Dale Long, 1947). Five months ago, a lot of people thought the Marlins were crazy to drop this guy into their leadoff hole and a position (left field) he'd played for one day in his pro career. Needless to say, they don't look so nuts anymore. Do they?
AL: Andrew Bailey, A's
This is one of those years in which we sometimes get the feeling it would be easier to explain how the Internet works than it is to fill out a mere postseason awards ballot. So at least this AL rookie free-for-all just fits right in. We want to express sincere admiration for how Detroit's Rick Porcello and Tampa Bay's Jeff Niemann have pitched for teams that would have had a major rotation mess on their hands without them. But this isn't the Most Valuable Rookie award. It's supposed to go to the player who had the best season, period. And no matter which scenic overlook we take it all in from, that player looks to us like Bailey, the greatest top-secret closer in baseball. The pride of Voorhees, N.J., leads all AL closers in strikeouts (89, in 81 1/3 innings). Only some nobody named Mariano Rivera (1.79) has a lower ERA (1.88). No reliever in the league has had more outings with multiple strikeouts (31). And when a pitcher has had himself a year in which his punchouts (89) are almost double his hits-allowed total (49), it seems to us there's a word for that -- a word we call "domination." And that's a word that will sway our award votes every time.
NL: Jim Tracy, Rockies, and AL: Mike Scioscia, Angels
Back on that fateful day in May when the Rockies handed Tracy the steering wheel, the only team in baseball with fewer wins than the team he inherited was the Nationals. So how amazing is it that they're 74-40 since -- the best record of any team in baseball not known as "the Yankees?" Well, it's not an accident. Tracy stabilized his clubhouse, restored order to his disheveled bullpen, gave opportunities to the youth of America (Ian Stewart, Clint Barmes, Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith) and got the Rockies on a historic roll that drove them all the way to the great Octoberfest. Meanwhile, Scioscia could win this award every year, but this season ranks as his ultimate managerial masterpiece. His team played on through tragedy (Nick Adenhart), injury (the entire rotation except Jered Weaver, not to mention Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter) and the free-agent exits of a $180 million first baseman (Mark Teixeira) and a closer who made history (K-Rod). Yet these Angels have piled up the second-most wins in baseball (95). That doesn't happen -- can't happen -- if there isn't a strong, purposeful leader of men hanging around the manager's office to pull it all together. And Mike Scioscia can run a team and lead human beings as well as anyone who's ever held that job. Ever.
Apologies to: Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Charlie Manuel, Joe Girardi, Ron Gardenhire, Don Wakamatsu.
Those Other Awards
Any time a pitcher records a win while he's taking a nap, an infielder gives up 11 runs and it isn't even safe to celebrate a walkoff, it's Year in Review's kind of season. So let's look back on some of our favorite escapades in zaniness:
Injuries of the Half-Year
• First prize: You'd think that the only major injury a guy could suffer while reading was a strained eyeball. But then along came Mariners closer David Aardsma to make his own legendary contribution to nonfiction. Aardsma was unavailable to pitch in a two-game series against the Rays last month because of a sore back. And where did that soreness come from? From curling up and reading a book on the 2,524-mile flight from Seattle to Tampa. Now normally, David, you wouldn't hear this advice from those of us who write for a living. But next time just play cards!
• Second prize (tie): It was another one of Those Years for the Cubs. And two mishaps that summed it up eloquently were: First, Ryan Dempster tried to hop over the dugout fence to go muck it up after a July win, didn't quite pull it off like Shawn Johnson and landed on the disabled list with a broken toe. Then, just last week, Derrek Lee crossed home plate on the front end of Jeff Baker's game-winning two-run ninth-inning homer and got slapped so hard on the side of the helmet by teammate Angel Guzman, he didn't get back in the lineup for another five days. So what's worse than a Cubs season with almost nothing to celebrate? The celebrations themselves, apparently.
• Third prize: Reds outfielder Chris Dickerson knocked himself out of the lineup -- literally -- when he failed to pass the all-important enter-through-the-revolving-door exam at the team hotel in Pittsburgh and conked himself in the coconut. "My real story," Dickerson deadpanned, "is, I hit my head on the rim during a celebrity slam-dunk contest."
• Fourth prize: Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez was just trying to do what any polite young man would do -- clear his dishes after dinner -- one day in August. But then the silverware on his plate tried to escape. Gonzalez made a grab for it with those way-too-quick hands of his, squeezed the blade of the knife a little too hard and wound up in the emergency room. He was out of the lineup for four days. "Next time," he told The Denver Post's Troy Renck, "I am going to use plastic."
• Fifth prize: The surgeon general has issued no warnings about listening to Jay-Z. Just don't sneeze while you're doing it. Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero learned that lesson in April, when he strained his oblique -- by sneezing while listening to rap music. Ummm, gesundheit?
