Updated: June 9, 5:15 PM ET
Looking for results? Call in The Monkey
By Jayson Stark
|For the Anaheim Angels, it isn't about the money. It's about the monkey.
Their baseball business may not always be quite what they'd like it to be. But their monkey business has never been better.
And while we might have expected a team owned by Disney to raise the bar for ballpark innovation to an all-time high, little did anyone know it would be a monkey bar.
But then again, observes Angels director of entertainment Rod Murray, "who doesn't love a monkey?"
We hear the Chicago Cubs are winning because of pitching. And we hear the Cubs are winning because of defense. And we hear the Cubs are winning because they have a happy Sammy Sosa in their midst. No, no, no, no, no. It's time to reveal the real reason the Cubs are in first place: Fruit. Yes, friends, this is the first team in baseball history whose offensive efforts have literally come to fruition. Some teams hit the old apple. The Cubs feed the apple to their bats. And the oranges, the bananas and the strawberries, too, for that matter. Since the Cubs started feeding fruit to their bats, they have been the hottest team in baseball, with the possible exception of clubs with their own Japanese press corps. And it's all because of a guy who, by all rights, should become the next great national pitch man for Tropicana -- rookie first baseman Julio Zuleta. A little over two weeks ago, Zuleta was lying in bed trying to sleep. His team had just lost eight in a row. And for reasons that can only be ascribed to pure fate, Julio Zuleta began dreaming about fruit. "We'd lost eight games straight," he said. "The guys were kinda down. And I just wanted to think of something to make everyone relax, the way we used to be." And then it hit him -- the perfect answer: ehhhh, fruit? Yep. Fruit. "I don't know where I got this idea," he said. "I just went to bed one night, and the next day it came to me." So when he arrived at the park that morning, he combed through the clubhouse spread. He scooped up some oranges, some apples, some bananas. Then he set out to make the world's first Louisville Slugger smoothie. He grabbed the bone the clubhouse guys rub on the bats to harden them and make them smoother. He borrowed a tube of Flex-all rubbing cream from the trainers. For good measure (special touch of the chef), he tossed in some sunflower seeds. Then he headed for the dugout, where the Cubs' bats were reposing, unknowingly, in the local bat rack. "I started rubbing the bats, so they'd get hot," Zuleta said. "We've got one corner of the dugout where the sun comes in. So I put the bats down there and started rubbing the bats with fruit. Guys said, 'What are you doing.' And I said, 'Maybe the bats need to eat. Maybe they're hungry.' " We've heard of hungry teams before. But never hungry bats. So we asked Zuleta if his teammates thought he was crazy. "No," he said, "they were thinking that was hilarious." Two and a half weeks later, they're still laughing, all right. But they might be laughing all the way to the playoffs. The day Zuleta first rubbed their bats with fruit, they got 10 hits -- and broke their eight-game losing streak. The next day, they got 15 hits. "Everyone started hitting home runs," Zuleta said. "Everyone started hitting doubles. After that, everybody started giving me their bats. And everyone started to come alive again." After averaging 2½ runs a game in their eight-game losing streak, the Cubs then averaged five runs a game for the next two weeks. Maybe the balls weren't juiced, but the Cubs' bats sure were. And so it went: More winning. More fruit. More winning. More fruit. "Don Baylor told me, 'You've got to keep doing that,' " Zuleta said. "Now we don't start the game unless we do it every day. We even take it on the road." After a while, even the pitchers decided there must be something magical about this fruit. "Now the pitchers come put their glove on it," Zuleta reported. "Then they go throw in the bullpen." Alas, last Sunday, the Cubs finally lost, after winning 12 in a row -- their longest winning streak since 1936. But they didn't take the fruit cup off the menu. They just changed the recipe. "We changed from oranges and apples and bananas to kiwi and strawberries and pears," Zuleta said. "And if we lose again, we'll just change again, to different fruit." But fueled by their kiwi, they went out and swept three games from the Cardinals, including one in which they were getting no-hit by Matt Morris in the seventh inning. And that stretched their record, since Zuleta cooked up his first fruitcake, to an astonishing 15-1. If this keeps up, the Cubs will be able to fire their hitting coach and replace him with a produce distributor. Soon, the Friendly Confines could be known as the Friendly Orchards. They may have to switch their vines from ivy to grape. But all this leads to one very important question: Why fruit? It would seem to us that if bats really do need to eat, they should eat a balanced diet. What about meat? What about pasta? What about your other basic food groups? "No, we use fruit because it can keep for a longer time," Zuleta said. "We're not going to use meat and stuff like that, because the meat gets rotten. You don't want to put rotten meat on your bat." No, not when an apple a day keeps the shutouts away. So why does this work? Hey, you've got us. And you've got them. Maybe because the Cubs wear a C on their caps, they need vitamin C in their bats. But Zuleta hasn't thought this one through quite as deeply as we have. "Maybe next time," he said, "we'll give them some Vitamin Z, and some Vitamin B. Whatever helps. "Whatever makes our bats happy," said Julio Zuleta, "that's what we're going to do." And who could blame them. We're not sure if life is still a bowl of cherries. But if you don't think there's something to this, just remember this: Which player in history had the highest career batting average? Correct answer: Ty Cobb. And what was Cobb's nickname? The Georgia Peach. Coincidence? We think not. Bambino of the week
Babe Ruth's home run record stood up 34 years. Roger Maris' home run record survived for 37 years. Unless an earthquake strikes Pac Bell Park some day when Barry Bonds is up, Mark McGwire's home run record might not make it for three years. So obviously, they're no Wes Ferrell.
