Friday, October 3, 2014

Happy Thomson-Winfield Day!

Today, since it was October 3, I showed my 7-year-old nieces the film of the game on October 3, 1951. The Bobby Thomson Game. They are at about the age that I was when I first heard the story.

October 3, 1951: Bobby Thomson hits a home run that wins the National League Pennant for the New York Giants, 5-4 over the Brooklyn Dodgers, at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan.

“Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”
-- Red Smith, in the next day’s New York Herald Tribune. If Red wasn’t the greatest sportswriter ever, this paragraph certainly shows why he’s a contender for the title.

Thomson died on August 16, 2010, at age 86. The home run ended the most amazing Pennant race that New York City, perhaps any city, has ever seen.

The pitcher who gave up the home run, Ralph Branca, is now 88, and recently wrote a memoir, A Moment In Time. In spite of the scorn he’s received for giving up that home run, he admits he’s had a pretty good life.

And, besides, he’s remembered. Larry Jansen, the Giant pitcher who relieved Sal Maglie in that game, ended up as the winning pitcher in a game that’s on the short list for the title of “greatest game ever played,” would have won the NL Cy Young Award had it existed then, and was a member of the Giants’ 1954 World Champions as well; yet when he died in 2009, I didn’t hear of it immediately. Jansen was forgotten; Branca is remembered. Alternately a blessing and a curse.

For this worldwide coverage, it was called “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” after the description in poetry by Ralph Waldo Emerson of the musket shot that began the War of the American Revolution on the Lexington Green, outside Boston, in 1775.

Round the world? It was beamed around the U.S.A. in the first nationally-televised (NBC) broadcast of any non-World Series game, and the Armed Forces Radio Network played it for every U.S. military base.

Including in London. The writer George Plimpton claimed to have heard it while studying at England’s Cambridge University.

Including in Korea, where a war was raging that would soon claim as draftees Willie Mays, the Giant batter who was on deck, and Don Newcombe, the Dodger pitcher who’d nearly won the game before being relieved.  (Yankees Whitey Ford, Jerry Coleman and Billy Martin would also serve in that war.) This was reflected in an episode of the TV show M*A*S*H.

There are 6 men who played in that game, 63 years ago today, who are still alive: Giants Willie Mays, Monte Irvin and Alvin Dark; and Dodgers Branca and Newcombe (whom Branca relieved). Giant pitcher George Spencer who did not appear in the game but was on their roster, died last month. Also still alive from the Dodgers' roster are Carl Erskine, Rocky Bridges, Tommy Brown and Wayne Terwilliger.


The same day Thomson hit that homer, 1,200 miles to the northwest, David Mark Winfield was born in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Dave Winfield would star for the San Diego Padres and the Yankees, help the Pinstripes to a Pennant in 1981 but infamously go just 1-for-22 in the World Series, fall short with the Yanks in the Division races of 1985, ’86, ’87 and ’88; lead George Steinbrenner to (unfairly) tag him as “Mr. May,” hire a criminal to dig up dirt on him, and finally exile him to the California Angels; finally win a World Series as he got the game-winning hit for the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 6 in 1992, collect his 3,000th career hit with his hometown Minnesota Twins, and retire with the Pennant-winning Cleveland Indians of 1995.

His Number 31 was retired by the Padres, but while the Yankees gave him a Dave Winfield Day following his Hall of Fame election in 2001, he has not yet received a Plaque in Monument Park, and his Number 31 has been worn by some rather mediocre Yankees:

Brian Dorsett, Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens, Mike Humphreys, Xavier Hernandez, Brian Boehringer, Dan Naulty, Ben Ford, Glenallen Hill, Steve Karsay, Jason Anderson (the first former member of the Staten Island Yankees to reach the majors), Aaron Small (he of the 10-0 record in 2005 but 0-1 in the ALDS and was soon rightfully gone from the majors), Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Josh Phelps, Michael Dunn, Pedro Feliciano, and the 2nd, unwanted coming of Javier Vazquez.

