I see Chad Bettis sitting in the dugout after throwing seven scoreless innings at Coors Field. His pitching elbow is wrapped in a towel, and there's a smile on the face of Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black. The two men shake hands, and Black offers a little rub of affection on the top of Bettis' head. The handshake is a symbol of respect from manager to player for a job well done. Heck, seven scoreless innings at Coors Field is always a special moment, even if it didn't happen to be your first start of the season after undergoing nine weeks of chemotherapy for testicular cancer.
Family, pic.twitter.com/ovv15epd2U— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) August 15, 2017
We only see the side of Bettis' face in the video, but we can still read a million emotions, from joy to relief to exhaustion to pride to maybe most of all a sense of wonder at the moment itself -- like the first time as a kid when you connect perfectly on the sweet spot of the bat or the first time you see a rainbow or perhaps the first time you fulfill a simple chore and your dad gives you a little rub on the top of your head.
I don't see just a baseball pitcher who has beaten cancer and pitched the most memorable game of his career. I think of my own dad who died last year. I think of an old friend from work and her son who is battling leukemia. I see reasons for optimism in this week of despair. I see hope in this time of hate. It's just a baseball game, but sometimes it can represent so much more.
What a special night. Thank you @cbettis35! It may have felt like you pitched tonight for just the Rox, but you pitched for so many more!— Ryan Spilborghs (@spillygoat19) August 15, 2017
After the game, Bettis would say he was fighting back tears until he took the mound.
"I don't think I was really in tune with what was going on until the fifth," he said. "Just so many emotions and I was trying to get them under control, but it was taking much longer than expected."
You couldn't tell watching him pitch. This was Bettis at his best. Remember: He won 14 games last season and was supposed to be the Rockies' Opening Day pitcher. He took the mound to a Danny Gokey song titled "The Comeback," although the Atlanta Braves nearly scored on the game's first batter, as Ender Inciarte's hit skipped past left fielder Gerardo Parra and Inciarte tried to turn it into an inside-the-park home run, only to be thrown out 7-6-2, with Trevor Story firing a great relay throw. DJ LeMahieu made a diving stop to end the fourth and save another run, but mostly Bettis cruised through his 90 pitches, inducing 12 ground ball outs and issuing no walks.
Funny thing is, the Rockies couldn't score, either. Julio Teheran matched Bettis with seven zeroes, and it looked like we might get just the second game in Coors Field history to go 0-0 through nine innings. This game didn't have Greg Maddux on the other side, however, and the Rockies finally broke through in the eighth, when Charlie Blackmon -- don't forget him in your MVP talk -- started a three-run rally with a leadoff triple. An error and Carlos Gonzalez's two-run single scored the winning runs.
Bettis didn't get the win since he wasn't the pitcher of record, but there's not one person who watched this game who cares about that. He already has given us one of the biggest wins of the season.
The New York Yankees' secret weapon. The Yankees beat the New York Mets 4-2, as Aaron Judge hit just his second home run of August, then Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez homered off Hansel Robles in the eighth inning to break the tie. Hicks' blast deep into the right-field stands is a reminder of how valuable he was before going on the disabled list with an oblique injury in June. This was his second home run in five games since returning -- although Robles apparently thought it was a pop fly:
The secret weapon I'm referring to, however, is reliever Chad Green, who tossed 2⅔ hitless innings to lower his ERA to 1.95. Really, he has been more dominant this season than Dellin Betances or Aroldis Chapman. In 50⅔ innings, he has 74 K's and just 24 hits allowed, often pitching multiple innings. Among pitchers with at least 30 innings, only five have allowed a lower wOBA.
Green's key to success: A high spin rate on his fastball, which creates the illusion of a rising fastball that batters can't hit. His swing-and-miss rate on his fastball is 40.2 percent, the highest in the majors, and batters are hitting just .101 against it. As a comparison, Chapman's peak swing-and-miss rate with his fastball was 41.3 percent in 2014, but he's at just 25.1 percent this year. Manager Joe Girardi isn't wavering from Chapman as his closer -- at least not yet -- and considering Yankees starters don't go deep, Green's middle-inning role is vital. But it will be interesting to see how Girardi manages the roles of all these relievers down the stretch and into the postseason.
The prodigy. The day after Rafael Devers homered off a 102.8 mph Chapman fastball -- the hardest pitch anyone has homered off in the tracked velocity era -- he homered again on Monday, and then again. In his first 16 games, Devers has 21 hits and six homers while hitting .339. Alas, Edwin Encarnacion also hit two home runs, and the Indians beat the Red Sox 7-3.
Edwin Encarnación: 20th multi-HR game in last 5 seasons, tied with Giancarlo Stanton for most in MLB during that span. pic.twitter.com/ICKJUJ0J1n— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 15, 2017
Trevor Bauer gave up three solo home runs, but he did finish with 11 strikeouts in 6⅔ innings as he continues to pitch much better of late and prove to Cleveland manager Terry Francona that he'll deserve consideration for a role in the rotation in the postseason (yes, I'm handing the American League Central to the Indians). In his past four outings, Bauer has pitched 28⅔ innings, allowed six runs and fanned 33.
Kris Bryant is hot, and Joey Votto is hotter. The Chicago Cubs pounded the Cincinnati Reds 15-5 -- the Reds, by the way, are on pace to allow 269 home runs, which would break the MLB record they set last year -- as Bryant went 2-for-4 with his 22nd home run. That's 11 hits in four games for Bryant and 16 in seven games.
Just from the last 4 games, Kris Bryant has gone from— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 15, 2017
Then there's Votto, who is so hot that Cubs manager Joe Maddon employed a four-man outfield against him:
Joey Votto: Breaker of shifts. pic.twitter.com/57lh5lrhRM— MLB (@MLB) August 15, 2017
It's not the first time Maddon has employed a four-man outfield, as he used it against David Ortiz and Jim Thome when he managed the Tampa Bay Rays. Whitey Herzog once tried it against Jim Rice. The reason for the extreme defense: With three hits on Monday, Votto has now reached base at least two times in 19 consecutive games. Here are the longest such streaks since 1900:
Ted Williams, 1948: 21
Barry Bonds, 2004: 20
Pete Rose, 1979: 20
Joey Votto, 2017: 19
Curiously, that was not the year of Rose's 44-game hit streak, which came in 1978.
Votto has raised his OBP from .415 to .447 during this streak, and he now leads the majors in OPS.
We can't go without another Giancarlo Stanton highlight. Yes, he homered (again), which makes it 22 in 34 games:
On Sunday, I wrote about how Stanton has closed his stance, perhaps leading to this hot streak. Hitting guru Bobby Tewksbary -- whose students have included Josh Donaldson -- breaks down Stanton's stance and why it has helped him.
Man, busy night. I didn't even mention the first two major league home runs by Rhys Hoskins of the Philadelphia Phillies or the first by the Kansas City Royals' Cam Gallagher. Gallagher's was a grand slam that also won a Royals TV viewer a $25,000 prize.