1. Last time on The Strike Zone . . .
Adam Dunn's walkoff homer was one of a few exciting finishes that the Fourth of July offered this year. [AP]
When we left off Thursday afternoon, the Mets and Diamondbacks were tied 2-2 in the 12th inning thanks in part to Gerardo Parra's bunt double. Not do be outdone by Arizona's grittiness, the Mets proceeded to answer Diamondbacks runs with game-tying solo home runs in the bottom of the 13th and 14th innings by Anthony Recker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the former coming with the Diamondbacks just two strikes from victory.
Parra would not be denied his role as the day's hero, however. His two out single in the top of the fifteenth ignited a rally that saw him come around to score what would be the game-winning run on subsequent singles by Wil Nieves and Cliff Pennington. Brad Ziegler got the save, getting both Recker and Nieuwenhuis to ground out in the bottom of the 15th, the latter for the final out after five-hours and 46 minutes of play on a sweltering afternoon in Queens. Diamondbacks fans were not the only ones happy to see that final out. Mets fans at Citi Field had been lined up to run the bases after the game since the eighth inning.
2. Fourth of July Fireworks.
That Mets-Diamondbacks contest wasn't the only one with dramatic lead changes on Thursday. The day ended with the Angels rallying against Adam Wainwright and Edward Mujica to turn a 5-3 deficit into a 6-5 win in the ninth inning of the day's final game, the key blows there being Josh Hamilton's game-tying home run on Mujica's second pitch and Erick Aybar's two-out walkoff single, which plated Howie Kendrick with the winning run. The White Sox beat the Orioles 3-2 on a walkoff solo homer by Adam Dunn in the bottom of the ninth. In Atlanta, the Marlins picked up a win in their final at-bat, breaking a 3-3 tie in the top of the ninth against Craig Kimbrel when Donovan Solano delivered a two-out pinch-hit single to drive home Ed Lucas.
Then there were the other see-saw affairs. In Houston, Brett Wallace hit game-tying home runs in the bottom of the fourth and eighth innings, the latter a three-run shot off Rays set-up man Joel Peralta that sent the game into extra innings. The Rays eventually scored two in the top of the 11th for the win.
Finally, in Kansas City, the Royals rallied to erase a 5-0 deficit in the bottom of the sixth on a grand slam by Lorenzo Cain that drove Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez from the game and a solo shot by George Kottaras on reliever Cody Allen's second pitch. The Indians answered with two more runs, which the Royals promptly erased in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run Eric Hosmer home run off Joe Smith, his seventh bomb in 12 games. The Royals then took their first lead of the game in the bottom of the eighth on a two-run, bases-loaded double by Salvador Perez off Bryan Shaw. Greg Holland eventually slammed the door on the 10-7 Royals win.
3. Hamilton finally hot?
Albert Pujols managed just a single and a walk in 12 plate appearances against his former team this week, but Josh Hamilton made sure Albert's single in his final at-bat on Thursday counted. Hamilton followed Pujols's hit with a game-tying home run off Cardinals closer Edward Mujica, who blew his first save of the season. That home run set up the Angels' game-winning rally against Mujica. It also extended Hamilton's personal hitting streak to nine games, over which he has hit an even .400/.500/.600.
Hamilton isn't tearing the cover off the ball just yet, that home run was his first since June 17, but that little streak may be the sign of life Angels fans have been looking for from Hamilton all season. Most encouragingly, he seems to be seeing the ball well. His six unintentional walks over that nine-game span account for a quarter of his season total. If Hamilton is finally finding himself at the plate, he's doing it at the right time. The Angels are 8-1 over the length of his current streak and 14-3 over their last 17.
4. Strong Starts.
While there were no monster performances by Thursday's starters, there was also no shortage of strong starts. Jose Quintana turned in his strongest start of the season, and the best of the day, dominating the Orioles over seven scoreless innings on two singles and a walk while striking out 11. Dan Straily, called up by the A's to make a spot start in place of Jarrod Parker, who is nursing a sore hamstring, held the Cubs to a single and three walks over seven scoreless innings while striking out six, a performance which should keep Straily in the A's rotation going forward. Meanwhile, disappointing aces Justin Verlander and Cole Hamels both turned in their third-best starts of the season, per game score. Verlander held the Blue Jays scoreless on three singles and a pair of walks for seven innings in the Tigers 11-1 victory in Toronto, while Hamels held the Pirates to two runs, one earned, while walking no one and striking out eight to pick up what was just his third win of the season in a 6-4 Phillies win.
5. The Four-Pop Pop-Out.
Never mind four stars, Twins first baseman Chris Parmelee made a running catch on a foul pop into the stands by newest Yankee Luis Cruiz in the seventh inning on Thursday afternoon that was so good that he got four pops, that is, he took out four sodas on his dive into the stands, ripping two cup-holders off the retaining wall at Target Field while knocking two other drinks out of the holders. Okay, maybe one was a beer and one was an empty cup, but I'm counting it anyway.
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