Strange but true feats of the year
Really, all this did happen in '09. Hey, we can't make this stuff up, even if we tried
Once again this year, the great sport of baseball was stranger than Lady Gaga, stranger than Jon and Kate's idea of family bliss, even stranger than Manny Ramirez's affection for female fertility drugs. So before the BCS consumes us all, let's look back on our favorite Strange But True Feats of 2009:
The Strangest But Truest Game of the Year
Nothing in baseball makes for more spectacular megaweirdness than the old suspended-game trick. Fortunately for us Strange But True addicts, the Astros and Nationals pulled that one on us in 2009.
They started the game May 5 in Washington. They finished it July 9 in Houston. And because the baseball historians will insist that even the stuff that happened in July in Houston actually occurred in Washington in May, this game produced all of this distinctive madness:
• The Astros became the first team since the 1975 Twins to lose a game on a walk-off hit IN THEIR OWN BALLPARK.
• The Nationals pulled off the challenging feat of actually winning a game DURING a five-game losing streak.
• The history books will tell us forever that Nyjer Morgan somehow scored the winning run for the Nationals on the same day he got a hit for the Pirates.
• The Nationals used eight players in this game who weren't even on their team by the time they finished it.
• This game is the highest-scoring game in the history of Nationals Park -- even though the last of the 21 runners who scored happened to cross a home plate that was located 1,218 miles away.
• And the most innovative feat of all was turned in by the winning pitcher, Joel Hanrahan, who had gotten traded to the Pirates before this game ended. So at the exact moment he was awarded his win, he was actually taking a nap in Philadelphia. Which prompted Pirates coach-witticist Rich Donnelly to observe: "You know, if he'd have gotten a good eight hours in, he might have had a chance to win 20."
More Strange But True Madness
• DÉJÀ VU: How was this possible? In the first game played at the new Yankee Stadium, CC Sabathia started against Cliff Lee. And 6½ months later, in the first World Series game played at the new Yankee Stadium, CC Sabathia started against Cliff Lee. Again.
• DÉJÀ NEW: The Yankees played more than 60,000 innings at the old Yankee Stadium -- and never once allowed 14 runs in any of those innings. But in just the 20th inning in the life of the new Yankee Stadium, they managed to cough up 14 runs to the Indians. Amazing.
• TARGET PRACTICE: He may not have topped his feat of circling the bases for two teams on the same day, but Nyjer Morgan sprung another amazing daily double on us June 19. In a span of two pitches, he reached base because he got hit by one baseball (an HBP by Jason Marquis), then got removed from the base paths because he got hit by another baseball (a ground ball between first and second by his teammate, Freddy Sanchez).
• PINCH ME: Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell's only two-homer game of the year (Aug. 11) came in a game he entered as a pinch runner.
• JUST JOSHIN': It's possible nobody in baseball had a more strange-but-true month all season than utility nomad Josh Wilson. In June, he pulled off this dual feat: (1) He accumulated more teams (two -- Arizona and San Diego) than hits (one). And (2) he got dragged to the mound for each of those teams and ALLOWED more hits as a pitcher (three) than he GOT all month as a hitter (one). Hard to do, gang.
• THAT'S A SWITCH: It took 134 years for Arizona's Felipe Lopez to become the first player in history to switch-hit homers from both sides of the plate on Opening Day. It took one inning, in the same game, for Tony Clark to become the second.
• TAKE TWO: Johnny Damon didn't have one day all season when he stole two bases in one game. But he swiped two on one PITCH in Game 4 of the World Series.
• GIO WHIZ: The A's somehow won a July 30 game against the Twins in which their starting pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, gave up 11 earned runs -- the first time any team had done that in 68 years.
• MAGIC WANDY: Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez ripped off a streak of seven starts in which he gave up one run or none -- then gave up 10 runs in FOUR INNINGS in his next start, Aug. 14 against the Brewers.
• WHO WAS THAT GUY? OK friends, try to explain THIS: Rangers closer Frank Francisco gave up seven hits to the Red Sox in one ugly inning Aug. 14. If he had just taken that night off, there wouldn't have been a single MONTH all season in which he gave up seven hits.
• PINCH ME (PART II): Still having a tough time believing this one. In a May 10 game against St. Louis, Reds manager Dusty Baker needed a pinch hitter, down a run with two outs in the ninth inning, and sent a PITCHER up there. And the pitcher he picked, that sweet-swinging Micah Owings, made the boss look like a genius by becoming the first pitcher in at least the past half century to hit a game-tying pinch homer with two outs in the ninth. Of course!
