So there it goes, another baseball year, shrinking into the rear-view mirror.
And what a year.
A year when 60 once again became a magic number. A year when Detroit rediscovered a sport once known as baseball. A year when the residents of Atlanta were reminded that seasons sometimes end before October.
A year when it wasn't safe to serve salad in the clubhouse. A year when we learned a triple play could be turned without anybody swinging a bat. A year when "God Bless America" even brought a moment of silence and dignity to a raging argument between a manager and an umpire.
What a year. What a sport. And what better time to press the rewind button on Baseball 2006.
American League MVP
Justin Morneau, Twins
Look, this might be Derek Jeter's greatest season. We get that. And if those teams that Jermaine Dye, David Ortiz and Travis Hafner play for had decided to win about 15 more games, they'd be duking it out for this trophy, too. But every time we ruminate on which player in this league was the most "valuable," we keep stopping at Morneau.
Don't forget that the Twins were the worst offensive team in the American League last year, and they're going to score 100 more runs this year. So why is that, huh? It definitely isn't because their big offseason offensive "upgrades," Tony Batista and Rondell White, had big years. It's because, as much as any single factor, Morneau finally turned into the menacing middle-of-the-order whomper they've been waiting for him to be.
He's one RBI from becoming the first Twin not named Killebrew to drive in 130 runs. He has a shot to join Paul Molitor (1996) as the only Twins ever to rack up 100 more RBI in a season than homers. And above all, he's the centerpiece of the Twins' second-half reincarnation. Since June 8, the Twins have the best record in baseball. And all Morneau has done since is hit .365 (second only to Robinson Cano) and drive in 91 runs (second only to Ryan Howard). Jeter has been responsible for 12.4 percent of all the Yankees' runs produced this year (a higher percentage than Dye or Thomas represent to their teams). But Morneau has accounted for 13.7 percent of the Twins' runs produced. And they wouldn't still be playing next week without Morneau's production.
Apologies to: Jeter, Dye, Ortiz, Thomas, Johan Santana and Hafner.
National League MVP
Ryan Howard, Phillies
Got any foolproof methods for separating two men who clearly deserve this award just as much as the other? We could use a magic MVP formula in a big way, since we have a real mess on our hands with this pick. One moment, we see Howard getting intentionally walked with nobody on base and think: "There's the MVP." Ten seconds later, we watch Albert Pujols smoke a season-saving homer off a pitcher who had given up one run since July and ask: "How can he not be the MVP?" Well, Pujols had that "SportsCenter" moment many voters look for Wednesday.
But we're tipping slightly in Howard's direction because he's never even given the opportunity to have that moment anymore. He now has been intentionally walked 16 times in September, most of them in insane, Bonds-ian situations. That's 10 more intentional walks this month than Pujols. In fact, it's four more times than Carlos Beltran and Carlos Lee have been intentionally walked all season -- combined. And all those free trips to first base are telling us something about which of these guys the managers think most towers above the rest of his lineup. But here's what also helped push us toward Howard: Through Friday, Howard had the higher batting average (.385 to .363), on-base percentage (.551 to .463) and slugging percentage (.769 to .676) in September, for a team that declared itself dead two months ago and then charged into the wild-card lead.
But Regis, this is not our final answer. We have to fill out an actual ballot in this race in a couple of days, as opposed to merely filling space in this column. So this column was due first, we reserve the right to change our mind. There's just as compelling a case to be made for Pujols, too. So for both teams and both candidates, the final weekend is all about survival. It wouldn't be the first MVP election to come down to one final Sunday afternoon in the baseball season.
Apologies to: Pujols, Lance Berkman, Miguel Cabrera, Beltran and Jose Reyes.
American League LVP (Least Valuable Player)
Javy Lopez, Orioles and Red Sox
We always award a little extra LVP credit to men who help torpedo two teams' chances of winning. So Lopez was able to nudge himself to the top of another stellar LVP field -- in his play-for-a-contract year, no less -- with his pivotal role in undoing the Orioles and Red Sox.
In Lopez's previous contract-drive season (with the 2003 Braves), he once hit nine home runs in 32 at-bats. This year, he hit eight all season. In 342 at-bats. For two different teams that couldn't wait to help him pack his suitcase. He added to his LVP credentials by grumbling about playing time in Baltimore. So what happened after the Orioles finally found a team that would take him? He was even worse in Boston, hitting .190 in 63 homerless at-bats and throwing out one of 15 base-stealers. Not the most productive $22.5 million Peter Angelos has ever spent. That's for sure.
Sighs of relief for: Carl Pavano, Rondell White, Jhonny Peralta and Dmitri Young.
