Here is the exciting conclusion to the 13 most wonderful moments from the past year. For Part One, click here.
6. Stephen Strasburg’s Debut
The God of Pitching Prospects. The Real Sidd Finch. The Man with a Golden Arm. This was Stephen Strasburg’s reputation long before he ever made his Major League debut. With so much buildup and so much hype, there was no way his performance could actually match the expectations, right? I mean, he was only a rookie and rookies are supposed to be clobbered by their more experienced counterparts. Strasburg even did the unthinkable and made baseball cards relevant again, if only for a short moment.
(via LA Times)
But on June 8th, when his Super Two status had safely passed, Strasburg came to Pittsburgh and absolutely dismantled the Pirates. He went 7 innings and struck out 14 while needing only 94 pitches to do it.
Sure, some said “It was only the Pirates, let’s see what he does against a real team.” Strasburg then struck out 8 Indians in five and a third innings (though he did struggle with command), and followed that up with a ten strikeout performance against the White Sox.
But he was too good, too gifted, and his four above average pitches and high-90s fastball burnt out his arm after only 68 Major League innings. He’ll return in 2012, but there’s no telling what he may have lost. Still, in those 68 innings, Strasburg finished second on the Nationals pitching staff in WAR, posted a 2.91 ERA, and struck out 92 batters. His K/BB ratio was an unbelievable 5.41, and had he pitched enough innings to qualify, would have been third in all of baseball behind Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.
5. The Game That Would Not End: Mets 2, Cardinals 1 (20 Innings)
This was the
Sunday Night game of the week on ESPN Fox Saturday game (thanks to reader LL for the heads up), and as I kept watching the endless supply of pitchers and batters, I thought it must end in the fifteenth, or the sixteenth or the seventeenth. But it didn’t. There were no bloop hits, or devastating errors to help bring the game to its conclusion. The game was scoreless until the nineteenth inning and it didn’t end until after all 20 were finished.
The total damage: The game time was six hours and fifty-three minutes, 652 pitches were thrown, 19 pitchers were used (two of them were position players), Francisco Rodriguez warmed up over ten times, Mike Pelfrey got the save, and Albert Pujols had a line like no other: 2-5, 4 BB.
4. Bobby Cox’s Going Away Party
The timing of Jason Heyward’s arrival could not have been timed better as Bobby Cox, the man at the helm for eleven consecutive division titles during the mid-90s to the mid-00’s, was given a proper sendoff. Cox finished his career with 2,504 victories, 4 Manager of the Year awards, 5 All-Star games managed, 4 National League pennants, a World Series title, and the record for most ejections with 158. His impending retirement didn’t slow him down any as he was booted from Game 2 of the NLDS.
For all the numbers and accolades, Cox will also be remembered with great respect from his players, the fans, and anyone associated with the game of baseball. Each Braves road trip was an excuse for the opposition to shower Cox with presents and pay tribute to baseball lifer. Only the Marlins, in their endless attempt to be the most miserly of the Major League teams, refused to gift the Braves skipper.
The greatest moment though, came after the Giants defeated the Braves to advance to the NLCS. Before the Braves could leave the field, the Giants turned their attention to the home dugout and saluted Cox and the Braves. Tears flowed freely that night in Atlanta.
3. The Three Way Tie
With baseball seemingly certain to expand the playoff field by two teams come 2012, it’s going to ruin the chances for another of the most exciting postseason races that I’ve ever seen. Thanks to the Padres blowing a seven game lead over the last month and change, and the Phillies surging ahead of Atlanta in the East, we were treated to the Braves, Padres, and Giants all playing for their postseason lives on the last day of the season.
For the Giants to continue on, all they had to do was win one game against the Padres in the season ending three game set, but failed to win in their first two chances. The Braves also dropped their first two games against the Phillies to bring it down to the last day. If things worked out just right, if the Giants and Braves had lost their final games, we would have been treated to a three game tiebreaker. But that’s not how it ended.
The Giants won in their final game thanks to one poor inning of work from Mat Latos, and the Braves held on to a one run victory against Philadelphia. It was still one of the most exciting ends to a baseball season and one that kept me glued to the couch for six hours on the first Sunday in October. Don’t take that away from me, Bud Selig.
