How wacky was the totally nonfictional baseball season of 2014? So wacky that an actual major league manager made up an actual lineup based on an old Tommy Tutone song. So wacky that a team "hit" into a double play -- on a walk. So wacky that one of the best pitchers in baseball had to head for the disabled list because he hurt himself trying to make a sandwich.
And that all happened. In real life. No kidding. So because it's the end of that wacky year just past, and because it's an end-of-year tradition right up there with resolutions, midnight smooches and pretending you know more than the first 10 words of "Auld Lang Syne," it's time for our 2014 roundup of the Strange But True Feats of the Year.
And just so you have something to look forward to, besides digging through the attic to locate the champagne glasses, we're presenting all this as a two-part series this year, beginning with the Strange But True Regular-Season Feats of the Year. Coming Tuesday: The Strange But True Postseason Feats of 2014.
Strangest But Truest Man Of The Year
Would it even have been possible to compile these awesome Strange But True collections for the past decade without the Molina family? Seriously. They make it easy. And never more than this year, when, down in Tampa Bay, Jose Molina did all this:
• There were 37 players who scored four runs (or more) in a game at least once in 2014. Our man Jose Molina, on the other hand, scored four runs all year. In 80 games. And in 247 trips to the plate. Do you even have to ask how many other players in history got that much playing time and scored that few runs in a season? That would be none. Of course.
• Meanwhile, 393 different players -- yep, 393 -- had at least one game this year in which they got at least two extra-base hits in a game. Heck, Jonathan Lucroy, who also catches for a living, had 14 games like that. But not only did Molina have zero games that meet that description, he wound up with two extra-base hits all season (none of them against American League teams, by the way). It broke the modern record for fewest extra-base hits by a catcher, previously shared (at three) by a bunch of guys who did it more than half a century ago.
• Mike Trout piled up 42 total bases by April 16. Molina, on the other hand, piled up 42 all year, which enabled him to slug an insane .187 for the season -- a number topped by 23 pitchers and, sadly, was just one percentage point shy of the prestigious record for lowest slugging percentage in the live-ball era by a player who batted as much as Molina did. (Ray Oyler, of the 1968 Tigers, gets to hang on to that one, at .186. Lucky him.)
• I'm not sure how this happened, but even in a season in which he batted .178, Jose Molina still tied for the longest hitting streak by anyone on his team thanks to a nine-gamer in July. We kiddeth you not.
• But now, finally, here's the strangest but truest Molina-esque feat of them all: Although he isn't quite a contender for World's Fastest Human, this very same Jose Molina somehow stole three bases this year. That's more than Bryce Harper, Xander Bogaerts or Brandon Phillips, among others. Really. You can look that up. It also means this man managed to finish his season with more stolen bases than extra-base hits. Which is really hard to do when you're 39 years old. Want to guess the last guy that old to pull that off? How about Rickey Henderson, back in 2000 (36 SB, 20 XBH). So c'mon, you have to admit this: There's nothing stranger but truer than seeing the names of Rickey Henderson and Jose Molina side by side in a real, live, truthful, historical baseball note. Don't you think?
Five Strangest But Truest Injuries Of The Year
• Giants ace Matt Cain can sure carve up the strike zone, but when he tried carving a ham-and-cheese sandwich into "fancy triangles," he lost his grip on his knife, grabbed it in midair, was reminded immediately that knives are xpl@z#ing sharp and wound up on the disabled list with a sliced finger.
• Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis leaped into the air to celebrate Josh Beckett's no-hitter but then made the mistake of landing -- on top of a catcher's mask, which wasn't even his (since he didn't catch that game). One sprained ankle later, he was headed for the disabled list -- and also this one!
• Getting shelled is an occupational hazard for an occupant of anybody's bullpen. But Angels reliever Mike Morin gave that expression a whole new meaning this August -- by taking a stroll on the beach during a road trip to Tampa Bay, cutting the bottom of his foot and body-surfing right to the DL.
• The Red Sox portion of Felix Doubront's season wasn't just a train wreck -- it was also a car wreck. He spent a month on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, but not from pitching. He said he got it from banging into a car in the parking lot, shoulder-first. And the rest is automotive history.