National League LVP
Geoff Jenkins, Brewers
Being the highest-paid bat in Milwaukee isn't quite the same thing as being the highest-paid bat in the Bronx, Fenway or even St. Louis. But once Carlos Lee took his El Caballo act to Texas, Jenkins (at $7.5 million) once again became That Man in Milwaukee. And in another one of those seasons of squashed hope that have made Milwaukee famous, Jenkins wasn't exactly the next Jim Thome the Brewers envisioned when they handed him that three-year, $23-million lottery jackpot two years ago. He has hit .134 against left-handers. He went a month and a half (142 at-bats) between homers. And if you toss out April and his slightly-too-late September stat-padding, he hit .236, with six home runs, in those other four months.
Unlike some of our previous LVPs, Jenkins wasn't one of those subversives who essentially stole money or blew up his clubhouse. Good guy. Good teammate. Never set out to be an LVP. But the rules say somebody has to win this award. So the gong stops here.
Sighs of relief for: Jeromy Burnitz, Pat Burrell, Preston Wilson and LVP perennial Neifi Perez.
American League Cy Young
Johan Santana, Twins
If you've never seen Santana on anything but a "Baseball Tonight" highlight reel, here's our free advice: Forget whatever you had planned next Tuesday. Tivo "House" and "Boston Legal" and "Dancing with the Stars." Just sit there for a couple of hours and watch this artist at work on the grand October stage. Count the number of times great hitters swing and miss this guy's pitches by a foot, or two, or three. If you love baseball, this is the best show going.
We could spout Santana's Cy Young credentials for about 45 minutes. But this ought to sum it up: He's about to become the first man to win the ultimate Pitching Quadruple Crown -- leading the major leagues in wins, strikeouts, ERA and innings -- since Hal Newhouser in 1945. (Asterisk alert: Chien-Ming Wang did tie for first in wins.) By the way, this really ought to be three Cys in a row for Santana (a feat matched by only Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson). But we'll concede it's a little late to restoke the old how'd-Bartolo-Colon-ever-swipe-that-'05-Cy bonfire.
Apologies to: Roy Halladay, Wang, Justin Verlander and Jonathan Papelbon.
National League Cy Young
Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
It's time for our annual reminder: The Cy Young is not the Most Valuable Pitcher award. It's not supposed to matter if a guy's team finished first, last or in the New York-Penn League. It's about who pitched the best. Period. And in the first full season in history in which it didn't even take 18 wins to lead one of these leagues, the man who pitched the best in the NL just happened to work for a team that went into the weekend with a chance to wind up in last place.
But that sure wasn't the fault of Webb, a fellow with a more relentless ground attack than Michigan State. All those ground balls (4.04 for every ball in the air) have carried him to the league lead in ERA (2.88), the lowest opponent OPS in the league (.642) and 14 starts in which he gave up one earned run or none. Not that Chris Carpenter, Roy Oswalt or Carlos Zambrano are far behind him in any of those departments. But Webb was just a hair better in the big picture, even though he had to make half his starts in the best hitter's park in the league. (See for yourself). Actually, until the last week and a half, we admit we were leaning toward Carpenter. But the Cardinals' ace didn't help himself by giving back three-run leads in his last two starts. And in the end, we couldn't overlook this: Webb pitched into the seventh inning two more times than Carpenter did (23-21), made four more quality starts (23-19) and had nine quality starts which his team didn't convert into a win for him (to six for Carpenter).
Apologies to: Carpenter, Zambrano, Oswalt, John Smoltz and The Humidor.
American League Cy Yuk
Josh Towers, Blue Jays
Since we've been handing out this award, we've seen some truly ugly seasons. But Towers' year deserves its own reality show ("My Big Fat Obnoxious ERA?"). Before we present his messy numbers, we need to warn even mature audiences. The record: 1-10. The ERA: 8.84. The damage: 17.2 baserunners per 9 innings. OK, you can open your eyes again. That ERA isn't a record. And 1-10 isn't a record. But put them together? Now you've got some history.
To find the only other pitcher ever with that many innings, that many decisions, an ERA that high and a winning percentage that low, you need to hop in the old Wayback Machine and check out Chuckin' Charlie Stecher, of the 1890 Philadelphia Athletics. He went 0-10, 10.32 for a team that was playing .500 ball when Stecher entered the rotation -- and then went 2-26 the rest of the way (possibly not a coincidence). Towers didn't quite have that effect on the Blue Jays. But they were 19 games over .500 when anybody but him started.
Cys of relief for: Bruce Chen, Rodrigo Lopez, Jason Johnson, Fausto Carmona and Cliff Politte.
National League Cy Yuk
Derrick Turnbow, Brewers
Chief Turnbow was sure a fun story for a while there. From Opening Day 2005 through this May 12, in fact, he was one of just seven relievers to save 50 games -- and the only one of the seven with a lower ERA than Turnbow (1.67) was Mariano Rivera (1.62). Unfortunately, however, the season forgot to end on May 13. And the rest of it has been kind of rough on the Chief.
