Beyond the Box Score

Beyond the Box Score

Making it to the top after falling behind by 11 or more games in the Majors is nearly impossible. Only 11 big-league teams have overcome margins that big to win a pennant or division title.

The New York Yankees are trying to get back into the race for the American League East title after a disastrous start. On May 29, the Yanks were eight games under .500, at 21-29, and in fourth trailing the division-leading Boston Red Sox by 14 1/2 games. But since then, the Bronx Bombers had gone 46-25 through Thursday and moved to within 5 1/2 games of the Red Sox. While the Yanks have a very tough road ahead to catch the Sox, a 14 1/2-game deficit is not the largest overcome to take a title.

The 1914 Boston Braves overcame a 15-game gap to win the National League pennant and the World Series. The Minnesota Twins were the last team to fall behind by 11 or more and come back to win when they took the AL Central title last year. The 11 teams that finished first after being at least 11 games back were:

Year, Team, Games Back, Date, Record, Leader
1911, A's, 12.0, May 19, 13-15, Tigers
1914, Braves, 15.0, July 5, 26-40, Giants
1930, Cardinals, 12.0, Aug. 8, 53-52, Dodgers
1951, Giants, 13.0, Aug. 11, 59-51, Dodgers
1964, Cardinals, 11.0, Aug. 23, 65-58, Phillies
1973, Reds, 11.0, June 30, 39-37, Dodgers
1973, Mets, 12.5, July 8, 34-46, Cubs
1978, Yankees, 14.0, July 19, 48-42, Red Sox
1987, Tigers, 11.0, May 5, 9-16, Brewers
1995, Mariners, 13.0, Aug. 2, 43-46, Angels
2006, Twins, 12.5, May 27, 22-26, Tigers

Baked, boiled or tossed
On Saturday, the first 1,000 fans attending the game between the Williamsport Crosscutters and State College Spikes of the Class A New York-Penn League will receive a bobblehead of Dave Bresnahan, the mastermind behind the Great Potato Caper of 1987. The incident, which took place on August 31, 1987, has entered the baseball lore of Williamsport.

It was the brainchild of Bresnahan who was the backup catcher for the Williamsport Bills, an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians in the Double-A Eastern League. With the season winding down and the Bills 27 games out of first place, the catcher and his teammates hatched an elaborate plot to lure a runner off third base using a specially carved potato and a fake pickoff throw.

On August 31, Bresnahan was called on to catch the first game of a doubleheader against the Reading Phillies. With two outs and Rick Lundblade of the Phillies on third, Bresnahan called time telling the umpire his mitt was broken. The decoy potato had been peeled and carved to look like a baseball and concealed in the backstop's backup mitt. He retrieved the mitt and, once play resumed, threw the spud over the third baseman's head in an apparent pickoff attempt. Lundblade broke for home but, before he could score, Bresnahan tagged him with the real ball. That's when all hell broke loose.

While Bills players laughed uncontrollably, the umpires and fans became confused then angry. The home plate umpire called Lundblade safe despite Bresnahan's tag and the catcher was pulled from the game by Bills general manager, Orlando Gomez, at the end of the inning.

The next day, Bresnahan was released by the Indians organization and, at first, Williamsport fans decried his trickery. But, as the now ex-ballplayer talked about the incident on television and radio, fans came to appreciate his ploy and Bresnahan became something of a folk hero in the Eastern League. By the beginning of the following season, public opinion had so altered that the Bills retired Bresnahan's number in honor of his elaborate practical joke.

The former catcher, now a real-estate broker in Tempe, Arizona, never played professional baseball again, but his legend lives on in Williamsport.

The Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays had their own version of a spelling bee on August 10 when Ranger first baseman Jarrold Saltalamacchia faced off against Devil Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine.

The 25-letter matchup was the second-longest combination of batter and pitcher surnames since 1957. The longest batter-pitcher combo during that span was the 26-letter matchup between Todd Hollandsworth and William VanLandingham which first occurred in 1995.

Earlier this season, while playing for the Atlanta Braves, Saltalamacchia batted against Chad Billingsley and Mark Hendrickson of the Los Angeles Dodgers creating two more 25-letter combos. The 10 longest batter-pitcher match-ups since 1957 were:

Year, Batter (Team), Pitcher (Team), Total Letters
1995, Todd Hollandsworth (Dodgers), William VanLandingham (Giants), 26
1995, Mark Grudzielanek (Dodgers), William VanLandingham (Giants), 25
1996, Jason Isringhausen (Mets), William VanLandingham (Giants), 25
1996, Todd Hollandsworth (Dodgers), Todd Christiansen (Pirates), 25
2001, Todd Hollandsworth (Rockies), Gene Stechschulte (Cardinals), 25
2002, Mark Grudzielanek (Dodgers), Tim Spooneybarger (Braves), 25
2006, Todd Hollandsworth (Indians), Jason Isringhausen (Cardinals), 25
2007, Jarrold Saltalamacchia (Braves), Chad Billingsley (Dodgers), 25
2007, Jarrold Saltalamacchia (Braves), Mark Hendrickson (Dodgers), 25
2007, Jarrold Saltalamacchia (Rangers), Andy Sonnanstine (Devil Rays), 25

Some important milestones could yet be reached this season. Ken Griffey, Jr., could become the sixth player to reach 600 career homers. The Cincinnati Reds right fielder needed 10 homers through Wednesday to reach the mark.

Barry Bonds now holds the all-time home run record, but the San Francisco Giants outfielder still needed 13 RBIs through Wednesday to join Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Cap Anson as the only major-leaguers to drive in 2,000 or more in their careers.

Once New York Met Pedro Martinez returns from the disabled list, he will need just two strikeouts to become the 15th pitcher to whiff 3,000.

