September History Watch: A-Rod vs. the icons, Zack Greinke's record attack and Rizzo's 30-30 club

A-Rod's historic rebound, Zack Greinke's microscopic WHIP and extraordinary extra-base-hit ratio, and Anthony Rizzo's hard-won 30-30 club are among the season's most amazing feats. Getty Images

Here at World September History Watch Headquarters, we’re running out of days in September -- but not out of cool and historic stuff to keep an eye on.

So here they come, 10 Amazing Feats to Watch over the last week and a half of the season:


You may recall something about Alex Rodriguez not playing last year. If not, Google it. But he sure has played for those ever-grateful New York Yankees this year, all right. And you know what’s more astonishing than the fact he hasn’t uttered a single quote that turned into a weeklong back-page tabloid crisis? This man has hit 32 home runs. That’s what.

So if we eliminate rookies and guys who played in Japan, you know how many other players in history have hit that many homers after not playing in the big leagues the season before? Exactly two, the Elias Sports Bureau reports: Willie Mays, who came back from military duty to drop 41 bombs in 1954, and Ted Williams, who returned from the war and bashed 38 in 1946. A-Rod also served his time for a year. But even though it’s not quite the same thing … fun group!


Perhaps you’re asking yourself: Has Joey Votto had the greatest second half anyone has had since Pythagoras discovered that you can divide stuff like “seasons” in half? Then again, it’s also possible you’re asking yourself: Are the Cincinnati Reds still playing baseball? But either way, Votto is having himself a second half for the ages: A .375 batting average, with a .556 on-base percentage and 1.231 OPS? That’s insane. And also historic.

Here, courtesy of the awesome baseball-reference.com Play Index, would be the complete list of all the men in history who have matched or beaten those second-half numbers since the invention of the All-Star break: Ted Williams (twice), Barry Bonds (twice) and … that’s it. And the only guy to do it before we began dividing halves with All-Star breaks is someone named George H. Bambino Ruth (also twice). So it’s official. This is the greatest 10-week stretch of offense of all time that nobody even seemed to realize is taking place.


So many awesome Zack Greinke feats are underway that we’ll just have to save some of them for next week’s awards column. Has anyone noticed, for instance, that this man has a lower WHIP (0.848) than Bob Gibson had in 1968 (0.853) -- or that he’s in line to rank in the top four WHIPs in the entire live ball era, behind only Pedro Martinez (0.737 in 2000), Greg Maddux (0.811 in 1995) and Dave McNally (0.842 in 1968)? Well, now you have.

But here’s an even more entertaining feat: Zack Greinke the hitter has more extra-base hits this season (four) than Zack Greinke the pitcher has losses (three). And here’s why that’s so cool: Only nine pitchers since 1900 have finished a season with at least 30 starts and no more than three losses. Just one of them had as many extra-base hits as losses -- fellow do-it-all Dodgers great Orel Hershiser in 1985 (19-3, with 3 XBH). But MORE extra-base hits than losses? Never been done. Not in a season in which a guy was as unbeatable as Greinke has been. I love this item, for reasons known only to my demented brain.


It’s been quite a year in Philadelphia. Not in a good way. But in, well, other ways. The Phillies are just four losses shy, for one thing, of losing 100 games in a season for the first time since 1961. Just three other franchises have stayed out of Century City for longer than that -- the Yankees (haven’t lost 100 since 1912), Dodgers (1908) and Cardinals (1908). (Special addendum: The Angels, who came into existence in 1961, have never lost 100 games.)

But that won’t even be the Phillies’ most historic feat of the year (if it happens). Even more astounding, they’re about to make a half-million of their fans disappear -- for the third straight season. Their attendance fell from 3.57 million to 3.01 million two years ago, then to 2.42 million last year. And this year? They’re on pace to draw 1,917,188. And here’s why that’s so noteworthy:

According to David Kronheim, who chronicles attendance numbers and trends, that would make them the first team ever to see attendance drop by a half-million or more in three consecutive seasons. OK, so they did lose a home date because of a rainout this year. And granted, you can’t drop that much in attendance if you don’t start out with massive attendance in the first place. But holy schmoly. That’s still hard to do.


If a team’s goal, in assembling a great bullpen, is to pile up a bunch of swings and misses at the end of the game, then the Yankees definitely get an A on that assignment. Because if there’s one thing their late-inning tag team, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, specializes in, it’s inducing a whole lot of missing.

Betances has K’d 124 hitters in 78.2 innings -- and needs just eight more whiffs to join Dick Radatz (1963-64) and Rob Dibble (1989-90) as the only relievers in history to strike out at least 132 hitters in back-to-back seasons. And Miller is now up to 95 strikeouts in only 58.1 innings. So he’s five punchouts away from lifting this duo into the history books.

