Padres reliever J.J. Trujillo
, who on June 11 gave up a walk-off homer to the first batter he ever faced in the big leagues, might not agree, but baseball has produced its fair share of highlights in the season's first half. Here's a look at some of the best -- and most unusual -- along with our picks for first-half awards. No, J.J. didn't make either list.
Batting line of the year ... make that any year: 6-6-6-7. On May 23, Shawn Green's 4-homer, 6-run, 6-hit, 7-ribbie, ML-record 19-total-base blowup triggers a 27-game stretch in which he has 17 jacks and 34 RBIs. The shortest previous span between 4-HR games was 690 days; Green's fireworks display comes just 21 days after Mike Cameron's.
CURSES! ANOTHER CURSE
After Boston caps a 9-game winning streak with a sweep of Oakland on the road May 7-9, Grady Little's Red Sox stand tall at 24–7. That's the best start by a first-year manager since Kid Gleason of the 1919 White Sox. That's right, the 1919 Black Sox -- the team that had that little problem around World Series time.
Handing out the hardware
AL: Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox -- AL top 10 hitter has 57 RBIs through June 23 and plays money position for a first-place team. If Sox break the curse, he's why.
NL: Barry Bonds, Giants -- Leads world in slugging and OBP, and second in NL in hitting. And someday, he's going to charge the mound and maul someone.
AL: Derek Lowe, Red Sox -- Everyone knows about the 11–3 mark and the 2.16 ERA. But three jacks allowed in 104 1/3 IPs is stingier than Montgomery Burns.
NL: Curt Schilling, D-Backs -- More wins than walks for the best in West. Even nastier than last year. Only problem: needs a nickname as catchy as Big Unit.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
AL: Eric Hinske, Blue Jays -- On pace to smash most of Shawn Green's rookie records in Toronto; 24-year-old is light at end of Jays' tunnel.
NL: Kaz Ishii, Dodgers -- Third rook in 27 years to win 10 of first 12 starts. Cal Eldred and Mark Fidrych also did it, and anytime you're in The Bird's company, you're all right.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
AL: Grady Little, Red Sox -- Hired in mid-March; gunning for late October.
NL: Bob Boone, Reds -- 51 straight days in first -- with that pitching.
TRULY GRAND SLAMS
In a span of 6 at-bats with the bases loaded over 6 1/2 weeks, Angels SS David Eckstein swats 3 grand slams and a triple. Eckstein, who had never hit a slam in the majors, jacks them on back-to-back days in April. Not to be outdone, on May 17 Jason Giambi becomes second Yankee, after Babe Ruth, to hit a walk-off grand slam while trailing by three runs. It comes in the 14th inning and gives NY a 13-12 win over the Twins.
SECOND TO NONE
Thanks to one of MLB's best ground ball-to-fly ball ratios and speed to burn, Marlins leadoff man Luis Castillo catches DiMaggio (Dom) on June 20, the same day he passes Rogers Hornsby, whose 33-game hitting streak in 1922 had been the best-ever by a 2B. The streak ends at 35 on June 22, but not before Castillo had upped his BA from .262 to .341.
Braves ace-turned-closer John Smoltz saves his 20th game on June 14, giving him both a 20-win season and a 20-save season in his career. Since the save became an official MLB statistic in 1969, Dennis Eckersley, Mudcat Grant, knuckleballer Wilbur Wood and Smoltz are the only pitchers to accomplish the feat.
In his new book, Omar! My Life On and Off the Field, Indians SS Omar Vizquel rips former Cleveland closer Jose Mesa's performance in the 1997 World Series, which the Indians lost to Florida. Mesa, now with the Phillies, gets even in an interleague game on June 12 when he drills Vizquel in the back. Albert Belle, who according to author Omar corked his bats, has yet to exact his revenge.
On June 2, Phillies starter Robert Person clubs 2 homers and drives in 7 runs in an 18-3 win over the Expos. Person becomes the first pitcher since Tony Cloninger in 1966 with 7 RBIs in a game and the first to hit a grand slam in the first inning since Dave McNally in 1968. (Manager Larry Bowa denies rumors that he's thinking of using Person at 3B.)
TWO FOR THE AGES
May 7: Dodgers RP Jesse Orosco, 45, earns his first save since 1999. Only Hoyt Wilhelm was older when he got one. June 4: Orosco becomes oldest P to win a game since Charlie Hough (1994). June 11: D-Backs RP Mike Morgan marks 24th anniversary of his ML debut with 2µ scoreless innings; 64 current ML players were born after Morgan's debut.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.