Four games in August

Although I enjoy a beer every now and then (or now, in fact, if you’re offering) my only real addiction is to baseball. And like all addicts, I must have my fix. This goes a long way to explain why I attended (or will) a ballgame every week this August. Of course, I am always writing about how every game can show us something, so in that spirit I will produce a few thoughts from each game:

Aug. 1: Yankees 12, Orioles 3

This game, an easy Yankees victory, was also the major league season debut of Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain, as you probably know, was coming back from Tommy John surgery as well as the absurd injury he suffered playing with his son in spring training. This got me thinking that Joba’s career has heretofore resembled nothing so much as a game of Mad Libs. I’m sure you all remember Mad Libs, the game wherein a series of words is inserted, blindly, into a story. With that in mind, I took the liberty of creating the complete Joba Chamberlain Mad Lib, as is presented below.


Aug. 7: Marlins 4, Mets 2

The Mets drew under 29,000 for this game, which is pretty bad when you consider it was a nice night, and even more so when one considers the Yankees drew more than 15,000 additional fans on the first and that was a midweek day game. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the Mets attendance issues that jumped out at me, but rather how surprised I was to recognize Austin Kearns on sight.

It occurred to me that I recognized Kearns not just because I watch a lot of baseball, but because Kearns had a brief (35 games) and unimpressive (.235 AVG, .668 OPS) for the Yankees in 2010. The Yankees, being perpetual contenders with money to spend, have a lot of guys like this. I can remember a couple (Lance Johnson played 18 games in 2000, Ivan Rodriguez 33 in 2008) but mostly they are, by definition, forgettable.

It occurs to me that virtually every team must have a handful—this season alone I see likely candidates in Nick Johnson’s Baltimore tenure and Jonathan Sanchez’s dreadful time in Kansas City as future members of the “Oh yeah, he played for us” club. Most fans could probably name a handful for their team. With the trade deadline still not a month past (and the off season too soon to come) it only seems fitting to take a moment here and remember that for all the big moves, it is the likes of men like Kearns who appear most often in the transaction logs.

Aug. 13: Yankees 8, Rangers 2

Speaking of trade deadline moves, it seems that moves made around that time are remembered almost exclusively in one of two categories. The first is the big move that works out. Although there are plenty of examples, perhaps the most notable in recent memory is still Randy Johnson’s acquisition by the Houston Astros, during which he went 11-1 with a 1.98 ERA. The Astros were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, but it was no fault of Johnson’s, who allowed just two earned runs in 14 innings of work.

The other type of deal anyone remembers is the one where a team gave up a future superstar in a move that didn’t work. There are seemingly dozens of these deals to choose from, although perhaps the most notable remains the Red Sox trading Jeff Bagwell for 22 (effective, it must be said) innings from Larry Andersen.

(Of course, a lot of these deals have to do with perception. Johnson was brilliant in Houston but still earned just 4.2 WAR and the Astros lost their Division Series in four games. Meanwhile, they gave up three players who earned 62.2 WAR—and counting, as Freddy Garcia is still going—after the deal.)

Nonetheless, even among “marquee” moves, a substantial number of them seem to amount to very little. Zack Greinke may yet re-sign with the Angels and lead them to glory, but so far his move to Los Angeles seems to be Macbeth’s sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In the same vein was the Rangers’ pick-up of Ryan Dempster, who pitched this game for Texas. Since arriving in Arlington with a sparkling 2.25 ERA, Dempster has pitched his two worst games of the season (twice allowing eight earned runs, after allowing more than four just once in Chicago) and currently sports an ERA north of six.

Of course, given that the players Texas gave up for Dempster appear to be of minor distinction, it is likely that this deal will go into the heap of trades—like the Yankees for Denny Neagle in 2000, or the Red Sox picking up Eric Gagne in 2007—that end up having far less effect for either team that was imagined.

Aug. 16: Rangers 10, Yankees 6

The Yankees started this game with Chris Stewart behind the plate and regular catcher Russell Martin at DH. (Because, hey, whenever you get a chance to DH a guy hitting under .200, you have to do it.) In the seventh inning, the Yankees pinch hit Raul Ibanez for Stewart, forcing the team to shift Martin to the catcher and putting the pitcher—in theory—into the lineup. The pitcher’s spot would eventually come up in the ninth but Curtis Granderson grounded out. Had he reached base, and the Yankees tied the game, a pitcher would have ended up batting as the team was out of position players.

All of which got me wondering how often that actually happens. The answer, you’ll not be shocked to learn, is not often. Although in the weird coincidence that often seems to pop up in these moments, it just happened, on August 12. With his team up 14-1, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine moved Jarrod Saltalamacchia to first base from DH, and put pitcher Clayton Mortensen into the line-up. The next inning, Mortensen came up. Owner of 16 Major League plate appearances before this, he struck out.

Of course, this is a pretty rare occurrence.

Pitcher—and very occasional batter—Clayton Mortensen (US Presswire)

Although Blue Jays’ pitcher Aaron Loup batted in Oakland on August 3 (it was the fifteenth inning) those two were the first pitchers to bat in an American League game—excluding cases when position players were on the mound, which is an altogether different thing—since Tyson Ross batted for the A’s in May of 2010.

No American League pitcher has recorded a hit in that situation since Andy Sonnanstine did in 2009—although he had three tries since he had to bat after an error in making up the line-up by Rays’ skipper Joe Maddon. No pitcher hitting after a team has lost its DH for strategic reasons has recorded a hit since Bobby Korecky did for the Twins in 2008.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

I do not, it should be noted, spend all my time at games thinking about this kind of stuff. (In fact, I might not have given the losing a DH issue a second thought if not for my father expressing his distaste for it—he’s not crazy about bringing the infield in or me leaving lights on when I leave a room, so look for columns on those topics soon.) Nonetheless, it is reassuring to know that every game truly does contain a jumping off point for talking baseball beyond the game in front of you.

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Love the whole «Oh yeah, he played for us” concept. I’m (was, actually) an Expos fan so I can say… -Oh yeah, Pete Rose played for us (95 games in 1984, .259 AVG) -Oh yeah, Graig Nettles played for us (80 games in 1988, .172 AVG) -Oh yeah, Jason Thompson played for us (30 games in 1986, 196 AVG) -Oh yeah Manny Trillo played for us (31 games in 1983, .264 AVG) -Oh yeah, Ron Darling played for us (17 Inn in 1991) -Oh yeah, Andre Thornton played for us ( 69 games in 1976, .191 AVG, 9 HR) Steve… Read more »