October 8, 2022
It sure took him long enough! Aaron Judge was on a hot streak in early September, hitting home runs in four consecutive games, but then his pace slowed down even though he [hit two homers] on each of two separate days in mid-month. As he neared the proverbial "finish line," Judge seemed to struggle at the plate. Much like with Roger Maris in September 1961, the pressure on Judge became almost unbearable. In the first three games of October, his only hit was a single, and Yankee fans grew especially nervous. Finally, in the first game on Tuesday against the Texas Rangers in Globe Life Field, he crushed one to left field, thus setting new American League (and perhaps MLB?) home run record for a single season. Whew! Can you imagine the disappointment if he had failed to do so?
Congratulations, Aaron Judge!
So Judge is now the undisputed home run champion on the AL side, but what about the major leagues in general? It so happens that most of the sluggers whose MLB-leading records are in dispute were in the National League during the years when their home run totals peaked: Barry Bonds (73 in 2001), Mark McGwire (70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999), Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998, 64 in 2001, and 63 in 1999). The prevailing opionion seems to be that those records should be tacitly set aside, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said (foxnews.com) that baseball fans should "make their own judgment." I agree with that; there's just no way of reaching a definitive answer given the murky circumstances.
On the other hand, Kevin Blackistone lashed out at "sanctimonious baseball purists" in the Washington Post. In his view, Barry Bonds is still the single-season home run king. He criticized "historical denialism," arguing that record-keepers have "selectively disguised dishonest in baseball under the cloak of folklore and corrected the record only under duress." He finds reason to question the legitimacy of home run records amassed by Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, and others, focusing particular attention on the racial segregation of baseball's past. He stresses that Bonds was no different than most of his contemporaries, and that may be true -- or maybe not. In sum, it's a shame that we can't come to some agreement on how to treat such records.
Not to be overlooked was the similarly huge historical milestone recently passed by Albert Pujols -- in Dodger Stadium on September 23 he became the fourth person in MLB history to reach the 700 home run mark! The others are: Barry Bonds (762)**, Hank Aaron (755), and Babe Ruth (714). Pujols had a mediocre first half of the season, with only four homers in the first three months, and it seemed that his "swan song" year with the Cardinals might be a big disappointment. But then he came roaring back, finishing the regular season with 24 home runs and a .270 batting average. Pujols hit his 701st and 702nd home runs back home in St. Louis, and his 703rd home run in Pittsburgh on October 3.
** The home run records of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, and a few others will be forever questioned on the grounds that their numbers were almost certainly boosted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. (See above.) How much of a boost? It would depend on how long they each used those drugs, as well as what kinds and in what doses. Obviously, we will never know for sure. If we arbitrarily deducted ten percent from each of those players' totals it would be 685 lifetime home runs for Bonds, 548 (rather than 609) for Sosa, 524 (rather than 583) for McGwire, and 415 (rather than 462) for Canseco.
NOTE: The baseball "700 Club" is not to be confused with the religious 700 Club.
I only saw one Cardinals game during the years Pujols played with them (2001-2011 & 2022), and that was August 4, 2007. It so happens that he was not in the lineup that day, when the Nats trounced the Cards 12-1. In fact, they swept the Cardinals in three games straight that weekend, after doing likewise to the Cincinnati Reds to make it six straight wins. (I've only seen the Cardinals play one game since then, on the south side of Chicago in 2015.)
Congratulations, Albert Pujols!
There's really not much to say about the Washington Nationals' final week of the miserable 2022 season. They at least managed to beat the Philadelphia in one game of the four-game series, 13-4 last Saturday afternoon. Luke Voit, Joey Meneses, and Luis Garcia all homered, their 22nd, 13th, and 7th homers of the year respectively. (Nine of Voit's homers were with the Nationals after he was traded from San Diego.) That game put the Phillies' postseason hopes in brief jeopardy, but then they won the next two games. Some rookie pitcher named Tommy Romero took the loss in the Saturday night game (8-2), and on Sunday Patrick Corbin failed in his bid to end his season on a redemptive note, as the Nats lost 8-1. That game was called after six innings, after an hour and a half rain delay.