• More proof that Pablo Sandoval never met a pitch that wasn't worth hacking at: He missed two games this July with a sore elbow. And how'd it get so sore? He got hit with a pitch -- that he swung at. So he didn't even get to go to first base. But what the heck -- he made the Strange But True Feats of the Year!
Strangest But Truest Lineup Card Of The Year
Joe Maddon is more than just a renaissance man. He's also a classic-rock man. But it's safe to say no manager who ever lived has ever honored his taste in music more faithfully than Maddon did with this July 3 tribute to '80s rock legend Tommy Tutone. He even tweeted about it!
Going with Tommy Tutone lineup today: 8-6-7-5-3-0-9.
- Joe Maddon (@CubsJoeMadd) July 3, 2014
Yep, "867-5309/Jenny" wasn't only Tommy Tutone's greatest hit. It was also Maddon's actual lineup for the Rays' July 3 game against the Tigers: CF, SS, LF, 3B, 1B, DH, RF. The band obviously had no idea at the time that it was leaving him on his own for where to hit the second baseman and catcher, but fortunately, he figured it out.
On one hand, Maddon claimed he wrote out the lineup before he realized it matched up with the song. On the other hand, Tampa Bay Times scribe Marc Topkin astutely noticed Maddon had that little ditty "blaring" from his office before the game.
So what can he do for an encore in Chicago next year? I'd vote for the old Wilson Pickett song (later covered by Bruce Springsteen) "634-5789." Hey, it beats dialing 9-1-1.
Strangest But Truest Role Reversals Of The Year
• When he wasn't busy winning Sportsman of the Year awards and being Mr. October, Madison Bumgarner also spent 2014 doing an excellent Willie Mays impression. He hit two grand slams this year at AT&T Park -- as many as all of the 278 position players who batted there combined.
• The Cubs' backup catcher, John Baker, actually won a game as a pitcher this year (July 29, against the Rockies). That's only one fewer game than their opening-day starter, Jeff Samardzija, won before they traded him to Oakland.
• And across town, White Sox infielder Leury Garcia actually lost a game as a pitcher (April 16 against the Red Sox), allowing him to join Jamie Burke (2008 Mariners) as the only position players in the past 25 years to finish a season with exactly as many losses as homers.
• We guarantee Boston's Mike Carp will never forget his first and only trip to the pitcher's mound (April 24, against the Yankees). He faced seven hitters -- and walked five of them, making him the only man in the past 90 years to walk five hitters in one inning. Amazingly, he only gave up one run, thanks to the miracle of a Brian McCann double-play ball in the middle of all that.
• Finally, in a season in which 18 different position players took the mound, here's how trendy that got: We'd gone 22 consecutive seasons without seeing any position player pitch twice in the same week. So naturally, it then happened two weeks in a row. First, Drew Butera did it for the Dodgers (May 14 and 17). Then, Danny Worth pitched twice in the same series for the Tigers (May 22 and 24, against Texas). Butera's pithy scouting report on himself: "The real pitchers have nothing to worry about."
Strangest But Truest Streakers Of The Year
• It was impressive enough that Kirk Nieuwenhuis doubled in four straight plate appearances for the Mets. It was even more impressive that it took him 58 days to do it. He doubled April 25, got sent to the minors for seven weeks, came back and hit a pinch double June 20, then thumped two more doubles June 22. So what was stranger: that, or the fact that he hit only three doubles over the next 32 days, with no trips to the minors in between?
• Giancarlo Stanton, Nelson Cruz and Jose Abreu never homered in five games in a row. But Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph did that in August -- even though it took him eight days to do it, he only once started two games in a row during the streak, he'd hit just three homers all year before that (in 48 games) and he didn't homer for more than a month after that (in 18 games). Among the catchers who never had a home run streak that long, by the way, are Mike Piazza, Gary Carter, Pudge Rodriguez and Yogi Berra.
