2016 Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

With stout pitching, a confident batch of young hitters and a magnetic manager, it finally all comes together for the Cubs, who shred baseball’s longest-ever championship drought.

The ground ball, meekly hit,
came rolling into Kris Bryant’s range. Normally a fielder in his shoes would exert the look of a serious competitor, focused and intense as if his life depended on every play he made. But there was something different this time. Even before Bryant gloved the grounder, even as he knew that he had a fast runner flying down the first base line to throw out, a smile came upon his face. The grin only widened as he threw toward first. Bryant knew, as his throw took flight, that one of baseball’s most exciting Game Sevens, a roller coaster of a World Series and 108 years of excruciating yet celebrated frustration were about to come to an end. The billy goat, the black cat and Steve Bartman were not going to stop it this time.

 

And when the throw was complete, the Chicago Cubs were, at long, long last, back on top.

The Cubs’ coming out party, over a century in the making, was not going to be missed by anyone. When the championship was celebrated days later in a parade that wound up at Grant Park, a massive gathering of five million—said to be the seventh largest for a single event in human history—showed up. Cubs manager Joe Maddon lovingly referred to as “Cubstock 2016.”

All of this would have seemed so inconceivable just a few years earlier, with the franchise performing a convincing impression of a sinking ship after a fleeting run of success in the late 2000s (two division titles, zero playoff wins). Everything seemed to be headed in reverse, from burned out veterans to empty pitching to repeated mental lapses by shortstop Starlin Castro; even nostalgic ol’ Wrigley Field was starting to lose the rustic love, as venerable sportswriter Peter Gammons led a growing movement of dissent by referring to it as a “dump.”

After the 2011 season, owner Tom Ricketts brought in Theo Epstein, the young general manager who helped break the Boston Red Sox’ seemingly eternal championship drought in 2004, and whose grandfather and grand-uncle had penned the script for Casablanca. Play it again, Theo, Ricketts requested.

A studious and considerate man who embraced teamwork and the melding of old-school scouting and modern-day analytics, Epstein went to work. Early in 2012, he got input from nearly 200 team officials and coaches during spring training to develop a massive manual entitled “The Cubs’ Way,” which he described as a “living, breathing thing” that would set a positive future for the franchise. It was nothing different than what other teams, most notably the Orioles and Cardinals, had done in the past. But the Cubs’ Way went beyond a synchronicity of practice regimens at all organizational levels, as it also set out to valuably redefine the Cubs’ attitude as more personable and less combative—elements that Epstein could not achieve either in the clubhouse or front office during a chaotic, fractured final year as Boston’s GM.

On the field, Epstein and the Cubs reset the roster like a homeowner performing spring cleaning on a cluttered garage full of old, useless items. The Cubs bottomed out in 2012 with 101 losses and, with nowhere to go but up, gradually improved over the next two seasons. An army of highly lauded prospects lay in wait across the minors, while some current Cubbies were already starting to show signs of a strong future; first baseman Anthony Rizzo, dealt from San Diego for strong-armed pitcher Andrew Cashner, gave the team youthful power and on-base efficiency, while pitcher Jake Arrieta, mistaught in Baltimore, was rescued by the Cubs and quickly reborn as an ace-caliber thrower.

The baby steps toward glory became a giant leap in 2015 as every move Epstein and Ricketts made seemingly turned to gold. As the Cubs finally embarked on a massive makeover of Wrigley, they signed Jon Lester to form a double-barreled tandem with Arrieta at the top of the rotation, saw the homegrown debuts of third base wunderkind Kris Bryant, adroit infielder Addison Russell and, least expected of all, catcher-outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who seemed to possess a little Hack Wilson within him in terms of build and strength.

