Time for baseball's midseason awards

Well, here we are, at the All-Star break of another fabulous baseball season. And once again, we know just what you're thinking:

How come there's now more scoring in those Women's World Cup games than there is in every baseball game you've seen this year?

Has Frank McCourt sued Bud Selig yet for ordering too many free Dodger Dogs at a game in 2004?

And, of course, how's Manny Ramirez's trip to Spain going?

All right, so maybe you weren't thinking any of that. But it's still been one of the most fun, most unpredictable baseball seasons in years. So grab a bucket of popcorn and follow along as we raise the curtain on our annual Midseason Awards Show (not to be confused with an ESPYs telecast near you).



Jose Reyes, Mets

If it weren't for that darned hamstring he popped last weekend, I have no doubt Jose Reyes would have gotten at least three more hits just in the time it took you to read that introduction. He's been that insanely hot. And that's how he wound up in the leadoff spot in this awards column. Now, we all know that when it comes time to hand out those real-life, full-season MVP trophies, guys on third-place teams almost never win them. But I'll worry about that trophy in three months. All I know about the half-season I just witnessed is that no other player in the National League had a more magical effect on his franchise than the shortstop for the New York Metropolitans. Ask yourself this: Is there any chance -- any -- that they'd be sitting here, two games over .500, if Reyes hadn't spent the past few months playing baseball like some unstoppable combination of Rickey Henderson, Rogers Hornsby, Usain Bolt and Ziggy Marley? That answer, of course, is: No way, Jose. Consider this: Before Reyes limped onto the disabled list Thursday, he was on pace to finish the season with 228 hits, 28 triples, 41 doubles, 55 steals, 120 runs scored, a .354 batting average, a .398 on-base percentage and 81 multihit games. You know the only player in history who has had a full season in that neighborhood? How 'bout Tyrus Raymond Cobb, in 1911 (248 hits, 24 triples, 47 doubles, 83 steals, 147 runs, a .420 BA, a .467 OBP and 84 multihit games). But that's not all. Did you know Reyes has more than twice as many multihit games (43) as single-hit games (21)? Or that he has more extra-base hits (40) than Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto. "Without him," one scout told Half-Year in Review, "they'd be about 12 under [.500]. Hell, if he was just having the season he had LAST year, they might be 12 under."

My ballot: 1) Reyes, 2) Prince Fielder, 3) Lance Berkman, 4) Matt Kemp, 5) Joey Votto, 6) Ryan Braun, 7) Andrew McCutchen, 8) Brian McCann, 9) Roy Halladay, 10) Justin Upton.



Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

It isn't true that once upon a time, all Red Sox trades turned out like Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen or Babe Ruth for a bunch of dollar bills to be named later. But it is true that not many of them turned out like this one. All we heard all this past winter was that Adrian Gonzalez was born to hit in Fenway. Well, whaddaya know. He really was. With a not-so-minor assist from his .380/.424/.608 (BA/OBP/SLG) numbers at Fenway, this man is rolling toward a season for the ages. At this rate, he has a shot to join Wade Boggs as the only Red Sox hitters to get 230-plus hits in a season and to join David Ortiz as the only Red Sox ever to unfurl one of those rarified 30-homer, 50-double seasons. And if he keeps producing at this pace, Gonzalez would be the first American Leaguer to pile up 200 hits, 30 homers, 50 doubles, 135 RBIs, a .340 average and a .400 OBP since (stay tuned for this excellent iconic name) Lou Gehrig in 1927. When Gonzalez's manager, Terry Francona, was looking for a word to describe his first baseman last week, it was fitting that he settled on "relentless," because this is one locomotive that never stops. Gonzalez has been on the lineup card for every game but one. And the only time all year he went 10 straight trips to the plate without reaching base came during the first five days of the season. I'll confess it was still tougher than it looked to cast a vote for this man over the amazing Jose Bautista. But I kept coming back to this: Could the Red Sox have climbed out of that 2-10 abyss if Gonzalez hadn't gone on this historically great roll? The answer was: No chance. And that's why you'll find that word, "valuable," in the name of this award.

My ballot: 1) Gonzalez, 2) Bautista, 3) Miguel Cabrera, 4) Curtis Granderson, 5) Asdrubal Cabrera, 6) Paul Konerko, 7) Mark Teixeira, 8) Michael Young, 9) Justin Verlander, 10) Jered Weaver.



