And now we continue. Part One is here.
6. Game Five, NLDS, Cardinals Vs. Nationals:
I’m sorry, National fans, this is most assuredly not your favorite moment from 2012:
(chart by FanGraphs)
After such a promising season, one in which the rotation was so overloaded with talent that the loss of Stephen Strasburg was seen as a mild inconvenience, aided with the fast emergence of Bryce Harper and a healthy seasons from both Zimmerman(n)s, it seemed as if the Nationals were due to run through the playoff field. Against the Cardinals in the NLDS, the teams pushed it to a game five where the Nationals jumped out to a 6-0 lead through three innings, knocking out staff ace Adam Wainwright in only 2.1 innings, it seemed as if it were only a matter of time before the Nationals were given the all clear for the NLCS.
Instead, baseball’s cruel clock-free status reared its head and the Cardinals, at one point having a 3.7% chance of winning, clawed their way back. They scored a run in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the seventh, and one in the eighth to find themselves down 7-5 in the ninth.
And that’s when the likeliest of heroes struck. With two outs and a runner on third, Drew Storen got to two strikes to both Yadier Molina and David Freese before eventually walking them to load the bases. Supersub Daniel Descalso, who had already scored on a wild pitch and homered(!), came up to the plate and hit a hard grounder that bounced off Ian Desmond’s glove to tie the game. Next up, rookie Pete Kozma drilled a line drive into right field to score two more runs and that was it. Like one season before, the Cardinals were once again unlikely postseason victors. Had one call or check swing gone Storen’s way, or had Ian Desmond just been able to glove that ball, perhaps the Nationals win the World Series.
Instead, baseball proved once again that until that 27th out is recorded, nothing is decided.
5. Miguel Cabrera Wins the Triple Crown
However you may feel about the worthwhileness of batting average, home runs, and RBI, chances are that unless your father was Bill James, you grew up on these numbers. There’s a romance to them, like You’ve Got Mail. It may not be a great movie, but it’s still going to make you tear up by the third act.
There’s a reason that there hadn’t been a triple crown winner since 1967 and a player doesn’t fluke their way to a .330, 44 HR, 139 RBI season. Not only does a player need to hit more home runs than anyone else, he needs to be in a lineup that provides him with plenty of runners to drive in, and more than their fair share of hits need to fall in. Yes, luck is involved, but just as we celebrate the random chance that is a no-hitter, a triple crown should be embraced with open arms. So whatever your feelings about the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera debate, put those feelings aside.
Instead, we should celebrate the fact that Cabrera, arguably the best all around hitter of the last decade not named Albert Pujols, did something that might not be seen for another 45 years.
4. The Orioles are Magic and the Athletics Rise from the Dead
We like to pretend that we know how to predict what happens, but we really don’t. Despite over 100 years of data, dozens of prediction systems, and then just straight up gut feeling, we really don’t a clue about anything about life, love, or the reason why Pursuit of Happyness wasn’t very good. Which is fun. And also terrifying. It’s also the reason that we were so surprised when the Oakland Athletics win the AL West after floundering for the first half of the season and that the Orioles nearly took the AL East before settling for the wild card. Like that first drunken kiss as a teenager, it was beautiful in its random unexpectedness.
The Athletics started the offseason by trading off their promising pitching pieces, once again loading up for the perpetual future. Under .500 and 12 games out on July 1st, the team started winning, rallying under the dancing of a dead man from the 1989 Jonathan Silverman movie, Weekend at Bernie’s. For people who love movies that last received a showing on basic cable five years ago, that made them the greatest baseball team, possibly ever.
Along the way, their starting staff of under 30s (Bartolo Colon was the only pitcher with a birthdate before 1983) gelled into a five-headed beast, Yoenis Cespedes proved that he needed very little time to get accustomed to the Majors, hitting .292/.356/.505 with 23 HR, and Josh Reddick very literally turned into spider-man.
The team became exciting, playing must-watch baseball, culminating in a game 163 against the Texas Rangers, giving the team a fitting sequel if Hollywood comes around for Moneyball 2.
The Orioles story was a little different. Not only were they not expected to be competitive, they were supposed to come in last in the American League East once again. Instead, despite a rotation filled with That Guys, a lineup chalk full of retreads like Chris Davis (1 W, 33 HR) and the repeatedly cast out Nate Mclouth, and a run differential that was in the red until the final weeks of the season, the Orioles held on.