Since mid-May, when the strike zone disappeared from his radar screen, Turnbow has the highest ERA (8.79) of any reliever in the whole sport. And he heads into the final weekend with a shot at the highest single-season ERA of any 20-save man in history. (Turnbow is at 6.87. The record is 7.11, by Shawn Chacon in 2004.) Has anyone ever made the All-Star team and won a Cy Yuk in the same season? We'd better get our crack research crew on that one.
Cys of relief for: Angel Guzman, Glendon Rusch, Mark Mulder, Oliver Perez and Chris Reitsma.
Special Bi-Leagual Cy Yuk
Russ Ortiz, Diamondbacks and Orioles
Here's some good news for the D-Backs: Ortiz only has two years and $16 million left on a four-year deal that's a hot contender for Worst Free Agent Contract Ever. Now if that had just been a two-month contract, everything would have been fine, since Ortiz did start his Arizona career by going 4-2. Over the rest of his journey through the desert, however, he went 1-14, with an 8.05 ERA. Which was enough to get him released -- but not enough to keep him out of work for more than four days. Which was how long it took for the Orioles to sign him. But that quick pick-up just gave him a chance to pull off all sorts of fascinating bi-leagueal feats.
He's a lock to become the first pitcher in two decades with ERAs over 7.50 in both leagues in the same season. (Last to do that with 20 IP or more in each league: Ron Davis, of the 1986 Twins and Cubs.) And Ortiz is also on the verge of joining the notorious 8-8-8 Club (8 decisions, 8 losses, ERA over 8.00). The only other member of that group: Ed (Don't Call Me Tip) O'Neil, who went 0-8, with a 9.26 ERA, for the 1890 Toledo Maumees and Philadelphia Athletics. (Quick question: What's a Maumee?) At least those teams paid him slightly less than Arizona will pay Ortiz not to pitch for them the next two years.
Cys of relief for: Jeff Weaver and Joe Mays.
American League Rookie of the Year
Justin Verlander, Tigers
For four months, we kept asking ourselves: How are we going to sift through the greatest rookie pitching field in history and pick a winner of this award? But then Papelbon and Francisco Liriano headed for their neighborhood MRI centers. And Jered Weaver finally lost a game. And it was the fabulous Verlander who made it to the finish line. For all the gushing about Liriano, all Verlander did was rip off 15 starts of one earned run or none, win more games (17) than any Tigers rookie since Mark Fidrych in 1976 and hover all year around the league lead in wins and ERA. He also led the sport in a stat no one ever mentions: fewest stolen bases allowed by any right-handed starter (one, in just six attempts). So no wonder he's about to join Fernando Valenzuela (1981) as the only rookies of the year whose names start with a V.
Apologies to: Papelbon, Liriano, Jered Weaver, Joel Zumaya, Kenji Johjima and Melky Cabrera.
National League Rookie of the Year
Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
Certain things in life are just impossible. Walking across the Atlantic. Singing along in the car with Ashlee Simpson. And trying to figure out who the real Rookie of the Year is in the National League. It's such a great year, we can't even inject impactful players like Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Josh Willingham, Chris Duncan, Conor Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, Scott Olsen, Russell Martin, Josh Barfield, Cla Meredith and Takashi Saito into the conversation. And guys like Prince Fielder, Josh Johnson and Andre Ethier -- players who would have won this thing a lot of years -- have just about no prayer of finishing in the top three.
So with them out of the way, next to be eliminated on our scorecard was the Rule 5 Pick of the Year, Florida's Dan Uggla, even though he has hit more homers (26) than any rookie second baseman in history. And that left us spending hours debating Uggla's dazzling DP partner, Hanley Ramirez, versus the spectacular Zimmerman. On one hand, no player in the expansion era has scored as many runs as Ramirez (119) and not won the Rookie of the Year. On the other hand, no player in that era has driven in as many runs as Zimmerman (110) and not won, either. So there's no rational way to decide this. None.
So why Zimmerman? Because there's just something special about him that's hard to define. It might be his polish. It might be his Rolen-esque leatherwork. Or it might be the fact that he has gotten more hits with runners in scoring position (66) than any player -- rookie or 78-year veteran -- in the entire sport. A year ago this time, he'd spent three months as a professional baseball player. Now, you'd think he'd been playing in the big leagues since 1978 -- except that he'd neglected to be born yet back then.
Apologies to: Ramirez, Uggla, Fielder and Johnson.
