The Month That Was in Baseball: April 2021
Thursday, April 1
It’s Opening Day 2021, and the most noteworthy game is the one that doesn’t take place. The scheduled contest at Washington between the Nationals and Mets is postponed when three Nationals players test positive for COVID-19, with a fourth player “likely positive” according to general manager Mike Rizzo. Additionally, Rizzo says that all Washington players are, “for the most part…in lockdown and they’re self-quarantining.” The mini-outbreak will cancel out the entire opening season series between the Nationals and Mets.
Wasn’t the whole point of delaying the Triple-A season so that players from the team’s top affiliates could be made available exactly for a situation like this? And thus why aren’t the Nationals replacing those testing positive with these “taxi squad” standbys? Or, is the impact across the prime roster so bad that we have a full-fledged outbreak, and the Nationals are afraid to admit it? Whatever the case, players who aren’t willing to take the vaccine, as reports have been circulating, need to do it, play ball, and not mess up the season. We had enough of this last year and don’t want it again in 2021.
Inconvenienced through no fault of their own, the Mets thus have to wait another couple of days to see the official New York debut of ex-Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, who agrees to a 10-year, $341 million extension—thus avoiding free agency at the end of the season. The deal is nearly three times that of the previous max pact given out by the Mets (to David Wright). When asked whether he’ll still be effective at the end of his contract—when’s he 38 years of age—Lindor replies: “I’ll be a bad mothereffer.”
On any given day, anything can happen in baseball. And so it is in Denver, where the Colorado Rockies, a team most everyone believes will lose 100 games, defeats the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team most everyone believes will repeat as world champs—all with the help of a play in which Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger homers into a single and an out. In the third inning, with Justin Turner on first, Bellinger’s deep drive to left appears to be caught above the wall by the Rockies’ Rafael Tapia—except that the ball squirts out and over the wall after Tapia’s glove slaps down on the top of the padding. Tapia at first thinks he still had the ball, then briefly looks around him to make sure it isn’t still in play. Meanwhile, Turner, thinking the ball is caught, steamrolls back around second to first, passing Bellinger—who correctly assumes that the ball is gone for a home run. But per the rulebook, when the batter passes a runner ahead of him on the basepaths, you get don’t get the home run. In this case, what Bellinger gets is a single, an out, and an RBI as Turner is allowed to score. Bellinger’s home run-turned-single/out gives the Dodgers their only lead of the game; the Rockies otherwise peck away at ace Clayton Kershaw—who enters the day with a career 1.04 ERA on Opening Day—and hold on for an 8-5 victory.
For sheer statistical audacity, nothing on Opening Day tops the Rangers-Royals slopfest in Kansas City—a game the Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant labels as the weirdest, worst and longest nine-inning contest in Opening Day history. Neither starting pitcher—Texas’ Kyle Gibson nor the Royals’ Brad Keller—record more than four outs (Gibson gets only one), the first time that has happened on Opening Day since at least 1901, according to Twitter stat hawk Jeremy Frank. Texas leads 6-5 after two innings, and things never settle down; the Royals end up outlasting the Rangers, 14-10. At four hours and 26 minutes, it’s the longest Opening Day game ever—and the first time that both teams each throw 200 or more pitches in a non-overtime opener.
For the first time since the Astros’ cheating scandal broke over a year ago, Houston takes the field for a regular season game in front of real fans. Worse, they’re 10,000 Oakland fans who give the team plenty of vocal hell, booing whenever they have the chance and cheering when Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is plunked up high on the first pitch he sees (or feels) from A’s starter Chris Bassitt. But the Astros overcame the boos and sarcastic trash-banging to rack up an easy 8-1 win behind Zack Greinke’s six scoreless (and walkless) innings and a 3-for-4 night from Michael Brantley, who finishes a triple shy of the cycle. It’s Houston’s ninth straight Opening Day win, tying a modern (post-1900) record; the pre-1900 mark belongs to the Boston Beaneaters (Braves), who won 10 straight openers from 1887-96.