Hanley Ramirez, Marlins

He rolled into spring training talking about being a leader and a winner. But sadly, all Hanley Ramirez has really been for three months is a disappointment. At least he has pulled up his numbers from sub-Mendoza Land to .237/.326/.358 since Jack McKeon made him the poster boy for his team's underachievement. But the trouble with Ramirez, one scout said, is that "it's not just one part of his game that's gone bad. It's his whole game. He's a great example of taking your bad at-bats into the field. He's always losing focus out there." Unfortunateley for Ramirez, there are facts to back that up. He ranks dead last in the big leagues among qualifying shortstops in fielding percentage. He also sits precipitously near the bottom in the Fielding Bible's Plus-Minus rankings. And that's just mind-boggling for a player with Ramirez's tools. "This guy is so talented," the same scout said, "you get seduced by it. But this isn't just a bad year. It's a brutal year." And you know where those brutal years get you, right? Into the LVP winner's circle, of course.

My ballot: 1) Ramirez, 2) Dan Uggla, 3) Ian Stewart, 4) James Loney, 5) Miguel Tejada.



Adam Dunn, White Sox

It pains me to hand this prestigious half-trophy to good old Adam Dunn, because he's one of my favorite human beings in the game. But yikes. What a year he's had. You'd think it would be impossible for this fellow to have a second half that goes anything like his first half. But if he does, here's the stat line he'd wind up with, in season No. 1 of his four-year, $56 million deal: 206 strikeouts, 76 hits, a .163 average, a .304 slugging percentage and 15 homers. When I first perused those numbers, I thought, "Wow, that's veritably Rob Deer-esque." Then, amazingly, upon further review, it turned out that not even the most legendary whiffin' man of all time ever had a season like this. Deer's "signature" year came in 1991, when he put up this line: 175 whiffs, 80 hits, a .179 average, a .386 slugging percentage and 25 homers. You wouldn't want to hang that one in the Louvre, but compared to Dunn's season so far, the "Deer Hunter" looks like Tony Gwynn. Oh, and here's one more Dunn feat nobody has witnessed before. If he keeps this up, he'll finish the season with 100 more strikeouts than balls put in play. OK, that can't possibly happen, right? It wouldn't shock me if the "Big Donkey" hit like 30 home runs after the break and blew up all these stats. But for now, much to my profound regret, he's still vintage LVP material.

My ballot: 1) Dunn, 2) Chone Figgins, 3) Alex Rios, 4) J.D. Drew, 5) Manny Ramirez.



Roy Halladay, Phillies

Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay

#34 SP
Philadelphia Phillies

2011 STATS

  • GM18
  • W11

  • L3

  • BB17

  • K131

  • ERA2.44

Before the Jair Jurrjens Fan Club starts typing the first of its 188,000 emails that announce, "Stark is an idiot," here's the deal with this pick: What we have here is, essentially, a tie between Cy Halladay and a shooting star who's having a phenomenal season (i.e., Jurrjens). "Here's the way I'd put it," one longtime NL scout advised Half-Year in Review. "You've got 1 and 1-A, and Halladay is 1. And the reason Halladay is 1 is that he's more feared." Another scout told me basically the same thing, saying: "Halladay is a guy you can match up with the toughest teams and anybody's No. 1. Jurrjens is on a hell of a roll, but it's not the same level of dominance." But even after listening to four scouts give virtually identical arguments, I wasn't sold. This award is about performance -- not history, not reputations. And fortunately, we now live in a world overstuffed with fabulous information to help us evaluate performance. So here's what that information tells us: Jurrjens is 12-3, with an incredible ERA (1.87) more than half a run lower than Halladay's (2.44). Ten years ago, that would have been the beginning and end of this discussion. But if you look beyond those columns on the stat sheet, you find it isn't that simple. Halladay is No. 1 in the NL in wins above replacement (4.7), according to FanGraphs. Jurrjens is 12th (2.3). Halladay leads the league in FanGraphs' Fielding Independent Pitching rankings and ESPN.com's Defense Independent ERA. Jurrjens sits way behind him, at 14th and 13th, respectively. According to Baseball Info Solutions, Halladay has thrown the most "Gems" (starts of six-plus innings pitched, with a 65-plus game score) in the league, with 10. Jurrjens is tied for 20th, with five. Halladay also leads Jurrjens in WHIP, strikeout ratio, walk ratio, average game score and team won-lost record. And Halladay tops him in all those departments even though he's faced 98 more hitters, made nearly twice as many starts that lasted seven-plus innings (15-8) and thrown 416 more pitches. So you tell me which of these guys has "pitched" the best. Those numbers tell me it's Roy Halladay -- barely. But you know what I'd tell anybody who would argue otherwise? This is one debate in which there's no wrong answer.