Then the Nats headed up to New York to face the Mets, whose fierce motivation to bounce back from getting swept from the Braves was on full display. Starting pitcher Cory Abbott at least kept the game close on Tuesday afternoon (after Monday's game was rained out), and a home run by catcher Riley Adams kept hopes alive, but the Nats fell, 4-2. In contrast, neither Paolo Espino nor Erick Fedde were effective at all in the next two games. On Tuesday night the first three Mets batters hit home runs, the first time the team had ever accomplished such a feat. The Mets scored seven runs in the first inning, forcing Espino out before the second out was made. Ouch! Final score: 8-0. The Nats' final game of 2022 wasn't much different, as the Mets prevailed, 9-2.
And so, I have updated the Washington Nationals page with final yearly data on monthly win-loss records, annual team-best batting and pitching records, head-to-head matchups, etc.
The first-ever wild card series got underway yesterday, and only in the first game (Tampa Bay at Cleveland) did the home team win. In St. Louis, the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning (thanks to a rookie pinch hitter named Juan Yepez), whereupon the Phillies pulled off a stupendous six-run rally to take the lead. Closing pitcher Ryan Helsley just melted down after J.T. Realmuto hit a single, walking the bases loaded and then hitting Alec Bohm with a pitch. Then Jean segura hit a two-run single, and the rout was on. Never before had the Cardinals lost after going into the ninth inning with a lead of two or more runs in a postseason game. It reminded me of a certain (rather traumatic) game in October 2012. Karma, perhaps?
In Toronto, the Seattle Mariners' new hero Cal Raleigh (whose walk-off homer clinched a postseason berth one week ago) did it again, with a two-run homer in the first inning. The visiting team ended up beating the Blue Jays, 4-0.
And in New York, finally, the #1 wild card Mets suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the San Diego Padres. The home team had high hopes with their new co-ace Max Scherzer on the mound, but Max's former team mate Josh Bell stunned everyone by belting a two-run homer in the first inning. It was doubly amazing because Bell had been doing so poorly in San Diego since being traded there (along with Juan Soto) from Washington at the end of July. Bell's batting average in Washington was .301, but with San Diego it was only .192 -- suggesting he had major adjustment problems. But that's not all! In the second inning, Trent Grisham hit a solo homer off Scherzer, and in the fifth inning both Jurickson Profar and Manny Machado hit home runs. Max was forced out of the game amid a chorus of boos from the impatient fans in Queens. The Mets got on the board with a homer in the bottom of the fifth, but Padres easily won the game, 7-1. Max has probably never had to endure such embarrassment in his entire career. Max has a reputation not only for being a fierce competitor but for challenging opposing batters with fast balls, taking the risk of giving up a home run in an attempt to get a strikeout. I really felt sorry for him. He has another year on his contract with the Mets, and if they don't make it to the next round in the postseason, his stay in New York is going to be very uncomfortable.
This afternoon, Tampa Bay and Cleveland are locked in a scoreless tie aftter nine innings... Later this afternoon and evening there will be high tension in (respectively) Toronto, New York, and St. Louis, as the home teams strain mightily to avoid being eliminated. I'll be rooting for the Cardinals to win, because if that series continues into tomorrow, the game will be broadcast on ABC (which is a subsididary of the Disney media empire, along with ESPN), just as the game on Friday was. It was the first time ABC has broadcast a live MLB game in several decades, I believe. Even though I strongly disapprove of expanding the postseason with an additional wild card team and an additional three-game series, I must say that I have been enjoying the drama!
Thanks to Larry Freitas for confirming that the non-alcoholic O'Doul beer brand was named after the famous baseball player Lefty O'Doul. Last week I took the time to research his MLB records, but what I did not realize was that he was a member of the San Francisco Seals, just as Joe DiMaggio was. Thanks for the info, Larry!