Friday, April 2
In a highly debated move, Major League Baseball announces that the 2021 All-Star Game would be moved away from Atlanta in protest over the State of Georgia’s recently enacted bill which, depending on one’s view, either strengthens or suppresses voting rights. Commissioner Rob Manfred makes the move unilaterally after “thoughtful conversations with Clubs, former and current players, the Players Association, and the Players Alliance, among others.” The Atlanta Braves release a statement saying they are “deeply disappointed” in MLB’s decision and that the loss of the All-Star Game will force them to “miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community.” But many point out that the Braves—whose very name and tomahawk logo forges debate on political incorrectness, and who recently moved from a modern, cutting-edge ballpark (Turner Field) in a lower-class section of Atlanta to a newer facility (Truist Park) in an area deemed safer and more suburban—already missed their opportunity by publicly staying quiet on the sidelines while state politicians worked up and passed the voting law.
MLB’s move will certainly hurt those who would have benefitted from their involvement in the All-Star Game—from ballpark employees to hotels and restaurants—even if the event timeframe is relatively short and, because of continuing pandemic restrictions, might have played in front of reduced crowd capacity. But this economic slap on the wrist from a sports entity protesting the stance of a public one is not without precedent; the NFL delayed giving the Super Bowl to Phoenix after the State of Arizona initially refused to observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday, and the NBA swiped away their All-Star Game from Charlotte in 2017 after North Carolina voted to limit anti-discrimination protections within its state. (The league, along with the NCAA and numerous convention groups, returned in 2019 after the law was rescinded.)
The question now becomes: Which city gets the 2021 All-Star Game? The prevailing early chatter believes it will be Milwaukee, where the late Hank Aaron—who the Braves were going to build their ASG tribute around—played the majority of his career before the Braves moved to Atlanta.
New employer, same ol’ frustration for Blake Snell. In his first regular season start for San Diego, the former Tampa Bay Ray has a 3-0 lead and is one out from finishing the fifth inning to qualify for the win. And that’s when Padres manager Jayce Tingler removes him, citing “100% pitch count” as Snell surpasses the pre-planned 85-pitch limit. Unlike in Game Six of the 2020 World Series, when the Rays’ bullpen blew a narrow lead preserved by a dominant Snell, four San Diego relievers keep the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks at arms’ length and finish off a 4-2 win.
In taking the loss, the Diamondbacks earn the historic silver lining as Tim Locastro steals his 27th lifetime base without getting caught—tying Tim Raines’ all-time record to start a career.
Trevor Bauer’s debut with the Dodgers looks to be headed for history as he takes a no-hit bid into the seventh at Denver before succumbing to Coors Field’s mile-high reality, allowing four runs on a pair of two-run home runs from Charlie Blackmon and Ryan McMahon. But Bauer gets the win as the Dodgers, well ahead at the time of his removal, outlast the Rockies, 11-6.
In an offensively live game at Anaheim, it’s quite the debut for the White Sox’ Yermin Mercedes, who becomes only the second modern-era (since 1900) major leaguer to collect five hits in his first start, driving in four runs to help Chicago to a 12-8 win over the Los Angeles Angels. The other player was Cecil Travis for the Washington Senators in a 12-inning game against Cleveland in 1933.
Saturday, April 3
Memories of Fred Toney and Hippo Vaughn from 1917 submerge on the consciousness of historians as the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes and Minnesota’s Jose Berrios duel for six innings in Milwaukee with neither giving up a hit nor walk; they had each hit a batter and combined for 23 strikeouts. The Twins’ Byron Buxton puts an end to Burnes’ no-hit bid—and his night—with a leadoff home run in the seventh; just when it looks like all eyes would turn to Berrios, he too is removed, because the Twins don’t want him throwing more than the 84 pitches he had delivered to that moment. Tyler Duffey, the Twins’ second reliever on the night, finally gives up the Brewers’ first hit with one out in the eighth, but that’s all Milwaukee can muster as Minnesota finishes off a 2-0 win, allowing just three baserunners and striking out 17 Brewers.
It’s the first time in major league history two pitchers both take a no-hit bid into the seventh with 10 or more strikeouts, but both are pulled before they get to 90 pitches. Sadly, in today’s modern game, it’s what we’ve come to expect from pitching coaches and front-office analytic purists who don’t prioritize personal achievements that can help bring prestige to the game.
Whether Burnes and Berrios could have continued all the way to the finish might be up for debate. But had they continued—they were both on pace for less than 130 pitches, not exactly a dangerous scenario—and remained dominant, what a duel we’d be talking about. Instead, we only get to talk about two-thirds of one.
