Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke throws against the Oakland Athletics in the first inning of the baseball game on Monday, July 8, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
by Ben Walker
AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Just for fun, let’s turn back the baseball clock a few months.
A well-rested Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals are destined to face Josh Hamilton and the Los Angeles Angels in the World Series. The Houston Astros have the best record in baseball. Manny Ramirez is playing in Taiwan. And no one is quite sure how to pronounce the name of this Puig guy.
Well, a few things are still the same: Homer Bailey remains the last guy to throw a no-hitter, Miguel Cabrera swings the most devastating bat in the majors and, well, the drug cloud isn’t going away anytime soon.
As the All-Star game approaches next week at Citi Field, a look at the first half of the season:
By the time Matt Harvey and the New York Mets let the hovering seagulls take over AT&T Park well past midnight, they were wiped out. Last week’s win at San Francisco took 16 innings – the Mets already had lost a 20-inning game and a pair of 15-inning contests.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this. It’s unbelievable,” manager Terry Collins said. “At least we’re used to it.”
All over, fans are getting way more than their money’s worth. Going into this weekend, 19 games had lasted at least 14 innings; there were a total of 20 last year, according to STATS.
“Is a lunar eclipse coming?” Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick wondered. “I have no idea. Probably more of a coincidence than anything. That’s how the game goes sometimes.”
Even in ski country, this was a bit extreme: When the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies started up at Coors Field in late April, it was 23 degrees. That made it the coldest game-time temperature in STATS’ records, dating back more than two decades.
Braves pitcher Mike Minor threw six innings and won – in short sleeves, no less. He figured long sleeves wouldn’t help much. He also got a trainer to rub his arms, back and thighs with a heating ointment.
“I was burning up there,” he said, smiling.
Snow at Target Field, hail at Yankee Stadium and buckets of rain from coast to coast. More than 30 games postponed so far, going in the weekend. Last year? Just 21, the whole season.
The crummy conditions have wreaked havoc with the schedule. With interleague games most every day, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for makeups. So there’s been a push to get the games in – Tampa Bay waited out almost five hours of rain delays in Cleveland to win a game that started on a Friday night in May and finished on an early Saturday in June. The Mets, meanwhile, played in three different time zones in three days.
In St. Louis, there was a 4½-hour rain delay in the ninth inning before Kansas City outlasted the Cardinals. The game ended at 3:14 a.m. at Busch Stadium, and created travel trouble for the umpires, too – they worked at Wrigley Field in Chicago the next afternoon.
“We worry about that game when we get to that one,” crew chief Joe West said. “We had to worry about this game tonight.”
And recently, a Giants-Reds rainout in Cincinnati had the teams talking about making it up at Coors Field, of all places. A neutral site in Denver might indeed be the most convenient spot for both clubs later this year.
Be it Manny Machado, Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, the face of baseball is changing. Young stars are dominating, and also revving up the debate: Should Dodgers sensation Yasiel Puig – that’s “Pweeg” – be on the All-Star team?
Jeff Locke is trying to pitch Pittsburgh toward its first playoff spot in two decades, Shelby Miller is dealing in St. Louis and Wil Myers is finding his stroke in Tampa Bay while Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin are leading Arizona. They were all excelling at the same time former perennial All-Stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Ramirez were toiling in the minors.
Oh, and let’s salute Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who’s proven HR-or-K hitters can learn the strike zone.
Overhauled Toronto and R.A. Dickey, the powerized Angels and Hamilton, plus the revamped Dodgers have all struggled to reach the .500 mark. The Nationals also hit a wall – rather, Harper did while chasing a ball and landed on the disabled list.
Houston moved to the American League and got off a terrific start, beating Texas in the major league opener. Reality quickly set in, however. Their next time out, the overmatched Astros came within one out of having Yu Darvish throw a perfect game against them.
Much harder to figure, Matt Cain and the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
A year ago, Cain pitched a perfect game. This year, he had one start when he gave up nine runs in an inning, another start when he permitted nine hits in an inning and, earlier this week, he was chased in the first inning.
Added up, the pitching-rich Giants fell far below the break-even point as the All-Star neared.
“For the way we think we are as a group and the team that we are, we feel like this is really, really funky,” Cain said.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.