We're approaching the end of December, nearly two months removed from the end of the baseball season. While I look forward to the snow and the awkward family outings that round out the holiday period, in terms of baseball I'm still in a weird limbo where a) I'm still not quite sure what to do with all of my free time (and suspect I won't figure it out until spring training arrives to take it away again), and b) I'm never sure when it's appropriate to make the switch from saying "this season" to "last season" when referring to the happenings of 2013.
This season (or last season, depending your stance) was full of moments worth remembering -- some good and bad -- and before we file these memories in the back parts of our brain, the place that exists to house useless baseball facts, ex's phone numbers, and radio jingles, let's take a moment to celebrate them one last time.
Here is the first in a necessarily subjective two-part series of some of the best things that happened around the majors this season:
Best climb out of the basement: The Pittsburgh Pirates
In the past, the most striking thing about watching a Pirates games on television was how excruciatingly unenthused the broadcast team seemed to be. Perhaps it was the years of watching pitiful teams that sucked the life out of them, but they didn't sound bored or disappointed so much as on the verge of sliding into a coma, recounting the actions on the field as if their broadcast booth were in a library instead of a baseball stadium. Their demure nature doesn't exclude them from being informative (or even slightly entertaining), but this season there seemed to be a shift: There was life in Greg Brown's voice when he'd say, "Raise the Jolly Roger!" after a win this year. It sounded like he was actually excited by the Pirate's first winning season since 1992 and their first trip to the playoffs in 21 years ...But really, who wasn't?
Best effort to keep a zero in the hit column: Tim Lincecum
There have been prettier no-hitters than the one that Tim Lincecum threw on July 13, 2013. At 148 pitches, there have also been more efficient ones. Still, Lincecum's gem was the most memorable of this season three no-hitters because of the backstory: A two-time Cy Young winner whose struggles nearly banished him to the bullpen (or to someone else's roster) reasserting his dominance. If Lincecum had thrown a no-hitter during his untouchable years it would have been seemed predictable; the fact that it came after a season and a half of declining performance is what made it so relatable.
Though his pitch count was extreme, it was also clear that the Freak wasn't leaving the mound without finishing what he started, and that manager Bruce Bochy wasn't going to pull him unless Lincecum himself admitted defeat. After Gregor Blanco caught the ball in left field for the final out of the game, the camera panned back to Lincecum, whose face slackened as the weight of bad outings was lifted temporarily. To commemorate Timmy's great achievement, you can watch this YouTube video of all 27-outs, or you can read the 50 awesome things about Tim Lincecum's no-hitter compiled Grant Brisbee. In fact, I suggest you do both. Maybe even simultaneously.
Best demonstration of stickin' it to the man: The Los Angeles Dodgers at Chase Field
Celebrating does crazy things to otherwise normal people. College students set sofas on fire and flip over cars. Some fans shoot off shotguns and fireworks after important games. The Dodgers? They urinate in another team's pool.
The Dodgers, who collectively possessed a "sorry, not sorry" attitude for most things this season, clinched the division at Chase Field, and while the Diamondbacks say that they asked the Dodgers not to return to the field to celebrate, after most of the fans left the Dodgers climbed the fence in the outfield and continued their ruckus party in the opposition's swimming hole. Diamondback's President Derrick Hall called the act, "disrespectful and classless" and mocked Dodgers Stadium. The Dodgers responded by not only patting themselves on the back, but offering up new information: they peed in the pool. Naturally, the Diamondbacks front office staff, players, fans, and even Arizona politicians were really upset by the pool party, but it really serves as one of the many instances this season in which players gave the rules -- written and unwritten -- the middle finger.
Best one-game performance in the batter's box: Alex Rios
Miguel Cabrera is unquestionably the best hitter in the game, but on one summer evening at Comerica Park, he wasn't the best hitter in the park. The White Sox were already 13 games out of first place on July 9th, but their bats came back from 87-game strike and they managed 23 hits, 12 of which came off of Justin Verlander. The offensive catalyst that night was Alex Rios, who had five singles and one triple, which tied the AL record for the most hits in a nine-inning game. Rios's six hits had been matched just 32 times in history, which makes it a feat rarer than a no-hitter. While I can't imagine there were many people tuned into that Tuesday night game, especially once Verlander departed, Rios's night of dominance was one of the few memorable moments in an otherwise very long summer for the struggling Sox.
Best 162-game Retirement Party: Mariano Rivera
Anything worth doing is worth doing right. There were 162-plus opportunities for the Memorial of Mo to jump the shark, but it was so tastefully handled that there were few quibbles other than the awkward yet well-intentioned ceremony at Fenway Park.
Rivera didn't just receive praise and standing ovations from around the league, he took the time to interact and show his appreciation for the organizations themselves. Rivera delivered pizzas to the front office staff in Oakland, did countless Q&A sessions, and shook more hands than a campaigning politician. From a standing ovation from his peers during the All-Star Game to the tearful last embrace with long-time teammates Deter Jeter and Andy Pettitte, all of the praise and adoration was well-deserved for a player that will be sorely missed by everyone except the hitters.
Best Saturday spent on the sofa all afternoon: June 8, 2013
There was one magical Saturday afternoon in June when it seemed like two baseball games might never end. The Blue Jays and the Rangers played 18 innings that day, while the Mets and Marlins lasted 20 innings, the longest game since 2010 and the first time in major-league history in which two games went at least 18 innings or longer on the same day, beating the record previously set on August 15, 2006, when two games went 18 innings.
The Blue Jays game had no business going to extra innings, but Casey Janssen blew the save. Nine innings later, the Blue Jays erased Janssen's mistake with a walk-off, two-out hit by Rajai Davis. The Mets-Marlins game was actually more exciting (which is probably the first and only time anyone ever said that) as young pitchers Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez faced off, allowing just one run apiece. They were both out of the game by the end of the seventh; while it would have been fun to watch the two young pitchers face off in a 20-inning complete-game battle like the game was being played 1913-style rather than 2013, the later innings produced another pitching duel when starters Kevin Slowey and Shaun Marcum came into the game and didn't allow any runs or walks until Marcum finally gave up three singles in his eighth inning of work to end the game.
Next time: Yu Darvish; rookies, rookies, rookies; baserunning adventures, and more.