My ballot: 1) Halladay, 1-A) Jurrjens, 2) Cole Hamels, 3) Cliff Lee, 4) Clayton Kershaw, 5) Tommy Hanson.



Justin Verlander, Tigers

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander

#35 SP
Detroit Tigers

2011 STATS

  • GM19
  • W11

  • L4

  • BB31

  • K138

  • ERA2.26

All righty, here we go again. Yes, Jered Weaver has a sub-2.00 ERA. And Josh Beckett has been a dominator. CC Sabathia just keeps on winning. And James Shields has lived up to his "Big Game" nickname. Want to start preparing your passionate campaign for one of those fine twirlers? Go right ahead. But friends, I'm here to argue this has been Justin Verlander's year. The pitchers around him in Motown have done such an exemplary job, they just got their pitching coach fired. So you can't underestimate what it means to a team like this to have a guy on the payroll who embraces ace-hood like Verlander does. In a year in which he's pitched into the eighth inning more times (12) than any other pitcher in either league and in which he's launched at least 115 pitches in more starts (10) than any other pitcher in baseball, he's still breathing exactly the same five-alarm fire in his last inning as in his first. "The thing I love the most about him," one scout said, "is that he can smell a win. He actually gets stronger late in the game. He actually throws harder. He just smells it." Hey, it's true. Despite all those innings and all those pitches, Verlander leads the league in WHIP and quality starts (18, out of 19 starts). He's thrown a no-hitter, taken another one into the eighth and taken yet another into the sixth. He's coming off one of the most dominating months in AL history (6-0, 0.92 ERA in June). And if you stack him up against Weaver, who has a great case for this award, here's what you find: Verlander beats him in strikeout ratio, walk ratio, opponent average and WHIP (among other things). Not to mention Verlander has gone eight innings or more in twice as many starts as Weaver (10 to five). So once again, the heck with that ERA column. I know a Cy Young when I see one.

My ballot: 1) Verlander, 2) Weaver, 3) Beckett, 4) Shields, 5) Sabathia.



Ryan Franklin, Cardinals/Jobseekers.org

Ryan Franklin

Poor Ryan Franklin. For three years, he provided us with an uplifting story of a guy with limited ammunition finding a way to save 82 games for a team that needed and appreciated him. Then he wandered in there on Opening Day this season, served up a save-blowing home run on his fourth pitch of the year, ripped his not-so-adoring faithful afterward and found life in St. Louis would never be the same. We've all heard of closers who lost their jobs and lost their way -- but not like this. This guy was scored on in six of his first seven appearances, 10 of his first 12 and 15 of 21 altogether before the Cardinals had to put him out of their misery and release him last month. The Cardinals went 5-16 in games in which he appeared. And he went 37 consecutive days at one point without appearing in a game at home because all the booing apparently was hurting Tony La Russa's ears. Franklin also allowed 20 extra-base hits in a mere 27 2/3 innings. Here's how hard that is: Josh Beckett, who starts for a living, still hasn't allowed 20 all season. Beyond that, Franklin managed to cram nine gopherballs and a .367 opponent batting average into those 27 2/3 innings. And since the dawn of the modern save rule, he's the first NL reliever to give up both hits and home runs at that rate (in a season with that many innings pitched). Oh, maybe he'll still surface somewhere and get to start over. But now he doesn't have to put just those messy numbers behind him. He has to put Cy Yuk-dom honors behind him, too.

My ballot: 1) Franklin, 2) Edinson Volquez, 3) Doug Davis, 4) Javier Vazquez, 5) Aaron Heilman.



