Any time a moth makes headlines, a relief pitcher gives up two touchdowns and a second baseman turns into the next Mariano Rivera, it is officially another Year in Review kind of season. So let's take one last glimpse in the rearview mirror at our favorite injuries, box score lines, tweets and other assorted madness.
Injuries of the year
FIRST PRIZE -- OK, so this wasn't technically an "injury." It was more like an invasion. But Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday really did have to take himself out of an Aug. 23 game against the Dodgers when a wayward moth moved into an unreserved seat inside his ear. The Cardinals' medical staff tried leading him into a dark room to see whether the moth would just fly out. But when that didn't work, the poor moth was summarily ejected (via tweezers) without any input whatsoever from Joe West. And that was the moth's last game of the season, if you know what we mean. When asked to describe the moth's final moments, Holliday told the St. Louis Post Dispatch's Rick Hummel: "He died from the overflow of wisdom inside my head."
SECOND PRIZE -- If Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt had just stuck to freezing the hitters instead of unfreezing hamburger patties, he'd still have been pitching this week. Instead, Affeldt knocked himself out for the season -- by stabbing himself in the right hand while trying to separate frozen burger patties with a knife. Affeldt's poststab analysis: "I should have used hot water." Our poststab analysis, on the other hand, could be summed up by three words every burger aficionado can relate to: drive-thru window.
THIRD PRIZE -- If it makes Affeldt feel better, he should know that working up a good thirst can be just as hazardous to a guy's health as working up a good burger craving. He can just ask Brett Cecil. The Blue Jays left-hander had to miss a start when he cut a finger on his pitching hand -- while trying to clean a blender. Only a year ago, Cecil slashed up his thumb while making chicken salad. So now, his blending AND cooking days could be over. "I'm scared of a butter knife right now," he quipped.
FOURTH 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. Still chasing down rumors the squirrel heard that the bullpen was where all the nuts hang out.
FIFTH PRIZE -- Rockies infielder Jonathan Herrera was just goofing around with his kids this month -- and managed to wipe out the rest of his season. Got his hand caught in a door. Broke one finger. Damaged ligaments in another. Should have sent them to day care!
HONORABLE MENTIONS -- Astros reliever Sergio Escalona tripped over pitching coach Doug Brocail's glove while shagging flies, sprained his ankle and ended his season. Marlins reliever Clay Hensley fell down the stairs at the team hotel, fractured his scapula and wound up on the disabled list. Brewers pitcher Chris Narveson was trying to perform some minor glove surgery with a pair of scissors, sliced up his thumb and landed on the DL. Cardinals reliever Brian Tallet sneezed, pulled a rib-cage muscle, missed a month and a half, came back and blew a save in his first game back and got released. (Uh, gesundheit?) Indians phenom Jason Kipnis was trying to loosen up a strained rib cage before a game, via what athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff would later describe as "ballistic stretching," and managed to pull his hamstring. And, in a late-breaking injury development, the Twins' Denard Span and Danny Valencia knocked each other out of the lineup last week after Span rear-ended Valencia's Range Rover while they were driving to the airport the day before. Ouch!
Box score lines of the year
FIRST PRIZE -- How did Vin Mazzaro spell relief for the Royals on May 16? With the numbers 22.74, which was his ERA after this all-time box score classic against Cleveland: 2 1/3 IP, 11 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1 HR, 77 pitches to get 7 outs.
What's up with that: So you think your favorite team had some bullpen adventures this year? This guy gave up 14 earned runs IN RELIEF. Nobody had done that since the legendary Les McCrabb in 1942. Mazzaro also was the first pitcher since 1900 to give up 14 runs in any role without getting at least nine outs. Oh, and one more thing: He allowed more earned runs in just this one appearance than Mariano Rivera allowed all season.
SECOND PRIZE -- Madison (It Ain't October Anymore) Bumgarner, for the Giants, June 21 versus Minnesota: 1/3 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 0 BB but 1 K -- of the pitcher!