Matt Wieters put together another solid season showing off power and excellent defense, Adam Jones hit over 30 home runs, and Lew Ford even returned from Japan to show up in a Major League box score. None of it made any sense.
Even less logical, the Orioles posted the best record in one-run games in Major League history, winning an absurd 29 of them while losing only 9. At the same time, they were unbeatable if forced to extras as well, going 16-2 in games with bonus extra free time. Perhaps that was Buck Showalter’s guiding influence or proof that Jim Johnson is some kind of a higher powered being. The point was, nothing made sense.
In the end, the vastly inferior (supposedly) Orioles nearly beat a Yankees team whose star players could pay for the Orioles roster, taking the ALDS to five games. With a few different bounces, the Athletics could have even topped the Tigers to advance to the World Series. Baseball’s weird, man, and no teams were weirder than these two clubs.
Atta boy, guys, atta boy.
3. RA Dickey Wins The Cy Young
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: Top prospect gets drafted, physical reveals missing elbow ligament, bonus is slashed. Learns knuckleball to save career, becomes AAA journeyman and insurance policy just to earn some cash and stay in the game. Eventually finds his way to New York City, the big apple, transforms knuckleball into a pitch like no one has ever seen before, and proceeds to win the Cy Young Award. No? You hadn’t heard that story before? Oh, sorry. I thought it was a cliche. Add in the fact that RA Dickey had to overcome sexual abuse as a child and was coming off an offseason where he had scaled Mt Kilimanjaro for charity and you’ve got the makings of a superhero.
Three years ago, Dickey surprisingly emerged as a decent mid-rotation option, setting a career high in innings with 174. A year later, he improved, tossing 208 innings, though he had a slight bump in ERA. Last season, he went absolutely bonkers, leading the league in innings pitched with 233.2, strikeouts with 230, complete games with 5, shutouts with 3, while winning 20 games for a mediocre Mets team. He walked only 2.1 per 9 innings and struck out an absurd 8.9. All from a knuckleballer.
Except that RA Dickey doesn’t throw a knuckleball like anyone in the recorded history of the world ever has. He doesn’t just fling it up there and hope it doesn’t get walloped. He regularly tosses it in the high 70s to low 80s, but can slow it down two notches for a change of pace. He also was the one to strike out Adam Greenberg in his only official at-bat, proving both how heartless (not true) and good at baseball (very true) he is.
Oh yeah, and after seeing this clip, I assume he is also quite adept at cooking crystal:
2. The Giants Improbable World Series. Again.
Oh, San Francisco Giants, what are we going to do with you? You just keep defying expectation time and time again. You were supposed to be mediocre, what with your refusal to play Brandon Belt and Brian Sabean’s love of veterans bordering on a fetish. But no. Thanks to your beards and your pitching, you won the 2010 World Series. And last year, thanks to some beards, and pitching from unexpected people, and Buster Posey, and Marco Scutaro, and, man, I don’t know what else, you won the World Series again. I give up. I don’t know what anything means.
The Giants’ backup plans have backup plans. Brian Wilson gets injured? Great, Santiago Casilla (2.84 ERA) and Sergio Romo (1.79 ERA) will pick up the slack. Tim Lincecum can’t command the ball within the strike zone (5.18 ERA)? Cool. Barry Zito will morph back into a useful piece of the puzzle while Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong carry the club.
Worried about the offense? Melky Cabrera will simply hit .346. And when he’s suspended for PED use, Buster Posey will combine his powers like he’s…some kind of power combining machine and hit .385/.456/.646 with 14 HR after the All-Star break. He’s a catcher, people! Catchers are supposed to get worse the longer the season goes on, not hit like he’s Larry Walker playing in Coors Field in 1999.
This would not help him make friends, however:
(via MLB Gifs)
Oddly enough, perhaps the most important move they made all season was acquiring Marco Scutaro on July 27th from the Rockies for Charlie Culberson. All Scutaro did was hit .362 the rest of the season while swinging and missing at the baseball roughly never.