John Lackey, Red Sox

John Lackey

Was it really only four years ago that John Lackey was a 19-9, top-three-in-the-Cy-Young-race kind of guy? Was it really just 19 months ago that the Red Sox thought he was worth an $82.5 million investment over the next five years? Ehhh, 'fraid so. But that's not the John Lackey the Red Sox are looking at this year. This John Lackey is on the road to history, all right -- but not good history. He's already become the third Red Sox pitcher ever -- and first since 1936 (Wes Ferrell) -- to give up at least nine earned runs twice in the same season. His 7.47 ERA would be the highest in the history of the Red Sox for any pitcher who made this many starts in a season. (Yeah, even higher than Tomo Ohka.) And of the 130* pitchers in the big leagues who have worked at least 70 innings this year, Lackey has the highest ERA (by more than a run), the highest opponent batting average (.304) and the second-highest opponent OPS (.875) behind only Bronson Arroyo. We really hate to single out a guy battling family health issues and an elbow that clearly isn't what it used to be. But the facts are the facts. And these are Cy Yuk-worthy facts, unfortunately for poor John Lackey.

My ballot: 1) Lackey, 2) Fausto Carmona, 3) Kyle Davies, 4) Sean O'Sullivan, 5) Kyle Drabek.



Danny Espinosa, Nationals

Danny Espinosa

Danny Espinosa

#18 2B
Washington Nationals

2011 STATS

  • GM89
  • HR16

  • RBI52

  • R45

  • OBP.335

  • AVG.249

Here's an odd fact for the Society for the Prevention of Award Cruelty to Second Basemen to look into: Eight second basemen in National League history have won a rookie of the year award -- but seven of them won it between 1947 (Jackie Robinson) and 1969 (Ted Sizemore). And it's now been almost 30 years (since Steve Sax in 1982) since any NL second baseman has won one. Well, that's about to change, if Danny Espinosa keeps doing his thing. Espinosa already has become the first rookie second baseman ever to thump 16 home runs before the All-Star break and has given himself a shot to become the first to hit 30 in a season. He's also turned himself into an above-average defender, especially for a guy who had played almost no second base in his life before he reached the big leagues. And as tough as it was to separate Espinosa in this race from those two rising stars in Atlanta, Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman, just check out the leaderboards. It's Espinosa who leads all NL rookies in homers, slugging, extra-base hits, runs scored, RBIs and even stolen bases. And if we use wins above replacement as our guide, it isn't even close (3.3 for Espinosa, 1.9 for Kimbrel, 0.8 for Freeman). So that second-base ROY drought isn't over yet. But Espinosa is working on it.

My ballot: 1) Espinosa, 2) Kimbrel, 3) Freeman



Michael Pineda, Mariners

Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda

#36 SP
Seattle Mariners

2011 STATS

  • GM17
  • W8

  • L5

  • BB34

  • K106

  • ERA2.58

Only once in baseball history have we had a rookie of the year who could have gotten mistaken for a tight end. And that happened more than half a century ago, when a 6-foot-7, 255-pound human mountain range named Frank Howard mashed his way to a ROY trophy. But now it's Michael Pineda's turn, all 6-7, 260 of him. Except this dude isn't just on the road to blowing away the rookie record for body mass index. He has other big stuff on the agenda. Only four active pitchers -- Kerry Wood, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson -- racked up more strikeouts over their first 17 starts than this man (106). But not one of them walked as few hitters along the way as Pineda has (34). And if he keeps up this pace -- which isn't likely, given the Mariners' desire to limit his innings -- he'll finish with 15 wins, 200 strikeouts and a 2.58 ERA. Know the last rookie starter to beat those numbers? How about Grover Cleveland Alexander -- in 1911. (Dwight Gooden, for those wondering, missed in ERA by .02 in 1984, but we thank him for giving us all a reason to mention Grover Cleveland Alexander.) No matter whom we're comparing him to, though, from the moment Pineda set foot on a big league mound, it was obvious he was special. And now it's clear that's not just because he might be the largest man in the 206 area code, either.