What's up with that: Remember last October, when Bumgarner didn't allow a hit in the first inning through the entire postseason? Well, he evened things up in this start by becoming the second starting pitcher in history to give up hits to the first EIGHT hitters of the game. The Twins became the first team to start any game -- ever -- by going single-double, single-double, single-double, single-double. And after he whiffed the opposing pitcher, Carl Pavano, Bumgarner served up another double, making him the first pitcher since 1900 to give up nine hits in a start without getting at least two outs. Wow.
Quote of the day: From Bumgarner's dazed and confused manager, Bruce Bochy: "I'll be honest. That's a first for me. That's hard to do. I don't care if you're throwing batting practice out there."
THIRD PRIZE -- Less than two weeks after that Vin Mazzaro epic, the Royals watched Sean O'Sullivan compile this action-packed line 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: Boy, does that line make your eyeballs hurt or what? How often do you see a guy give up 15 hits, 10 runs and 5 home runs in one game? O'Sullivan was the first to do all that since 1940. And nine of those hits went for extra bases, which was a first in the live ball era. Somewhere in the middle of that madness, O'Sullivan even got mugged for back-to-back-to-back gopher balls -- and you won't be shocked to learn that's another first for a fellow twirling an attractive five-homer, 15-hitter.
FOURTH PRIZE -- What does a pitcher do for an encore after he's already thrown a 15-hitter and made two other starts in which he gave up nine runs? The Marlins' Ricky Nolasco went out and rolled 11s in this insane start Aug. 17 at Coors Field: 3 IP, 11 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 78 pitches to get 9 outs.
What's up with that: Nolasco joined Jaime Garcia as the only pitchers this year to allow two different innings of five runs or more (with no help from the bullpen) in the same start and became the first pitcher since Tom Ferrick of the 1941 A's to toss a 15-hitter AND an 11-run game in the same season and became the fourth pitcher in the live ball era to unfurl one of those Don Shula-inspired 11-11-11 lines.
FIFTH PRIZE -- He hadn't even been in the big leagues for a week, but it didn't take long for Braves rookie Arodys Vizcaino to compile a box score line that mathematicians everywhere will tell you can't be done. Oh, really? Take a look at Vizcaino's memorable relief appearance against the Cubs: 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 K, 1 blown save. Hard to do, friends.
What's up with that: You know how challenging it is to march out of the bullpen, strike out all three hitters you face and somehow (A) pitch only 2/3 of an inning and (B) blow a save? Well, obviously, it took a wild pitch on the third strike of that second whiff to keep the inning going and allow the tying run to score. But how hard is it? So hard that no relief pitcher since the dawn of the modern save rule had done it -- until this guy pulled it off in the third outing of his career.
Five craziest games of the year
THE 19-INNING CLASSIC -- Phillies 5, Reds 4, in 19 unforgettable innings, May 25.
Any time a Roy Halladay start drags on for more than six hours, you know it's been a strange night. So the fact that the winning pitcher in this game happened to be the starting second baseman just fit right in. Someday, historians will remind us that the Reds once led this game in extra innings only to be forced to play NINE more innings after Francisco Cordero gave up a Ryan Howard homer in the 10th. But the 40,000 eyewitnesses (or what was left of them) won't need any help recalling the winning pitcher -- because it was their favorite utility infield dervish, Wilson Valdez. After the real pitchers took care of the first 18 innings, Valdez headed for the mound, hit 89 miles per hour on the gun, ripped through a 1-2-3 inning and got himself an actual "W" in the box score out of it.
Valdez became the first position player to be linked to that catchy phrase, "winning pitcher," since Brent Mayne in 2000. He became the first second baseman to collect a "W" as a pitcher since Cub Stricker (who was not a Cub) in 1888. Best of all, he became the first man to start a game in the field and win it on the mound since everybody's favorite superutility bambino, Babe Ruth. And if Wilson Valdez and Babe Ruth are hanging out in the same sentence, you know this was officially one of the wildest games of any year.