But it has also been worn by some good players; all of these were former or future All-Stars, regardless of what they did as Yankees: Bob Wickman, Frank Tanana, Lance Johnson, Ian Kennedy, the execrable Vazquez, Rafael Soriano, current wearer and future Hall-of-Famer Ichiro Suzuki, and a man who should one day join Big Dave and Ichiro in the Hall of Fame, Tim Raines, a contributor to the 1996 and 1998 World Champions.

So why hasn’t Dave gotten his number retired and his Plaque? Could there still be a grudge held by George Steinbrenner’s children, after all this time?


October 3, 1897: Adrian Constantine Anson of the Chicago Colts (forerunners of the Cubs) hits 2 home runs against Willie Sudhoff of the St. Louis Browns (forerunners of the Cardinals) at Robison Field in St. Louis. The Colts win, 7-1.

Hitting a home run is a lot harder than it would become, and hitting 2 is rare. But "Cap" Anson, the Colts' 1st baseman and manager, is 45 years old. For over 100 years, he will rank as the oldest man ever to hit a home run in the major leagues. It is the last game that Cap will ever play, after 22 major league seasons (27 if you count the National Association). He retires -- counting his NA stats -- with a .334 lifetime batting average, an OPS+ of 142, 3,435 hits (then a record), 97 home runs (not a record but great for the era), and 2,075 RBIs (then a record).

However, today, he is best remembered as the man whose refusal to play against black players led baseball to draw the color line. And, judging by his memoir, he wasn't too fond of Catholics, Jews and Native Americans, either. A great player, but a skunk.

October 3, 1900: The Dodgers, then known as the Superbas, beat the Boston Braves at the South End Grounds to win the NL Pennant — and, with the setup then in place, the unofficial World Championship of baseball. They would not win another for 55 years, but, then, it would be official.

The last surviving player from that Dodger team was pitcher Harry Howell, soon to be an original 1903 New York Highlander (Yankee), who lived on until 1956, aged 79.

October 3, 1904: Christy Mathewson sets an NL record by striking out 16 batters, and the Giants beat the Cardinals 3-1.

October 3, 1915: What turns out to be the final Federal League games are played. The St. Louis Terriers beat the Kansas City Packers 6-2. The Chicago Whales beat the Pittsburgh Rebels 3-2. And, in a doubleheader at Harrison Park in New Jersey, the Baltimore Terrapins take the 1st game against the Newark Peppers, 9-5, while the Peppers win the 2nd game, 6-0. This is the last game ever played by a major league team officially calling New Jersey home -- if, that is, you consider the Federal League "major." (Modern MLB, officially, does.)

The Whales win the Pennant when the Terriers' 2 remaining rainouts are not made up. St. Louis may have been robbed. This is not the most notorious moment of the Chicago-St. Louis baseball rivalry -- in large part because it has been all but forgotten.

October 3, 1919: Rookie lefthander Dickie Kerr pitches a 3-hit shutout, Shoeless Joe Jackson gets 2 hits, and Chick Gandil gets 2 RBIs. The Chicago White Sox win Game 3 of the World Series, 3-0 over the Cincinnati Reds, and close the Reds' lead to 2 games to 1. Jackson and Gandil were in on the fix, but Kerr was not.

Adolfo "Dolf" Luque, the Reds' Cuban pitcher, pitches in relief, and thus becomes the first Latin American player to appear in a World Series game.

October 3, 1925: Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, plays its 1st football game, against McMurry University at the Panhandle South Plains Fair. Tech's Elston Archibald attempts a game-winning 20-yard field goal. It appears to be good. But the referee rules that the clock had run out before the snap. It was later reported that the ref made the call as revenge for not being named Tech's 1st head coach, a job given instead to Ewing Freeland.

At the time, Tech's teams were called the Matadors. It would later be changed to the Red Raiders, with a mascot called the Masked Raider, riding a horse and dressed like a red version of Zorro.