Maddon knew the burden of expectations might be overbearing on his Cubs players, so he gave them a simple, not-so-daunting piece of advice: “Try not to suck.”But the Cubs’ biggest move may have been the snatching from Tampa Bay of Joe Maddon, the charismatic manager who brought his eccentric energy to the clubhouse by inviting magicians, zoo animals and mimes while encouraging players to dress up for air travel in superhero costumes, pajamas, or whatever the theme of the day was. A less successful manager may have been laughed at for such efforts, but Maddon was able to get away with it because he had the personality and the wins to back him up. He did it in Tampa Bay with the low-budget Rays, and he did it in 2015 with the Cubs—catapulting the team to 97 wins and the NLCS before bowing to a more experienced New York Mets side.

The Cubs were almost everyone’s favorite to win it all in 2016, and for good reason. Beyond the expected maturation of their young stars, the Cubs scored huge on the free agent market, stealing outfielder Jason Heyward and veteran pitcher John Lackey from the rival St. Louis Cardinals while bringing in versatile Ben Zobrist, fresh off collecting a World Series ring in Kansas City. Maddon knew the burden of expectations might be overbearing on his players, so he gave them a simple, not-so-daunting piece of advice: “Try not to suck.” The phrase became an instant hit on the T-shirt circuit.

The Cubs shot out of the gate like few teams in baseball memory, even after losing Kyle Schwarber for the regular season after tearing up his knee in a collision with fellow outfielder Dexter Fowler during the season’s first week. Arrieta threw what would turn out to be the majors’ only no-hitter of the year on April 21 at Cincinnati, and after 30 games—24 of which the Cubs had won—Chicago had already racked up a run differential of +100; only three other teams would reach that figure for the entire season. Epstein’s 2012 manual laid the groundwork for a juggernaut; a day didn’t seem to go by where the Cubs or Arrieta (riding numerous types of winning streaks) were establishing some sort of mark or achievement, some last accomplished over a century earlier—usually by the Cubs’ own last dynasty of the late 1900s. Maddon nurtured the team’s positive vibe with his bag of tricks, and it seemed every Cub was getting his day in the sun; even back-up catcher David Ross, a likeable clubhouse presence playing his final campaign at age 39, somehow achieved cult celebrity status. Cubs fans, well represented at visiting ballparks even in less heady times, came out in drovesThe Cubs averaged 35,000 fans on the road, easily the majors’ best; only three times did they play before a crowd of less than 20,000. and made the team feel at home no matter where they played.

Mortality set in at the start of summer when the Cubs struggled through a run of 15 losses over 20 games, but they never lost their firm grip on the NL Central lead as expected contenders St. Louis and Pittsburgh simply lacked the horses (to say nothing of bravado) to match them. A divisional title was nice and all, but this Cubs team knew, with all its talent and momentum, that anything less than a world title would be a major disappointment. To that end, the team’s two remaining weaknesses were shored up at midseason. One vanished at the catcher spot with the arrival of #1 team prospect Willson Contreras, who quickly became imbued with the Cubs’ winning spirit by drilling the very first pitch he saw over the outfield wall; the other came at the closer spot, where an okay Hector Rendon was demoted in favor of supersonic All-Star reliever Aroldis Chapman, dealt from the New York Yankees with crossed fingers after he spent the season’s first month suspended for an offseason domestic violence incident.

With everyone now in tow, the Cubs regained their dominant footing. They won 11 straight games to begin August and sailed to the finish line, winning 103 contests—again blowing dust off the team record book with monthly and yearly totals not seen in generations. Everybody clicked. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo ran neck-and-neck in the NL MVP race with the same batting average (.292), on-base percentage (.385) and a slight variance in slugging percentage (Bryant’s .554 to Rizzo’s .544). On the mound, Arrieta dropped in 18 wins (against eight losses), Jon Lester tipped him with a 19-5 record and 2.44 earned run average, and right-hander Kyle Hendricks beat them both in the ERA race (a major league-leading 2.13 figure) with a confounding change of speeds that brought comparisons to Greg Maddux. There to finish it all was Chapman and his 100+ MPH heater, saving 16 games in 18 attempts with a sparkling 1.01 ERA.