The legend of Yermin Mercedes continues to grow. In Anaheim, the 28-year-old White Sox rookie follows up a 5-for-5 effort in his first major league start by going homer-single-double over his first three at-bats, making him the first modern-era player to collect hits in each of his first eight at-bats. Mercedes helps build a 3-2 lead for Chicago, but it all goes away in the bottom of the eighth as Justin Upton’s two-run home run caps a three-run rally to give the Angels a 5-3 win.
It seems like old times at Wrigleyville, where once-and-current Cub Jake Arrieta pitches six solid innings in his return to Chicago after three years in Philadelphia, backed by home runs from Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward to give the Cubs a 5-1 win over Pittsburgh. For the Pirates, the result isn’t the worst news; budding hotshot talent Ke’Bryan Hayes leaves the game early after tweaking his wrist on an awkward swing and will miss much of the next month.
Finally, it’s been quite a series in Colorado thus far for Rockies left fielder Raimel Tapia. First, on Opening Day, he had the ball jarred from his mitt and over the fence after colliding with the wall—leading to confusion on the basepaths as the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger passed Justin Turner (who thought Tapia made the catch and was running back to first). Then tonight, this happens:
Sunday, April 4
It’s Sunday Night Baseball with Shohei Ohtani and, for the most part, he doesn’t disappoint. The Angels’ two-way player starts on the mound and throws upwards of 101 MPH, and in his first at-bat crushes a solo home run with an exit velocity of 115.2 MPH—the hardest hit ball by an Angels hitter (Mike Trout included) since the 2015 debut of Statcast. Pitching-wise, Ohtani throws 4.2 innings and allows three runs (one earned) but walks five and, just before his departure, is upended on a play gone defensively south when the White Sox’ Jose Abreu derails him as a throw to the plate is airmailed above. Despite the optics of the play, Ohtani will not miss any future action. After blowing a 4-3 lead in the ninth, the Angels counter and walk off thanks to another, former two-way player, first baseman Jared Walsh—who slams his second homer of the evening to give the Angels a 7-4 win.
Ohtani becomes the first AL pitcher to go deep against another AL team since Roric Harrison belted a home run for Baltimore in the Orioles’ final game of 1972—the last year before the introduction of the designated hitter.
We’ve got good news and bad news for Astros haters…well, actually we don’t have any good news, it’s all bad for you folks. For the first time in franchise history, the Astros win four games on the road to start a season as they finish off an impressive four-game sweep of the A’s at Oakland—and when we say impressive, we mean, very impressive. Houston’s 9-2 win ices a series in which the Astros outscore the A’s by a 35-9 count. Three home runs propel the Astros offensively, while second-year reliever Brandon Bielak takes over for starter Jose Urquidy and retires all 14 A’s he faces.
It’s the first time any team scores eight or more runs in each of their first four games of a season since the Yankees in 2003.
For the first time since 1948, the Red Sox lose their first three home games as they are easily taken apart by the Orioles at Fenway Park, 11-3. Cedric Mullins enjoys a hat trick of doubles among five total hits, and rookie southpaw Bruce Zimmermann—no relation to pitcher Jordan Zimmermann—keeps the Red Sox at bay for six innings for his first major league win.
Monday, April 5
Fernando Tatis Jr.’s megadeal with the San Diego Padres has not gotten off to a great start, to say the least. The flashy 21-year-old shortstop with seemingly unlimited upside went 3-for-16 with five errors in the Padres’ season-opening series against Arizona—and then, in his second at-bat during a 3-2 home loss to San Francisco, takes a wild swing on a missed strike three and suffers what’s later listed as a partially torn left shoulder. It’s the same shoulder that kept him out of a few spring games in Arizona, so it’s postulated that it has never fully healed—which could explain the weak start up through last night’s injury.
Remarkably, Tatis will be back in action less than two weeks later.
MLB has found its replacement venue for Atlanta’s Truist Park for the 2021 All-Star Game—and it’s Coors Field in Denver. Early rumors had the Midsummer Classic being relocated to Milwaukee or Kansas City, but Denver is chosen for a number of reasons. Among them: The Rockies are said to have heavily lobbied for an upcoming ASG; the State of Colorado is politically purple, which will help to simmer any fierce red/blue debate; Coors Field is currently among the more relaxed major league venues in terms of attendance capacity (at 40%), which will better ensure vibrant spectator involvement; and finally, what the hell—Colorado baseball fans need some good news given the wretched state of the Rockies, exacerbated by the offseason trade of popular third baseman Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals.