Managers of the Year
Jim Leyland, Tigers, and Joe Girardi, Marlins
We picked the Marlins to win 43 games this year. So you might say we were off a little -- but only by 34. Well, we don't know how many their manager thought they'd win. But whatever problems Girardi had with his owner and GM, he sure didn't have any problems convincing a team that used 22 rookies that an 11-31 start was just a fun way to get warmed up before climbing all the way up Mount .500. Amazing.
But no more amazing than the sight of Leyland charging back into the dugout after a six-year intermission and engineering the turnaround of the century. Nobody has ever won manager-of-the-year awards 14 years apart. But in a month and a half, we won't be able to say that anymore.
Apologies to: Willie Randolph, Charlie Manuel, Joe Torre, Ron Gardenhire and Ken Macha.
Top 10 Injuries of the Year
10th Prize (How do you spell "ceremonial" dept.): Padres reliever Alan Embree bruised his pitching hand this summer -- when the guy throwing one of those "ceremonial" first pitches had a little trouble with his mechanics and bounced his not-so-fastball off Embree's hand.
Ninth Prize (Rundown of the year dept.): Mariners pitcher Gil Meche had to have a start pushed back a day in June -- after he hurt his back chasing his 2-year-old son on the beach.
Eighth Prize (Better to wiggle than waggle dept.): Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks tore a tendon in his wrist -- while sitting in the dugout, waggling his bat back and forth.
Seventh Prize (Revenge of the shellfish dept.): Cardinals outfielder John Rodriguez needed to have his name rubbed off the lineup card April 17 –when he had an allergic reaction to the shrimp tempura he ate before the game.
Sixth Prize (Intensive shopping ward dept.): Royals shortstop Angel Berroa missed a game with a sore foot – which he injured walking around the mall.
Fifth Prize (Losing is hell dept.): Marlins closer Joe Borowski managed to injure himself during the Mets' clinching celebration Sept. 18. As always-laid-back Shea Stadium erupted following the final out, Borowski fell off a platform in the bullpen, hurt his shoulder and couldn't pitch the next night.
Fourth Prize (Give peace a chance dept.): Angels pitcher Chris Bootcheck had to go on the disabled list in May -- because he popped a hamstring racing in from the bullpen to join a brawl.
Third Prize (Don't tey this at home dept.): After Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels' worst start of the second half, he revealed he'd cut his finger a few days earlier -- trying to slice open a bag of new kitchen utensils. He then apologized to his parents for ignoring one of the big lessons of his youth: "Never cut with the knife up," he said. "Everyone learned that in Boy Scouts."
Second Prize (Think before you leap dept.): Devil Rays speedmeister Carl Crawford missed three games in June -- thanks to an umpire's call he wasn't real fond of. After getting called out at the plate trying for an inside-the-park homer, he jumped up to spike his helmet -- and twisted his knee when he came down.
First Prize (Don't eat your vegetables dept.): Brewers reliever Matt Wise is now, officially, the least likely player in baseball to become a vegetarian any time soon. Not after he missed three games in June -- because he'd cut his finger on a pair of salad tongs (uh, the wrong end of those salad tongs) while zipping through the postgame food spread.
When the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt tried to console him with the reminder that teammate Jeff Cirillo had sprained his ankle earlier in the year after leaping in frustration over a fly ball that stayed in the park, Wise retorted: "At least his was game-related. I got hurt eating a freakin' salad."
Mr. Disabled List of the Year
If you're scoring at home, Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano has now gone 460 consecutive days without pitching in a major-league game. That's been enough time for Adam Dunn to strike out 277 times, for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" to hit bookstores a month after Pavano's last pitch and spend 50 weeks on the best-seller list, for Jose Reyes to steal 101 bases, for the various CSI shows to shoot and air 96 new episodes (not even counting reruns), and for the Yankees pitchers not named Pavano to win 152 games.
It has also been enough time for Pavano and his team to announce he was suffering from assorted injuries to his rotator cuff, humerus, back, buttocks, elbow, ribs and shoulder. And enough time for him to get into -- and cover up -- a mysterious auto accident in Florida, which inspired:
A) His teammates to hang a fabled tabloid back-page headline on his locker, which read: "CRASH TEST DUMMY."
And B) a concerned Johnny Damon to inquire: "I hope his car didn't get dinged up too bad. I heard it's a Porsche."
Box Score Lines of the Year
Third Prize (in other news dept.): This pitching line made it look as if Padres rookie Clay Hensley had the greatest game of his career May 14 against the Cubs:
9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
But hold on. There's another section to those box scores. Check out his hitting line:
5 AB, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 RBI and 5 (count 'em, 5) Strikeouts
Claim to fame: Retrosheet's Dave Smith reports that Hensley was the first pitcher in the last 50 seasons to whiff five times in the midst of throwing a shutout.