• But the strangest but truest hitting streak of them all was Kevin Kouzmanoff's 12-gamer that ended in April -- because it took him 932 days to complete it. He got hits in his final two games for the 2011 Rockies, spent the next two years sitting on that streak in the minor leagues, then picked right up where he left off by hitting in his first 10 games for the 2014 Rangers. If it makes him feel better, his streak lasted 869 days longer than Joe DiMaggio's!
10 Strangest But Truest Hitting Feats Of The Year
• In an April 9 game at scenic (and apparently magnetic) Tropicana Field, the Rays' Brandon Guyer hit four pop-ups -- every one of them into the glove of Prince Fielder! So how come we didn't wind up with four P3's on his scorecard line? Because Prince caught only three of them.
• On Aug. 29, for the first time in two years, the Nationals hit six home runs in a game. But that wasn't even the strange-but-true part. Naturally, they did it at Safeco Field. In a game started by Felix Hernandez.
• Four balls might have added up to a walk for everyone else, but not for Rays shortstop/mathematician Yunel Escobar in an April 23 game against the Twins. He had an at-bat that day in which four of the first six pitches were balls. But both he and the umpires lost track somewhere on the way to 1-2-3-4 (even after checking the replay). So he finally struck out -- on a 4-and-2 pitch.
• The good news for Joe Panik back on Sept. 9 was he went 5-for-5. The bad news was he didn't score a run. Or drive in a run. He's the first guy to do that in a game his team won in 15 years.
• So maybe he should get some tips from Brett Gardner. On April 24, Gardner managed to score four runs -- in a game in which he went 0-for-3.
• You can call Josh Hamilton a lot of things, but "homebody" sure isn't one of them. He hit 10 home runs on the road this year -- and zero home runs in Anaheim.
• But the Rays' Sean Rodriguez might be able to top that. He hit .292 on the road this year -- but .112 at home. That's 12-for-107, including an 0-for-35 blitz to finish off the season. So how many players in the past 100 years have had a home batting average that low in a season in which they got at least 100 at-bats? None, of course.
• This really happened: The Tigers dropped a seven-run inning on the Twins on April 25 -- and all three outs came off the bat of Miguel Cabrera.
• This really happened, too: The Angels put up a seven-spot against the Phillies on Aug. 12 -- in an inning in which Mike Trout struck out twice.
• And, finally, the strangest but truest home run streak ever: On June 19, Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco hit a solo home run. The next day, he hit a two-run home run. The day after that, he hit a three-run home run. And the game after that (oh, yes he did), he hit a grand slam. Amazingly, he hit another home run the next day, too. And it's a little disappointing, even for us Strange But True historians, that he didn't find a way to make it a five-run homer.
Strangest But Truest Pitching Feats Of The Year
• Hard to say which was David Price's strangest but truest feat of 2014: giving up nine straight hits -- yes, nine -- in a game against the Yankees, or going back to Tropicana Field for the first time after getting traded, pitching a one-hitter against the Rays and losing it?
• Rich Harden once had a season (in 2008) in which he gave up nine hits in the first inning all year. But on Sept. 17, Dodgers rookie Carlos Frias gave up 10 hits in the first inning in one game. And he didn't even get all three outs. Even though that was a Coors Field production, it's still a strange but true all-timer.
• Mets phenom Jacob deGrom had a slightly better start to his day, though, in a Sept. 16 game against the Marlins. He struck out all eight position players to face him -- and then, of course, allowed a hit to the pitcher (Jarred Cosart).
• In an April 14 game against Atlanta, Phillies reliever B.J. Rosenberg faced three hitters -- and gave up a home run to all three of them. How strange but true was that? Well, just for perspective's sake, Pirates reliever Mark Melancon has also given up three homers in relief -- to the past 593 hitters he's faced.
• Blue Jays reliever Sergio Santos must have been a big fan of "Three's Company" as a kid himself. Here was his line in an epic April 17 appearance against the Twins: three hitters faced, three walks, three run-scoring wild pitches. You know how many other pitchers have done that in the last century? Yep. Nada.
• Three was also Jerome Williams' magic number this year. He beat the A's while pitching for the Astros. He beat them again while pitching for the Rangers. Then he beat them again while pitching for the Phillies. That's three wins against one team in the same season -- for three different teams. Try that feat on your Play Station sometime.
