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Tuesday, May 30
Keep the homer calls coming

There's a good chance that just since you clicked on this link, 14 or 15 more home runs have been hit somewhere in the major leagues. And that means that up there in the broadcast booths of North America, demand still far exceeds supply for catchy ways to describe all these blasts.

A week ago, we asked for your suggestions for the next Great American Home Run Call. And boy, did we get suggestions. By the truckload.

Mark McGwire blew by the 20-homer milepost for the 12th time this week. Can you name the four other active hitters with a dozen 20-homer seasons?

(Answer at bottom)

Some were funny. Some were brilliant. Some, we're afraid, were downright incomprehensible. But that's OK. As one member of our panel of broadcasters, Astros witticist Jim Deshaies, put it, there's something to be said for a home-run call that has "half the people out there scratching their heads -- and other half saying, 'Hey, that's great.' "

Well, with the help of one of our editors, Matt Szefc, we've boiled the nominations down to the very best (or at least the most amusing). And now, here to review them, is the man who has promised to actually use one of these pearls on the air some night if it's just the right one -- ESPN'S Sunday Night Sermonizer, Jon Miller.

  • From Justin Vallone, Easton, Pa.: "Dorothy may not be in Kansas anymore, but that ball is headed there."

    "I believe Dorothy said, 'Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore,' " Miller said. "So if we had a really long home run hit by the Royals, you could say, 'Toto, that ball's not in Kansas City anymore.' Hmmm. Probably not. But I like those cinematic references. How about: 'Swing, and that one's way back. Here's looking at you, kid.' Uhhhh, probably not."

  • More cinema, from Bill Meadows, of an unknown cyberspace locale: "Phoebe Cates has left the pool!"

    This uproarious reference comes from a memorable scene in the old quasi-hit, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." But after chuckling mightily over it, Miller had one big reservation.

    "What -- this guy hasn't seen any movies lately?" he wondered. "This line might work in Arizona, where they actually have a pool. But I think we need something more current. Give me something from 'Gladiator' or 'Dinosaur.' Give me a James Bond reference. 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' -- that's not big enough. We're talking mass audience here. We need mass appeal. We can't be going for cult films."

  • From Don Walsh, Guelph, Ontario: "Hope everybody drove a Saturn -- because that one is headed for the parking lot!"

    Now the problem with this call is that some people might assume they should be parking a Saturn in the McGwire-reachable lots because it's a cheap car. But in actuality, because Miller has bought a couple of Saturns for his daughter, he knows the real meaning of this call is that Saturns are billed as particularly dent-resistant.

    "So if you got it, that would be great," he said. "But it's a little obscure. If you hadn't bought a Saturn or shopped for one, you'd think we were saying, 'Hopefully, there's a bunch of cheap cars out there.' And if you had Saturn as a sponsor, I have a feeling they probably wouldn't want people thinking their broadcasters were saying their car was synonymous with cheap."

  • From W. Michael Dooley, Lawrence, Mass.: "Strap a satellite on that one!"

    "This might work for one of those McGwire homers," Miller said. "Kind of like a space shuttle. Let's see: 'Strap a satellite on that one, sweetheart.' Hmmm. I don't know. They don't really strap those satellites on the rockets, do they?"

  • From Andrew Krakos, Davenport, Iowa: "Drop the groceries. This one is over the fence."

    "I like this," Miller said. "But it's kind of hard to know exactly what he's thinking here. Obviously, you don't figure to have a bag of groceries in the ballpark. But let's think about it: 'Tell the checkout clerk, is it paper or plastic? This one's gonna be a four-bagger.' I think we've got something going here: 'Hey, Mister. Paper or plastic?' Hmmm. I don't know."

  • From Paul Cunningham, Alexandria, Va.: "Cover those cups, bleacher fans!"

    "This one's kind of a public service announcement," Miller said. "You're not only calling the home run. You're giving some advice for protecting beverages."

  • From Shaun Moriarty, Southbridge, Mass., to be used when some unlikely hitter somehow hits one out: "That ball has Bucky Dent written all over it."

    "Now this," Miller said, "is good: 'That ball has Bucky Dent written all over it.' It would be especially good if some light hitter hits one against the Red Sox. And even better if it's the Yankees against the Red Sox. So who would it be? Someone like Clay Bellinger. That could be our guy. But do the Red Sox have to be ahead, and then some light-hitting guy hits a home run against them? I'll have to think about that one."