A year after their 2015 postseason baptism, the Cubs felt more experienced and ready to run deep through October. But it wouldn’t be easy. The NLDS saw competition from the San Francisco Giants, out to nab their fourth straight even-year world title, but also crippled by an unstable bullpen. Sure enough, the Giants had the Cubs on the ropes, three runs up and three outs away from a winner-take-all Game Five back in Chicago when the Cubs rallied for four runs off five clueless San Francisco relievers to ensure a 3-1 series victory. In the NLCS to follow against the NL West-winning Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cubs started with an exciting 8-4 Game One victory (earned on Miguel Montero’s pinch-hit grand slam in the eighth) before getting shut out over the next two games. That slumber would be short-lived; the offense burst out of its REM with rapid bat movement, blasting its way to 10-2 and 8-4 romps in, respectively, Games Four and Five. Not even Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw, back to full strength and the top of his game following a midseason back injury, could stop the Cubs in Game Six, as he was rocked for five runs in five innings. Kyle Hendricks countered with 7.1 effortless shutout innings to give the Cubs a 5-0 win, the NLCS victory and their first National League pennant in 71 years.

But the bigger number, 108, still faced the Cubs. To keep it from growing to 109, they had to face off in the World Series against the team with the second longest championship drought: The Cleveland Indians.

Besides not winning it all for a long time, the Indians had something else in common with the Cubs; seeing the fruits of a rebuild through a former Red Sox employee. Where the Cubs had Theo Epstein, the Indians had manager Terry Francona, who bolted Boston at the same time and found relative peace at the lap of the Great Lakes. Too peaceful, perhaps; despite bringing the Tribe back to respectability under his wing, Francona still presided over something of a non-existent existence in Cleveland, with a roster few outside of town recognized, except maybe designated hitter Carlos Santana—a likely case of mistaken identity for tourists checking out the plaque of the other Carlos Santana at the nearby Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They certainly weren’t in Cleveland to visit Progressive Field—and neither were the locals. For four years running, the Indians had the lowest gate for any major league team not named the Tampa Bay Rays or Miami Marlins.

The prognosis for 2016 looked even less promising for Cleveland. Outfielder Michael Brantley, the team’s best hitter over the previous two seasons, was struggling to get back to game-ready speed with a persistent shoulder injury. Fellow outfielder Abraham Almonte, slotted in as an Opening Day starter, received an 80-game PED ban in spring training. Filling in for Almonte was veteran Marlon Byrd, who played well until he, too, got nabbed by the steroid police; because it was his second positive test, he got banished for 162 games.

From those early speed bumps, the Indians managed to stay barely above .500 for the season’s first two months in a division that no one else—including the defending champion Kansas City Royals—seemed interested in running away with. By mid-June, somebody finally did—and it was the Indians, launching themselves on a franchise-record 14 straight wins to take a healthy lead in the AL Central for which they would never relinquish. When they nearly did give it up, with a slim two-game lead in early August, they quickly grew it back thanks to a key acquisition. Just as the Cubs had taken from the Yankees by trading for closer Aroldis Chapman, so did the Indians—netting from the Bronx left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, a guy almost too good not to be a closer, yet apparently content to presently wear the tag as, arguably, the majors’ premier set-up man. Miller’s presence was a godsend for an already decent Cleveland bullpen, and it was easy to see why; in two months of regular season work setting up Indians closer Cody Allen, Miller allowed only 14 hits in 29 innings of work while striking out 46 for a 4-0 record and 1.55 ERA.