It's the kind of season Frank Shorter and Gretta Waitz ought to love. Every week, there's another marathon. Last week, it was the Diamondbacks and Giants going 18 innings. This week, it was the Tigers and Red Sox who got to play 18 innings, empty their entire bullpens and call it a night after Conan O'Brien. Final score, in case you dozed off: Red Sox 4, Tigers 3, fans left in the park 12. You have to go all the way back to July 4 and 7, 1985 to find the last time two games this long were played a week apart or less. And that's just one more reason to have a good time picking this latest marathon apart. The totals
What do you get to see if you watch five hours and 52 minutes worth of baseball? Here's what: Oh, just 149 hitters heading for the storied batter's box of Fenway Park, 15 pitchers throwing 485 pitches (not counting the 24 for intentional walks), 13 relievers throwing 286 pitches, 27 hits, 14 walks, four intentional walks of one hitter (the always-terrifying Manny Ramirez), four hit batters, two wild pitches, 20 strikeouts by the losing pitching staff, 36 runners left on base, one Tiger (Jose Macias) who went 1 for 9 -- and got picked off second in the 18th inning after he finally did reach base, one leadoff man (Jose Offerman) who went 0 for 7, two mid-game replacements (Detroit's Brandon Inge and Ryan Jackson) who got four at-bats apiece (and no hits) and one game-winning homer (by Shea Hillenbrand) at 12:57 a.m. The catcher
Our official Marathon Man is Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who caught all 18 innings (and 268 pitches) -- less than a year after catching wire-to-wire in a 19-inning game (which the Red Sox lost to Seattle). In this one, he caught seven different pitchers, including a split-fingered monster (Hideo Nomo), two guys whose stuff runs all over New England (Rolando Arrojo and Hipolito Pichardo) and a knuckleballer for dessert in the 18th (Tim Wakefield). So by the 18th, Varitek said, he wasn't exactly ready for a sprint up Heartbreak Hill. "We get to the 18th inning, and I'm dead," he told our buddy, Peter Gammons. "The legs go, but it's my arm that's tired. How many times did I throw? 200 something pitches, then all the throws between innings, then 18 throws to second base. My arm was dead. Then we get to the 18th inning, and who comes in? Wakefield. That's all I needed in a tie game at 1 in the morning." OK, he was kidding about how thrilled he was to see Wakefield. But he wasn't kidding when he said: "Thank God for Shea Hillenbrand." The walking man
It's a good thing Hillenbrand hit that home run or Manny Ramirez might never have gotten another official at-bat this season. Tigers manager Phil Garner had seen enough of Manny's reign of terror to intentionally walk him in the eighth (after a Carl Everett stolen base), in the 10th (with a man on second), in the 14th (with two out and Everett on first base) and in the 16th (with nobody on base). It was the first time any American League hitter had been pointed toward first intentionally four times in one game since May 22, 1962, when Angels manager Bill Rigney walked Roger Maris four times. The big upset was that the Tigers manager who tied that record turned out to be Garner, not the unofficial national spokesman for the intentional walk, Sparky Anderson. But it was no upset that when Booth Newspapers' Tigers beat man, Danny Knobler, tracked down Anderson the next day for his reaction, the Sparkster couldn't wait to gush: "Oh, that's good." "If you never ever let their big bopper go, you've got a chance," Anderson said. "I don't believe I ever put anyone on four times in one game. But that's two games they played." In other words, he just never had an 18-inning game where he had a shot at that one. The winner