And Jim Thome of the Chicago White Sox and Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox are poised to become the 23rd and 24th members of the 500-homer club, needing, through Wednesday, 10 and 11 homers, respectively, to reach the mark.

Zeroing in
He still has a ways to go to challenge Orel Hershiser's scoreless inning streak, but Brandon Webb has reason to be happy with his performance. The Arizona Diamondback starter has pitched 33 consecutive scoreless innings. Webb would have to post 26 more scoreless frames to tie Hershiser's mark set in 1988.

However, this is Webb's second scoreless streak of 30 innings or more in two years. Last season, he put up goose eggs for 30 straight innings in late May and early June.

Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez have registered the longest scoreless streaks since 2000, each posting a 35-inning string. The seven scoreless streaks of 30 frames or more since 2000 are:

Pitcher, Team, Year, Scoreless Streak
Greg Maddux, Braves, 2000, 35
Pedro Martinez, Red Sox, 2002, 35
Johan Santana, Twins, 2004, 33
Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks, 2007, 33
Cory Lidle, A's, 2002, 32
Kenny Rogers, Rangers, 2005, 31
Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks, 2006, 30

Language lab
The nicknames of more than a few Major-Leaguers have included the word "Big." Both Johnny Mize and Andres Galarraga were known as "Big Cat." Frank Thomas is "The Big Hurt." And now, a few baseball bloggers are trying to dub Magglio Ordonez, "The Big Tilde."

Certainly the Detroit Tigers slugger's stats are "big": he leads the AL in batting with a .357 average and has 22 homers and 108 RBIs. And his name does contain a "tilde": the wavy mark over the "n" in Ordonez's last name denoting a "nyeh" sound in Spanish. If the name catches on, though, the right fielder would probably be the first big-leaguer whose nickname includes a pronunciation symbol.

Way up north
The Pittsburgh Pirates seem headed for their 15th consecutive losing season, one short of the Major-League record held by the 1933-1948 Philadelphia Phillies. But the Pirates lead the Majors in one area: players from Alaska.

According to the blog Deadspin, the Bucs employ two-thirds of the active Alaskans in the bigs in the persons of pitcher Shawn Chacon and first baseman Josh Phelps. The only other active big-leaguer born in the 49th state is Boston Red Sox starter Curt Schilling. In all, just nine native Alaskans have played big-league ball.

The departed
Atlanta Brave manager Bobby Cox set the all-time record for most ejections in the Majors when he was asked to leave Tuesday's game against the Giants. Cox received his first heave-ho in the bigs on May 1, 1978, when Nick Colosi ejected him for bench-jockeying. Ted Barrett thumbed Cox out on Tuesday for arguing balls and strikes. It was the first time Barrett, a minister during the offseason, had ejected him. It took Cox 10,697 days to break John McGraw's record of 131 ejections that had stood since 1932.

Around the horn
With the death of Phil Rizzuto at 89, Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr becomes the oldest living Hall-of-Fame player; Doerr was 89 years and 122 days of age as of Friday. ... The A's were the last Major-League team to produce a 60-RBI man this season; Jack Cust drove in his 60th run for the club on August 11. ... According to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, if the Devil Rays finish with the Major's worst record this season, they would be the first team to have back-to-back No. 1 picks in baseball's amateur draft; until 2005, the leagues alternated top picks. ... On August 10, White Sox closer Bobby Jenks tied the major-league record of Jim Barr by retiring his 41st consecutive batter; Jenks last allowed a runner on July 17. ... Rick Ankiel has now worn three numbers with the Cardinals; he wore number 66 when he was first called up to the club as a pitcher then changed to 49 in his second go-round on the mound and now, as a slugging outfielder, he sports number 24. ... Rockies rookie Troy Tulowitzki leads all Major-League shortstops in total chances, assists, double plays and range factor. ... With his next triple, Carl Crawford of the Devil Rays will join Stan Musial (1946-49) and Lance Johnson (1993-96) as the only big-leaguers in the last 75 years to amass 60 triples over a four-year period. ... Through Wednesday, Erik Bedard was only 12 strikeouts away from breaking the Orioles' team record (since they moved to Baltimore) for most K's in a season set by Mike Mussina with 218 in 1997. ... Cole Hamels is on pace to become the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games in a season since Steve Carlton won 23 in 1982. ... Ted Lilly's 13 wins are the most by a Cub lefty since Greg Hibbard won 15 in 1993. ... Twins star Johan Santana has given up one intentional walk since 2004. ... Prince Fielder could break the Brewers' single-season home run record of 45 shared by Gorman Thomas (1979) and Richie Sexson (2001 and 2003); through Wednesday, the first baseman was on a pace for 50 dingers. ... The Little League World Series has new pitching rules this season; no pitcher can throw more than 85 pitches and any pitcher who throws 20 or more in a game can not pitch the next day. ... The Angels are 33-13 when John Lackey or Kelvim Escobar starts but 36-36 when anyone else does. ... The only big-league ballparks in which Barry Bonds has played but not homered are new Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. ... According to Jeff Fletcher of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, recently recalled Dan Meyer of the A's may want to find someone who can lift the curse of his locker; before Meyer, the locker belonged to Jay Witasick, Erasmo Ramirez, Shane Komine and Dallas Braden who all have been optioned back to the Minors or designated for assignment this season. ... Utility man Augie Ojeda joined Steve Finley and Mark Grace as the only Diamondback position players to pitch; Ojeda pitched a perfect ninth inning on Tuesday during the team's blowout loss to the Marlins. ... Thursday marked the 59th anniversary of Babe Ruth's death at the age of 53 in 1948.

Bill Arnold is a contributor to Other writers and sources contribute to Beyond the Box Score Copyright 2007, Sports Features Group This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.