The 36-year-old well-traveled infielder only got better in the postseason, hitting .500 and collecting 14 hits to take the NLCS MVP award. This eventually lead to this, perhaps the most perfect image one can take on a baseball field:
(image via The Score)
It’s pretty much between that and Mary Jane and Spider-Man kissing upside for best rain moment, in my opinion.
Of course, the Giants needed lots of help to even get to that point. The Reds held a 2-0 series advantage over the Giants before San Francisco won three in a row to advance, getting 4.1 innings from Tim Lincecum out of the bullpen in game 4 to even have a chance.
They once again fell behind to the Cardinals, 3 games to 1, and would once again need to collect three straight victories to move on. They first got help in the most unlikely of places when Barry Zito, Barry freakin’ Zito of all people, pitched 7.2 shutout innings to not only keep the club in it, but protect the bullpen for future matchups.
The next game, Ryan Vogelsong came out and struck out nine in 7 innings, giving up one run, the Giants once again winning. Facing another elimination game, Matt Cain was disappointing only in comparison, shutting out the Cardinals for 5.2 innings before the bullpen took over the rest of the way.
Comparatively, the World Series was boring, with the Giants winning in a straight sweep over the Tigers. Even then there was plenty to marvel at as Pablo Sandoval cracked three home runs in game one to set the tone, hitting two off of Justin Verlander who failed to complete five innings. That just doesn’t happen. It just shouldn’t happen. And yet, it did.
1. The Rookies, The Rookies Are Coming to Devour Us
And yet, for all the amazing moments from 2012, nothing stood out more than two rookies on opposite sides of the country. The Nationals decided to care not for service time issues and called up Bryce Harper while the Angels eventually had no choice but to add the Melville Meteor to their roster.
Harper made his debut on April 28th against the Dodgers and quickly made his presence felt, something very few rookies and even fewer teenagers are able to do. In that first game, he doubled, sprinted around the bases, showed off a bizarre mohawk creation and stirrup socks, and gave us a glimpse of the the rocketship cannon that is his arm. During the season, he would have one, I repeat, one, prolonged slump, while doing things few rookies ever do. Like hit 22 home runs, steal 18 bases, play softball on the Mall, or steal home after a purposeful plunking.
And while some, like Cole Hamels, may have thought he needed a few lessons taught to him, he seemed to be the second coming of Pete Rose. Not only were the attitude problems and eye makeup that marred his amateur and minor league career seemingly gone, his greatest flaw was perhaps in being a little too overly coached in the world of talking to the media. And whenever he did let his guard down, he created new catch phrases like “That’s a clown question, bro,” or “Be as sexy as you can.”
But if Harper was good, Trout was otherworldly. Drafted 25th overall and forced to start the season in the minors due to the flu and an overcrowded Angels outfield, Trout made up for that lost time by hitting an insane .326/.399/.564 with 30 HR, 83 RBI and 129 R in only 139 games. He stole 49 bases and was caught only 5 times. In fact, catchers caught Mike Trout trying to steal only one more time than the number of home runs he robbed. That is how good he was.
Look, here’s one of them:
If you prefer more advanced metrics, he had 23 Defensive Runs Saved. He was the first player since Barry Bonds to post a double digit fWAR. He lead the league in runs, OPS+, was second in average, and third in slugging and on-base percentage. He also still lives with his parents.
Not only did Mike Trout run away with the Rookie of the Year, but to some he was the best choice to win the MVP. He didn’t, but man, we’re talking about a guy who couldn’t legally drink until mid-summer, relying on the older players to sneak him Smirnoff Ices under the table.
Sure, it’s possible that Trout and Harper will become the next Mantle and Mays, but it’s not going to be easy. After all, the odds are always against that happening. First, both players have to remain healthy. And Harper has to remain in the outfield, careful not to become a lumbering Adam Dunn-type as he ages while Trout will have to guard against, I don’t know, absorbing too many of the suns gamma rays and becoming a superhuman space guardian. But the fact of the matter is that Trout and Harper had two of the greatest rookie campaigns in the history of baseball and we will get to watch them compete against each other for contracts and World Series titles for the next twenty years.
And that’s pretty awesome.
That’s it for this season. Every year you wonder how the next one will top it and somehow it does. So now, sit back, enjoy spending time with your family and Netflix account for the next six weeks, because then spring training starts. And we have to get serious all over again.