October 3, 1946: The Cardinals beat the Dodgers 8-4 at Ebbets Field, and sweep the Playoff for the Pennant, 2 games to none. This is the 1st time the Dodgers have lost a Playoff for the Pennant. It will not be the last.

October 3, 1947: Floyd “Bill” Bevens takes a no-hitter into the bottom of the 9th in Game 4 of the World Series. He gets to within 1 out of the 1st World Series (and thus the 1st postseason) no-hitter ever. But 10 walks put him in danger, and Harry “Cookie” Lavagetto pinch-hits a double-off the right-field wall at Ebbets Field, and the Dodgers win, 3-2.

Two days later, Al Gionfriddo will rob Joe DiMaggio with an amazing catch to preserve the Dodgers’ lead in Game 6, but the Yankees win the Series in Game 7. By a weird twist of fate, neither Bevens, nor Lavagetto, nor Gionfriddo will ever play again.

Who is still alive from this Series, 67 years later? For the Yankees, just Yogi Berra and Bobby Brown. For the Dodgers, no one: Duke Snider was the last survivor, and Gene Hermanski was the last survivor of the Dodgers who actually played in this Series.

October 3, 1954, 60 years ago: Dennis Lee Eckersley is born in Oakland. In 1977, he pitched a no-hitter for the Indians. In 1978, he won 20 games for the Red Sox -- although he got beat by the Yankee bats and Ron Guidry in the 3rd game of the "Boston Massacre" series that September. In 1984, in a very fateful trade, the Red Sox sent him and Mike Brumley to the Cubs for Bill Buckner. Eck helped the Cubs win the NL East, but pitched poorly in the Playoffs.

By this point, his drinking was getting the better of him. He dried out, and in 1987, he was traded to his hometown team, the Oakland Athletics. Tony LaRussa converted him into a reliever, and he became the 1st 9th-inning-only closer specialist, helping the A's win 4 AL West titles in 5 years, including 3 straight Pennants and the 1989 World Series. However, he gave up a game-winning homer to Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series -- and used the occasion to coin the term "walk-off home run."

In 1992, he was given the AL's Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards. He helped the Cardinals win the NL Central in 1996, and in 1998 returned to the Red Sox and helped them win the AL Wild Card. He retired with 197 wins and 390 saves -- factoring into 587 wins by his team, a figure topped in all of baseball history by only Mariano Rivera. (Mo saved 652 and won 82, for a total of 734. Cy Young won 511 and saved 17.)

In 1999, shortly after he retired, he was ranked Number 98 on The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Baseball Players -- probably shortchanged a bit. He was also elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Red Sox' Hall of Fame, and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. The A's retired his Number 43.

October 3, 1955: The Mickey Mouse Club premieres on ABC, although I doubt that very many kids were watching it, especially in the New York Tri-State Area. Because Game 6 of the World Series, a Subway Series, is being broadcast on NBC at the same time.

At Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Bombers score 5 runs in the 1st, including 3 on a Moose Skowron home run. Whitey Ford holds the Dodgers off, and the Yankees win 5-1, tying the Series up. Game 7 will be played tomorrow in The Bronx. The Dodgers are 0-7 in World Series play, including 0-5 against the Yankees.

October 3, 1962: The Giants beat the Dodgers in a Playoff for the Pennant again — this time on the West Coast. At Dodger Stadium, San Francisco wins the rubber game, beating Los Angeles, 6-4 as Don Larsen (yes, the hero of 1956 bedevils the Dodgers again) gets the win in relief of Juan Marichal. This is the 3rd and last time the Dodgers have lost a Playoff for the Pennant, all on October 3. They did, however, win one in 1959, against the Milwaukee Braves, not on October 3.

Thanks to the extended season, Maury Wills sets a major league record for the most games played in a season, appearing in 165 games. This was the year he stole 104 bases, setting a new major league record.

