The baseball season is made up of countless moments that I would call memorable, except that I usually don't remember them. Why? I have a terrible memory. But more than that, baseball's postseason has a way of swallowing whole the regular season. After standing and shouting through a month of playoff baseball I'm generally unable to remember anything that happened before September.
Maybe you are like me. (If so, I'm sorry!) Maybe the playoffs, the rush to free agency, speculation season, and the winter meetings have dulled your recollections of a baseball season worth remembering. In any case, some of the best moments of the 2013 baseball season may not be at your mental fingertips. They should be, and we're here to help. Here are the best moments of baseball's regular season.
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Two to Left
We'll start it off with a something impressive but banal: Edwin Encarnacion hitting two homers in one game. That happens often enough that it normally wouldn't merit acknowledgement in a best-of year end list such as this one. What was impressive about this particular occurrence, though, was that Encarnacion hit them both in the same inning. He led off the inning with a line drive home run to left field that was over the wall before the pitcher finished his follow-through. The next hitter, Adam Lind, also homered. Then double, double, walk, and hit-by-pitch. That was enough to get Paul Clemens lifted. Another walk loaded the bases, followed by two outs and then, hey look it's Edwin Encarnacion up again and hey look he hit another line drive homer to left and then ran around the bases with his arm out like a parrot was perched on it. Craziness.
Fun at Night
The longest game ever was a 25-inning match between the White Sox and Brewers in 1984, proving that even two utterly unessential teams can make baseball history if they just stand on the field long enough. The 2013 season didn't see a game go quite that long, but it did see three games on one day go into extras. On June 8, the Twins and Nationals played 11 innings, the Blue Jays and Rangers played 18, and the Marlins beat the Mets 2-1 in 20 innings. Three games normally last 27 innings, but these took 49 innings. Combined. the teams used 44 pitchers who faced 394 batters and threw 1,449 pitches. And that's just three games in one day. As Frank Drebin said, I've got nine more. Baseball is the best, huh?
4,000 Is a Lot
In 2001, Ichiro Suzuki won the AL Rookie of the Year award. That was somewhat strange. It's not that he didn't deserve it - he also won the MVP that season, so undoubtedly he was also the top rookie -- it's that Ichiro, while in his first Major League season, was anything but a rookie. In fact, he'd spent nine seasons in Japan with the Orix Blue Wave prior to coming to the majors. Before he ever put on an MLB uniform, Ichiro already had 1,278 hits. So when he singled to left field in the first inning on Aug. 21 against R.A. Dickey, it was momentous. That grounder between short and third was hit number 2,722 in the majors, and as any math major will tell you, 2,722 plus 1,278 equals 4,000.
In baseball history, only two players, Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, ever had that many hits in their careers. Yes, the level of competition in Japan is not the same. But that is still heady company, a major accomplishment in a Hall of Fame career, and, as the Yankees bounding out of the dugout to congratulate him and the crowd standing to applaud made clear, a special moment in the 2013 season.
The Five Timers Club
Joey Votto had maybe the most Joey Votto of games on Sept. 23. That was the day Votto, known for his plate patience, walked five times in one game. Okay, time for a quick Joey-Votto-Walked-Five-Times Bullet List!
- Votto had never walked more than three times in a game before.
- Despite walking five times, Votto didn't score.
- In fact, he only advanced past first base once.
- That was to second base on a walk to Jay Bruce in the bottom of the ninth.
- Despite not technically batting, Votto still had an RBI from walking with the bases loaded in the second inning.
- In those five plate appearances he saw 26 pitches. The notably patient Shin-Soo Choo, who hit lead-off and thus batted six times to Votto's five, saw 24 pitches.
- Elsewhere this season, eight different hitters struck out five times in a game. Symmetry!
On the other end of the spectrum, there's Alex Rios, who managed six hits in one nine-inning game, the only player to do so this season.* In fact, Rios became the first player with six hits in a game since Ian Kinsler did it in 2009. Rios went single, triple, single, single, single, single. Somehow four of his hits were ground balls, which is when you know the baseball gods have got your back, your neck, your heels and probably your butt too.