  • Another one from Bill Meadows, of Cyberspace, in a parody of the old nothing-but-net call in some other sport: "Nothing but bleachers."

    "I kind of like this," Miller said. "But how would you use it? Baseball's a little different than basketball. In basketball, some shots hit the backboard and bank in. Some hit the rim and then fall in. Some bounce around and roll in. And some are perfect. They hit nothing but the bottom of the net. So 'nothing but bleachers' isn't quite right. But I suppose in San Francisco, you could use it for a ball that landed in McCovey Cove: 'Nothing but the bottom of the cove.' "

  • And now our final finalist, also from the relentlessly clever Bill Meadows: "Good-bye, sayonara, adios, anyeung-i-ka-seyo!"

    "I like that one -- goodbye in every language," Miller said. "Goodbye. Au revoir, mon ami. Aloha, inipopo. You could do a lot with that, like 'Adios, pelota,' when a Spanish-speaking guy hits one. I'll think about it."

    So there you have it, friends. Our eight finalists. And the one Jon Miller will use on the air is ...

    "Uh, I wouldn't be holding out too much hope," Miller said, as gently as possible. "I'd like to see them keep trying. Maybe we need to give them better parameters. The reference has to be quick, easily identifiable, and it has to go with the excitement of the moment. Ideally, you don't want this to sound like it was written out in advance.

    "A home run is a big moment. It's a macho thing ... dramatic ... heroic. We need something that's cognizant of that. So I guess what I want to say is, we've had a lot of really good efforts so far, but the main thing is, we'll call you. Please leave your picture and resume, and good luck in your careers. We'll give these every consideration to each submission. But how shall we say this? Uh, the search is still on."

    Mystery pitcher of the week
    Keith Osik, trusty backup catcher for those Pittsburgh Pirates, can lay claim to baseball's most unique daily double. He has the highest batting average on his team (.500, 5 for 10). And he has the highest ERA on his team (45.00).

    It isn't easy to pull off a feat like this. But Keith Osik is a versatile kind of guy. And he proved it again last weekend, when he pitched the ninth inning of the Pirates' 19-4 loss to the Cardinals.

    It wasn't exactly a 1-2-3 inning. All right, so it wasn't even a 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 inning, for that matter. To get through it, Osik had to face 10 hitters, throw 32 pitches and fill up just about every column in the box-score line (5 hits, 5 runs, 2 hit batters, a wild pitch, a double, a home run and a strikeout).

    But if your team is going to get killed out there, our motto is: Might as well get a couple of laughs out of it. And Keith Osik knows there are worse things in life than having a 45.00 ERA.

    "Hey, how many millions of little boys grow up wanting to pitch in the big leagues?" Osik said. "A lot of my buddies back home always wanted to do that. I know my old high school coach would have loved to take the mound and pitch. So it's a dream. And that's how I try to look at every day up here."

    Of course, it would be a slightly better dream without that 45.00 ERA. But it's all part of the package.

    "Pete Vuckovich (his pitching coach) has been making fun of me," Osik said. "He's been going around saying, 'Your ERA is killing our team ERA.' "

    But then, Keith Osik also has some excellent excuses. For one thing, his catcher, Jason Kendall, wasn't exactly maintaining World Series demeanor back there.

    "You know, Jason's my best friend," Osik said. "And to see him behind the mask, and you can tell he's just cracking up laughing, it kind of throws your wind-up out the window."

    And for another thing, Osik was trying to pitch on one year's rest. He hadn't pitched since May 11, 1999 (when he gave up four runs in an inning against the Astros). And it's tough to get in a Pedro-esque rhythm that way.

    "Yeah, I was telling (Vuckovich), 'I'm gonna need to work with you on the side between outings if I'm gonna do this again,' " Osik said.

    While we await that side session, let's look at some of the other highlights of this action-packed performance:

    The Foreward: By the way, it's not as if Osik had never pitched before. In high school, he pitched his team to the state championship, throwing a one-hitter in the state semifinals then coming back that afternoon to finish off the championship game in relief.

    Of course, when asked to compare his repertoire then with his repertoire now, Osik had to admit: "Not very good."