The Texas Rangers swing the gates to Globe Life Field wide open with 100% capacity—and a near-sellout crowd of 38,238, the largest for any sporting event since the start of the pandemic, is allowed in for the team’s home opener. It seems a quiet gathering, a fitting parallel to the quiet performance of the Rangers themselves, who lose 6-2 to Toronto. Former New York Met Steven Matz is sharp through 6.1 innings for the Blue Jays, while Cavan Biggio scores thrice on a home run, two walks and hit-by-pitch.
After being forced to sit out their opening season series in Washington as the Nationals struggled to contain a viral outbreak, the Mets finally get into action. For all of the team’s offseason hype under charismatic new owner Steve Cohen, their first game at Philadelphia reveals much of the same ol’-same ol’. Jacob deGrom starts, looks sharp (six shutout innings, seven strikeouts) and deserves the win—but a thorny old habit ruins things: Lack of support from both the lineup and the bullpen, as the Phillies rack up all five of their runs in the eighth and close out a 5-3 victory.
Since the start of 2018, deGrom has posted a 2.07 ERA in 77 starts—and the Mets have gone 36-41 in those games. deGrom has received personal credit for only 25 of those 36 wins; of the 52 he didn’t, he’s 0-19 with a 2.58 ERA.
Besides having one of baseball’s best new names, Detroit’s Akil Baddoo is making his name known in the Tigers’ record book. The 22-year-old center fielder from Maryland began his major leaguer career on April 4 by homering on the first pitch he saw, and in the ninth inning of his second game against Minnesota, he strokes a grand slam to become the first Tiger ever to go deep in each of his first two games. The feat is a lone positive on an otherwise dreadful day at Detroit, as the Tigers get stomped on by the Twins, 15-6.
Tuesday, April 6
After being forcibly sidelined by a viral outbreak for the first four games, the Washington Nationals finally take the field for the first time in the 2021 regular season and rally from an early giveaway of home runs from ace Max Scherzer (four over the first three innings) to defeat the visiting Braves, 6-5, on Juan Soto’s walk-off single in the ninth. But the Nationals’ return to the field also sheds light on those likely infected during the outbreak, as 10 team members are placed on the 10-day injured list with no specific injuries listed. They include rotation members Jon Lester and Patrick Corbin, first baseman Josh Bell, outfielder Kyle Schwarber, closer Brad Hand, and catchers Yan Gomes and Alex Avila. It is widely assumed that they were among those who either tested positive for COVID-19 or were in close contact with others who were.
The gift runner on second for extra innings is indeed a travesty that needs to be purged, but sometimes its purpose of keeping games from going too long into extras doesn’t quite work out. Case in point: What happens if the gift runner is the only one that keeps scoring? Then, guess what—you get a lot of ‘1’s’ popping up in the box score by innings. It happens in Boston, where the gift runner plates for both the Rays and Red Sox in the 11th, and again in the 12th—with the Red Sox adding a second, more legitimate run, on J.D. Martinez’s two-run double to clinch a 6-5 victory. And it definitely happens out in chilly Denver, where the Diamondbacks and Rockies exchanged gift-runner tallies in the 10th, 11th and finally the 13th as, more critically, Arizona rallies for three runs in that final frame on Ketel Marte’s two-run double to help the DBacks to a 10-8 win.
Of prime note in this game is the year’s first hat trick of home runs, as the Rockies’ Ryan McMahon slugs three solo shots in regulation. He has two more chances in overtime to make it a rare four-homer night, but he grounds out and lines a double into the gap. It’s the first three-homer effort from a Rockies player since 2018.
The Tigers continue to be much ado about Baddoo. Entering the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth, electric outfielder Akil Baddoo gets his first at-bat as a 3-3 game extends into the 10th and, with the gift runner having moved to third, strokes a game-winning single to give Detroit a 4-3 home win.
The Cincinnati Reds keep cranking out the runs early in the year, dropping a 14-1 drubbing on the visiting Pirates as ex-Indian Tyler Naquin bats leadoff and smokes two home runs and a single while driving in a career-best seven RBIs. The Reds’ 46 runs through their first five games is a modern-era record.
The Mets notch their first win after a belated Opening Day loss at Philadelphia, as Marcus Stroman is sharp for six innings and Pete Alonso becomes the fastest major leaguer to reach 70 career home runs by games (220) with a two-run insurance shot in the ninth in an 8-4 victory.