They would give the Yankees just the sixth bullpen in history to have two relievers with 100 strikeouts in the same season. But only two of those six did it in the more specialized last quarter-century or, as Tony La Russa would call it, the post-Eck-ian era. Those two are the 1997 Baltimore Orioles (106 from Armando Benitez, 102 from Arthur Rhodes) and the 2004 Anaheim Angels (123 from Francisco Rodriguez, 109 from Scot Shields). For what it’s worth, the Twins have two starting pitchers (Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey) who haven’t struck out 100 hitters this season -- and could still play the Yankees in the wild-card game.


While we’re on the subject of bullpen domination, two words: Wade Davis. The Royals reliever has proved over the past two seasons that while it is possible to score a run against him (every couple of months), you’d have better odds of, oh, being elected Pope. We know this because Wade Davis’ ERA this year, 65 appearances into the season, is 0.99. It bears a distinct resemblance to his ERA last year, which was 1.00.

So we know what you’re thinking: Are these the two greatest bullpen seasons, back-to-back, in the history of bullpens? And the answer is: Of course they are. Only six relievers in history have ever pitched at least 60 innings and had an ERA of 1.00 or lower in one season. This guy is on the verge of doing it in two in a row. I’m guessing someone out there will argue Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Rivera or Craig Kimbrel was better by some standard or other. Sure. Go right ahead. But ERAs of 1.00 or lower two years in a row? Shouldn’t that be impossible? Guess not!


Miguel Cabrera is having another one of those years in which he’s doing what Miguel Cabrera does. And by that we mean: hit. He’s going to win another batting title. That will make four in five years. He’s also going to lead the league in on-base percentage. It will be the fourth time he’s done that too. And that means he’s getting himself into super-cool territory.

Right-handed hitters who have led the American League in hitting four times: As MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince pointed out, it will be just Cabrera and Harry Heilmann. Four AL batting titles in five years? It will be just Miggy, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie. Hitters who have led the AL in both batting and OBP at least four times? How about this list: Miggy, Boggs, Cobb and Ted Williams. We could go on and on. But this just in: Miguel Cabrera is one of the greatest hitters who ever lived. Appreciate it while you’re watching it, OK?


The Giants apparently couldn’t work winning the World Series into their schedule this year. So they’ll just have to make an imprint some other way. But who would have figured that way would involve a bunch of pitchers not named Madison Bumgarner making home run trots?

Bumgarner was responsible for every home run a Giants pitcher hit between September of 2012 and the end of August this year. That came to 10 of them in a row. But then all of a sudden, the rest of this rotation turned into the ’61 Yankees. Four Giants pitchers have homered this month -– and Bumgarner wasn’t even one of them: Ryan Vogelsong on Sept. 3, Tim Hudson on Sept. 8, Mike Leake on Sept. 13, Jake Peavy on Sept. 16. Now here’s what that means:

For one thing, counting Bumgarner’s five homers this year, it gives Giants pitchers almost as many homers (nine) as Pablo Sandoval (10). (Hat tip to the San Jose Mercury News’ Andy Baggarly for that gem.) For another, it makes the Giants the first pitching staff to hit nine homers in a season since the 2001 Rockies. They also join the 2002 Dodgers as the only teams in the past 35 seasons to have five different pitchers homer. But best of all, the Giants are the first team to have four different pitchers go deep in one calendar month since the 1922 Pittsburgh Pirates did it that August. (Don’t ask how long it took me to look that up.) So if MadBum would just do his part over the next few days, they could be the first staff in the live ball era to have all five starters homer in the same month. And wouldn’t that be more fun than, say, buying a new tractor?


A couple of months ago on Baseball Tonight, I speculated that Anthony Rizzo had a chance to be the first member of a very special club -- the 30/30/30 Club. That’s 30 homers, 30 steals, 30 hit by pitches. Sadly, his stolen-base pace has slowed up since then. But, luckily, all is not lost.

Rizzo has already gotten his 30th homer out of the way. So that’s helpful. Now he needs to turn his attention to leaning into one more slider on the inside corner, because he’s sitting on 29 HBPs. If he can just get to 30, he’ll join the 30-HR/30-HBP Club. And let’s just say he won’t need to rent out Soldier Field to hold the next club meeting. The only man in that club? That would be Don Baylor, who got there via 31 homers and 35 plunkings for the 1986 Red Sox. Sure, it hurts to get nailed by that many pitches. But wouldn’t it hurt more not to join this club?


There were many places I could have turned to complete this list. To Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw. To Josh Donaldson or David Price. But more on them next week. In a week in which we lost Yogi Berra, I had to honor him with this nugget.

I can’t tell people how to vote for the AL MVP award, or for anything else for that matter. But if the great Mike Trout finishes first or second this year -- and it would be a travesty if he doesn’t -- he would accomplish something incredible: He’d finish in the top two in four consecutive MVP elections. Only one AL position player has ever done that, you know. And it’s not Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig or Miggy. It’s the one, the only Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra. Well, I know this race isn’t over until it’s over. But Mike Trout is about to keep him company. And you can’t beat that for entertainment.