Honorable mention: Mariners catcher Rob Johnson sprained his ankle while jumping up and down waiting for Ichiro to arrive at home plate after a walkoff homer. White Sox reliever Bobby Jenks popped a calf muscle during pregame stretching. Royals reliever Kyle Farnsworth needed stitches in his hand after getting cut trying to break up a fight between his two bulldogs. Mets second baseman Luis Castillo sprained his ankle when he fell down the dugout steps. Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez strained his back getting out of a cab -- and missed six games. Jose Guillen blew out his knee bending down to put on his shin guard. And Phillies reliever Scott Eyre raised the age-old question, "Whatever happened to bullpen carts?" He strained a calf muscle running in from the bullpen -- and wound up on the disabled list. Call that man a taxi.
Box Score Lines of the Year
Ugliest Win of the Year: Manny Parra, Brewers
Reason No. 5,847 not to take the old win column too seriously: Zack Greinke made six starts this year in which he gave up one earned run or none and didn't get a win. But Parra somehow got a W out of this action-packed Aug. 13 start against the Padres:
5 2/3 IP, 13 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR.
Hey, it was worth it -- because Parra became the first pitcher in 20 years to win a 13-hitter that included at least two walks and two gopherballs.
Special Manny Parra Bonus Box Score
But that wasn't our man Manny's only epic box-score adventure. On June 2, he did something no pitcher had done since Rick Reed on April 21, 2003 -- strike out the first three hitters he faced and then stick around to give up at least 10 runs:
4 IP, 11 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2 HR, 2 WP.
Ugliest Save of the Year: Frank Francisco, Rangers
If you subtracted the goofy night of Aug. 14 from Francisco's permanent record, there wouldn't have been a single month all season in which he gave up seven hits. So how do we explain what happened to him in one insane inning against the Red Sox?
2/3 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HR.
However it happened, Francisco was just the third closer in the history of the modern save rule to serve up at least seven hits and six runs while blowing a save in the ninth inning.
Ugliest "No-Hitter" of the Year: Dontrelle Willis, Tigers
Next time you hear one of us ESPN baseball geniuses say something like "You've got to hit to win," feel free to bring up this June 4 Dontrelle Willis start against the Red Sox:
2 1/3 IP, 0 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 1 HBP.
Dontrelle was only the fifth pitcher in the past 55 years to pull off that unique daily double -- at least five runs allowed, but not a hit in sight.
What's Glove Got To Do With It Classic: Rich Harden, Cubs
The Cubs' entire infield and outfield could have gone out for some deep-dish the way Rich Harden pitched in this April 15 all-timer against the Rockies:
3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 8 K.
Yep, the fielders in this stint were clearly optional -- because none of them (except the catcher) got mixed up in a single out. Harden faced 17 hitters, and all 17 either struck out, walked or got a hit -- an achievement in defensive indifference that no other pitcher in the past 80 seasons has duplicated in a start that long.
Don't Do This Match Classic: David Robertson, Yankees
We're just glad we don't have to explain to any tourists from Moldavia how it's possible for a pitcher to have more strikeouts than outs. But Robertson should be required to do it after this Aug. 6 outing against the Red Sox:
2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.
Thanks to the miracle of the old strikeout-wild-pitch trick, he's just the sixth pitcher in the past 55 years to have a three-strikeout appearance in which he did not get credit for three outs. Last Yankee to do it: Ron Davis, on Sept. 17, 1980.
Minor Miracle: The High Desert Mavericks
There wasn't a crazier game all year -- minor league or major league -- than this June 28 extravaganza in the California League that ended: Lake Elsinore Storm 33, High Desert Mavericks 18. There were so many insane pitching lines from that madness, we have to offer them tag-team style:
• The first three pitchers to take the mound for High Desert -- Nathan Adcock, Juan Zapata and Natividad Dilone -- combined for this goofy line: 4 IP, 19 H, 22 R, 21 ER, 8 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 2 WP.
• But the highlight of the day was this performance by High Desert's Jose Yepez -- who was reminded vividly why he's normally a catcher for a living: 1/3 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 0 K and 4 HR. Yep, he faced six hitters -- and four of them made home run trots.
Magical Mystery Man Tour: Paul Janish, Reds
Finally, in a season so bizarre that nine games featured position players trudging to the old pitcher's mound, nobody kept our box-score researchers cranking more than Reds infielder Paul Janish. Check out his two visits to that big pile of dirt:
• May 6 versus Milwaukee: 1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR (to Prince Fielder).
• July 6 versus Philadelphia: 1 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 grand slam (to Jayson Werth).