My ballot: 1) Pineda, 2) Jeremy Hellickson, 3) Mark Trumbo



Clint Hurdle, Pirates; Joe Maddon, Rays

These are never easy, but especially this year. In the NL, Kirk Gibson and Terry Collins have transformed their franchises. And Tony La Russa has performed one of his greatest managerial magic acts ever. But Clint Hurdle has had an almost evangelical impact on a Pirates team that thought positivity was some sort of electromagnetic terminology until he showed up. There might be only one man on earth who thought we'd all look up July 6 and find the Pirates on top of the Reds and Brewers in the standings. Yet somehow, despite a major talent gap among those three rosters, Hurdle made the men who play for him believe it. Meanwhile in the AL, it was really tough not to tip this cap for Manny Acta, Eric Wedge or Terry Francona. But think about the job Joe Maddon has done beneath the palm trees. Had to rebuild an entire bullpen. Lost Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. Had to deal with a little Manny Ramirez mishap. Waited three months for Evan Longoria to get his batting average out of the .230s. And had to keep the Catwalk Express from gurgling under after starting 0-6 and 1-8. Naturally, Maddon mixed, matched, philosophized and somehow maneuvered a team with a $41 million payroll to within four games of first place in the AL East. Miraculous.

MY NL BALLOT: 1) Hurdle, 2) Gibson, 3) Collins. MY AL BALLOT: 1) Maddon, 2) Acta, 3) Francona.



Anytime wildlife invades a bullpen, a sneeze wreaks as much havoc as a fractured arm bone and a relief pitcher hangs around long enough to give up two touchdowns, it's Half-Year in Review's mission in life to make sure stuff like that doesn't go unnoticed. So here they come -- the injuries, box score lines and nuttiest games of the season (so far).


First prize -- Padres bullpen catcher Justin Hatcher needed two shots of penicillin in May -- after getting bit by a squirrel in the bullpen at Coors Field.

Brian Tallet


Second prize -- Cardinals reliever Brian Tallet might never live down this one. He just headed for the 15-day disabled list with one of those dreaded sneezing injuries (in the old rib cage). That would be bad enough if it didn't mean he was also about to spend as many days on the DL -- after sneezing -- as the guy who replaced him on the roster, a fellow named Albert Pujols, just spent with a fractured bone in his forearm.

Third prize -- Marlins reliever Clay Hensley fell down the stairs at the team hotel, fractured his scapula and wound up on the disabled list.

Fourth prize -- It hurt enough that Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer fouled a ball off his face and fractured a sinus cavity in a June 3 game against the Mets. But just to make sure he needed to drop an extra Advil, he also managed to strike out when he wasn't even in the batter's box. How'd that happen? Glad you asked. After Schafer staggered off the field, Eric Hinske headed for the plate with two strikes, missed strike three and hung that whiff on Schafer's stat sheet -- while he was en route to the hospital for X-rays. Ouch!


Fifth prize -- Those innovative Brewers sent two players to the minors on rehab options with one injury -- and had them return with another injury. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt reports that the Brewers sent out Takashi Saito with a hamstring issue and had him return with an oblique injury. Then Manny Parra headed out with back trouble and came back with elbow problems. Sheez, it's dangerous down there.

Honorable mention (Spring Training Division) -- Two memorable spring training mishaps that lingered into the season: Brewers ace Zack Greinke cracked a rib -- in a pickup basketball game. … And Angels reliever Scott Downs was hanging out in flip-flops with his kids, bashed his big toe and had to spend the first week and a half of the season on the disabled list.


Vin Mazzaro


First prize -- Vin Mazzaro, in RELIEF for the Royals, May 16 versus Cleveland: 2 1/3 IP, 11 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1 HR, 77 pitches to get seven outs.

What's up with that: You think it's easy to give up 14 earned runs in relief? Mazzaro was the first reliever to do it since 1942, and the first pitcher since 1900 to give up 14 runs in any role without getting at least nine outs. His reward for all that fine relief work was a trip back to Omaha for three weeks -- whereupon he returned, gave up six runs in his next outing and became the third pitcher in the last 50 years to give up 20 earned runs over back-to-back trips to the mound. In Greinke's Cy Young season in Kansas City in 2009, it took him 2.5 MONTHS to give up 20 earned runs.

Second prize -- Madison (Mr. October) Bumgarner, for the Giants, June 21 versus Minnesota: 1/3 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 0 BB and, thankfully, 1 K -- of the pitcher!