    The Grand Entrance: After the eighth inning, with the score 14-4, manager Gene Lamont told him, "You're going in to pitch next inning," then asked Osik if he wanted to go to the bullpen and warm up. "I said no," Osik reported. "I would have felt like a dork running down there. I didn't want to pretend I knew what I was doing or anything."

    The Homer: Four hitters into this thing (single, hit batter, forceout, wild pitch), up stepped Thomas Howard, a guy who was 1-for-May, to pinch hit. And promptly Osik just missed drilling him, causing Howard to take the next pitch from about six feet away from the plate.

    "I had no idea where the ball was going at that point," Osik said. "And he said, 'I'm not even getting in here against this guy.' "

    Uh, turned out Howard lied about that. On the next pitch, he returned to the same zip code as home plate and parked it for a two run homer.

    "I think he owes me dinner," Osik said. "A bunch of those guys do, actually."

    The History: OK, we'll start with the bad news.

    If you combine this appearance with his outing last year, Osik's career ERA is up to 40.50 -- highest by a position-player pitcher since Manny Alexander racked up a 67.50 ERA in a rip-roaring two-thirds of an inning for the '96 Orioles. And those nine earned runs Osik has allowed in just two innings are the most given up by anyone in that few innings since the immortal Marty Lang, of the 1930 Pirates, coughed up 10 in 1 2/3 innings.

    Ah, but on the brighter side, at least Osik didn't hit like a pitcher. He also hit a home run in this game, making him just the second position player since 1900 to give up a homer and hit a homer in the same game. The other: Jeff Kunkel, in 1988.

    "Hey, I've got to get in the record book somehow," Osik said. "I'm not going to get in any other way."

    The Missing Person: Despite facing all those hitters in his one shining inning, there was one Cardinals hitter Osik didn't get to pitch to -- fellow name of Mark McGwire. Believe it or not, Osik was genuinely disappointed to miss him.

    "I think that would have been pretty cool, to be honest," he said. "I would have tried to throw one down the middle -- and see if he could hit it out of the stadium."

    Homebodies of the Week
    They should have known it was going to be one of those homestands when they kicked it off with a game that lasted 5 hours and 39 minutes. But the Milwaukee Brewers had no idea they were about to careen through a week that felt more like a ride on Thunder Mountain.

    "It's been crazy, man," said Brewers shortstop Mark Loretta. "Marathons. Doubleheaders. Rain. Wind. Comebacks. It seems like about two weeks worth of games."

    Ah, but it was only one. So let's look back at seven days in the life of the Brewers:

    Day One (May 16): Brewers 6, Astros 5, in 16 insane innings. We went into all kinds of detail on this one last week. So we'll spare you a repeat, except to sum up this night in one word: lonnnngggggg.

    "It was one of those games you thought would never end," Loretta said. "And it's hard to believe you had one of those in an 11-10 game. Oh, wait. That was another game. See, I told you all these games are running together."

    Days 2 and 3 (May 17-18): Rain 2, Brewers 0. Back-to-back rainouts of the rest of the Astros series, forcing the Astros to come back to Milwaukee on Monday for the third time in three weeks, for a makeup doubleheader.

    "At one point, the whole dugout was under five feet of water," Loretta said. "But for some reason, they didn't call either game real quick. We stayed till 9 or 10 the first night. Then the next day, we didn't get out of there till after 2 in the afternoon. All I remember about that is: A lot of cards, a lot of chips."

    Day Four (May 19): Brewers 11, Giants 10 (10 innings). Just your typical Brewers game. Giants take a 7-2 lead into the seventh. Brewers score eight in the bottom of the seventh to go up by three. Giants come right back with three in the eighth to force extra innings. Brewers win it in 10.

    "Wait, now which game was this?" Loretta asked, in all seriousness. "I don't remember much about that game. I know we were down 7-2, and you're thinking, 'OK, we're dead.' Then, 'OK, we're gonna win.' Then, 'OK, now we're dead again.' Then, 'OK, we won.' "

    Day Five (May 20): Brewers 7, Giants 0. We interrupt this lunacy for something completely different: a normal game. Seven shutout innings by Jeff D'Amico. A two-hour, 30-minute game (after the previous two had averaged five hours). "Awesome," said Loretta.

