Arrieta's no-no, Rangers-Jays brawl lead first half's memorable moments
The 2016 season is now past the halfway mark and the All-Star Game is just one week away, meaning it's time to take a look back at 10 of the most memorable moments of the first half of the year. Among them are a no-hitter, a huge brawl and some historic hitting performances.
April 4: Trevor Story unleashes unprecedented torrent of home runs, puns
Story, a former first-round pick and top-100 prospect, seized the Rockies' open shortstop job by hitting .340/.407/.792 with six home runs in spring training, then carried that hot hitting over to the season's opening week with a record-setting display of power. In his first major league game, on April 4, the rookie took Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke deep twice, becoming the fifth player ever to hit two home runs in his debut and the first ever to do so on Opening Day. Story then homered in each of Colorado's next two contests and followed that up with another two-homer performance in the fourth game of the season.
In addition to setting a record by homering in his first four games, Story also became the first player ever with two multi-homer games in his first four major league appearances. He is just the fifth player ever to homer in each of his team’s first four games of the season, joining an impressive list that includes Willie Mays, Mark McGwire, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis. When he homered again two games later, Story became the first player ever to hit seven home runs in his team’s first six games, breaking the previous record of six held by Mays, Mike Schmidt and Larry Walker. He would ultimately tie Jose Abreu’s record for the most home runs by a rookie before May 1 (10), and while his home run pace has slowed and his strikeout rate has surged, he has remained productive enough to keep the starting job.
April 21: Jake Arrieta throws season's first no-hitter
Last year’s National League Cy Young Award winner started 2016 the same way he finished '15: by utterly dominating opposing lineups. Entering his outing against the Reds in Cincinnati on April 21, Arrieta had turned in 23 consecutive quality starts, the fourth longest streak on record since 1913. That evening in Cincinnati, he made it 24 straight by throwing the second no-hitter of his career, and the second in his past 11 regular season starts.
Arrieta’s quality start streak—as well as his run of 52 2/3 scoreless innings at Wrigley Field, the second longest home scoreless streak since 1900—came to an end in his next outing, but the Cubs’ 16–0 victory in his no-hitter was indicative of more than just his excellence. Chicago got off to a tremendous start, going 47–20 through June 19, a 114-win pace. The Cubs have cooled off since then, but their +155 run differential entering Tuesday’s action is the highest by any team through its first 82 games since the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 games.
Arrieta’s no-hitter remains the only one of the 2016 season, though three other pitchers—Ross Stripling, Adam Conley and Stephen Strasburg—have taken no-hitters deep into games but were removed before allowing a hit. Stripling threw 7 1/3 hitless innings in his major league debut for the Dodgers on April 8 but was removed after his 100th pitch. Conley threw 7 2/3 hitless innings for the Marlins on April 29, then got the hook after his 116th pitch, by far the most in the 25-year-old lefty’s career. And on Sunday, Strasburg threw 6 2/3 hitless innings in his first start after returning from the disabled list but used up 109 pitches over that span.
May 11: Max Scherzer strikes out 20 Tigers
Scherzer, who was the last man to throw a no-hitter before Arrieta as well as the last to throw his second career no-hitter, has struggled with the long ball this season and hasn't turned in the kind of historically dominant outings that he made his signature last year. That hasn’t stopped him from making history, however. The Nationals' ace and former Cy Young winner became just the fourth man in major league history to strike out 20 men in a nine-inning game, joining Roger Clemens (who set the record in 1986 and tied it in '96), Kerry Wood ('98) and Randy Johnson (2001). Perhaps even sweeter for Scherzer, he did it against his former team, the Tigers.
May 14: David Ortiz ties, wins game amid remarkable final season
Last November, veteran Red Sox designated hitter Ortiz announced that the 2016 season would be his last. All he has done since then is turn in one of the greatest final seasons in major league history: He leads the majors in on-base percentage (.433), slugging (.679), OPS (1.112) and OPS+ (186).