What's up with that: Nothing real unusual about this game, other than Bumgarner became the second starting pitcher in history to give up hits to the first EIGHT hitters of the game … and became the first pitcher since 1900 to give up at least nine hits in a start without getting at least two outs … and allowed the Twins to become the first team ever to kick off a game by going single-double, single-double, single-double, single-double.

Quote of the day: From Bumgarner's shell-shocked manager, Bruce Bochy: "That's hard to do. I don't care if you're throwing batting practice out there."

Sean O'Sullivans


Third prize -- Sean O'Sullivan, for the Royals, May 28 versus Texas: 5 2/3 IP, 15 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 5 home runs, 9 extra-base hits.

What's up with that: In case you hadn't noticed, that's a lot of crooked numbers to squish into one box score line. O'Sullivan was the first pitcher since 1940 to give up 15 hits, 10 runs and five home runs in one day's work … and the first in the live-ball era to include nine extra-base hits in the carnage … and the first in the live-ball era to toss in back-to-back-to-back gopherballs in the middle of a five-homer, 15-hitter. Got all that?

Fourth prize -- Fausto Carmona, Opening Day versus the White Sox: 3 IP, 11 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 2 HR, 88 pitches to get nine outs.

What's up with that: Holy, schmoly. Way to kill the fun of Opening Day. You know how many starting pitchers before Carmona had ever given up 10 earned runs on Opening Day without getting at least 10 outs? Right you are: none, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.



Fifth prize -- That ever-creative Jonathan Sanchez, for the Giants, April 30 versus Washington: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 6 BB, 7 K, 2 HBP, 1 WP.

What's up with that: You had to see this one to believe it. The always-action-packed Giants left-hander walked or hit seven of the first 10 hitters, invited 10 baserunners to join him in the fun, threw a wild pitch -- and somehow allowed zero earned runs. So how unique was that? Only two other pitchers in the live-ball era -- Bill Travers on July 21, 1976, and Chris Codiroli on Sept. 1, 1990 -- managed to issue that many walks, hit that many batters and toss in a wild pitch without giving up an earned run. Of course!


Francisco Liriano


No-Hit Division -- One thing you can say about Francisco Liriano's May 3 no-no against the White Sox: It will never be confused with a perfect game. Take a look: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 6 BB, 2 K, 123 pitches, 66 strikes.

What's up with that: This was the 249th no-hitter in history -- but the first that included that many walks and that few strikeouts. … Liriano's 83 Game Score was the worst in any no-hitter since Cliff (Lefty) Chambers put up an 83 in an eight-walk no-hitter for the 1951 Pirates. That was 140 complete-game no-hitters ago, counting postseason no-nos. … And the Zero Hero of the hour entered the game with (gulp) a 9.13 ERA, the highest ever by a pitcher who threw a no-hitter that deep into a season.

Look in the Mirror Division -- In a June 28 Rockies-White Sox game, the two starting pitchers did something that makes all those hours of box score perusal worthwhile. They compiled exactly the same box score line. Check it out:

Gavin Floyd 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K

Jason Hammel 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K

What's up with that: So when was the last time two starters unfurled precisely the same line in the very same box score? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was Aug. 19, 1995, when Donovan Osborne and John Smoltz spun off these clunkers in a Cardinals-Braves game:

3 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K


The 19-Inning Classic -- Phillies 5, Reds 4, in 19 unforgettable innings, May 25.

For one thing, this was the only Roy Halladay start in history to last more than six hours. But that isn't why this 600-pitch marathon will be remembered for about the next eight centuries. And the Reds actually led this game in extra innings, until Francisco Cordero served up a Ryan Howard homer in the 10th that forced them to play another NINE innings. But no one will recall that, either. No, what made this game an all-timer was the work of Phillies utility whiz Wilson Valdez -- on the pitcher's mound. Valdez headed for the rubber in the 19th, hit 89 mph on the gun, ripped off a 1-2-3 inning and … (ta-taaaaa) … wound up as (who knew!) the winning pitcher. He was the second position player to do that in the division-play era, the first second baseman to collect a W since Cub Stricker in 1988 and the first man to start a game in the field and win it on the mound since the ultimate super-utility man, Babe Ruth. So what were the odds Valdez and Ruth would ever end up in the same sentence, huh?