You'd better digest all that for a second. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Janish was the first position player to give up 11 runs in the same season since Willie Smith in 1964 -- except it took Smith 11 appearances.
Even better, Janish was the first mystery player to allow five runs or more twice in the same season since Johnny Lindell did it in 1953 -- but Lindell did it over 32 appearances, not two.
"You know, records are made to be broken," Janish told Year in Review. "And I'm definitely breaking records. They're just the wrong damn records."
The Five Craziest Games of the Year
• Suspended animation: May 5 (with part two July 9): Nationals 11, Astros 10 in 11 innings (spread over nine weeks). Things were zipping along swell in this game until these two creative bullpens conspired to blow leads in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. And by the 11th, the D.C. weather gods clearly decided they'd seen about enough. So this game got weathered out, and didn't resume until two months later -- in Houston. But as far as the baseball historians were concerned, even the stuff in July actually happened in May -- in Washington. So officially, the Nationals used eight players in this game who weren't even on their team by the time they finished it. The winning run was scored by a guy wearing a Nationals uniform (Nyjer Morgan), even though history will tell us he got a hit for the Pirates the day he scored that run. Because the Nationals were still the "home" team when the festivities picked back up in Houston, the Astros became the first team to lose a game on a walkoff hit in their home park since the Yankees sprung that trick on the 1975 Twins. And not only had Washington's winning pitcher, Joel Hanrahan, been traded to the Pirates by the time this game ended, he was actually taking a nap in Philadelphia when he was awarded the win. "You know," Pirates coach/wit Rich Donnelly told Year in Review, "if he'd have gotten a good eight hours in, he might have had a chance to win 20."
• Hang 10: May 25: Indians 11, Rays 10. Nothing too unusual happened in this game -- except for the Indians falling behind 10-0 and winning. A week after blowing a seven-run lead to these same Rays, the Indians found themselves trailing 10-2 in the eighth inning and 10-5 with two outs in the ninth. Hey, no problem. They then erupted for their first seven-run bottom of the ninth since (ready?) May 23, 1901. Even crazier, they became the first home team to come from 10 runs back to win a game with a bottom of the ninth of seven runs or more since (ready again?) the first day in the entire life of the American League. That was April 25, 1901, when Kid Eberfield's Tigers chugged from behind against Milwaukee with a 10-run ninth. Then it took more than a quarter-million games for that to happen again. Of course!
• Gio whiz: July 20: A's 14, Twins 13. As whacked-out as that Indians-Rays game was, this would be our choice for the most totally berserk game of the year. First off, the A's won a game in which their starting pitcher (Gio Gonzalez) gave up 11 runs -- something no team had pulled off since the 1941 Red Sox (behind Dick "Don't Call Me Bobo" Newsome). The A's were down 12-2 in the third inning, then roared from 10 back to win -- for the first time since 1925. And fittingly, the game ended when the Twins' Michael Cuddyer got thrown out trying to score on a wild pitch -- from second base. "I don't think you'll see many games crazier than that one," A's reliever Michael Wuertz told the Contra Costa Times' Joe Stiglich. "After that out was made, I was thinking, 'I don't know what just happened.'"
• 18-wheeler: Aug. 31: Blue Jays 18, Rangers 10. What madness. First, the Blue Jays scored 11 straight runs. Then they gave up 10 consecutive runs. Then they scored the final seven runs. Well, you sure don't see that every day. According to Elias, this was the first game since the legendary Phillies-Cubs 23-22 game on May 17, 1979, in which one team scored at least 10 consecutive runs at one point, allowed at least 10 in a row at another point and ran off at least seven more in a row in yet another stretch. Even more amazing, the Blue Jays became the first team to give up 10 consecutive runs in a game and still win it by eight runs since Chicken Wolf's Louisville Colonels did it against Baltimore on May 12, 1887. Well, we always said it might be another century before you see a team like those Louisville Colonels.
• Just Joshin': June 7: Diamondbacks 9, Padres 6 in 18 mesmerizing innings. The Padres really aren't required by their lease at Petco Park to play one 18-inning game every year. It just seems like it. You had 18 different pitchers combine to throw 593 pitches in this game. David Eckstein, a man with zero homers at the time, tied it with a three-run pinch homer with two outs in the ninth. But after that, 31 Padres hitters came to the plate -- and none of them got a hit. And it still took the Diamondbacks nine innings to win it, on a three-run 18th-inning homer by Mark Reynolds -- off an infielder. That was Josh Wilson, who became the fourth position player in the last 40 years to figure out a way to become a losing pitcher. Incredibly, Wilson had just pitched in a game for the Diamondbacks 27 days earlier. So he also became the first position player to pitch for two teams in one year since Willie Smith did it in 1968. Was Josh Wilson the most historic figure of 2009? Maybe Ichiro, Derek Jeter and Pudge Rodriguez will fight us on that. But he sure kept Year in Review entertained.