Second Prize (six-pack dept.): Texas' R.A. Dickey took his newly "perfected" knuckleball to the mound just one time this season (April 7 vs. the Tigers). It was a memorable trip. We'll say that:
3 1/3 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 K and 6 (yep, 6) HR
Claim to fame: Dickey not only tied the modern record for gopherballs in one game, his failure to throw another big-league pitch made him the first pitcher in history to allow six homers or more in a season in which he never even got 11 outs.
First Prize (one and done dept.): Here it comes, friends -- the messiest box-score line of modern times. The victim: Royals starter Luke Hudson, Aug. 13 vs. Cleveland:
1/3 IP, 8 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SLAM, 47 pitches, 1 out
Claims to fame: 1) The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Hudson is the only starting pitcher in the last 40 years who was allowed to face the first 10 hitters in a game, even though he forgot to get any of them out. 2) Elias also reports that Hudson was the first pitcher to give up that many runs in the first inning of any game since Sept. 21, 1897, when Boston Beaneaters ace Kid Nichols allowed 12 in the first to Fielder Jones' Brooklyn Bridegrooms.
More Box-Score Lines for the Annals
• Two-dozen-for-the-price-of-one dept.: St. Louis' Jason Marquis became the first pitcher since Chubby Dean, of the 1940 A's, to make two different starts in which he gave up at least 12 runs. Here they are:
June 21 vs. White Sox: 5 IP, 14 H, 13 R, 13 ER,1 BB, 3 K, 8 extra-base hits
July 18 vs. Braves: 5 IP, 14 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 3 HR
• Hits not included dept.: Seattle's Gil Meche became the first pitcher in the live-ball era to give up nine runs -- on just two hits (Aug. 11, vs. Texas): 1 IP, 2 H, 9 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 0 K
• Extra-effort dept.: Curt Schilling's weirdest box-score line ever was this Aug. 10 start against the Royals, when he became the first pitcher in 37 years to give up 10 extra-base hits in a game and the first AL pitcher in 72 years to give up at least nine doubles in a game: 7 1/3 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 9 doubles, 1 HR, just 1 single.
• Closed for business dept.: Fausto Carmona's career as as the Indians' not-so-trusty closer lasted four games, in the post-Wickman era. By the time it was over, Carmona had become the second reliever in history (and first since Rick Lysander 24 years ago) to lose four games in seven days or less. His combined line for those four outings: 2 2/3 IP, 8 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 2 game-losing HR, 4 HBP, 3 blown saves.
• Mathematical impossibility dept.: Phillies pitcher Scott Mathieson had to leave his Sept. 2 start against the Braves with an elbow issue. But he left behind a box-score line that wouldn't seem possible if it hadn't happened in real life: 0 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K. (So how'd he strike out the only hitter he faced, but still give up an earned run and record more strikeouts than outs? Easy. Strike-three wild pitch. Followed by a two-run homer served up by the reliever who replaced him, Eude Brito.)
Un-Four-Gettable Comeback of the Year
In case you were wondering, there is a word for what happened in the ninth and 10th innings at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 18, the night when four straight home runs ripped a hole through the smoky ozone of L.A.
It just happens to be a word that doesn't technically exist. That's all.
"I don't know what you would call that," Dodgers coach-witticist Rich Donnelly told Year in Review. "When something happens that's only happened once in the history of mankind, we have to come up with a new word for it.
"You can't call it a miracle, because miracles have happened. It's beyond a miracle. There have been a lot of miracles. There's only been one of these."
"It might be the most amazing thing that ever happened in sports. It's like the Stanford band thing, without the trombones. ... Four homers in the ninth to tie? Two of them off the best reliever of all time?"
-- Dodgers coach Rich Donnelly on L.A.'s come-from-behind victory over San Diego on Sept. 18
So that's what it was, then:
One minute, the Dodgers were trailing the Padres by four runs with nobody out in the ninth. Seven pitches later -- seven pitches -- back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers had finished clattering off the seats at Chavez Ravine, to turn a blowout into a tie game.
Four home runs in seven pitches. Hit by the team that was last in the league in homers. Off two pitchers (Jon Adkins and Trevor Hoffman) who had allowed a total of three home runs all season before that. You've gotta be kidding.
"Four smackeroonies," Donnelly laughed. "It was like: whack, whack, whack, whack, holy moly. It was almost like some outside force took over. You couldn't stop it.
"You ever seen that monologue Steve Martin does where he has no control over his body? That's what the whole stadium looked like. I looked around after the fourth one, and it looked like 50,000 Steve Martins dancing."
Well, they may have had no control over their bodies, but we're betting there weren't 50,000 of them. Not by then. There were 55,831 people in Dodger Stadium when this game began. But four runs down with three outs to go? In L.A.? Is there any doubt that half of those 55,831 people were sitting behind their steering wheels when those back-to-back-to-back-to-backers left the launching pad?