Quote of the Day: From Valdez, who almost seemed disappointed his fun was over: "I could have gone out there for three or four more."

The No-Lead-Is-Safe Classic -- Nationals 9, White Sox 5, in 14 insane innings, June 24.

How nutty was this game? It was the Nationals' first game after their manager (Jim Riggleman) quit. The guy who replaced him, John McLaren, got ejected from this one. And it was a game in which no runs were scored by either team before the EIGHTH inning -- then 14 of them were scored from the eighth on. To win it, the Nationals had to do something no team had done in 35 years. They blew THREE leads in the ninth inning and beyond -- and still won. They coughed up a three-run lead in the ninth; took a one-run lead in the 10th and lost that one; took another one-run lead in the 12th and blew that one; then scored four in the 14th and hung on.

Quote of the Day -- From a confused, almost-speechless (hey, we said ALMOST) Ozzie Guillen: "It's very hard to describe this game. Did we play very good or did we not play that good?"

The Turn-Out-The-Lights Classic -- Giants 7, Cardinals 5, in 11 not-necessarily-continuous innings, June 1.

The Tony La Russa-would-try-anything-to-win-a-game conspiracy theorists loved this one. First, the Cardinals took a 3-0 lead against Tim Lincecum. Then the Giants roared back to take a 4-3 lead in the seventh. Then Allen Craig hit a two-run bomb off Lincecum in the bottom of the seventh to put the Cardinals ahead again, only to have their closer, Fernando Salas, give that lead back in the ninth. Then it happened. The Giants scored two in the 11th. Brian Wilson marched his beard to the mound to get two outs in the bottom of the 11th, put the tying run on base (of course) then … uh-oh … a bank of lights went out at Busch Stadium. That forced Wilson to spend the next 16 minutes sitting around waiting for the electrician (or someone like him). And who knew what insanity that might produce? Well, it produced none, as it turned out.. How long did it take Wilson to wrap this baby up after the lights came back? Precisely one pitch. How 'bout that? You were expecting maybe 47?

Quote of the Day -- From The Beard: "It was like a revelation from 'The Natural.'"

The Quarter-To-Three Classic -- Angels 5, Red Sox 3, in 13 very soggy innings, May 4.

It isn't true every crazy game this year just happened to show up on our very own ESPN airwaves, but it seemed like it. And this was definitely the moistest of the bunch. This game had it all, other than cloudless skies. The Red Sox got no hits for more than four hours (with a little help from a 2-hour, 35-minute rain delay), charged from behind to tie it with two outs in the ninth in front of about 1,200 people at Fenway, had the winning run thrown out at the plate in the 12th and even hauled in Daisuke Matsuzaka from the bullpen for the first time since he was a Seibu Lion. Then as owners Larry Lucchino and John Henry were personally serving coffee and hot chocolate to the 17 people still left in the seats, the Angels scored two in the 13th to beat the Red Sox for only the second time in their last 17 games -- at 2:45 a.m. And you just can't beat those five-hour, extra-inning games, with 2.5-hour rain delays tossed in there just for fun.

Quote of the Day -- From Red Sox manager Terry Francona, to his media inquisitors, as he left the postgame podium at 3:06 a.m., with a day game looming in a few hours: "When I showed up today, I didn't think I'd be talking to you guys at 3 in the morning. … See ya soon."

The Intentional-What???? Classic -- Mariners 2, Marlins 1, in 10 innings, June 26.

This one had all the makings. The Marlins were playing a "home" game 3,300 miles from home. The game had to be pushed back to Sunday night because of a previously scheduled soccer game. The smallest crowd in the history of Safeco Field was in attendance. And Jack McKeon was up way past his bedtime. So how'd this one end? Marlins reliever Steve Cishek was trying to intentionally walk Carlos Peguero -- except he threw ball three halfway to Tacoma, bringing home the winning run. After, by the way, he pitched to Peguero and struck him out -- after issuing three intentional balls. Even McKeon, who has been in baseball for more than a half-century, said he'd never witnessed a game end like that before.

Quote of the Day -- From Marlins catcher John Buck, asked if he'd ever seen a team find a more creative way to lose than that: "There can't be too many other ways, right? We got that one crossed off the list, so hopefully that'll be it."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is now available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

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