Mookie Betts can’t stop hitting home runs, Max Scherzer can’t stop striking out hitters and a longtime big leaguer apparently can’t stop getting caught for PEDs. Well, one of those things can and will stop, actually. Five things we learned Wednesday:
1. Full of promise. The Detroit Tigers desperately need pitchers to, well, pitch better. The lineup scores runs, but the rotation and bullpen each entered Wednesday with ERAs closer to 5 than 4. We saw manager Brad Ausmus finally lose patience with struggling Anibal Sanchez, dumping him in the bullpen, but hey, Michael Fulmer can save the season! The rookie took a no-hitter into the seventh inning at Anaheim before C.J. Cron broke it up, and eventually, Fulmer won his third consecutive outing. Over those 22 1/3 innings, he has permitted nine hits and one run. Sounds like a reliable starter, potentially an ace, for a team that needs one. Sure, Justin Verlander looks good again and Jordan Zimmermann should be fine from his groin injury to start Friday, but there’s a rather large void after that. Fulmer’s finally filling it.
2. Chicago’s Bartolo Colon. Prior to Wednesday afternoon at Citi Field, Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Matt Albers, still hanging around after 11 MLB seasons and a 4.20 ERA, last batted in a game in 2009. His last hit came in 2007. And Albers doesn’t really look like someone who should hit well, but in the 13th inning of a game the New York Mets really should have won a few times earlier, he laced an opposite-field double into the left-center-field gap, moved up a base on a wild pitch and scored on a sac fly. Google the awkwardness of his running and failure to slide! He then pitched his second inning to finish things off for the unlikely 2-1 win. Older fans might remember games from yesteryear, when pitchers shockingly became the key hitter. Mets and Braves fans surely recall the Rick Camp 18th-inning blast on July 4, 1985. Phillies fans still lambaste Mitch Williams for the ’93 World Series, but there was that game-winning hit several months prior at 4:40 a.m. -- yes, in the morning -- that leaves a fond memory. Now we have the Matt Albers game! The Mets, who should have done better on their 2-4 homestand, might not forget it for a while, too.
3. Actually, cheaters do prosper. Cleveland Indians outfielder Marlon Byrd was suspended Wednesday for 162 games, essentially ending his tainted career at age 38, for testing positive yet again for an illegal substance. Byrd was also suspended for 50 games in 2012 for the same act. The Indians actually needed the guy, since he boasted a higher OPS entering Wednesday than teammates Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana, among numerous others. Colleague Christina Kahrl discusses manager Terry Francona’s lack of outfield and power options, and she’s right. The Indians have more wins than losses despite their outfield play, which has no easy answers. But back to Byrd: Like pretty much everyone else caught attempting to beat the system, he has no idea how the substance got into his body and hardly apologized. However, he made more than $38 million in his 15-year career, which never quite reached expectations, and $17 million of it came after the first suspension. That’s not A-Rod money, but it’s still pretty sweet. Baseball can take Byrd out of action for a year, and perhaps for good, but they can’t take back the money or the roster opportunity he stole from someone else. Byrd lost something Wednesday, but he had already won.
4. The best pitch. Chicago Cubs lefty Jon Lester permitted a leadoff home run to Los Angeles Dodgers lefty killer Enrique Hernandez, then was dominant in a 2-1, 10-strikeout, complete-game victory. Lester threw 113 pitches for his 13th career complete game. However, the most notable pitch at Wrigley Field might have been tossed pregame by Turner Sports reporter Craig Sager, who is battling leukemia and will be honored next month at the ESPYS. Sager also led the crowd through “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” His performance won’t appear in any box score, but it’s wise to remember our rooting interests don’t stop with the players.
5. This can’t end well. Finally, there’s the uncomfortable situation in Philadelphia, and we’re not talking about the six-game losing streak and foray back under the .500 mark. Ryan Howard has mercifully been benched for a few days to “clear his head.” Who knew the Phillies would/could do this to a franchise icon? The move has been a long time coming frankly; he’s hitting a pathetic .154 with strikeouts in a third of his at-bats and has been one of baseball’s worst players for years. Howard flied out as a pinch hitter to end Wednesday’s loss to the Washington Nationals, but at least he made contact. Not many Phillies did against Scherzer, who fanned 11. Sure, the Phillies would not have won the 2008 World Series without Howard, who ranks second in franchise history in home runs, and it’s a shame how the playoff Achilles tear triggered this amazing downward spiral, but it happened. Tommy Joseph isn’t Philly’s future first baseman either, but he gets the rest of the week, and presumably months, to try. Phillies management wants to handle Howard’s final summer in town carefully, and we wish them luck.