2. Edgar Renteria’s 2nd WS winning hit
Thirteen years ago, Edgar Renteria drove in Craig Counsell in the bottom of the 11th to give the Marlins their first World Series. I was ten years old and, unfortunately, Game 7 was on a school night, so I was asleep when the Indians’ death knell rung out.
Flash forward to 2010 and Edgar Renteria became a postseason hero again despite a .264/.316/.360 line across the three previous regular seasons. When Renteria stepped in against Cliff Lee in the seventh inning of a scoreless game, I had just arrived home from work and was putting my things away in the other room with the radio on. I heard the crack of the bat and as the announcer described the flight of the ball, I thought "No way. No way is Renteria going to hit a home run." Sure enough, the ball went out and it was all the Giants would need to take the series from Texas. Thirteen years, 6,968 at bats later, two separate World Series-winning hits, and I missed seeing both of them.
Maybe Renteria has one more left in him, assuming he finds an offer that is respectable.
1. No-Hitter Palooza
Do you remember when everyone was freaking out a few years ago because it looked like the no-hitter was dead? 2010 saw it back in fine form with six (and really, seven) no-hitters thrown. For people that hated the home run spree of the late 90s, 2010 was a welcome sight.
Ubaldo Jimenez started it off with the first no-hitter in Rockies history and he did it despite walking six batters and pitching solely from the stretch for the last three innings. Did I mention that he still was hitting 96 mph through the ninth inning?
Dallas Braden, fresh off the “Get Off My Mound” fiasco, extended his fifteen minutes by throwing a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. With the pink bats out on Mother’s Day, Braden made his mother proud nine years after she passed away. Braden’s perfect game may not have been the biggest no-hitter on the year, but it was certainly the most emotional; no one can say they weren’t touched when he embraced his grandmother after the game.
Before the month was over, Roy Halladay threw his hat into the ring with his own perfect game against the Marlins. Unfortunately, this was in Miami, so not nearly enough people were there to witness the spectacle. The Marlins made up for it by letting people buy unused tickets so people could lie to all their friends. (We’ll get to Halladay’s other game in a little while…)
Next up was Edwin Jackson with the ugliest of the no-no’s. Jackson needed 149 pitches and walked eight batters in the Diamondbacks 1-0 victory over the Rays. It was the third time the Rays had been no-hit in the last year, though they would get their revenge soon enough.
Sure enough, Matt Garza turned around and no-hit the Tigers on July 26th, coming only one walk away from having the third perfect game on the year. To put this in perspective, before 2010, there had never been more than one perfect game in a season.
Which brings us to the Perfect Game that Should Have Been. Armando Galarraga, an otherwise perfectly serviceable back of the rotation starter, had everything working against the Indians until James Joyce incorrectly called Jason Donald safe with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. When Galarraga retired the next Indians batter, he became the first pitcher to throw a 28 out perfect game. Though it’s a shame that Joyce cost Galarraga his place in history, his mistake actually helped Galarraga’s game stand out amongst the slew of other no-hitters and could even help usher in the age of expanded replay usage. Galarraga showed off his considerable sportsmanship the next day when he forgave Joyce and exchanged lineup cards.
But there was one that would top them all. On the first day of the 2010 postseason, in the first playoff start of his career, and while going up against the National League’s Cinderella story, Roy Halladay accomplished a feat that had not been done since 1956: Halladay pitched a postseason no-hitter. Halladay was one walk shy of his second perfect game on the season and from matching Don Larsen’s 1956 outing. Because of the importance of the game and the quality of the lineup, it’s quite possible that this was a more dominating start than Halladay’s actual perfecto against the Marlins over the summer. It was such an amazing moment, one that we will be unlikely to see again in our lifetime, that for once tabloid newspapers, with their punny headlines, are the only ones who can truly sum up the story:
2010 will go down as one of the greatest baseball season’s, but all it has done is make us more excited for next season. And truly that’s baseball’s greatest gift: it’s there every spring.
I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year’s and remember, there are only 46 remaining days before pitchers and catchers report.
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