The Indians’ relatively starless lineup delivered. Nomadic slugger Mike Napoli hit .239 but set career highs with 34 home runs and 101 RBIs; Santana matched him in homers (also setting a personal best), and the youth contributed with sophomore shortstop Francisco Lindor (.301 average, 99 runs, 19 steals at age 22) and third baseman Jose Ramirez, who jumped his average nearly 100 points from the year before to a nifty .312 while leading the team with 46 doubles at age 23. On the mound, a solid rotation was gilded by ace Corey Kluber, who “rebounded” from a misleading 9-16 record in 2015 to finish 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA, a sparkling effort almost every bit as goodKluber finished third in the 2016 Cy vote, behind Boston’s Rick Porcello and Detroit’s Justin Verlander. as his 2014 Cy Young Award-winning numbers. The Indians hit well, powered well, ran well and pitched well; they also won it mattered the most, recording a 28-9 record against their two biggest foes (Detroit and Kansas City) in the AL Central.

Cleveland reliever Andrew Miller walks off to the cheers of home fans after a successful inning on the mound; he had very few that were unsuccessful.

Cleveland faced a major challenge as it entered the postseason: How to juggle a rotation suddenly broken into pieces. Danny Salazar wasn’t available as he struggled with elbow inflammation, Carlos Carrasco suffered a fractured pinky in September and, after one October start, Trevor Bauer sliced up his own pinky from, of all things, repairing a drone at home. In facing two of the majors’ most feared lineups—the AL East-winning Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, and the wild card-surviving Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS—the healthy remnants rose to the occasion, best underscored when little-used, long-haired Ryan Merritt fired 4.1 scoreless innings to start the Game Six ALCS clincher at Toronto. But the Tribe’s bullpen grabbed the headlines; super-set-up man Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen combined to throw 19.1 scoreless innings while racking up 33 strikeouts over the two series.

As amazing and unexpected as the Indians’ run through the AL playoffs was, the Chicago Cubs clearly prevailed as the talk of baseball—and the talk of the country in general—as the World Series ramped up for its first pitch.

The second fiddle was ready to crash the spotlight and play the lead.

Corey Kluber and Jake Arrieta played dueling aces to start the series at Cleveland. In Game One, Kluber fired six shutout innings—naturally, Miller and Allen finished off the shutout, a 6-0 whitewashing—before Arrieta responded in kind by taking a no-hitter into the sixth of an eventual 5-1 Game Two win. As the series moved to Wrigley Field for the next three games, the Cubs felt enough momentum to ensure a lively party atmosphere drenched in celebrity, from Bill Murray to Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder to former Supreme Court justice George Stevens—who, at 95 years of age, out-bragged all the living witnesses to the Cubs’ last Fall Classic appearance in 1945 by stating, hey, I also was there in 1929. But Cleveland sucked the air out of the festive balloon and knocked the Cubs against the ropes by taking Games Three and Four—the former on a 1-0 shutoutThe 1-0 Game Three win was the Indians’ fifth shutout, setting an all-time record for one postseason., the latter on an easy 7-2 victory as Kluber dialed in six more strong innings on three days’ rest. That old sinking feeling set in on Cubs fandom once again; maybe this ballclub just wasn’t cut out to win anything ever again.

The Cubs avoided elimination in Game Five with a 3-2 squeaker as Joe Maddon, feeling good about his own bullpen, leaned on Aroldis Chapman to secure the final eight outs—which he did, albeit on a career-high 42 pitches.

Back in Cleveland for what the Cubs hoped would be two more games and two more victories, they conquered half the battle as Addison Russell knocked in six runs—four on a third-inning grand slam—in the first three innings to easily lift Chicago in Game Six, 9-3. But a head-scratching moment occurred in the seventh when Maddon, despite a five-run lead, called on Chapman to deliver another extensive save. Pundits were puzzled, Cubs fans were aghast, tweeting variations of “Save him for tomorrow!” Maddon himself relentedMaddon defended his decision to use Chapman in Game Six because he wanted him to face the Indians’ best hitters at a clutch moment and guarantee the win; Chapman would later say he wasn’t happy with the decision., taking Chapman out after an inning and a third of work covering 20 more pitches. Now the question became: Would Chapman, if needed for a seventh game, have anything left?