"Those people who were in the parking lot trying to get out," Donnelly chuckled, "were all turning around, trying to get back in. Even the cops were doing U-turns."
That, of course, is what you do at times like that. When sapyano-mania breaks out ... you U-turn.
"It might be the most amazing thing that ever happened in sports," Donnelly said. "It's like the Stanford band thing, without the trombones. ... Four homers in the ninth to tie? Two of them off the best reliever of all time? You have to invent a word for that.
"So here's what you do: You get out your Scrabble game, pick seven letters and that's the word. You go with that word, plus 'a-mania.' And that'll be good. That'll get people's attention. A word that's never been used, for something that's never been done."
Get out our Scrabble game? Sure. Why not? We followed orders. We dumped seven Scrabble letters onto the board. And finally, we knew what had happened here:
But even after the sapyano-mania, this game wasn't over. It was only tied. But not for long, because the Dodgers gave up a run in the top of the 10th. Which seemed kind of ominous -- for about three minutes.
All it really did, of course, was just set the stage for the fifth home run, a Nomar Garciaparra walkoff that turned defeat into triumph. And turned Dodger Stadium into Mardi Gras West.
"What happened in the ninth inning was nothing compared to Nomar hitting the walkoff," said Rich Donnelly. "That was euphoria. There is a word for that."
Masher of the Year
He crunched home runs that splattered off Powerball billboards, off seats in the fourth deck, off opposite-field upper decks, off plaques hanging in concourses a third-of-a-mile from home plate.
He was the amazing, colossal Ryan Howard, a human Cape Canaveral in a tight end's body.
According to the mind-boggling website, hittrackeronline.com, the Phillies first baseman's 58 home runs bashed more than 23,400 feet worth of home runs this season. Which means, if you'd strung them all together, they could have flown from Citizens Bank Park all the way past William Penn statue's, up on top of City Hall, a good four miles away.
He was some show, this man. So we now present our favorite Ryan Howard quotes, quips and freeze-frames of 2006:
• After Howard crunched a 480-foot spring-training space shot against the Tigers, Detroit catcher Vance Wilson told Year in Review: "Tell him I'm going to send him my ear-doctor bill, from the sound of that bat."
• After Howard submerged six home runs in the Allegheny River on the way to winning the All Star Home Run Derby, his personal Derby pitcher, Phillies coach Ramon Henderson, laughed: "I was hoping he was going to kill some fish out in that river -- and he did."
• After watching that Derby show, actress Alyssa Milano called Howard "amazing" -- and gushed to the Bucks County Courier Times' Randy Miller: "What kind of feeling that must be. How powerful must that feel." Informed later of Milano's glowing review, Howard replied: "She didn't say I was sexy?"
• And after umpire Larry Poncino cost Howard his 57th homer by mistakenly ruling that a 10-year-old kid had reached over the fence to scoop up a Sept. 16 fly ball in Houston, Poncino later admitted the ball was "in the seats." Even though Poncino retracted that statement the next day, Howard joked: "I'm going to go out there and finish running the bases on my homer."
Tiger Tamer of the Year
They hadn't had a winning season in 13 years. They hadn't had a season with a loss total under 90 in this millennium. They still had 10 players in uniform who were part of a 119-loss disaster exactly three years ago.
So all of you geniuses out there who predicted six months ago that the Detroit Tigers would have the second-best record in baseball please raise your hands -- so we can lead you off to the nearest Liars Anonymous meeting.
Heck, nobody saw this coming. Not even Al Kaline. But that's just one more reason the Tigers were the story of the year. And the star of their saga was the 61-year-old energizer in their dugout who once thought he'd never manage another game.
Jim Leyland reminded us all again this summer he's still one of the great managers of his time. Fortunately, he also reminded us he's one of the great quotesmiths of his time. Here are some of his greatest pearls, courtesy of Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler:
• On the baserunning adventures of the ever-nimble Sean Casey: "He doesn't go to Arthur Murray [Dance School] on the weekends. I can tell you that. He's not on 'Dancing with the Stars.' He may be a star, but he's not dancing."
• On how he'd sum up the difference between winning with the Tigers' $83-million payroll versus winning with the Yankees' $200-million bankroll: "You go to the clothing store with $500 and I go with $100, you should come out with better stuff. You get a cashmere -- and I get one of those itchy tweed things."
• After telling his beat writers, during a road trip to Boston, that he wanted to take his 13-year-old daughter Kellie to see Boston College, he was informed that BC costs 45,000 bucks a year. "Well," he deadpanned, "I might be going to Boston Market."