Quote of the day: From Valdez, on what was going on out there when he shook off catcher Dane Sardinha FIVE times before the same pitch: "He was wanting like a fastball outside, and I shake. He call a curveball. I say no. He call a changeup. I say no. He call fastball outside again. I say no. Finally, he call fastball in. And that's when I say yes." So what happened when he got the pitch he wanted? Routine fly ball to left, of course. So you think this fellow didn't know what he was doing? "I've gotta say yes," Valdez said, laughing.
MR. 3,000 GOES 5-FOR-5 -- Yankees 5, Rays 4, at electrified Yankee Stadium, on July 9.
He's always been a guy whose career has played out like one big Disney Films production. So why should any of us have been surprised that the game in which Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit felt like it must have been scripted by W.P. Kinsella? No player in history had gotten 3,000 hits as a Yankee. The Captain hadn't had a five-hit game in six years. No hitter for any team had gotten five hits at the new Yankee Stadium. And Jeter hadn't hit an outside-the-park homer at The Stadium in more than a year. So was there any doubt he'd pull the plug on all those schneids in one afternoon? The first indelible highlight of the day would be the 420-foot homer off David Price that made Jeter just the second player in history to go deep for his 3,000th hit. A couple of hours later, his fifth hit of the day would be -- what else? -- a game-winning single that would turn this game into the latest fairy tale in the too-good-to-be-real saga of the one, the only Derek Jeter. So whaddayaknow? He wasn't washed up after all.
Quote of the day: From Mr. 3,000, on how grateful he was that he'd interrupted his early-season stream of infield dribblers to shoot off an actual rocket for No. 3,000: "You want to hit the ball hard. I didn't want to hit a slow roller to third base and have THAT be replayed forever."
THE SAY-GOODNIGHT-TO-THE-PIRATES JERRY MEALS MARATHON -- Braves 4, Pirates 3 in 19 ridiculous innings, July 26.
That expression, "first-place Pirates," sure was fun to say while it lasted. Too bad it lasted 'til only the surreal final play of this entertaining little 599-pitch extravaganza. It started out so innocently, too, as 6-hour, 39-minute marathons often do. The Pirates led 3-0 early. The Braves tied it in the third. Then 15 different pitchers took turns hanging 31 consecutive doughnuts on the board. Martin Prado became the first Brave to go 0-for-9 in any game since Rabbit Maranville did it in 1932. Daniel McCutchen launched 92 pitches for the Pirates -- in relief. Cristhian Martinez marched out of the Atlanta bullpen, served bagels from the 11th through 16th innings and had three plate appearances. Then plate ump Jerry Meals made the call that Pirates fans will still be grumbling about over Thanksgiving dinner. It happened with one out in the 19th, runners at first and third and the Braves' seventh reliever of the night, Scott Proctor, at the plate. Proctor, unaware he was about to collect his first game-winning 19th-inning RBI, bounced to third base. Pedro Alvarez threw home in plenty of time. Catcher Michael McKenry, whose kneecaps were about to explode after 19 innings of squatting, laid a swipe tag on the baserunner, Julio Lugo. And, well, you know what happened next. Meals decided that Lugo had never been tagged, spread his arms in the international symbol of safeness, the Braves celebrated and the Pirates were so bummed, we're pretty sure they then lost their next 48 games in a row.
Quote of the day: Was Lugo really safe? You'll just have to take his word for it via this exchange with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Dave O'Brien:
"What did you think?"
"I was safe."
"How many times were you tagged?"
"I was safe."
"So you were never tagged?"
"I was safe."
THE EIGHT-WAS-NOT-ENOUGH CLASSIC -- Reds 9, Cardinals 8, in 13 madcap innings, July 6.