• Cole Hamels faced 23 hitters with the bases loaded this year. Justin Verlander faced 21. Johnny Cueto faced 20. And Clayton Kershaw? He didn't face anybody with the bases full until Aug. 28, and wound up facing pitching to just three hitters in that situation all season. He allowed a hit to none of them, of course. He hasn't done something crazy like that in a regular-season game since May 26, 2013. Just so you know, Verlander has allowed 10 hits with the bases loaded since the last time Kershaw even allowed one.
• On April 20, Hector Noesi gave up seven runs to the White Sox in one inning (while pitching for Texas). Five days later, he got claimed on waivers -- by the White Sox.
• Yu Darvish worked a mere 4 1/3 innings in his July 23 start against the Yankees -- and still got a complete game out of it. All thanks to the miracle of fifth-inning rainouts and Yankee Stadium grounds-crew malfunctions.
• And were there two stranger but truer starts all season than these? On April 10, the Indians' Danny Salazar struck out 10 White Sox -- in a game in which he got only 11 outs. (And even more amazingly, the out that wasn't a whiff came on a base-running snafu.) Then, 13 days later, the Cardinals' Michael Wacha racked up his first nine outs on strikeouts -- but he never got past the fourth inning, either. Now here's the strangest but truest part of all: You know how many games there had been in modern history before that in which a starting pitcher had a double-figure strikeout game without getting more than 12 outs? Exactly one. And then it happened twice in two weeks. Sure. Of course it did.
10 More Strange But True Classics Of 2014
• So what was the first team in baseball to lose 10 games in a row this year? The defending World Series champ (the Red Sox), naturally. You don't see that much.
• The Yankees lost three games in three days at Yankee Stadium -- to three different teams. You don't see that much, either.
• And in a possibly related development, how strange but true was this? There were 45 different players who got at least one MVP vote this year -- but none of them played for the Yankees or Red Sox. Think they'd want to hear that the Rockies, who finished last, had two players get at least one vote?
• The Indians turned a July 2 triple play against the Dodgers that was so strange but true that both managers challenged it. Terry Francona went to the replay to get Yasiel Puig called out at second. Then Don Mattingly challenged the out call on Dee Gordon at the plate (but lost). "I don't know if we'll ever see one like that again," said the Indians' David Murphy. Wow. Let's hope not!
• The Yankees and Cubs played maybe the strangest but truest "getaway game" ever, at Wrigley Field on May 21, because the home team left town -- but the visiting team didn't. (The Yankees stuck around Chicago to play the White Sox.).
• The Orioles scored zero runs in the first, second, third, fourth and fifth innings of their May 10 game against the Astros, then scored exactly one run in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th innings. Only one other team in history -- the 1987 A's -- ever did that. Except those A's then screwed up the whole feat by giving up a two-run, game-losing homer to Kirk Gibson in the bottom of the 10th.
• How strange but true is this? Every one of the top five finishers in the AL rookie-of-the-year voting was older than both Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton.
• It had to happen one of these years: The Pirates and Marlins played 13 innings on (yep) Friday the 13th.
• Fun with names: Jhonny Peralta committed an error April 16 -- on a ball hit by Wily Peralta. ... The Yankees dealt for Domingo German and Gonzalez Germen on the same day (but not Bartolo "Cologne"). ... And at the winter meetings, Dan Jennings, the Marlins general manager, traded away Dan Jennings, who used to be his left-handed reliever. "I had to question which Dan Jennings we were trading," quipped president of baseball ops Mike Hill.
• And, finally, we present the strangest but truest double play ever -- seeing as how it happened on a walk. In a July 30 game against the Giants, the Pirates' Chris Stewart walked to load the bases, well theoretically at least. Except Travis Snider, the runner on second, thought the bases were already full, so he started sauntering toward third and got tagged out. That lured Gaby Sanchez, the man on third, into heading for home -- and he was out, too. What song would Joe Maddon blare after something like that? "Don't Walk This Way!"