October 3, 1964, 50 years ago: The Yankees score 5 runs in the 8th inning, and beat the Indians 8-3 at Yankee Stadium, finally clinching a hard-won AL Pennant, their hardest since 1949, with just 1 game to spare. Bobby Richardson, Elston Howard and Joe Pepitone have RBI singles in the inning, and Mickey Mantle draws a bases-loaded walk. Pete Mikkelsen is the winner, in relief of Al Downing. The Chicago White Sox beat the Kansas City Athletics 7-0, but it does them no good, as they are eliminated.

At Sportsman's Park, the Mets shock the Cardinals, 15-5, preventing them from clinching the NL Pennant. But the Cubs beat the Giants 10-7 at Candlestick Park, eliminating the Giants from the race, and rendering impossible what had until then been possible: A 4-way tie for the flag.

Now, the Cards and the idle Reds are tied for 1st, with the idle Phillies 1 game back. The Giants are 2 back, the Milwaukee Braves 5 back. The Phillies and Reds face each other in Cincinnati tomorrow. If the Cards win, they win the Pennant no matter what happens at Crosley Field. If the Cards lose and the Reds win, the Reds win the Pennant. If the Cards lose and the Phils win, there's a 3-way tie for the Pennant that the Phils thought they had won on September 20, when they were up by 6 1/2 with 12 games to go, before their epic 10-game losing streak. This is the craziest NL race since the 3-way New York/Chicago/Pittsburgh struggle of 1908, making the 1951 and '62 Giant-Dodger races look tame by comparison.

October 3, 1965: Victor Pellot, a.k.a. Vic Power, 1st baseman for the Los Angeles Angels, hits an RBI single against the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium, but the Angels lose, 5-2. Power retires after the game, with a .284 lifetime batting average. It makes him the last active player who had played for the Philadelphia Athletics.

October 3, 1968: Mickey Lolich picks a great time to hit what turns out to be the only home run of his career. The Detroit Tiger pitcher hits it off Nelson Briles, to aid his own cause, as the Tigers beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-1 at Busch Stadium, and tie up the World Series at 1 game apiece.

October 3, 1970: Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles becomes the 1st pitcher to hit a home run in a League Championship Series game. The Cuban lefty's 4th-inning grand slam proves to be the difference in the Orioles' 10-6 Game 1 victory over the Twins.

October 3, 1972: Roberto Clemente plays in his 2,433rd career game, breaking the Pittsburgh Pirates' team record set by Honus Wagner. In the 9th inning, he replaces left fielder Gene Clines, as Vic Davalillo moves from right field to left field to open up Clemente’s usual position, and doesn’t come to bat. The Pirates win, 6-2. But it turns out to be Clemente’s last regular season game. He had gotten his 3,000th and final hit on September 30.

On this same day, Roric Harrison of the Orioles hits a home run in the 2nd game of a doubleheader with the Indians, and wins 4-3. It is the last home run hit by an American League pitcher until June 30, 1997, when Bobby Witt of the Texas Rangers will do it in an Interleague game. (The most recent was Zach Britton of the Orioles, on July 3, 2011.)

October 3, 1974, 40 years ago: The Cleveland Indians hire Frank Robinson, currently playing for them, as the first black manager in Major League Baseball. It has been almost 2 years since a dying Jackie Robinson, making his final appearance at a ballpark during the World Series, announced to the crowd he wanted to see a black manager. Frank, no relation, said his only regret was that Jackie didn’t live to see the day.

Indians manager Ted Bonda knew that Frank had already been the Captain of the Baltimore Orioles teams that had won 4 Pennants between 1966 and 1971, and that he had already been considered for 2 different managerial posts. One was the Yankees': After George Steinbrenner was unable, for complicated legal reasons, to hire Dick Williams to replace Ralph Houk, he was convinced by team president Gabe Paul to consider Robinson, who was then playing for the Angels, whose owner Gene Autry wouldn't let him go.

Now, Frank was playing for the Indians, and Bonda knew that if he didn’t hire him as manager, somebody else might. He knew that, racial history aside, Frank was qualified for the job, having been Captain of the Baltimore Pennant winners of 1966, '69, '70 and '71. So he did the right thing for history, as well as the right thing for his team. He signed Frank at a salary of $175,000 to do both jobs -- $844,000 in today's money.