Nobody was going to miss this Game Seven. It would attract the largest TV audience for a baseball game in 25 years; even the boob tube wouldn’t be enough for Cubs fans, who swarmed third-party ticket reseller StubHub, trekked to Cleveland and made up a good chunk of the Progressive Field crowd.

It would be a game that greatly lived up to its billing.

Kluber pitched again on three days’ rest—but this time, on fumes—as the Cubs rang up four runs on him through the first four innings; Andrew Miller relieved him but he, too, was out of gas and conceded a pair of runs—the last on a solo home run to the ageless David Ross, the final hit of his career. Chicago held a 6-3 lead into the eighth as Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester (in a rare, and long, relief outing), adequately held down the Indians—and that’s when Maddon opted once more for Chapman, this time to nail down the final four outs. Chapman, his exhausted arm no longer able to raise his fastball over 100 MPH, got the outs—but not without giving up the lead when the first batter he faced, the Indians’ Rajai Davis, laced a liner toward the left-field foul pole that barely cleared the tall wall for a three-run, game-tying home run. Chapman pitched on and survived the ninth, but so did the Indians—and the game headed into overtime tied at 6-6.

That’s when the rains come. A lonely cell of precipitation sent the grounds crews scurrying out to cover the field. It cooled off the frenzy of the previous nine innings, like a commercial break interrupting an exciting Indiana Jones movie. About the only people happy with the delay were the Cubs, still reeling from the Davis homer; this was their chance to take a deep breath and regroup under the rafters.

While the Indians took bathroom breaks and minded their own business in the clubhouse, Chicago outfielder Jason Heyward cramped all of his teammates into the visitors’ weight room. His speech that followed contained a little bit of love, perspective, and invigoration—the sum total of which added up to one big kick in the butt for the Cubs’ spirits. It was unexpected spark and arguably the biggest contribution from a guy who began an eight-year, $184 million contract by hitting a lifeless .230 in the regular season and a near-DOA .104 mark during the playoffs.

Mentally rebooted, the Cubs retook the field as the rain departed and tarps rolled back up. Kyle Schwarber, his knee repaired and his bat still sharp after a six-month layoff, led off with a single—his third of the night—through the Cleveland shift into right. Powerful but hardly fast, Schwarber was pinch-run by Albert Almora Jr., who astutely reached second on Kris Bryant’s deep fly out to the center-field wall. After an intentional pass to Anthony Rizzo to load the bags, Ben Zobrist—a part of Kansas City’s extra-inning outburst to win the World Series a year earlier—did his best to repeat history by poking a liner the opposite way down the left-field line to score Almora Jr. After another free pass, Miguel Montero punched one through the hole to score Rizzo and make it 8-6.

The Indians desperately tried to counter in the bottom of the tenth, but could only get halfway there. Rajai Davis returned to the plate and knocked in a run off Chapman replacement Carl Edwards Jr. But with two outs, lefty Mike Montgomery, subbing for Edwards, induced the final grounder from Michael Martinez—the last available Cleveland hitter, with a career .197 average—toward a smiling Kris Bryant. And with that, for the first time since 1908, when the Model T was introduced, Teddy Roosevelt was president and before Arizona and New Mexico were even states, the Cubs were world champions.

There were many heroes on the Chicago side. Zobrist won series MVP honors with ten hits. Rizzo added nine hits—four of them for extra bases—and four walks. Schwarber hit .412 (7-for-17). Arrieta picked up two wins. And there was Maddon’s managing, and Heyward’s rally speech. But in turn, they all toasted Theo Epstein, the Curse Whisperer. The man who rebuilt the Cubs from shame to fame now fielded a resume few previously dared to even dream: Destroyer of Boston’s Curse of the Babe and, now, destroyer of Chicago’s Billy Goat Curse. What next?

Maybe the Cleveland Indians, now fielding the longest World Series drought, could give him a ring.