    Day 6 (May 21): Giants 16, Brewers 10. Not much unusual about this game. Other than the Giants blowing a 5-0 lead, then scoring 11 runs in the sixth. And Giants starter Russ Ortiz giving up 10 runs and winning. And 30 Giants reaching base. And a game time of four hours, four minutes to play nine scenic innings.

    About all Loretta remembers about this classic was standing on the field during that 11-run inning, looking at the scoreboard, trying to figure out how they were going to squeeze that 11 in there.

    "I just know we were out there a long, long time," he said. "That was the most tired I got in any part of the homestand -- just standing out there for that one inning."

    Day Seven (May 22): Brewers 10, Astros 9, 10 innings (Game 1), and Brewers 6, Astros 1 (Game 2). Back come the Astros to Milwaukee for yet one more nightmare.

    Yet another routine Brewers game in Game 1. Down 9-2 in the ninth, they become the seventh team in history to go into the ninth seven runs down and win. In extra innings, of course. And they finished the comeback off the heretofore-invincible (against them) Billy Wagner, with Loretta's two-out blooper keeping the game alive.

    "I don't think the Astros were too happy to come back here," Loretta theorized -- extremely accurately.

    Day Eight (May 23): Brewers 7, Braves 6. In this game, the Brewers try a different approach. They take a 7-0 lead, then almost blow all of it in one inning (a six-run Atlanta sixth).

    "I think what we were saying in the locker room," Loretta reported, "was, 'Never a doubt.' "

    The Epilogue: So there you have it: Seven games, two rainouts, 26 hours and seven minutes of baseball, 72 innings, 104 runs scored, two five-run leads blown, one seven-run lead down the drain.

    After all that, we suggested, the Brewers might need to come up with a new marketing campaign -- something like ...

    "How about, 'See a whole new ball game -- maybe literally,' " Loretta proposed. "We may have to change the name from baseball to something else."

    Milwaukee fans of the week
    Finally, for a slightly unhappier bookend to that Milwaukee saga, we revisit the sad plight of those Houston Astros. Every time they left the house these last few weeks, they seemed to end up in Milwaukee.

    They played one series there that ended April 30. They were back 15 days later for another series. Two-thirds of that one got rained out. So back they came one more time for a third visit May 22.

    By the time they were done, they'd played one game featuring 23 walks, another game that went more than 5 hours and another game in which they blew a seven-run lead in the ninth. Throw in two rainouts and a makeup doubleheader on an off day, and you've got your basic baseball nightmare.

    These guys spent so much time in Milwaukee that in a span of 22 days, Shane Reynolds made three starts in County Stadium and only one in Enron Field.

    They spent so much time in Milwaukee, said Astros broadcast witticist Jim Deshaies, that "I'm curious to see my tax bill, to see if I'm taxed as a resident or a visitor."

    They spent so much time in Milwaukee, Deshaies went on, that "a varied diet consisted of switching from secret sauce to mustard on your bratwurst."

    They spent so much time in Milwaukee, he said, that "I feel I'm one now with Ernest Borgnine. Isn't he the king of Milwaukee?" (Wait. We thought that was Bud Selig.)

    "I know that town so well now," Deshaies concluded, "that I was sure, when I woke up Tuesday, I would be back in the Pfister Hotel, with rain coming down. And every day would be Ground Hog's Day in Milwaukee."

    Wild pitches
    Box score line of the week: Giants pitcher Russ Ortiz knew he needed to do something last Sunday to break a four-game losing streak. He sure didn't know he needed to give up 10 runs. But in a 16-10 win in Milwaukee, Ortiz became the first starting pitcher to give up 10 and win since Bob Friend in 1954:

    6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 2 WP, 1 HBP

    Asked if he could recall the last time he gave up 10 runs and won, Ortiz said: "I can't recall giving up 10 runs and staying into the seventh inning."

    Box score line of the week (minor-league division): He's back. And he's mile high. In his first start for Triple-A Colorado Springs on Monday, box-score line champ Jaime Navarro ripped off an all-timer against Nashville:

    5 1/3 IP, 18 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3 HR, 3 doubles, 12 singles

    The last 18-hitter in the major leagues was tossed by Bob Forsch (in relief) in 1989. And he didn't walk anyone, either. But when asked about those walks (or lack thereof), he did issue that immortal line: "Why would they want to?"