*Jean Segura was the only other player with six hits in a game in 2013, but his came in an extra-inning contest. Segura went 6-for-7, which is quite good, but not as aesthetically pleasing as Rios' 6-for-6, or for that matter, Votto's 0-for-0.
Winning it by Yourself
Promise me you'll read past the acronym and complete the next sentence. WPA isn't a complicated stat. It tells you simply how much of a win a player helped his team achieve. It does this by measuring a team's chance of winning before that player and after, and crediting or debiting the difference. It's explained further here. As you'd expect of a long game featuring many players, most guys have a small impact on the outcome of a single game. Sometimes players have a large impact, as much as 0.4 or even 0.5. In all the games played last season, just 26 players had a one-game WPA of 0.7 or higher. Nine bested 0.8, and just two beat 0.9.
The highest WPA last season, and the only player to break 1.000 was Jose Bautista, who did it in a game against the Rays this past May. How'd he do it? The Blue Jays had seven hits all game. Bautista had four of them. The Jays scored four runs. Bautista drove in all four, scoring two by himself. In the end Bautista had a WPA of 1.062, meaning, according to WPA, Bautista literally won the game all by himself. Despite all the times you heard someone say that last season, it only happened once, and Jose Bautista did it.
Some players just command attention. Young players, like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, make waves with their newness and obvious talent, but as position players their impact on a given game is usually limited. Starting pitchers, though, on their start days, can completely take over. This was the case with Matt Harvey. Every time Harvey started was an event. Through 178 1/3 innings of 2.27 ERA ball, Harvey struck out 191 and walked just 31.
That's dominance, and there's precious little that is more fun than watching a young, charismatic pitcher dominate the best hitters in the world. Sadly, Harvey blew out his arm, had Tommy John surgery, and missed the rest of the season. Still though. Matt Harvey. Pretty much any time he pitched. Wow.
Once In A Long Never
Mike LaValliere. Orlando Merced. Jay Bell. Jose Lind. Those are just some of the players who helped take the Pittsburgh Pirates to the playoffs the last time the organization tasted postseason play. Now Lind is 49 years old. LaValliere is 53. Their time is long past, but that 1992 team remained the last Pirates team to reach the playoffs. That is, until Sept. 23, when the Pirates beat, appropriately, the Cubs, 2-1, ensuring a spot in the postseason.
They even managed to win a playoff round (if you call the play-in game a round), beating the Reds to advance to the NLDS. Yes, they lost to the eventual National League champion Cardinals, but the first playoff win in over 20 years marks the 2013 season as one of redemption and relevance for Pittsburgh.
The Top Two
This brings us to the final two, and with apologies to all of the above, these are the two that I'll think of when I think of the 2013 baseball season. The first is David Ortiz's speech following the marathon bombings on Patriots Day. The Red Sox were leaving town for Cleveland following a walk-off win when the bombs exploded at the finish line. The events and their aftermath left the city shaken, frightened, scarred. When the Red Sox returned, moving ceremonies were held, but as is often the way of things, the best didn't happen for Boston until David Ortiz stepped up. It gives me chills to see Ortiz stand on the green Fenway grass, to see him raise his fist, and to hear: "This is our [expletive] city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong!" The expletive caught some people's attention, but fortunately it was the sentiment that carried the day as the FCC, realizing the power of the moment trumped other concerns, issued a statement (via tweet), saying, "David Ortiz spoke from the heart... I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston."
Coincidentally (or not), it was another speech Ortiz gave, this one to his teammates, that helped the Red Sox turn a 2-games-to-1 deficit in the World Series into the organization's third championship in a decade.
The final memorable moment of 2013? Any moment Mariano Rivera stood on a pitcher's mound, waived to a crowd, or indeed wore a baseball uniform. Simply put, the greatest closer of them all exemplified the qualities that make major league baseball worth watching -- talent, fortitude, endurance, hard work, a sense of humor and charity. The 2013 season amounted to an extended good-bye for Rivera, complete with speeches, montages, and gifts from bested opponents. The broken bat chair from the Twins was a particular favorite. Like the 2013 season itself, Rivera's excellence will be missed.