The unlikely winning pitcher in this game was Wakefield, who was scheduled to be the starting pitcher on Thursday. So he threw on the side to get ready for his start at 4 in the afternoon. Then, nine hours later, he came marching in to pitch in this game in relief. "I'm used to stuff like that," said Wakefield, who got to start and relieve in the same series for the second straight season. "It's not a first. I'm prepared for anything and everything." So he picked the potential winning run off second for the third out of the top of the 18th. Then he got the win in this game in relief -- and got another win as a starter two days (or was that one day?) later. That made him the first pitcher to win a game as a starter and a reliever in the same series since Mike Boddicker in 1991 for the Royals. We don't know how many innings Wakefield would have gotten to pitch had Tuesday's game kept going longer. But we know who the crowd (or what was left of it) wanted to see. As the clock ticked toward 1 a.m., they were chanting: "We want Pedro." "That wasn't going to happen," Varitek told the Boston Herald's Michael Silverman. "I was going to be out there before that." The starter
Normally, when a starting pitcher takes his team deep into the eighth inning, he's not only saved the bullpen, he doesn't have to spend the next 10 innings sitting on a sofa in the clubhouse watching the rest of the game on TV, either. But that was Detroit starter Chris Holt's fate. "When it was over, guys were saying, 'You might as well get your running in for tomorrow,' " Holt said, "because it's tomorrow." The DH
But if you think Holt was bored, imagine being the DH in a game like this. Tigers DH Dean Palmer told Knobler he spent most of his six hours walking back and forth to (and from) the clubhouse. "I'll bet I had 10 cups of coffee," he said. The split shift
Then there were the guys who played a whole game -- but still played half a game. Or something like that. The Red Sox started Lou Merloni at shortstop. In the second inning, in his first at-bat, he got drilled by Holt on the elbow, leaving a bruise deep enough to land him on the disabled list. But he still stayed in the game until the ninth inning. "I played the front nine but not the back nine," Merloni told the Hartford Courant's Don Amore. "I felt like I was playing golf." Meanwhile, Tigers catcher Robert Fick started, went 0 for 4 and still missed half the game. He left via a Garner double-switch after nine innings. "I'm glad I got out of there before I was 0-for-9," Fick said. "Gar saved me from suicide." The comeback
Tigers outfielder Bobby Higginson came off the disabled list for this game -- and wound up playing all 18 innings. But that was still better than being on the DL, he said. "I've been doing more sit-ups than I've ever done, and that's not easy when you're not really a sit-ups guy," Higginson said. "I had to get off the DL just so I didn't have to do sit-ups. You don't realize how out of shape you are until you go on the DL." The umpire
Think it's rough catching 18 innings? How about working home plate in a black suit for all 18 innings? That was plate ump Bill Welke's fate. Lucky guy. He got to call all 509 pitches. The next day, he said, he got a message from fellow ump Jeff Nelson, who had worked the plate in that Giants-Diamondbacks 18-inning game. "From one 18-inning guy to another," the message read. "I know how your legs feel." The broadcaster
During his distinguished Tigers broadcaster career, the great Ernie Harwell had called only two games longer than this one. But a mere 55 years ago, he told Knobler, he once had to recreate an entire 21-inning minor-league game between Atlanta and Mobile. "In that one, I read every commercial live," he said, "and every station break, too." The hero
Much as we wish they could have stayed longer, somebody had to win this thing. And that somebody was Hillenbrand, who was hospitable enough to loft the second pitch of the bottom of the 18th over The Monster for the game-winner. According to the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR's David Vincent, only two other Red Sox in the previous century had ever hit a home run in the 18th inning or later: Joe Lahoud on July 27, 1969 (20th inning) and Tim Naehring on April 11, 1992 (19th inning). But Hillenbrand was in no mood for that kind of trivia. He had other motivations working. "I was hoping it would go out so we could get the game over with," he said afterward. "Now I get to go home and sleep." Jayson Stark is a Senior Writer at ESPN.com. Week in Review appears each Friday.