• Finally, Leyland wins our prestigious Managerial Ejection of the Year award, for his classic Aug. 31 two-part tirade at Yankee Stadium. He came out to jaw with plate ump James Hoye over a series of ball-and-strike calls and was just getting into it when the sound of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" filled The Stadium. So Leyland stopped griping for two minutes, in the name of patriotism. Then he flicked his rhubarb switch back on after the music died -- and promptly got thumbed. "In no way, shape or form would I ever be disrespectful,'' he said. "But you don't tell the umpire, 'Time out. I've got to listen to Kate.' "
Foul Ball of the Year
Just last weekend, Baltimore's Jay Gibbons pulled off a hitting feat that might be tougher than thumping five homers in one game:
He hit a foul ball into the stands -- that conked his own wife, Laura, in the rib cage.
To determine just what to make of this remarkable achievement in offensive accuracy, we called in our special Year in Review humorist and conspiracy theorist, longtime center-field artiste Doug Glanville.
"I would say that this ranks up there with some of the greatest and rarest hitting displays of our last few millennia, but that would not be fair," Glanville quipped. "Let's call it what it really was:
"A ploy to get multiple insurance claims.
"Here," Glanville theorized, "was the plan: Jay sues the Orioles for lack of adequate fan protection. His wife sues the Orioles for unsafe conditions. His wife then turns around and sues her husband for some warped form of malpractice. He then counter-sues for damages against the Orioles for workers' compensation, arguing that his wife works for the team by proxy. Then they both sue the Orioles for pain and suffering and marital stress."
Clearly, Glanville concluded, "they planned all this out ahead of time."
"The ball was juiced," he joked, "and she was most likely wearing some sort of magnetic flak jacket."
Trifecta of the Year
Just when you thought you'd seen every kind of play in baseball that could possibly unfold, along came those innovative Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Sept. 2 to show you it was still possible to go where no team had gone before.
They turned a triple play against Seattle -- without a ball being put in play, without a bat even being swung.
How'd that happen? Raul Ibanez took strike three. Adrian Beltre then got nailed stealing second. Jose Lopez then broke for home, and shortstop Ben Zobrist zipped the throw back to catcher Dioner Navarro for out No. 3.
It was the first 2-6-2 triple play in history. And it was the first strike-'em-out, throw-everybody-out trifecta since 1880 to be turned by just two players.
So if a double play is a pitcher's best friend, what's a play like this?
"First one I've ever seen," said pitcher J. P. Howell. "Throw a strike and let them do it. I just watched the ball fly around like a snowball fight."
Play-This-Combo-in-the-Lotto-Putout of the Year
Speaking of numbers you never thought you'd ever write on your scorecard, how about this one:
If any human in the game could get himself thrown out at first base, 5-7-3, it had to be Detroit's always-lovable Sean Casey. He hit an Aug. 24 line drive against the White Sox that skidded off third baseman Joe Crede's glove and into left. He thought Crede had caught it, and started back toward the dugout. He then got tossed out at first, 5-7-3.
"At least now," Casey told Year in Review emissary Danny Knobler, "when somebody asks my most embarrassing moment in baseball, I've got one."
Inspirational Human of the Year
So what really got into the Twins over the last four months of this season (when they had the best record in baseball)? Now it can be told.
As the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Joe Christensen revealed, in a potential Pulitzer Prize-winning blockbuster in August, some teams may have their rally caps. But the Twins have their "Rally Joe Nathan."
Yes, all they had to do to bust a game open in the late innings, it turned out, was get their sensational closer up in the bullpen to start warming up. They then immediately started scoring enough runs to turn his save opportunities into games where their lead was too big to earn him a save.
His teammates were actually keeping track of this for a while there, but they lost count after it reached a dozen. In one stretch in August, though, it happened four times in six games.
After third baseman Nick Punto observed that "the Angels have a Rally Monkey," his locker-room neighbor, catcher Mike Redmond, witticized that the Twins don't need no stinkin' monkeys: "We have an actual human being. He wears a uniform and everything."
Water Loggers of the Year
No quote from any minor-leaguer all season stirred up more attention than Devil Rays prospect Elijah Dukes' July rant to USA Today about the Rays' refusal to call up himself and his ballyhooed Durham teammates, Delmon Young and B.J. Upton.
The quote: "Those guys up there [in the big leagues] shower in Evian. Here, we use sewer water."
Well, you may have thought, when you read it, that that Evian stuff was a big exaggeration of big-league life. But the next day, Rays humorist Ty Wigginton confirmed it exclusively to the St. Petersburg Times' Damian Cristodero.
"We all get individually scrubbed from the trainers," Wigginton quipped. "I go back there and get into a big Jacuzzi and [they] give me a sponge bath."