As it turned out, Frank wasn’t nearly as good a manager as he was a player. He would manage the Indians, the Giants (making him the 1st black manager in each League), the Orioles and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise, managing them during their move. Only once, in a career that lasted from 1975 to 2006, did he take a team into a genuine Pennant race, the 1989 Orioles missing the AL East title by 2 games. But he still deserved the chance.

October 3, 1976: Hank Aaron plays his last game. In his last at-bat, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers at County Stadium, where he had previously played for the Milwaukee Braves, he singles off Dave Roberts of the Tigers — the same pitcher who, for the Houston Astros, had given up his 712th and 713th career home runs. But the Tigers win the game, 5-2.

Hank retires with 3,771 hits and 2,174 runs scored, both 2nd at the time only to Ty Cobb, a .305 batting average, a 155 OPS+ (only Albert Pujols, with 162, has a higher one among active players), and with these all-time records: 755 home runs, 2,297 RBIs, 6,856 total bases, and 1,477 extra-base hits (624 doubles, 98 triples and 755 homers). Only the home run record has been broken, and that dubiously.

On the same day, On the last day of the season, the Kansas City Royals’ George Brett and Hal McRae and the Twins’ Rod Carew are separated by .001 for the AL batting title -- and their teams are playing each other. Brett, who goes 3-for-4, edges his Royals teammate for the crown with the deciding hit, an inside-the-park home run. Outfielder Steve Brye misplayed a line drive, leading McRae to believe the lack of effort was intentional and racist. The final totals: Brett .333, McRae .332, Carew .331.

October 3, 1978: Game 1 of the ALCS at Royals Stadium in Kansas City. (Now Kauffman Stadium.) The Royals have added former St. Louis Cardinals reliever Al Hrabosky, a.k.a. the Mad Hungarian, a blazing lefty with a wild man act that many find intimidating. They and their fans think he will make the difference so that they can finally win the Pennant, even if they have to face the Yankees in the Playoffs for the 3rd year in a row -- which they do.

But the Yankees score 3 runs on Dennis Leonard, a Brooklyn native who'd given them fits in the 1976 and '77 ALCS. They're up 4-1 with 2 out in the top of the 8th, and manager Whitey Herzog gets Hrabosky up. Even Phil Rizzuto, broadcasting the game on WPIX-Channel 11, buys into the Hrabosky hype: Seeing him warm up, he says, "Uh-oh, the Mad Hungarian!" When Lou Piniella singles, sending sending Mickey Rivers to 2nd, the White Rat, knowing the next 5 batters are lefties -- Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Roy White (a switch-hitter but weaker on the right side) and Brian Doyle -- brings Hrabosky in.

The Yankees' struggles against Paul Splittorff and Larry Gura that last 2 ALCS gave rise to the famous but erroneous notion that, "The Yankees can't hit lefthanded pitchers, especially in the postseason." (They'd won 21 World Series by this point, so they must have scored off some lefties.) This was especially point the year before, when Reggie couldn't touch Splittorff, and then-manager Billy Martin held him out of Game 5 until Herzog brought in the righthanded Doug Bird to relieve in the 8th, and then sent Reggie in to pinch-hit, working an RBI single.

Hrabosky does his thing, then gets on the mound, and pitches to Reggie. The ball leaves his bat in Kansas City, and lands in St. Louis. Rizzuto says, "Oh, that's gone! That is gone! Holy cow!" Reggie is, after all, Mr. October.

The Yankees win, 7-1. Having gained at least a split in K.C., they won the Pennant in New York, and won the World Series. Hrabosky was never the same pitcher: The Royals gave him 1 more year, and then traded him to Atlanta, and then they won the Pennant, with new reliever Dan Quisenberry; while Hrabosky threw his last big-league pitch at age 33. Today, he's a Cardinal broadcaster, and if you remember him as a player, as I do, well, you're old, too.