• CRAZY EIGHT: In the Rangers' insane 18-10 loss to Toronto on Aug. 31, they did something no team had done since 1887 -- score 10 consecutive runs in a game and still manage to lose it by EIGHT runs.
• MILESTONE MEN: In a span of a mere four days, those hospitable Nationals were the losing team in Jamie Moyer's 250th win and Randy Johnson's 300th. The last team to end up on the wrong end of two milestone wins that monstrous in even the same season, let alone the same week: Pop Corkhill's 1891 Pittsburgh Pirates.
• STRANGE BUT TRUE CUBS FEAT OF THE YEAR: Only the Cubs could pull this one off: Derrek Lee was just minding his own business, crossing home plate on the front end of a game-winning two-run ninth-inning homer by Jeff Baker in September, when he got slapped so hard on the helmet by teammate Angel Guzman that he didn't get back in the lineup for another FIVE DAYS.
• THEY DON'T WORK OVERTIME: When the Padres tied up their June 7 game against Arizona with two outs in the ninth inning, they undoubtedly thought that was a huge momentum changer. Uh, guess again. They sent 31 more hitters to the plate that night, and NONE of them got a hit. But it still took the Diamondbacks until the 18th inning to beat them -- on a Mark Reynolds home run off an INFIELDER (the aforementioned Josh Wilson).
• WHAT A SAVIOR: Florida's Brendan Donnelly earned a save in a Sept. 30 game against the Braves in which the only pitch he threw looked like a game-tying wild pitch. Except catcher Ronny Paulino grabbed it and picked Atlanta's Matt Diaz off third base for the final out.
• SINGLE-MINDED: Chase Utley hit five home runs in the World Series -- but never did get around to hitting a single.
• START TO FINISH: You can use a lot of adjectives to describe the Nationals this year, but one of them had better be "symmetrical." They started the season with a seven-game losing streak -- and ended it with a seven-game winning streak.
• HACK OF THE YEAR: On Sept. 23, a guy who struck out 150 times this year in 353 at-bats (Texas' Chris Davis) swung at a pitch that BOUNCED. No surprise there, except that he hit it to right for a single.
• ANGER MANAGEMENT: Mike Hampton got so ticked after allowing a run in a July 18 game against the Dodgers that he tried to slam the baseball into his glove in frustration -- and missed -- for an E-1 that let another run score.
• LOW MILEAGE: The Pirates took a May road trip from Chicago to, well, Chicago. They played an interleague series on the South Side against the White Sox, then hopped on the northbound and played three more games against the Cubs.
• HOME SWEET HOME: At one point in May, the Padres were the first team in modern history to find themselves working on a double-digit home winning streak (10 in a row) and a double-digit road losing streak (11 in a row) AT THE SAME TIME.
• FUN WITH NUMBERS: The Twins managed to pull off a 1-6 May road trip in which they actually OUTSCORED their opponents (42-35). Of course, they couldn't have done it without a 20-1 win in Chicago, but whatever.
• WELCOME BACK: Kerry Wood made 51 relief appearances at Wrigley Field as a Cub -- and blew only one save. Naturally, in his grand return to Wrigley as an Indian, he blew two saves in his first two appearances as a visitor.
• FOR THE BIRDS: In his first game as a Cardinal, John Smoltz struck out seven hitters in a row. Guess how often he did that as a Brave? Never, of course -- in 708 trips to the mound covering a total of 3,395 innings.
• DEBUT OF THE YEAR: Rockies rookie Eric Young Jr. managed to get caught stealing after the first AND second hits of his career.
• RIVALRY OF THE YEAR: On June 30, the Orioles arose from the dead to win a game against Boston in which they trailed 10-1 in the seventh inning. Unfortunately, in their other 17 games against the Red Sox this year, they went 1-16.
• NO WAY HOME: Jeff Francoeur found out in September what kind of year it was for the Mets. He went 17-for-36 in one stretch -- without managing to drive in a single run.
• HURLY BUEHRLE: Finally, we present the back-to-back feats that define why this Strange But True column has become a mandatory annual event: Immediately after finishing a historic streak in which he faced 45 hitters and none of them reached base, Mark "Mr. Perfecto" Buehrle started another stretch in which he faced 66 hitters and MORE THAN HALF OF THEM (34) reached base. Naturally!
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.
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