2015 baseball historyForward to 2015: A Royal Silencing of the Doubters The Kansas City Royals, perplexed over a lack of respect, get mad and even by proving the prognosticators wrong with a well-deserved world title.


2010s baseball historyThe 2010s Page: A Call to Arms Stronger and faster than ever, major league pitchers restore the balance and then some—yet despite the decline in offense and rise in strikeouts, baseball continues to bring home the bacon through its lucrative online and regional network engagements.


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2016 Standings

National League East
Washington Nationals
95
67
.586
---
New York Mets (w)
87
75
.537
8
Miami Marlins
79
82
.491
15.5
Philadelphia Phillies
71
91
.438
24
Atlanta Braves
68
93
.422
26.5
National League Central
Chicago Cubs
103
58
.640
---
St. Louis Cardinals
86
76
.531
17.5
Pittsburgh Pirates
78
83
.484
25
Milwaukee Brewers
73
89
.451
30.5
Cincinnati Reds
68
94
.420
35.5
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers
91
71
.562
---
San Francisco Giants (w)
87
75
.537
4
Colorado Rockies
75
87
.463
16
Arizona Diamondbacks
69
93
.426
22
San Diego Padres
68
94
.420
23
American League East
Boston Red Sox
93
69
.574
---
Toronto Blue Jays (w)
89
73
.549
4
Baltimore Orioles (w)
89
73
.549
4
New York Yankees
84
78
.519
9
Tampa Bay Rays
68
94
.420
25
American League Central
Cleveland Indians
94
67
.584
---
Detroit Tigers
86
75
.534
8
Kansas City Royals
81
81
.500
13.5
Chicago White Sox
78
84
.481
16.5
Minnesota Twins
59
103
.364
35.5
American League West
Texas Rangers
95
67
.586
---
Seattle Mariners
86
76
.531
9
Houston Astros
84
78
.519
11
L.A. Angels of Anaheim
74
88
.457
21
Oakland A's
69
93
.426
26

2016 Postseason Results
NL Wild Card San Francisco defeated New York.
AL Wild Card Toronto defeated Baltimore.
NLDS Los Angeles defeated Washington, 3-2.
NLDS Chicago defeated San Francisco, 3-1.
ALDS Toronto defeated Texas, 3-0.
ALDS Cleveland defeated Boston, 3-0.
NLCS Chicago defeated Los Angeles, 4-2.
ALCS Cleveland defeated Toronto, 4-1.
World Series Chicago (NL) defeated Cleveland (AL), 4-3.


It Happened in 2016

The Death of Jose Fernandez
The baseball news awakens to tragic news on September 25 when it’s learned that flamboyant young Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez is killed in a boating accident along with two others near Miami Harbor. The boat, owned by Fernandez and named “Kaught Looking,” strikes a jetty near the harbor at high speed and overturns, with all three on board jettisoned upon impact. The 24-year-old Fernandez had been lobbied beforehand by teammate Marcell Ozuna—who was invited to come along for the ride—not to go out. It will be later determined that Fernandez had traces of cocaine in his system and a blood alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit. Upon hearing news of his death, the Marlins cancel a scheduled home game against Atlanta, never to be made up.

Highly popular among fans and teammates, the Cuban-born Fernandez had extended an unprecedented run early in the year by going 17-0 through his first 27 career starts at home; over four seasons, he was 38-17 with a 2.58 earned run average and 589 strikeouts over 471.1 innings.

Get Lost, A-Rod
The New York Yankees, upset with Alex Rodriguez since admitting in 2009 to past steroid use—and really upset after it was discovered that he went back on the juice just a year later—finally purge the controversial star in early August as his effectiveness as a hitter plunges at age 41, hitting just .200 in limited play with nine home runs. Rodriguez’s 22-year career ends just four home runs shy of the magical 700 mark. He will be paid the remainder of his prodigious contract through 2017, tutoring the Yankees’ up-and-coming players in Florida.

