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Tuesday, July 1
Random notes from around the game

By Rob Neyer

A few notes while wondering if I'll again in my lifetime see the Kansas City Royals in first place in the month of June ...

  • You already know that Johnny Damon became, last Friday night, only the second American Leaguer to collect three hits in one inning.

    Johnny Damon
    Center fielder
    Boston Red Sox
    322 57 84 36 14 .261

    What you might not know is that the only other American Leaguer to accomplish the feat 1) was also a Red Sox outfielder, and 2) he did it almost exactly 50 years ago.

    The player was Gene Stephens, and it happened on June 18, 1953, in the seventh inning of a game against the Tigers.

    What you also might not know is that it's happened in the National League, too. A long time ago. And it wasn't just one National Leaguer. It was three. On the same team, in the same inning.

    On September 6, 1883 -- very nearly 120 years ago -- Chicago players Tommy Burns, Fred Pfeffer, and Ned Williamson all rapped three safeties against the Detroit club in the seventh inning (yes, in those days Detroit was a National League town). As you might guess, Chicago also set the still-standing record for most runs in one inning, with 18. And the American League record? The Gene Stephens-assisted Red Sox, with 17 (the Johnny Damon-assisted Red Sox could manage only 14).

  • Of course it's not "fair" that the Athletics played six games against the first-place Giants while the Mariners played six-games against the last-place Padres. But this is baseball, where six games often don't turn out the way we think they will. And while the A's split their six games with the Giants, the Mariners managed only two wins against the team with the worst record in the National League.

    I was at all three Padres-Mariners games this weekend, including Sunday's disaster (or at least it seemed somewhat disastrous if you're a Mariners fan, which I'm not). For the second time in 10 days, Rondell White hit a grand slam in the ninth inning. When he did it on June 20, he put the Padres ahead. When he did it Sunday, he tied the game at six apiece, and then the Padres tacked on two more runs to win.

    Which reminds me, has anybody in New York noticed that Rondell White is having a significantly better year than his most recent replacement?

                    Games  OPS
    Rondell White     72   844
    Juan Rivera       31   641

    I bring this up only because the Yankees had Rondell White, but sent him to the Padres after he suffered through the worst season of his career. Granted, Yankee Stadium isn't a great place for a right-handed hitter, but White was playing hurt for much of last season, and he's always been a good hitter when he's not hurt. I suppose one could draw a parallel between Rondell White and Reggie Sanders, but I won't belabor the point here. Instead, let us simply gaze upon White's 2003 statistics and remind ourselves that even the New York Yankees aren't perfect. They could have had Rondell White, but instead they traded him for Bubba Trammell (and, in the process, saved money for this year ... but what's money to the Yankees?).

  • Are the Cincinnati Reds just teasing us? They're going to the four-man rotation ... but they're only committing to it until the All-Star break. That's two weeks, and a fair number of teams over the last couple of decades have used only four starters for two weeks. So unless they stick with it -- and manager Bob Boone's got a history of not sticking with it -- the Reds don't get to be my favorite team.

    It's pretty clear, though, that teams are at least thinking about the four-man rotation. I did a book signing this weekend in Seattle, and somebody asked me if we'll ever see another 30-game winner. My answer is that yes, we might see a 30-game winner because we might see a number of teams adopt the four-man rotation in coming years. And if the best pitchers are routinely starting 40 games per season rather than 35, then eventually we will see another 30-game winner.

  • Good news for the Astros! Morgan Ensberg -- finally! -- has third base all to himself.

    Morgan Ensberg
    Third baseman
    Houston Astros
    152 36 47 14 37 .309

    Bad news for the Astros! Ensberg gets third base to himself, but only because Geoff Blum is the Astros' new second baseman (thanks to injuries to first Jeff Kent and then Jose Vizcaino).

    Until recently, Ensberg and Blum were sharing Houston's third-base duties, despite a complete absence of evidence that Blum deserved said duties. Here are their OPS's as third basemen this season:

             Games   OPS
    Blum       52    691
    Ensberg    46    999

    Anybody else detect a mismanagement of resources here? And it's not like we don't know enough about Blum and Ensberg. Blum's 30 and there's very little to suggest that he deserves anything more than a part-time job ... with a team that does not have a good third baseman.

    But of course the Astros do have a good third baseman in Morgan Ensberg, who's done little but hit since reaching Double-A in 2000. Granted, he was a bit old for a top prospect, but he's proved that 2000 was no fluke, with solid Triple-A campaigns in both 2001 and 2002.

    The Astros are in the thick of a pennant race, and their chances will be significantly better if Geoff Blum is on the bench except in case of dire emergency.

  • Just tying up one loose end ... Last week, I wrote about 19-game losers since 1980, but I missed one of them. In 2001, Albie Lopez lost 12 games with the Devil Rays and seven games with the Diamondbacks. In the aforementioned column, I noted whether or not each 19-game loser actually had a shot at 20, and Albie Lopez most certainly did.

    On September 25, by then pitching for the D-Backs, Lopez ran his record to 8-19 with a loss to the Brewers. Not many noticed that he'd lost 19 games because of the odd way we track the statistics of players who change leagues during the season. Still, Lopez himself must have known that he'd lost 19 games, but that didn't dissuade him from starting two more.

    On September 30, Lopez pitched eight strong innings against the Dodgers, allowing just one run, but didn't get the decision (the Dodgers won, 2-1).

    But here's the best part ... Lopez would start one more game, against the Brewers again. And faced with the prospect of joining Brian Kingman and a host of greater pitchers on the list of 20-game losers, Lopez pitched one of the better games of his career, a three-hit shutout.

    And that would, in fact, be the last great game that Albie Lopez ever pitched.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book and Rob's upcoming book signings in Seattle (June 28), Portland (June 30), and Denver (July 9), visit Rob's Web site.

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