Boy, how wild was this game? The Reds led it 8-0 in the fifth. But no Reds-Cardinals game can ever be that routine. So by the seventh, the Reds had given back seven of those runs. In the ninth, Francisco Cordero blew his first save since that 19-inning game, by serving up a Jon Jay homer. And here they went again. By the 13th, Reds manager Dusty Baker had used up his entire bullpen except Aroldis Chapman and his entire bench except catcher Ramon Hernandez. So naturally, Hernandez saved him with the winning pinch double in the top of the 13th, and Chapman saved him, literally, with a shutout inning in the bottom of the 13th. And it's a good thing, too, because Hernandez might have had to PITCH the 14th if he hadn't gotten that hit.
Stat of the day: So how often do you see the Cardinals make up an eight-run deficit, then lose anyway? The Elias Sports Bureau tells us they hadn't done that in 57 years since a game against the New York Giants on July 17, 1954, when they made a 9-0 lead disappear, then lost in the 11th.
THE NO-LEAD-IS-SAFE CLASSIC -- Nationals 9, White Sox 5, in 14 insane innings, June 24.
Just three days earlier, the Nationals had won a game they had trailed by four runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Just one day earlier, their manager (Jim Riggleman) had quit. So how could anything nuttier happen in this game? Don't ask. In his first game as interim manager, John McLaren, promptly got himself ejected. Then, in a game in which the two teams combined to score zero runs before the EIGHTH inning, the same two teams then went out and scored 14 times from the eighth inning on. And all the Nationals had to do to win this time was pull off a feat accomplished by no team in the past 35 years. They blew THREE leads in the ninth inning and beyond -- yet still won. They made a three-run lead go poof in the ninth, gave back a one-run lead in the 10th, spit out yet another one-run lead in the 12th, then finally scored four in the 14th and hung on.
Quote of the day: From the nearly speechless (key word: NEARLY) losing manager, Ozzie Guillen: "It's very hard to describe this game. Did we play very good, or did we not play that good?"
Our five favorite quotes of the year
• From always-awesome ESPYs host Seth Meyers, on the Dodgers' plight: "The Dodgers are so broke, three of their players tested positive for ramen noodles."
• From longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten, on his theory that his favorite commissioner, Bud Selig, is never, ever, ever going to retire: "They'll probably just prop him up, like 'Weekend at Bernie's.'"
• From Mets GM Sandy Alderson, while trying to zigzag through all the issues created by owner Fred Wilpon's quotes in the New Yorker: "I was thinking, 'If the world had ended on Saturday the way it was supposed to, we wouldn't have to deal with these issues.'"
• From Royals manager Ned Yost, after his DH, Billy Butler, told the Kansas City Star that he'd rather play first base than be a DH: "You know what? I'd like to be an astronaut and for some reason, they just won't let me."
• And from mythologically savvy Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey, on all the ways the Twins have found to lose lately, no matter how promising things looked: "At this point, in this clubhouse, it's like we're watching the fate of Sisyphus himself."
Brian Wilson quotes of the year
There's a mouth hidden inside that beard someplace. And when it moves, you never know what's about to come out, as the Giants' flaky closer proved again this year:
• After a mysterious power failure halted a game in St. Louis when he was one out from a save, The Beard captured the cinematic nature of it all by announcing: "It was like a revelation from 'The Natural.'"
• After the San Jose Mercury News' Andy Baggarly reported to The Beard in August that he hadn't had a save situation in a week and a half, Wilson quipped: "True. But I don't work on commission."
• After blowing a save in Detroit on July 1, The Beard at least got a fabulous YouTube moment out of it, via an all-time meltdown highlighted by a ferocious bat attack on the dugout Gatorade cooler. Asked later whether it was going to be difficult to watch that cooler assault replayed about 8,000 times, Wilson retorted: "Why would it be difficult? I squared it up."