    Box score line of the week (minor-league, non-Navarro division): Down there in the California League, San Jose left-hander Chris Jones unfurled this line Monday against Lake Elsinore:

    2 IP, 4 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 8 BB, 0 K, 4 WP, 1 HBP

    Grandstander of the week: Only seven pitchers in history had hit a grand slam and pitched a shutout in the same game until Wednesday -- when Giants pitcher Shawn Estes did it in an 18-0 blowout of the Expos. Estes became the first pitcher since 1969, the first NL pitcher in half a century and the fourth Giants pitcher to pull off this amazing feat. But he still isn't sure how he hit the slam.

    "I don't remember seeing the pitch the last three feet," he said. "It was kind of surreal."

    Asked what he was thinking as he rounded the bases, Estes said: "I don't know. I have no memory of it."

    Yeah, we bet in 25 years, he'll remember so much he'll take an hour to tell the story.

    Inside-the-parkers of the week: Last Sunday, two different players managed to hit an inside-the-park home run before they hit an outside-the-park home run this season. One was Oakland's Jason Christiansen, who skipped an inside job around the Oakland Coliseum machine. The other was Cleveland's Enrique Wilson, who bopped one against the Yankees at Jacobs Field.

    After circling the bases, then collapsing, Wilson -- who, amazingly, was serving as Cleveland's DH -- said: "I'm glad we have an off day tomorrow -- to rest up. It took me 20 minutes to rest up. I'm glad I was DH-ing."

    The Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR'S David Vincent, reports that eight players in the '90s actually finished their seasons with more inside-the-parkers than outside-the-parkers: Bill Buckner (1990), Brent Mayne (1991), Juan Bell (1992), David Howard (1992), Butch Henry (1992), Mike Benjamin (1994), Dax Jones (1996) and Marc Sagmoen (1997).

    Men in Black of the week: What were those fashion-conscious Oakland A's doing wearing their black shirts on a 90-degree day in Oakland last Sunday? Trying to change their luck after a five-game losing streak. So what happened? They blew out the Twins 13-4 and got 15 hits.

    "If it meant playing naked out there, as long as we won, I wouldn't mind," said Randy Velarde.

    Save machine of the week: No pitcher in history has ever saved 80 percent of his team's wins, but the amazing Todd Jones was on the mound for 13 of the Tigers' first 16 postgame handshakes (81.25 percent). "He may weight 90 pounds by the end of the season," said manager Phil Garner.

    Asked by Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler about his chances of making his first All Star Team, Jones said: "I've pitched my way off seven of them. I hope I don't pitch my way off another."

    Rickeyball of the week: Only Rickey Henderson could have no extra-base hits in a month and a half with the Mets, then homer in his first at-bat with the Mariners.

    Asked by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Jim Caple why he thought he'd changed teams so many times, Mr. Rickey replied: "You sit back and think, 'What does it take for you to not have so many negatives? You're not a bad person. You're a wonderful person. You're a great person.' "

    Hey, the heck with electing this guy to the Hall of Fame. Just elect him president.

    Vladimir Guerrero impression of the week: Who was that mysterious guy flying around the outfield in Cleveland last weekend, making all those Web Gem catches?

    Huh? It was Manny Ramirez, who made two sensational plays to help beat the Yankees last Saturday -- a running grab in right-center to rob Chris Turner, then a snow-cone special in the right-field corner to pilfer Jim Leyritz. Hmm. Are we sure that was Manny Ramirez?

    "He's a defensive specialist," quipped GM John Hart, who would love to pay Manny as one.

    Manny Mota of the week: As legendary pinch hitters go, nobody will confuse Mike Piazza with John Vander Wal. But the Mets weren't complaining Tuesday, when Piazza ambled off the bench in the 10th inning to mash a game-winning pinch homer off Trevor Hoffman.

    "He sits and takes the whole day off, and we're out there working for nine innings," said Todd Zeile. "Then he comes up and takes a half-swing and ends up the player of the game. It's really kind of annoying."

    Yankee killer of the week: The Indians got Chuck Finley to beat the Yankees, right? Well, last Saturday, Finley started against the Yankees -- and the Indians won, 3-2.

    "I'm waiting for John Hart to tell me I can go home now and take the rest of the year off," Finley said.

    Trivia answer
    Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Fred McGriff and Cal Ripken Jr..

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

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