Ortiz has been central to the Red Sox' major league-leading offense, and never was that more evident than at Fenway Park on the afternoon of May 14. With Boston trailing the Astros, 5–4, with two outs and a man on first in the ninth, he hit his first triple since 2013 to tie the game. Then, in the bottom of the 11th, Ortiz came to bat with two outs and a man on second. On a 2-2 pitch, Ortiz ripped a game-winning double to dead centerfield. The hit was the 20th walk-off RBI of his career, tied for the third most in the divisional era per the Elias Sports Bureau—and that doesn’t count his numerous postseason walk-off hits.
Incidentally, the player who scored the tying run in the ninth was centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who earlier that day had pushed his hitting streak to 20. Ultimately, Bradley would reach 29 consecutive games with a hit—the longest in the majors this season—before it came to an end on May 29. After Ortiz, the 26-year-old Bradley has been Boston’s best hitter this season (.294/.381/.546 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs entering play on Tuesday), and his breakout first half has been yet another reason that the Red Sox have boasted baseball’s most potent lineup.
May 15: Rangers, Blue Jays brawl as Rougned Odor punches Jose Bautista
Baseball has gotten its share of negative attention this season, led by multiple high-profile suspensions for domestic violence and performance-enhancing drug violations. On the field, however, the game's ugliest moment came in the May 15 game between the Blue Jays and Rangers in Arlington. The long-festering tensions resulting from Game 5 of last year’s heated Division Series boiled over when reliever and former No.1 overall pick Matt Bush hit Toronto slugger Jose Bautista with his first pitch of the eighth inning. Bautista took that as response to his famous bat flip on Game 5's series-winning home run and, on a subsequent groundout, retaliated with a takeout slide on Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor. That led to a physical confrontation between Bautista and Odor in which the latter cold-cocked the former with a roundhouse right, igniting the rare baseball brawl that involved actual fighting. It was an ugly, shameful scene, which SI.com’s Jon Tayler summarized best with his reaction:
"A brawl like Sunday’s didn't need to happen, but it was practically preordained from the moment Bautista hit his home run six months ago. Grown men couldn’t keep their emotions in check over one man celebrating arguably the greatest moment of his entire life, and here we are half a year later seeing the repercussions of that. There’s no excusing Bautista for his slide or Odor for his punch. But to be surprised that they happened misses the reality that they were inevitable in a sport where playing the game 'the right way' somehow became so important.”
As if to prove Jon’s point, on June 7, the Royals’ Yordano Ventura and the Orioles’ Manny Machado got in another high-profile on-field brawl. That fight appeared to stem from the combination of Ventura taking offense to something almost imperceptible Machado did in the process of flying out to leftfield and of Machado proving unable to place his value to his team over his need to defend his threatened manhood when the righty plunked him in his next at-bat.
June 15: Ichiro Suzuki passes Pete Rose in combined career hits
It may not be an official record of any kind, but Ichiro Suzuki nonetheless drew headlines with an otherwise forgettable double off the Padres’ Fernando Rodney in San Diego on June 15. That hit was the 2,979th of Suzuki’s major league career and his 4,257th as a professional (he compiled 1,278 hits in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball), one more than Pete Rose’s major league total of 4,256 hits. Rose remains MLB's career record holder and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, but Suzuki’s career is both unique and remarkable, and his 4,257th hit was an occasion to celebrate that. It should also be noted that Suzuki, at age-42, is enjoying his best season in years, batting .34 with a .413 on-base percentage in part-time duty.
May 27–June 17: Michael Fulmer records longest scoreless streak by a rookie starter since Fernando Valenzuela
The first half of the 2016 season saw the major league debuts of some of the game’s top pitching prospects, including the Nationals' Lucas Giolito, the Pirates' James Taillon and the Dodgers' Julio Urias, among others, but none has been as effective as Fulmer. The No. 44 pick in the 2011 draft, Fulmer was acquired by the Tigers from the Mets in last July’s Yoenis Cespedes trade, and he impressed in his major league debut on April 29. After struggling for a few starts, the 23-year-old righty struck out 11 Rays over seven innings in a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay on May 21. The lone run Fulmer allowed in that game came on a solo home run by Evan Longoria; he wouldn’t allow another homer until giving up one to the Royals' Salvador Perez on June 17.