Here Come the New New York Yankees
Just a day after Rodriguez’s last game on August 13, a pair of Yankees making their major league debuts earns entry into the record book. Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge belt back-to-back home runs in each of their first big league at-bats, the first time that’s even been accomplished, in the Yankees’ 8-4 win over Tampa Bay at New York.

A Spine Mess
Another recent slugger is also forced out of the game, but in this case it’s stubborn neck injuries that lead to the August 10 retirement of Prince Fielder from the Texas Rangers. “Doctors told me that with two spinal fusions, I can’t play major league baseball anymore,” the 32-year-old Fielder tearfully tells reporters. The six-time All-Star ends his career with 319 home runs—a total exactly matching that of his father, Cecil Fielder.

Caught, Cardinal Red-Handed
In the first discipline of its kind within baseball, former St. Louis Cardinals executive Chris Correa receives a 46-month prison term and a $279,000 fine for hacking into the Houston Astros’ scouting database five times between 2013 and 2014. Correa was surreptitiously trying to find out if Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who previously worked in the Cardinals’ front office, had taken sensitive information with him to his new job in Houston.

Pull Up a Retirement Chair…
Vin Scully, whose tenure with the Dodgers stretches back to a time when the team still played in Brooklyn, enjoys his 67th and final year in the broadcast booth before stepping down at age 88. Though his schedule had been curtailed in recent years—for 2016, he only works home games and road games within California—Scully remains as sharp as ever, telling wonderful stories and working without a partner on air for all nine innings. His final broadcast occurs in the Dodgers’ October 2 regular season finale in San Francisco, as he declines to work any postseason games even as the Dodgers advance to the NLCS.

Pulled from Glory
In a year when the total number of complete games by individual pitchers falls below 100 for the first time ever, three major bids for a no-hitter are ended not because of an opponent’s hit, bad weather or injury—but because the pitchers are pulled by their managers. On April 8, the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling—making his major league debut—is removed after 7.1 innings and 100 pitches; just three weeks later, the Marlins’ Adam Conley is only four outs away from a no-no against Milwaukee when he’s taken out after 116 pitches. But the real head scratcher takes place on September 10 at Miami when the Dodgers’ Rich Hill, after seven innings of perfection, is pulled despite having just thrown 89 pitches by the same manager who removed Stripling, rookie pilot Dave Roberts. The Stripling and Conley efforts are the two longest stints by a pitcher leaving a game with a no-hitter intact; Hill’s is the longest with a perfect game still on the line.

Hands off the Ladies
Major League Baseball affirms its get-tough policy on players who double as domestic abusers off the field. Top closer Aroldis Chapman, starting the year with the Yankees, is suspended for the season’s first month after an offseason incident involving his girlfriend; Colorado shortstop Jose Reyes is docked with a two-month penalty—and will ultimately be released by the Rockies despite still owing him $35 million—after being arrested in Hawaii for assaulting his wife (who will become uncooperative with authorities, leading to the case being dropped); and promising Cuban prospect Hector Olivera of the Atlanta Braves is slapped with an 82-game ban after being charged (and ultimately convicted) of misdemeanor assault upon a woman in Virginia.

What a Story
The absence of Reyes to start the season in Colorado opens a spot for rookie shortstop Trevor Story—who takes full advantage, engaging on an unprecedented rookie power surge. He is the first National League rookie to homer twice on Opening Day, and ultimately becomes the first player to hit seven within the first six games of a season (and the first rookie to hit seven in any six-game stretch). Story leads the NL with 27 homers at the end of July and is on his way to a possible 40-homer campaign when he suffers a season-ending thumb injury.

There’s More Where That Came From
Ichiro Suzuki, 42 and playing part-time for the Marlins, becomes the newest member of the 3,000-hit club when he reaches the milestone in a 10-7 win at Colorado on August 7. He’s the first player from the Orient to reach the figure, and the second oldest (after Cap Anson). Earlier in the year, Suzuki will also make news (and argument) by surpassing Pete Rose with his 4,257th professional hit—though some conveniently forget to include Rose’s 427 minor league hits, which is rightfully equated to Suzuki’s 1,278 collected in Japan before joining the majors in 2001.

