We knew that Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson had the potential for statistical greatness when, in 2005, his second big league season, he went 5-for-5, didn't score a run and didn't drive in a run in a 5-3 loss to the Angels. That gave him a classic 5-0-5-0 box-score line that hadn't happened in six years. But this year, Granderson's season statistical line has been a freak show.
It starts with the triples. Granderson has 21 triples, as many as or more than eight teams, nearly three times as many as the Cardinals. Since 1949, only two players -- Willie Wilson in 1985 and Lance Johnson in 1996 -- have hit 21 triples in a season. Since 1900, only five players (Ty Cobb, Tom Long, Kiki Cuyler, Joe Jackson and Chief Wilson) have hit as many as 24 triples in a season, and none of them did it after 1925. With six more triples, Granderson will have more triples than all but one player -- Wilson -- in the modern era.
Wilson hit 36 triples for the Pirates in 1912. He was a big guy, 6-foot-2, who wasn't considered especially fast, and he never hit more than 14 triples in any other season. No one has even approached his record and, with the way baseball is played these days, no one ever will. In Wilson's era, the ballparks were bigger than today, defense wasn't what it is today and there was an emphasis on speed, not power. In 1912, Wilson's triples total was greater than the home run totals of four MLB teams. To have 21 triples in this era is remarkable.
"I've talked to some of the guys who've done it [20 triples], and it is amazing how long it has been,'' Granderson said. "When I hear that I'm the first Tiger to do this [21 triples in a season] since Ty Cobb, you have to think to yourself, 'How many seasons ago was that?'"
But it's not just the triples. Granderson hits doubles (36) and homers (19), and he steals bases (17). He has a good chance to become the third player ever to have 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and 20 steals in a season, joining Willie Mays in 1957 and Frank "Wildfire" Schulte in 1911. Only six players have ever hit 20 homers and hit 20 triples in a season: Schulte, Mays, Buck Freeman (1899), Jim Bottomley (1928), Jeff Heath (1941) and George Brett (1979).
"None of the numbers have been ridiculous,'' Granderson said of the 20-20-20-20 possibility. "I'm not doing anything drastic. I've been near those numbers before. But if there's even a chance to be in the same sentence with the great Willie Mays, that'd be special.''
And there are more numbers. Granderson grounded into a double play for the first time this year only recently, giving him 23 fewer than the major league leader, Washington's Ryan Zimmerman. The last American League player to qualify for the batting title and ground into only one double play all season was the Orioles' Brady Anderson in 1997.
"Brandon Inge was on first base, the pitcher had thrown six straight balls, and I got a little too careful up there,'' Granderson said of his GIDP. "I hit it too hard, and a little bit too deep, to the shortstop.''
Granderson also has been hit by a pitch just once this season.
"That's surprising because I stand right on top of the plate,'' he said.
Despite the really good numbers, Granderson has struck out 131 times, fourth-most in the league behind teammate Brandon Inge (137), the Indians' Grady Sizemore (135) and Oakland's Jack Cust (132). Last year, Granderson led the AL in strikeouts -- the first AL player who primarily hits in the leadoff spot to lead the league in strikeouts since Zoilo Versalles in 1965. If Granderson passes Inge, Sizemore (another leadoff batter) and Cust, he would become the first AL player to lead the league in strikeouts in consecutive seasons since Jay Buhner in 1996 and '97.
"I'm trying to cut down,'' Granderson said. "I'm trying to eliminate the three- and four-strikeout games. It seems like ... when they come for me, they come in great, big bunches.''
If there's even a chance to be in the same sentence with the great Willie Mays, that'd be special.
-- Curtis Granderson
Granderson is hitting .299, but against left-handers he is hitting only .167. That's the second-lowest average in the AL against left-handed pitching (minimum: 100 at-bats), ahead of only the Twins' Nick Punto (.162).
"It's funny, in the past few years, I've hit about the same against righties and lefties,'' Granderson said. "But I think teams have adjusted; I'm just not getting the fastballs that I'm used to getting.''
Granderson said he is aware of his unusual numbers, but says "the one number I'm keeping my eye on is runs scored. When Gary Sheffield came over here, he told me I needed to score 100 runs. I just got there. At the end of the year, I'll look at all the numbers.''
And they will be as interesting as those of any player in the big leagues.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.