The Normal and Not-so Normal of the Baseball Week

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The rarities didn’t stop with David Cone’s perfect game Sunday as HardRock Sports columnist Scott A. Ham looks at a great week in baseball

Any week that starts off with a perfect game is going to be a little coo-coo.  Even on Thursday night, Sportscenter was STILL running a piece on Cone’s gem.  There were a lot of strange things involved in the game: the 33 minute rain delay (David Wells, who threw a perfect game last year, wore number 33); Cone throwing 88 pitches (Berra’s number was 8); Don Larsen and Berra reenacting the only perfect game in World Series history for the first pitch; Ricky Ledee catching a ball he only saw for a split second.  Wacky stuff.
Sunday was only the beginning.  A lot has happened over the last couple days, some that will shape the way this season unfolds and others that have no bearing on anything whatsoever but are fun to talk about. Here’s a look at the important and not so important stories of the last couple of days.
Dump the Umps
The umpires union is showing a real lack of solidarity as Richie Phillips revealed there has been an American League umpire faction against him for some time.  Many of those umps are on record with Major League Baseball as not tending their resignation with the rest of the union.  Bud Selig countered Phillips’ resignation threats by hiring ten Triple-A umpires that have been filling in on the major league level.  The replacement umps are due to start September 2nd, the day after the supposed mass resignation.  Phillips has spoken positively about the possibilities of the umpires union and Major League Baseball finding some mutual ground, but he may be blowing smoke.  Bud Selig would like nothing more than Phillips’ resignation on his desk September 1st without jeopardizing the remainder of the baseball season and playoffs.  If that results in the disintegration of the union and control of the new umpires by the commissioner’s office, it will be a major step in not only holding umpires accountable for their actions and performance, but establishing a universal strike zone that will make home plate a much happier place to visit.
Pennant Fever? Take an Aspirin
The National League beat the American League in interleague play for the second time in three years, 135 – 116.  The victory isn’t surprising looking at the standings this season.  The NL is simply more competitive than the AL, with six teams holding records over .500 and all of them involved in the hunt for playoff spots.  
Probably the biggest surprise is the emergence of the Phillies in the East, sitting comfortably at 8 games over .500 for the first time since 1993.  They sit 5 ½ behind Atlanta for the NL East, but are very much in the race for the wild card spot along with the Mets, Reds, and Diamondbacks.  The Mets remain only 2 games behind Atlanta after the Braves collapsed during interleague play, losing 5 straight.  Give credit to the Mets, though.  They’ve been playing good baseball, but they’ll need their offense to stay sharp to help out their so-so starting rotation.
The American League is turning into a joke.  The central is pathetic with Cleveland cruising to another title, their nearest competitor, the White Sox, are 3 games under .500 at home and 3 under overall. The Yankees may finally be walking away with the AL East, capitalizing on the recent skid of the Red Sox, while the Blue Jays have heated up and tied the BoSox for the AL wild card spot. Oakland’s showing signs of life in the west, but their offense will have to really kick it in high gear to overtake the Rangers.  They have a real young team so anything can happen.
And Now for Something Completely Different…
There were two oddities in the last two days you may or may not have heard about.  The first happened Wednesday night in the Diamondback – Astros game when Tony Womack (great baseball name) stroked a line drive to left past a diving Lance Berkman.  The game was in Houston so the ball rolled all the way to the wall courtesy of the local Astroturf.  Berkman chased it down as Womack sped around the bases, eventually sliding into home for an inside the park home run.  The interesting part was that it happened with the bases loaded on an 0 – 2 pitch.  
Womack was visibly winded after the play and with good reason.  A trip around the bases totals 120 yards, the length of a full football field including the end zones.  Factor into that the rounded fashion in which players run the bases and Womack may have sprinted 140 yards.
With that thought in mind, realize the last two players to accomplish an inside the park grand slam were Dan Wilson, the Seattle catcher against Detroit on May 3rd of ’98 and Tony Gwynn, June 26th of ’97 against the Dodgers.  A catcher and Tony Gwynn?  Gwynn’s a great hitter, probably one of the best ever, but I would never have picked him for an inside the park home run. Dan Wilson has averaged about 2 stolen bases per season and I’d be willing to bet they were on the tail ends of double steals.
Oddity number two happened in the great city of San Francisco Thursday night.  Giant’s reliever Jerry Spradlin came in against the Padres in the seventh inning and promptly plunked Ruben Rivera with a pitch, sending Rivera to first.  George Arias then came up and struck out swinging.  One out.  Rivera advances to second on a wild throw from Spradlin and scores on a double by Ben Davis.  So far pretty normal.  Damian Jackson comes up and strikes out.  Now there are two outs.  Carlos Baerga pinch hits and strikes out also, but the pitch is wild and Baerga gets to first.  Three strikeouts, two outs.  You know what’s coming next.  Quilvio Veras comes to the plate and strikes out, giving Spradlin four strikeouts in the inning.
It’s an interesting thing to see, especially when the pitcher is adept enough to strikeout four people in an inning and STILL give up a run.  Spradlin was the first Giant to accomplish this feat in 93 years when the Giants were still in New York.  It has happened 34 times in baseball history.
In Junior We Trust
The most interesting story to me, however, happened Tuesday night in Seattle.   Randy Johnson (a.k.a. the Big Unit) was visiting the new Safeco Field in Seattle.  In the sixth, Junior came to the plate and on a 3 – 1 count, Johnson came high and tight, forcing Griff to defensively check his swing. The ball ricocheted and umpire John Shulock signaled a foul ball.  The problem was, Shulock wasn’t sure whether it was a foul ball or if it actually hit Griffey.  So he asked him.  Griffey said the ball hit him in the arm and Shulock awarded him first base.
This is a pretty strange way to make a call that awards a player a base and in Shulock’s defense, he really had no idea what the call was.  I couldn’t imagine Griffey turning around and saying it was a foul ball regardless of how honest Shulock may think he is.  
The big series this weekend takes place in New York as the Yanks and Indians meet for the second time this season in what is surely to be the preview for a playoff match-up this October.  I believe Fox is broadcasting Saturday’s game nationally and it should be a dogfight to the bitter end.  Not only are they the two best teams in the American League, but they’re not very fond of each other. Let’s hope a hockey game doesn’t break out.

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