…And the Games Go On
Players and owners sign a new five-year Basic Agreement that ensures that baseball will enjoy labor peace for another five seasons, extending the time since the last work stoppage to a remarkable 27 years. The most contentious sticking point in negotiations ends in a win for players when they keep owners from instituting an international draft—but owners all but make up for it by being allowed to impose an annual $5 million cap on what each team can spend on international players 25 or under, infuriating such budding talents and their agents. Other new provisions in the agreement include more off days (and thus, less graveyard shift flights), a ban on smokeless tobacco for players debuting after 2016, no more demeaning hazing rituals upon rookies, and the end of determining home field advantage for the World Series based on who wins the All-Star Game.

You Ain’t Gettin’ Nuttin’ Off Me
Baltimore closer Zach Britton, in the midst of a sensational season, makes 42 straight appearances without giving up an earned run to set a major league record. The previous mark of 39 had been co-owned by Craig Kimbrel and Toronto reliever Brett Cecil, the latter of whom had tied the mark at the start of the year.

We Prefer the Full-Circuit Jog
The Orioles, with almost no speed to speak of, rack up only six triples for the entire season—the lowest ever recorded by a major league team. They go one stretch of 68 games without a single three-bagger. It’s all but a moot point for the Orioles, who lead the majors in home runs with 253.

Red-Clad—and Red-Faced
A young and not very talented Cincinnati Reds pitching staff sets an all-time season mark by surrendering 258 home runs. Worse is the performance of the bullpen, which sets its own record by conceding 103 of the dingers—while establishing another mark in May by giving up at least one run in 23 straight games.

Delivering in a Pinch
The St. Louis Cardinals hit 17 home runs off the bench, establishing an all-time record. They’re also the first team to belt three in one game—with pinch-hit blasts from Jeremy Hazelbaker, Aledmys Diaz and Greg Garcia—as they defeat the Braves, 7-4, at Atlanta on April 8.

But Really, Who’s Doing the Interfering?
The Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury breaks a more obscure record when he is awarded first base via catcher’s interference 12 times during the season. So what’s going on? This is how the New York Times describes it: “Ellsbury sets up near the back of the batter’s box…hits off his back foot and at times has a long, looping swing.”

Max Effort
Washington’s Max Scherzer, on his way to 20 wins and the NL Cy Young Award, also hits 20 strikeouts on May 11 to tie a major league record previously set by three other pitchers (Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens, who did it twice). His chance for a record-breaking 21st K is denied when Detroit’s James McCann grounds into the final out in a 3-2 home win over the Tigers.

If You Can’t Beat Him, Ignore Him
On May 8 at Chicago, Washington’s Bryce Harper officially goes 0-for-0 in the box score—despite making seven plate appearances. The Cubs walk him a record-tying six times (three intentionally) and also hit him once, none of which count as official at-bats. The avoidance of Harper seems to work for the Cubs, who defeat the Nationals in 13 innings, 4-3.

For the Boys (and the Girls)
On the eve of Independence Day, Major League Baseball salutes the U.S. Armed Forces by propping up a 12,500-seat ballpark built from scratch at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where the Marlins defeat the Braves, 5-2. The venue is filled with a crowd consisting almost entirely of military personnel.

This Year’s Proof That Everyone is Striking Out
In a season in which the bar is once again raised on total strikeouts (38,982), another record is set on September 25 at St. Petersburg when 11 consecutive Tampa Bay hitters go down on strikes during an 11-inning 3-2 loss to Boston.

You’re No Longer Alone
Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez connects on his 26th career home run—but his first with men on base—in the Astros’ 6-2 home victory over Seattle. No other major leaguer had ever hit his as many solo shots exclusively to start a career.


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