Updated: July 22, 12:59 PM ET
By Jayson Stark
|Mystery terrors of the week|
For some reason, the American League continues to think it needs to perpetuate that tired old designated-hitter gimmick, when there is now overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Such as Kip Wells and Jarrod Washburn, for example. Wells may be listed as a pitcher for the White Sox by trade. But that didn't stop him from becoming just the fourth American League pitcher in the DH era to steal a base last week. (The others, by the way, are Blue Moon Odom, as a pinch-runner, on April 25 1973; Gene Nelson, also as a pinch-runner, on July 3, 1988, and Ismael Valdes, just last month.)
In the third week of February, nothing about baseball seems more deadly or irrelevant than those daily drills in which pitchers practice covering first base, over and over and over, for approximately nine hours. But all of a sudden Tuesday night, it didn't seem so irrelevant to Yankees reliever Randy Choate. With two on and two outs in the 11th inning of a long, tense, tie game in Philadelphia, Choate found himself motoring over to cover first base to try to save a game -- and, he was pretty sure, his career. Travis Lee had just hit a bolt past first baseman Tino Martinez that second baseman Alfonso Soriano scrambled over to grab in short right field. Lee and Choate raced for the first-base bag. Soriano's throw reached first base about 1.6 inches above the ground. Somehow, Choate caught the ball and tagged the base. The inning was over. The game went on. And the Yankees won it in 12 innings. But afterward, the winning pitcher, Choate, could think only of one thing: "I knew it was the winning run," he said. "But I was more worried about the ramifications from Joe Torre." Hey, with good reason, too. On the second day of spring training this year, Choate was working on that same pitchers-cover-first drill when he caught a throw and missed first base. His reward? "They made me run all the way to the wall and back," he remembered. He survived that grievous offense and that unscheduled aerobic work to make the team. But we couldn't help but wonder: If they made him run to the wall after he missed the bag in spring training, what would they have made him do if he'd missed the bag as the winning run scored in this game? "Boy, I don't know," Choate told Wild Pitches. "I've got three options left, and I didn't want to find out." Big Mac to go of the week
Mark McGwire once hit a pop-up so high against the Marlins that our hero, Rich Donnelly, then a Marlins coach, said: "It went higher than the sun." That brings us to last Saturday, when the Mac Man hit a home run against the Tigers that attained so much altitude that Tigers left fielder Bobby Higginson said: "If he'd hit that in Tampa Bay, it might have gone right through the dome." That got Higginson to reminiscing about a ball McGwire hit against the Tigers two years ago that had "NASA" stamped between the laces. "I think it took a bad bounce off the moon," he told Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler. "When he hits those (high ones) and you're wearing contacts, you've got to blink, or your eyes dry out." Bleacher creature of the week
Loyal reader David Hallstrom continues to chronicle the astonishing woodwork performed by Mike Piazza since he went blonde a few weeks back.
The Tigers sent one Patterson (Jarrod) up to pinch-hit for another Patterson (Danny) last Saturday. Good idea. Jarrod Patterson tripled. Giving him a slightly better offensive dossier than Danny Patterson, a career-long American League middle reliever whose offensive highlight reel consists of one groundout two years ago. Nevertheless, what was the pitching Patterson's reaction to his namesake's pinch triple? "I could have done that." Back-to-back box-score lines of the week
Shawn Chacon may not be the biggest name in the Colorado Rockies' starting rotation. But he definitely made the two most eye-popping entries in the box scores this month. First off, his line on July 8, vs. Anaheim at always-hospitable Coors: 5 IP, 12 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 1 BB, 5 K and 5 -- yep, count 'em, 5 -- home runs. Stat of the day
Chacon was the eighth pitcher this year to give up at least 10 runs in a game -- but the fourth just at Coors. Nevertheless, for sheer degree of difficulty -- not to mention numerological difficulty -- that wasn't even Chacon's most incredible line of the month. Here's the line from his previous start, July 3 at San Diego: 5 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 5 K -- and the score when he left the game was (what else?) 5-5. Fact of the day
In the 19 seasons we've been compiling box-score lines of the week, Chacon was the first pitcher ever to run the table on fives. Quote of the day
From the incessantly entertaining Rich Donnelly: "He should have done it on Cinco de Mayo." Box score line of the week (independent league dept.)