In between, Fulmer threw 33 1/3 scoreless innings, the most by a rookie starting pitcher since the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela caused a mania in Los Angeles with 35 consecutive scoreless innings for the Dodgers in 1981. Fulmer has allowed just one more run since then and has now given up only three runs in his last eight starts, posting a 0.53 ERA over that span. The last pitcher to string together more starts with one or fewer runs allowed, regardless of the number of innings pitched in each start, was Bob Gibson, who had 11 such starts in 1968.
June 30: Madison Bumgarner hits in AL park, doubles in first at-bat
#PitchersWhoRake has been a hot topic this season, with many hurlers lobbying for participation in the Home Run Derby (or creating their own). Among the most vocal proponents of that has been the Giants' ace, and while he won't get his wish, at least not this year, Bumgarner did get to make history on June 30, when San Francisco became the first team to intentionally forgo the use of the designated hitter in an American League park since the White Sox in 1976. With the Giants' lineup hit hard by injuries, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to see Bumgarner’s bat as the best available option for manager Bruce Bochy, and he cashed in his manager’s gamble by leading off the second inning with a double off rookie lefty Dillon Overton that ignited a six-run inning. Bumgarner went 0 for 3 thereafter, but the point was proven. Oh, he also pitched into the seventh inning and San Francisco won, 12–4.
Another #PitchersWhoRake highlight came on May 7, when Bartolo Colon hit his first career home run less than a month shy of his 43rd birthday, becoming the oldest player ever to hit his first major league dinger.
July 1: Indians’ franchise-record win streak peaks with 19-inning game
From June 17 to July 1, the Cleveland Indians not set a 2016 high by winning 14 straight games, they also established the longest winning streak in the 116-year history of the franchise. Cleveland swept three-game series from the White Sox, Rays, Tigers and Braves and then took the first two games of a weekend set against in Toronto. The win that broke the team record came on July 1 in a 19-inning marathon, the longest MLB game this season. The heroes of the game for the Indians were Trevor Bauer, who worked five scoreless innings of relief to pick up the win, and Carlos Santana, who ripped a solo homer off Blue Jays infielder Darwin Barney in the top of the 19th inning for a 2-1 victory.
July 3: The Fort Bragg Game
There wasn’t anything exceptional that happened on the field in the Marlins' 5–3 win over the Braves on Sunday; what was exceptional was the field on which it happened. For the first time ever, a professional sporting event took place on an active U.S. military base, as Miami and Atlanta faced off in front of 12,581 members of the military and their family and friends at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, the largest (by population) military base in the world. The game took place on a new field, paid for by MLB and the player’s union and constructed on the site of an old, overgrown golf course that will now be converted into a multi-use sports facility for the residents of the base, who have lost many of their athletic facilities to the need to construct additional barracks.
As much appreciation and respect as I have for the men and women in our armed forces, I’m often cynical about MLB’s habit of draping itself in the flag (or camo) in ways that don’t necessarily correspond to the intent of the holiday being celebrated. This was different: This was MLB going out of its way to bring the sport to our enlisted men and women in a way that benefited them and them alone, with the tickets being made available only to active-duty personnel, disabled veterans and their families. MLB, the Braves and the Marlins could have made more money by holding the game in Atlanta or Miami or any other, larger facility with tickets available to the general public, but this was not mere flag-waving. This was a genuine act of generosity that not only paid tribute to the troops, but also put them and their families front and center as something more than uniformed tokens.
The field at Fort Bragg didn’t necessarily look like it was on a military base, but knowing that the crowd was made up of military members or their loved ones was a strong reminder of the humanity of our military families, and it was far more powerful than any on-field ceremony in any of MLB's 30 parks could have been.