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The Best of Baseball 2013: A year-end list, Part 2

This time of year we're inundated with best-of lists: best movies, best albums, best books. Baseball being a summer sport, it tends to get short shrift, but no more -- and those who don't dig the dulcet tones of Vin Scully need not apply.

Best NSFW speech in the aftermath of something awful: David Ortiz

The Boston Marathon bombing was a nonsensical, incoherent, tragic gesture; lives were lost, and for those who were fortunate enough to survive, they will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the physical and mental anguish inflicted by what occurred at the finish line on Patriots Day. There were days of uncertainty and fear in the aftermath of the bombings, but when the Red Sox returned to town following a road trip, they held a ceremony at Fenway Park prior to the game to honor those who lost their lives and to celebrate the efforts of civilians and law enforcement.

When David Ortiz took the microphone, most of the crowd was already on their feet, applauding. Ortiz acknowledged that for this game, the home whites that usually say "Red Sox" on the front now said "Boston." After thanking the people of the city and the police department, Ortiz made a simple, yet effective, statement: "This is our fucking city." The crowd responded with enthusiasm, t-shirts were made, and while such language, especially on live television, is typically frowned upon, the FCC acknowledged that they stood with Ortiz, who was just making a speech from his heart.

Best decision to keep working: Vin Scully

There are two types of people in the world: Those who love listening to Vin Scully call baseball games, and those who don't yet realize they love listening to Scully call baseball games. Many thought that the 2013 would be the last year that Scully, now 85, worked the booth, but in April it was announced that he'd return for the 2014 season. Scully will continue to limit his schedule to home games and geographically close competitors, but as he told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, "I really still enjoy it immensely. My health is good, thank God. So why not? And my wife said, ‘Why not?' as well."

Someday we will have to say goodbye to Scully, but hopefully there will be a couple more seasons left with him serving as narrator before we have to. While any inning of Scully is a good inning, here he is this season beautifully narrating the fight (and subsequent benches-clearing brawl) between Zack Greinke and Carlos Quentin.

Best reminder that fun is good: Yasiel Puig

One of the most exciting players to watch this season was rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig, who joined the Dodgers in June. Puig is divisive; some perceive him as showboat player with no respect for the game, but his ability is irrefutable. Sure, there were times when his inexperience and enthusiasm got him in trouble on the base paths or at the plate, but the truth is that his exuberance and gratuitous bat-flips are good for baseball (if not always good baseball).

Puig made his debut in June, and in his first 26 games he led the majors with a .436 batting average, .467 on-base percentage, and .713 slugging percentage. His 44 hits were the second most all time for a rookie in their first month of the game, behind only Joe DiMaggio (48 hits in May of 1936). One of his best moments came in his first game in the majors. Puig caught a long fly ball by the right-field fence for the second out in the ninth, and then made a powerful throw from the wall to Adrian Gonzalez at first base to pick off Chris Denorifia to end the game, authoritatively announcing his arrival to the majors. (And it's another good Vin Scully call as well.)

Best one-true outcome on the basepaths: Billy Hamilton

As September approached, it wasn't clear that the Reds were going to include Billy Hamilton on their 40-man roster, but their decision to add him was enthusiastically cheered by those who love watching fast people run. Hamilton is easily one of the fastest players this sport has ever seen, and while it's not yet clear if he will develop into a good enough hitter to have a long career as a starter, we can at least watch him run until he proves himself one way or another.

Hamilton managed 13 stolen bases in as many games, and was caught just once. Four of those stolen bases came on September 18th against the Houston Astros, who knew he was going to run, but could do nothing to stop him. Hamilton reached safely in the fourth, sixth, and ninth, and even though they tried to pitch out to get him in the 13th, the throw still wasn't even close.

Best showcase of defensive wizardry: Andrelton Simmons

I could type a lot of fancy words proclaiming the defensive majesty of the Braves' shortstop, but considering that Defensive Runs Saved (my defensive stat of choice) estimates that he saved 41 runs this season with his glove, it's probably much easier for you to experience it through a collection of GIFs.

Like this one where he throws out Prince Fielder to keep the game scoreless:

Rsqpuis_medium Via imgur

Or this one where Simmons fields a grounder that had skipped off of Paul Maholm:

Simmons_ii_medium Via imgur

Or when caught a hard hit ball by Yasmani Grandal, and doubled off Logan Forsythe at second:

Simmons_iii_medium Via imgur

If those weren't enough to satiate your cravings for superb defense, here's a 25-minute video of his best moments from this season compiled by a Simmons superfan:

Best bizarre trips around the base paths: Jean Segura and Allen Craig

When people ask why I like baseball so much, I often tell them it's because every once in a while a rule that you either a) forgot existed or b) didn't know existed affects the outcome of a game. That happened twice this season with baserunning, once during the regular season and once during the postseason.

On April 19th against the Cubs, Brewers' shortstop Jean Segura effectively stole first base. The concept of stealing first is difficult to deal with abstractly, but it's possible to do given the way the rules are written, though rarely done since going backward is not the objective of the game. Segura reached first, and then stole second with Ryan Braun at the plate. After Braun walked, the double steal was on, but when Segura broke early towards third, Cubs' reliever Kevin Gregg tried to pick him off instead of delivering a pitch. The Cubs made a play at second, and since Braun was standing on the base, Segura jogged back to the dugout, assuming he was out. The first base coach motioned for Segura to join him at first, which he did, and as the umpires later explained, it was Braun who was out at second, and that since Segura reached first without a play, he was safe. The Brewers are fortunate that their dugout is on the first base side, or else Segura definitely would have been out, and we wouldn't be talking about this now.

Game 3 of the World Series ended on a walk-off obstruction call. Allen Craig of the Cardinals got tangled up with Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks when he broke for home. The ball beat him to the plate, but when he arrived, he was signaled safe by home plate umpire Dana DeMuth. It was a strange and unusual way for a game to end, especially one of such importance, but even though it caused days of arguing on the Internet, it seems that the umpires did a good job of enforcing a rule that rarely comes up.

Best Tease: Yu Darvish

Seeing a no-hitter broken up is almost always a sad moment, but seeing it happen with one out left in a perfect game is positively the worst -- and that's what happened to Darvish in his first start of the season. The game was the perfect storm of elite pitcher versus weak-hitting team, and Darvish was cruising to the point that it was just assumed he was going to finish the game off. The 27th batter, Marwin Gonzalez, offered the definitive counterargument. When Darvish faced the Astros again in August he carried a perfect game into the sixth inning and a no-hitter into the eighth inning, but he fell short again, giving up a home run to Carlos Corporan. There's no guarantee that Darvish will ever throw a no-hitter, but watching him get close is still a lot of fun.

Honorable Mentions

  • Chris Davis hit 53 home runs this season, which was the most in the majors and more than he hit in his first four seasons combined.
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  • People love stories of comebacks and underdogs. In related news, those people worship Evan Gattis, who went from janitor to integral part of the Braves lineup this season.

  • While some argue that it doesn't count since he didn't hit them all on this continent, Ichiro Suzuki reached 4,000 career hits.

  • The Giants came back from a 4-0 deficit to force extra innings, and in the 10th, Angel Pagan had the first walk-off inside the park home run since 2004.