From the wild and crazy Texas-Louisiana League, our winner is San Angelo Colts pitcher Johnny Martinez, Thursday vs. the Amarillo Dillos. (And we won't deny we chose this line just to get the name, "Amarillo Dillos," into this column.) 1 2/3 IP, 13 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 1 BB, 0 K. All this came in a 26-12 loss in which the Dillas got 29 hits, scored seven runs in the first inning, 12 in the first two innings and 23 in the first four innings. They were so hot, even their manager, Lonnie Maclin, got four hits. Grab bag of the week
It was a WWF kind of week for the Tigers. On Monday, hitting coach Bill Madlock had to grab catcher Robert Fick and pull him away from manager Phil Garner in a dugout battle over a Ken Griffey Jr. home run pitch. Then, the next day, coach Juan Samuel had to grab outfielder Roger Cedeno to yank him away from umpire Derryl Cousins after Cousins ejected him over a post-strikeout grumblefest. So clearly, that Tigers coaching staff has this grabbing thing down. "We've got our assignments," Samuel told Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler. "He's got Fick. I've got Roger." Ejection of the week
Speaking of ejections, it's always an impressive feat for a coach to get ejected. It's especially impressive for a coach to get ejected from a game before it even starts. But the Expos' fiery but lovable Ozzie Guillen pulled that one off Tuesday -- for complaining about ball-strike calls that had also led to his ejection from the previous night's game. Naturally, the Expos responded by winning without him, 6-5. And let's just say Guillen noticed. "If that's the way they're going to play," he told the Montreal Gazette's Stephanie Myles, "I'll stay in my house." Debut of the week
You never know who might get the big hit on an ESPN Sunday night baseball game, even one involving the hottest team on the planet, the Mariners.
Somebody had to replace the human triple machine, Cristian Guzman, in the Twins' lineup. And mostly, that somebody has been super utility humorist Denny Hocking. But Hocking told the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Jim Souhan that she -- and everyone else in Minnesota -- would miss Guzman. "I know what he means to our team. And it's not like I'm going to go out and hit nine triples this week," Hocking said, "like he might have." Guapage of the week
There was no more entertaining set of at-bats all week than the two memorable journeys to the plate made by two-ton Red Sox reliever Rich (El Guapo) Garces last weekend. Last Friday, in his first at-bat since 1995, Garces was destined to face Mets reliever Rick White. But first, he had a conversation with manager Jimy Williams. "What do you want to do?" Williams asked. "I don't want to see any of those pitches out there," Garces replied. "I'm just going to take my bat, put it on my shoulder and let the guy throw strikes." No truer words have ever been spoken in interleague play, too. Garces was basically an innocent bystander as White fired three strikes past him, with no indication Garces would have swung, even if White had tossed one underhanded. That would have satisfied the El Guapo Fan Club for months. But two days later, Garces was back up there at the little white dish in Montreal, attempting to bunt over runners at first and second. The good news was: He got the bunt down. The bad news was: The Expos had time to get the runner on third and still throw back to first in time to "nip" Garces by no more than 28 feet. "I'm not paid to hit," Garces told the Providence Journal's Steve Krasner. "I'm paid to pitch." But Garces also claimed that back when he was a kid in Venezuela, he actually played center field. Of course, he said, "I only weighed 140 or 150 pounds when I was 12." And no, that isn't one-third of his current playing weight. Here today gone tomorrow CG of the week
The San Diego Padres needed an emergency starter last Saturday. Rookie Brian Lawrence got the job -- and did the job. He came up from the minor leagues on a few hours' notice and threw a complete-game seven-hitter to beat the Angels, 5-1. And what was his reward? The Padres sent him right back to Triple-A after the game. "It's a tough league," said manager Bruce Bochy. "Give up a run and you have to go back down." Father of the week
Fatherhood sure seems to agree with the Tigers' Bobby Higginson. His wife gave birth to their first child over the All-Star break. Higginson then gave birth to a four-hit game in the first game after the break -- and hasn't stopped hitting since. He was AL player of the week for the week after the big delivery. And he was hitting .439 since then, through Friday. So it's just looking into the loving eyes of his new daughter every day that has inspired all that, right? Wrong. The Tigers started the second half with a six-day trip, came home for two days (one of which included a day-night doubleheader), then headed off on another one-week trip. "I'm already a bad father," Higginson quipped. Human target of the week
Finally, one more burst of entertainment from the great Rich Donnelly. Last Saturday, while standing an apparently safe distance behind the third-base coaches' box, he got drilled by a foul ball off the bat of Greg Norton -- in the head. So out rushed assistant trainer Keith Dugger to ask the usual battery of brain-power questions. "He said: 'How many outs are there?' " Donnelly told Wild Pitches. "Then: 'How many are on base? ... Who's on second? ... What's the score? ... What day is it? ...' "Finally, I had to say, 'Hey Duggie, I'm from Steubenville, Ohio -- not M.I.T.' " Jayson Stark is a Senior Writer at ESPN.com. Wild Pitches appears each week.