October 5, 2012

On The Rebound: A great season for baseball fans

By Mitch Howard
Sports Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — I wouldn’t rank it as the greatest baseball season of my life. That title would go to the Big Red Machine years when I was young, naive and still dreamed of playing professional baseball.

Correction: I still dream of playing major league baseball, only now I know it’s fantasy.

I would also ranked the year when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were swatting home runs like it was slow pitch softball as a great year to watch baseball. We now know why they were swatting all those home runs.

This season does rank in the top five of greatest baseball seasons during my lifetime simply because there were so many storylines to follow to the final day. Here are a few of my favorites.

10. There were seven no-hitters pitched this season with the final no-no tossed by Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds. The same feat happened in 1990 and 1991. For a record eight no-hitters, you would have to go back to 1884. The Mariners Felix Hernandez pitched the 23rd perfect game in baseball history.

9. Before getting a few weeks rest for a tired shoulder, Aroldis Chapman was having a season few could match. The hardest thrower in baseball had struck out four times as many hitters as had been able to get a hit off him. He is averaging 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings. There have been few pitchers that have come close to commanding the attention the way Chapman does when he strides to the mound.

8. The Washington Nationals ended the season with the best record in baseball on the way to winning the first division title in franchise history. The Nationals played their first games in 2004. The Nationals had plenty of story lines of their own. Bryce Harper hit .270 with 22 home runs as rookie that will not turn 20 years old until later this month. Stephen Strasburg won 15 games before being shut down for the season. He struck out  190 batter in 159 innings.

7. Knuckle baller R.A. Dickey wins 20 games with a 2.73 ERA to give himself a shot at winning the Cy Young Award. This on a New York Mets team that was not very good. The former Tennessee Volunteer bounced around the league and seemed to be on the last legs of his career before transforming himself with the knuckle ball. Dickey set a Mets’ record this season with 32.2 scoreless innings.

6. Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout would probably win the MVP if not for a Triple Crown year by Miguel Cabrera. The first thing you see when you Google the Angels centerfielder are the amazing catches. But remember he started the year in the minor leagues and was only called up because Bobby Abreu was not hitting.  He became the youngest player to ever hit more than 30 home runs with 30 stolen bases. He broke rookie records like they were speed bumps.

5. In what some call the biggest trade in baseball history, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired three former All Stars in Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for one major leaguer in James Loney, two minor leagues, and two players to be named later. Still the Dodgers did not make the playoffs. The Red Sox were a train wreck all season, which was also fun to see from one of the game’s highest paid teams.

4. The Oakland A’s shock the Rangers on the final night of the season to win the AL West.  The A’s were picked to finish last in their division, and for good reason. Their starting rotation had a combined 14 games of major league experience. Rookie pitchers accounted for 53 of their 94 wins. Now some sportscasters are picking the A’s to win it all. And remember, on June 30th the A’s record was 37-42 and they were 13 games out of first place. If you get a chance to watch the movie Moneyball, you will understand a lot about why the A’s are where they are.

3.The Orioles made an unexpected run into the post season. The Orioles had not made the playoffs since 1997, but behind a remarkable knack for winning one-run games they made it this year. Baltimore has won 28 one-runs games and an inconceivable 16 straight extra inning games.

2. The Cincinnati Reds clinched their third Central Division title and 10th division championship. Along the way, they also tied Washington for the best record in baseball. They did it with Joey Votto spending a lot of time on the disabled list and players like Todd Frazier carving their name in Reds history.

1. Miguel Cabrera became the first player to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yazstremski accomplished the rare feat in 1967. Leading the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI is a feat not accomplished by some of the greatest players in baseball season. Player like Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds fell just short despite massive seasons. Cabrera ends the regular season with a .330 average, 44 home runs, and 139 RBI.