Chances are, most fans got it wrong. I did. It's Pedro Alvarez. Entering play on Saturday, the Pirates' star has 21 homers and 56 RBIs. The 26-year-old is enjoying his best season, with one of the game's best teams. Yet, he has almost no fanfare outside the Steel City. The former first-round Draft pick deserves a spot on the National League All-Star team. Perhaps we'll see him in his hometown of New York City next Tuesday in the Midsummer Classic. And yes, there will be fanfare and a ton of attention if he touches down in Queens.
What a story. Just two years ago, Alvarez was floundering with the Bucs and was sent to the Minors to get his act together. He did. Since the beginning of 2012, Alvarez has 51 homers in 797 at bats. That's one homer every 15.6 at-bats. Impressive. But even more noteworthy is that Bucs manager Clint Hurdle, a former hitting coach, has allowed Alvarez to be what he is -- a power guy who is not expected to hit for high average or generate a high on-base percentage. This approach works. Kudos to Alvarez and the Pirates.
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Ironically, the first round of the 2008 Draft also produced Ike Davis. The Mets first baseman recently returned from a Minor League stint. His production was at unacceptably low levels when they sent him out. If Davis turns out to be a carbon copy of Alvarez, the Mets would feel like they won Powerball.
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You don't have to be a high-round Draft pick to make news or make history. Take Baltimore's Chris Davis, for example. He was originally drafted by the Yankees in the 50th round in 2004, but didn't sign. Davis was drafted again in the 35th round in 2005 by the Angels, but didn't sign. When he was chosen in the fifth round in 2006 by the Rangers, he finally signed and was then shuttled to and from the Minors for years. As recently as 2011, Davis was playing some of his games for Triple-A Round Rock -- the same place Manny Ramirez will play, but that's a long story for another time.
Back to Davis. He arrived in Baltimore two summers ago with a question mark on his back. Today, his name is mentioned in one of the most mind-boggling statistics I've ever read:
Entering the weekend, Davis was on pace for 109 extra-base hits. The only players in history to finish a season with more extra-base hits -- Lou Gehrig (117) in 1927 and Babe Ruth (119) in 1921.
Read that again. Ridiculous (Thanks, MLB Network research staff).
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Davis' teammate T.J. McFarland arrived in Baltimore with fewer expectations. The lefty was a Rule 5 acquisition from the Indians. But lack of hype or a lower ceiling doesn't take away from the thrill of reaching the Majors. When the Chicago native made his first trip back to the Windy City as a Major League player, he had more than 300 family members and fans at the Orioles-White Sox game. They were all wearing T-shirts with his name on the back.
Chants of "T.J." could be heard in the bullpen, even though McFarland wasn't warming up. He called it "awkward." It gets better. McFarland grew up rooting for Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick and the Blackhawks. It was a total coincidence that on that same night the McFarland crew was at the game, so, too, were a few members of this year's Stanley Cup championship team. McFarland held the Stanley Cup, too, as multiple dreams came true on the same day for the 24-year-old from the South Side of Chicago.
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How weird was it watching Ivan Nova standing in the dugout on Friday night watching the Yankees bat in the bottom of the ninth inning? It turns out, it was extremely weird. Details in a bit. Nova had just thrown nine fantastic innings against the Orioles, but was on the hook for the loss unless the Yankees could score in their half of the inning. The look on his face reminded me of a golfer who finished his final round and needed the leader to collapse on the 18th green -- the look of satisfaction and desperation rolled into one.
It turns out, the Orioles collapsed on the 18th hole, as closer Jim Johnson allowed five of six batters to reach base safely. It happened quickly. New York wins, 3-2. Back to Nova. It's not only odd to see a pitcher throw a complete game these days, but how about nine innings in a possible loss? It just doesn't happen in today's game. That's so 1960s.
On top of that scenario, it turns out Nova is the first pitcher in 20 years to earn a win with at least 11 strikeouts and three hits or fewer but who had to wait for his club to score in its final at-bat in order to nail down the "W." The last to do it before Friday was Angels hurler Mark Langston on April 28, 1993. The losing team that day? The Yankees.