OK, so that was a joke. But later the same week, the Giants were cooperative enough to make Dukes' allegation official.
They woke up on getaway day in Pittsburgh and discovered they had no water in their hotel, thanks to a water-main burst. So manager Felipe Alou actually used a bottle of Evian to shave before leaving for the ballpark.
When Alou later relayed that tale to the Giants' press corps, the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman informed him of Dukes' controversial Evian quote.
"Now," Alou replied, "he'll be vindicated."
Quotes of the Year
• From Dodgers coach-witticist Rich Donnelly -- after the Dodgers summed up the insane uncertainty of the final weekend of this season by handing out an itinerary that informed players and coaches that the postgame flight Sunday would be departing for "Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia or your home" -- on how the Dodgers planned to handle all those contingencies: "We may have to take that flight with parachutes."
• From A's pitcher Brad Halsey -- the answer to the trivia question, "Who gave up Barry Bonds' 714th home run?" -- when he was asked afterward if there was any difference between the special commemorative "Bonds Balls" and the baseballs he was throwing to everyone else: "The only real difference is that there's a picture of Barry on the ball, and if you look in his eye, he winks at you."
• From the Astros' brilliant catching comedian, Brad Ausmus, after Phil Garner livened up what was supposed to be the Barry Bonds Historic Home Run Watch by shifting Ausmus to second base during a May game against the Giants -- and Ausmus fielded the first ground ball of his 14-year career: "I can't believe they weren't marking the balls for that."
• From rookie Rockies pitcher Justin Hampson (to the Denver Post's Troy Renck), after facing Bonds for the first time: "It was surreal being out there against Barry Bonds. I'm used to going against him in video games. It's a lot easier to make the pitches go where you want with the controller."
• From Yankees rookie T.J. Beam, on the day in September when the veterans made the rookies walk around wearing George Steinbrenner costumes (white wig, dark glasses, white turtleneck, blue blazer): "All I want to know is, where's my golf cart to the bus?"
• From Twins center-field quote factory Torii Hunter (to the Boston Globe's Chris Snow), after one of those pesky Metrodome speakers intercepted a mammoth David Ortiz blast and turned it into just another single in your scorebook: "I ain't the only one that catches homers in the Metrodome. Speakers do, too."
• From relentlessly amusing Twins manager Ron Gardenhire (to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Joe Christensen), on what the team had to do to get the historic baseball back from a fan after Justin Morneau finally became the first Twin since 1987 to hit his 30th home run: "I think we had to give the guy the Metrodome. But he can have it in 2010."
• From Reds reliever Kent Mercker (to the Dayton Daily News' legendary Hal McCoy), on how his Tommy John surgery went: "They put a hamstring from my leg into my arm. So I don't know whether to call it a leg or an arm, but I will race anybody on my hands."
• From Padres manager Bruce Bochy, after watching his new pitching acquisition, sprint champ David Wells, get thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a single: "He was trying to turn it on -- but there was no gear left."
• Wells' own alibi: "At this stage of my career, it takes four singles to score me."
• From A's manager Ken Macha, on what went through his mind after his catcher, Jason Kendall, finally ended a 961 at-bat homer drought with a May 31 blast that cleared the fence by approximately 2.89 inches: "I don't know. I think they were resuscitating me."
• From Royals quipmeister Doug Mientkiewicz (to the Kansas City Star's Joe Posnanski) after facing Tigers smoke-heaver Joel Zumaya for the first time -- in the late-afternoon shadows: "He was throwing 100 mph in the dark. All you can do is swing early and use Jedi mind tricks."
• And, finally, here's one more from the great Brad Ausmus (to the Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice), after he finally got the hit that broke the fourth 0-for-40 funk by a non-pitcher since 1990: "I've been 0 for 40 before. ... Just not consecutively."
Late Nighters of the Year
And now, the top five late-night 2006 baseball quips you probably missed while staying up to watch the west-coast games:
• Fifth Prize: from Jay Leno, on those two weeks in July when the Dodgers forgot to win: "[That's] 11 losses out of 12 games. In fact, today the IRS said they would no longer let the Dodgers deduct their bats as a business expense."
• Fourth Prize: from Leno: "The sequel to the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' opens next week. You watch these movies and the pirates always win. You ever notice that? You want to see the Pirates lose? Move to Pittsburgh."
• Third Prize: from David Letterman: "Big power outage continues in New York. But enough about Alex Rodriguez."
• Second Prize: from Letterman: "I got some good news earlier today before the show. Thanks to Alex Rodriguez, I am no longer the most overpaid disappointment in New York City."
• First Prize: from Letterman, after the Mets got swept in Pittsburgh in September when they were one win from clinching first place: "I'm telling you, that champagne was on ice longer than Ted Williams' head."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.