October 3, 1979: Game 1 of the ALCS. The 1st postseason game in the 19-year history of the team then known as the California Angels doesn't end well for them. They led the Orioles 2-0 in the bottom of the 3rd and blew it. It was 3-3 and went to extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th, John Lowenstein hit a 3-run homer, and the O's won 6-3.

October 3, 1981: The Brewers and Expos clinch their 1st-ever postseason appearances. Milwaukee beats Detroit 2-1 to wrap up the 2nd-half title in the AL East, while Montreal edges the Mets 5-4 to win the NL East's 2nd playoff spot. For the 1st time ever, a postseason game will be played outside the U.S.; for the first time since 1959, a 163rd game will be played in Milwaukee.

October 3, 1982: On the last day of the season, the Brewers celebrate their AL East title-clinching victory -- their 1st ever in a full 162-game season -- at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, after beating the Orioles, 10-2, to edge the O's by 1 game in the final standings. Robin Yount hits 2 home runs and a triple, and former Dodger ace Don Sutton is the winning pitcher.

The O’s had been 4 games down with 5 to play, and had won 4 straight, including 3 over the Brewers, to forge a tie after 161 games, but the Brewers did their jobs. This turns out to be the only full-season Division title the Brew Crew ever won in the AL. (They have since won one in the NL.)

The 51,642 hometown fans, although disappointed by the results, stay after the game, and give retiring manager Earl Weaver a heartfelt, tremendous 45-minute series of ovations for his 15-year tenure as the Birds’ skipper.  He would, however, return in 1985 and ’86, but it would not be the same.

October 3, 1985: The Mets lose to the Cardinals, 4-3 at Busch Memorial Stadium.  Keith Hernandez goes 5-for-5 with 2 RBIs against his former team, but it's not enough, as Danny Cox and the St. Louis bullpen outpitch Rick Aguilera and Roger McDowell. This puts the Cards up by 2 games with 3 to play. It does not look good for the Mets, who had hung with the Cards all season long.

Meanwhile, the Yankees beat the Brewers 3-0, while the Toronto Blue Jays lose to the Tigers 2-0. The Yankees are still alive in AL East race as they head to Toronto for a deciding series, 3 games back. They must sweep all 3 games to force a Playoff; if the Jays win any of them, they win their 1st Division title.

October 3, 1990: George Brett strikes again.  He pinch-hits a 5th-inning RBI sacrifice fly, and then singles in the 7th inning, to end the season winning the batting title with a .329 batting average. Having already won in ’76 as stated earlier, and having batted .390 in 1980 to forge the highest single-full-season batting average any player has had since 1941, he is the only player to win batting crowns in three different decades.

October 3, 1993: Despite winning 103 games, the Giants are eliminated from the NL West race when the Dodgers derail their division dreams, 12-1. Catcher Mike Piazza, who will be named the league’s Rookie of the Year, hits 2 home runs in the game.

The Braves, who will be moved over to the NL East the next season, win 104 games to complete an amazing comeback, having been 10 games back on July 22 and 7 1/2 games back on August 22, before winning 22 of their last 27.

The Giants won 103 games, and still didn’t make the postseason. (The record is 104, for the 1942 Dodgers, as the Cardinals won 106.) Since the Wild Card began the next season (well, the one after, due to the Strike of ’94), the most games any team has won without officially making the Playoffs is 96, the 1999 Cincinnati Reds. (They lost a play-in game with the Mets, but that is officially counted as a regular season game.)

On the same day, the Indians play their last game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, with Mel Harder, who won the first game there in 1932, throwing out a ceremonial last pitch. No such luck for the Tribe this time, as they lose 4-0 to the Chicago White Sox. And the last game is played at Arlington Stadium, with Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers and George Brett of the Royals, both retiring, exchanging the lineup cards. Again, the visiting team spoils the fun, the Royals winning 4-1.

October 3, 1995: O.J. Simpson is found not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. A little more than a year later, in a civil suit, a jury will find him liable for their deaths.