• And speaking of YouTube moments, The Beard was in the midst of a postgame All-Star Game interview with our man Pedro Gomez when Gomez inadvertently poked his microphone into Wilson's fabled facial follicles and pleaded innocence, saying he was wary of what might be hiding in that beard. Whereupon Wilson deadpanned: "Well, there are garden gnomes cutting down trees, and apparently there's an Irish gig lady dancing. I haven't met her yet, but [pointing] she's in this quadrant."
Jack McKeon-isms of the year
As it turned out, the Marlins weren't a much different team after their 80-year-old living legend, Jack McKeon, showed up in their manager's office than they were before it. But for the rest of us, it was worth having him around just for the hilarity alone.
• After Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong got a little testy after the Marlins drilled him for the second time Aug. 14, McKeon essentially told Vogelsong to go take his umbrage back to, well, the Autobahn, saying: "Maybe we SHOULD have drilled him. Volkswagen, Vogelsong -- whatever his name is -- he's lucky he didn't have to face Gibson or Drysdale or one of those guys and get a haircut and a shave."
• Then again, names have never exactly been McKeon's specialty. Marlins.com's Joe Frisaro reports that there were various times this summer when our man Jack referred to Edward Mujica as "Murika," Hanley Ramirez as "Cabrera," Donnie Murphy as "Mordecai" and Logan Morrison as "Twitter." At his introductory news conference, he followed team president David Samson to the podium and said, "Thanks, George."
• One aspect of McKeon's latest managerial administration that he didn't find particularly amusing, though, was the approach to life of the modern ballplayer -- as this little diatribe so aptly demonstrated: "They're allergic to taking walks. They play by the player association rule, 'Thou must swing. At 2-0 and 3-1, thou must swing.'"
• So if this man was befuddled by the hitting philosophies of his troops, you can just imagine his reaction to mysterious phenomena like Twitter -- as Logan Morrison (@LoMoMarlins) reported with this unforgettable tweet: "Jack McKeon asked me what I had going on tonite. Told him I was going home 2 play w/ Twitter. He replied 'oh, what kind of dog is it?'"
The best of Ozzie
We'd love to present all the classic Ozzie Guillen utterances of 2011, his grand-finale season on the South Side. But there are only so many expletives we can delete. So here's the best we can do on a family website:
• Ozzie's bullpen had its adventures all year. So after Brent Lillibridge put on an April 26 defensive show, his manager announced: "I think I finally found my closer -- Lillibridge."
• After Mike Scioscia beat Ozzie to 1,000 career wins (granted, it was by three years, but what the heck), the White Sox quotemeister summed up the differences between him and Scioscia this way: "He weighs 200 pounds more than me. He's bald. I'm not. He reads the scouting report. I not."
• Finally, we had to include ONE R-rated rant, just so you have a feel for the Oz's state of mind in this not-so-fun-filled season. And it was an ugly July 20 loss to the Royals' apparently infuriating Bruce Chen that got this avalanche rolling -- without a question even being asked, by the way: "There's nothing more painful than losing the [colorful adjective] game against Bruce Chen once again. [Flushing] pathetic." [More rant-age.] We just go through the motions. We take the day off today instead of tomorrow. [More diatribe -- and then the big finale.] A lot of people think I talk [schtick] because I HAVE to talk [schtick]. No, I don't. I talk [schtick] because of what I see. All I see is very bad."
Maddon-isms of the year
Once again, it was just about impossible to pick out the best quotes of the year from the human managerial thesaurus, Rays oratorical whiz Joe Maddon. But with the help of America's pre-eminent Maddon-ologist, the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin, we did our best.
• On whether he planned to head home Sunday and watch Game 2 of the Yankees-Red Sox day-nighter: "I definitely will tune in. But 'Boardwalk Empire' definitely has priority -- as well as replays of 'The Rockford Files.'"