Five Memorable Freeze-Frames of the Year
• Three for the price of one: Aug: 23, Citi Field: Phillies second baseman Eric Bruntlett was minding his own business in the ninth inning of this game -- when the second game-ending unassisted triple play in history came flying directly at him. Toss in a not-so-well-timed double-steal attempt by the Mets and a line drive toward the bag by Jeff Francoeur -- and even Bruntlett admits he didn't actually turn that triple play. It turned him. "I didn't really have much choice but to tag second after I caught it. The ball kind of took me right there," Bruntlett told Year in Review. "Then I turned around to try to find [baserunner Daniel Murphy]. And I didn't have any choice there, either. He pretty much came right to me." So if a double play is a pitcher's best friend, what's a game-ending unassisted triple play? "Boy, how do you get better than a best friend?" Bruntlett chuckled. "I don't know. But whatever's better than that, that's what it was."
• The Picture of Perfection: July 23, U.S. Cellular Field: As loyal reader Ed Burmila made sure to report, more men have orbited the moon (21) than thrown a perfect game (18). And of all the pitchers who have ever thrown one, you'd have a tough time finding a less likely candidate than the White Sox's lovable Mark Buehrle, a fellow whose opponent batting average (.270) is higher than the average of any perfect-game artist in history. But on this day, the Rays cooperatively went 27-up, 27-down. And Buehrle joined Don Larsen as the only men in history to throw an el perfecto at an incumbent league champ -- thanks to an unforgettable wall-splattering, no-no-saving kamikaze ninth-inning catch by center fielder Dewayne Wise. "He might wake up tomorrow," the Rays' Pat Burrell quipped about Wise, "with a new car in his driveway."
• The Hidden Ball Trick: July 28, Wrigley Field: We've all seen ground balls that found holes. But usually they're not buttonholes. But on this beautiful shirt-sleeve evening, Astros reliever Jeff Fulchino had more than a trick up his sleeve. He induced a one-hopper back to the mound by Kosuke Fukudome, only to have the ball disappear -- right down his shirt. At first, no one on the field was real certain what had just transpired. "I thought he just absorbed it, maybe swallowed it or something," third baseman Geoff Blum told Year in Review. But after doing a full pirouette on the mound, Fulchino detected a lump in his abdomen that didn't appear to have anything to do with his trip through the pregame food spread. So Fukodome had himself the weirdest infield single of the year. Asked if Fulchino should have just fired the shirt to first base, Blum replied: "Hell, no. That's the last thing we wanted to do. The wind was blowing out. It could have been ugly."
• Ya Gotta Bee-lieve: July 2, Petco Park: In what had to rank as the favorite game of the year for Samantha Bee, B.J. Surhoff and all the contestants in the National Spelling Bee, the Astros and Padres spent this day buzzing about the longest bee delay in modern baseball history. They wasted 52 minutes of their valuable lives watching thousands of bees apparently confuse the left-field ball girl's Padres jacket for a lilac bush, or something. Fortunately, the Padres knew just where to find their very own friendly neighborhood beekeeper. And he eventually stalked out of the left-field corner, sprayed every insect between the foul line and Del Mar, and allowed these two teams to get on with their important baseball-playing lives. "You know, it's so ironic to have this happen in San Diego," Astros broadcast-humorist Jim Deshaies told Year in Review, "because they're never going to have a rain delay. I don't even know if they have a tarp. But they have a beekeeper on speed dial."
• Don't Feed the Birds: June 11, Progressive Field: Man wasn't meant to fly. And birds weren't meant to play center field. But tell that to the deranged seagulls of Cleveland. For some reason, in mid-May, these birdbrains mistook the Progressive outfield for the sands of Kapalua or something. And dozens of them began roaming the field during games. "One time, there was a ball hit, and I was playing in center field," since-traded Indians outfielder Ben Francisco told Year in Review. "The ball was hit to my left. So I took off, and the birds all took off, too. Flew right over my head. It was crazy." Asked if they distracted him from catching that fly ball, Francisco retorted: "I was just trying not to get pooped on." The Indians eventually chased the birds back toward peaceful waters by shooting off fireworks between innings. But for a few weeks there, they just waddled around, doing their best to wander into as many "SportsCenter" highlights as possible. Their crowning moment came in this June 11 game against the Royals, when Shin-Soo Choo ingeniously deflected a game-winning hit off a seagull. Till then, those birds had given no indication they were rooting for the Indians. "But maybe they were," Francisco theorized. "They got in the way of that ball. And we won, right? So maybe they were."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.