On the same day, Tony Pena homers to left field in the 13th inning, to give the Indians a 5-4 win over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the AL Division Series at Jacobs Field. It is Cleveland's first postseason victory since 1948.

Of more interest to Yankee Fans, after 14 seasons, Don Mattingly finally plays in a postseason game.
The Yankees win, 9-6, in front of a rapturous crowd of 57,178 at Yankee Stadium. David Cone gives up 2 home runs to Ken Griffey Jr., but is backed up by home runs by Wade Boggs and Ruben Sierra. Mattingly goes 2-for-4 with an RBI.

October 3, 1999: In the final regular-season game ever to be played at the Astrodome, Mike Hampton of the Astros raises his record to a whopping 22-4, as the ‘Stros beat the Dodgers, 9-4. The victory clinches the NL Central Division title, as the Astros finish 1 game ahead of the Reds.

October 3, 2000: Against the Braves, Cardinal rookie starter Rick Ankiel sets a modern day major league record by uncorking 5 wild pitches in the 3rd inning of Game 1 of NLDS. He joins Bert Cunningham of the Buffalo Bisons, who accomplished the same feat in the 1st inning in an 1890 Players League contest.

Ankiel was a great pitching prospect, but, soon, his pitching days will be over.  He will, however, be converted into an outfielder. Hey, it worked for the Cardinals when they did it for Stan Musial 60 years earlier.

Despite injuries that will force him to miss 2002, '03, most of '04, '05, '06, and most of '07, Ankiel will still be playing in the major leagues in 2013. In 2008, he bats .264, hits 25 homers and has 71 RBIs. He only pitches 11 games after his 2000 postseason nightmare, but finishes with a .240 lifetime batting average (not bad at all for someone who started as a pitcher). Although he was injured when the Cards lost the World Series in 2004 and won it in 2006, he reached the postseason again with the Cards in '09 and the Braves the next season.

October 3, 2001: Barry Bonds walks 3 times, breaking Babe Ruth’s major league record established in 1923 of 170 bases on balls. Astros’ reliever Nelson Cruz gives up the historic walk in the 6th, and the Giants left fielder will finish the season with 177 walks.

October 3, 2004, 10 years ago: On the last day of the season, Blue Jays television announcer John Cerutti is found dead in his SkyDome hotel room. The death of the 44-year old Albany native, who had pitched for the Jays, is due to natural causes, with foul play not being suspected.

On this same day, at the site of the franchise’s first regular season game in 1969, the Montreal Expos, who are scheduled to move to Washington, D.C. next season, play their last game in their 36-year history, losing to the Mets at Shea Stadium, 8-1.

October 3, 2012: The greatest moment in Washington Nationals “Racing Presidents” history.  After getting off to a slow start in the regular-season finale against Philadelphia, Teddy Roosevelt finally beats George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Tom Jefferson to the finish line, winning the race for first time since it made its debut at RFK Stadium in 2006. The victory, the mascot’s first in over 500 tries, is assured when a green furry creature, who bears a striking resemblance to a phony Phillie Phanatic, waylays the other 3 Presidential contenders in right field.

On the same day, in other dubious baseball action, Ranger center fielder Josh Hamilton’s 4th inning-error opens the floodgates that allow the A’s to erase a 5-run deficit when they score 6 times, en route to their 12-5 victory at the Oakland Coliseum.

The A’s had been 13 games out of 1st place on June 30, and 6 games out on August 25. But their hot streak and the Rangers’ nosedive leaves the A’s as Division Champions, and puts the Rangers into the new 1-game AL Wild Card contest, against the Orioles. This comes after the Rangers’ pathetic performance in the 2010 World Series and their embarrassing chokejob in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. They do not yet have the choke reputation of, say, the Red Sox, the Cubs, or the Indians — but they should.

In positive baseball news, Miguel Cabrera clinches the AL Triple Crown becoming the first player to do so since 1967 when Carl Yastzemski accomplished the feat with Boston. The Tigers 3rd baseman and eventual MVP led the circuit in average (.330), home runs (44), and RBIs (139) playing with the American League champs.

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