• On facing 6-foot-6 Mariners behemoth Michael Pineda for the first time: "He's pretty large. I thought one of the Sonics was pitching tonight. It might have been Spencer [Haywood] out there."
• On how his team found a way to run its 16-inning July 17 game against the Red Sox even though both he and his bench coach (Dave Martinez) were both ejected: "We were going Politburo at that point. I've always enjoyed that word from my Tom Clancy novels. So we went straight Politburo."
• After learning that his team's executive vice president for baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, wound up needing an appendectomy the night before the trading deadline: "I'm sure even while he was under anesthesia he was working. And as soon as he came out, I know he had a brilliant thought."
• Finally, on his strategy for sneaking back into the AL East and wild-card race in August while the Yankees and Red Sox weren't looking: "You want to be, 'Who ARE those guys?' Let's go Butch Cassidy on them, keep sneaking up from behind and see what happens."
Tweets of the year
• FIFTH PRIZE -- From always-zany Giants closer @BrianWilson38, on how he spent an early-season off day:
"Another day off in the books. Just your average swim to Alcatraz w/ shark feed tied to my ankles. Gonna spend the night. Swim to work tomorrow."
• FOURTH PRIZE -- We may not know what the real Barry Bonds was thinking during his perjury trial. But thanks to the miracle of Twitter, we knew exactly what @FakeBarryBonds was thinking. The bogus Barry had this heartfelt take on his least favorite Giambi brother:
"This trial is officially longer than Jeremy Giambi's career. "
• THIRD PRIZE -- Gosh, we hate to endorse a dubious concept like posing behind familiar-sounding names to tweet in the name of famous people. Just, if it's done well, it's so darned entertaining. And as fake tweeters go, it was tough to top the hilarious, not to mention mellifluous, tweetage of Nyjer Morgan's alter ego, @Tony_Plush (who has since changed his handle to @Not_Tony-Plush). You'll never hear talk like this, for instance, in any clubhouse near you:
"It is hard for Plush to talk about baseball after a loss to the Cubs. His heart feels threadbare, his soul ripped asunder"
• SECOND PRIZE -- Then there was @FakeJackMcKeon, who showed up for work on his first day as Marlins manager and seemed slightly confused by the 875th name change in the life of the Marlins' soon-to-be late, not-so-great football stadium:
"Just got to the ballpark, this new Sun Life Stadium doesn't look too much different from the old one. No wonder why the taxpayers are upset"
• FIRST PRIZE -- And speaking of Jack McKeon (this time the real one), "Late Show" tweeting genius Eric Stangel (@EricStangel) appeared concerned that Jack might be slightly disoriented by having to manage in the 21st century:
"Jack McKeon says he's ready to go as Marlins Manager. First task: Get his team ready for those pesky Boston Beaneaters!"
Late-nighters of the year
Finally, our five favorite quips from the late-night quipsters:
• FIFTH PRIZE -- From Jay Leno: "Passengers on a Delta flight from Madison, Wisconsin, to Atlanta had to deal with a bat flying loose in the plane. A bat can do real damage -- unless, of course, it's held by an L.A. Dodger."
• FOURTH PRIZE -- From David Letterman: "Allergy season here in New York City is awful. Here's how bad it was today: Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez Benadryl."
• THIRD PRIZE -- From Jimmy Kimmel: "The Dodgers today filed for bankruptcy protection. I don't know how an organization that sells a beer for $12 runs out of money, but they did."
• SECOND PRIZE -- From Letterman, on the return of his favorite octogenarian manager: "This guy is still getting it done, Jack McKeon. He won a World Series title with the Marlins, and now he's back, 80 years old, and dating a hot actress -- Betty White."
• FIRST PRIZE -- And one more from Letterman, on one ripple effect from the McKeon hiring that the Marlins clearly never saw coming: "Last night, the Marlins' game was interrupted in the fourth inning -- with a bench-clearing nap."
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 available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter: @jaysonst