Wednesday, April 7
The Oakland A’s become the last team to win their first game on the year and avoid a 0-7 homestand with a come-from-behind, 4-3 win in 10 innings over the Dodgers. The A’s rally to tie the game in the ninth off Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen, then win it an inning later with the help of the gift runner on second, scoring on Mitch Moreland’s one-out single. The victory keeps the A’s from their sole worst start in history; as it is, they share the 0-6 record out of the gate with the futile 1916 Philadelphia A’s (who finished 36-117).
The Reds continue to pile up the runs, notching 11 more in an 11-4 drubbing of the poor Pirates (1-5). Four Cincinnati home runs include the fourth of the young season each for Nick Castellanos and Tyler Naquin. The Reds’ 57 runs over their first six games is exceeded by only five teams in MLB history since 1901, topped by the 1962 Cardinals (62).
Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff takes a no-hitter into the seventh at Chicago before the Cubs’ Ian Happ breaks it up with a leadoff single; that’s the only knock he absorbs through seven shutout innings, but fails to get the win as the Cubs knot the game at 1-1 in the eighth. The Brewers bounce back to win in 10, 4-1, on Lorenzo Cain’s three-run blast. It’s the second time this year that the Brewers have held a team hitless through six innings, something no team had previous ever done within the first six games of a season.
The strangest pitching line of the night—or perhaps in a long time, for that matter—belongs to Seattle starter Justin Dunn, who over 4.2 innings allows three runs on one hit and eight walks. Trailing 3-1 at the time of Dunn’s removal, the Mariners rebound with seven runs in the sixth and defeat the visiting White Sox, 8-4.
Thursday, April 8
Controversy erupts at New York’s Citi Field at the end of the Mets’ home opener against Miami. Tied at 2-2 with the bases loaded and one out, the Mets’ Michael Conforto fears that it’s too late to swing at a 1-2 pitch headed for the strike zone from the Marlins’ Anthony Bass—so he decides to stick his elbow out in hopes of getting hit with the pitch and force the winning run home. Not only does he succeed in getting nicked but, even more incredulously, home plate umpire Ron Kulpa doesn’t rule him out for trying to intentionally get hit. Though the question of whether Conforto attempts to take a painless one for the team is not reviewable per MLB’s video replay rules, Miami manager Don Mattingly nevertheless asks for a review on whether Conforto was even hit to begin with—but replays show no compelling evidence otherwise, and the umpires stick with the original call.
After the game, Kulpa tells a pool reporter that he blew it. “(Conforto) was hit by the pitch in the strike zone. I should have called him out.” And thus, the Mets’ 3-2 win stands—and the Marlins drop to 1-6.
We don’t know what’s more impressive about Lance Lynn’s complete-game shutout win for the White Sox over the visiting Royals; that Lynn completes the gem, or that the White Sox’ staff allows him to complete it. It’s the first time this season that a pitcher has gone the distance, as the veteran right-hander racks up 111 pitches—79 for strikes—with 11 K’s in an easy, rain-delayed 6-0 win.
For the second straight year, the Toronto Blue Jays open their home season away from home, bowing to the Angels in 11 innings at their spring training park at Dunedin, Florida, 7-5. The Jays are still hoping to return to Toronto’s Rogers Centre before the All-Star Break as travel between the United States and Canada remains exceedingly tight due to the pandemic.
Friday, April 9
It takes 8,206 games, but the San Diego Padres finally get their first-ever no-hitter as Joe Musgrove ends one of baseball’s most notable streaks and throws nine hitless innings in a 3-0 win at Texas over the Rangers. The 28-year-old right-hander racks up 112 pitches—77 of them strikes—and allows only one baserunner when he hits Joey Gallo in the fourth. The Globe Life Field crowd of 27,575 applauds the effort of Musgrove, who in 83 previous starts had never gone the distance; in fact, he’d only made it to the end of the eighth once.
No team had begun its history so long without a no-hitter. Two years ago, the Padres passed the Mets (at 8,019) for the most games to start their existence without one—though a dingbat of some sort should be applied to the end of the Mets’ drought in 2012, because Johan Santana’s no-no included a foul ball down the left-field line by the visiting Cardinals that was clearly in fair territory, two years before video replay would have reversed the call.
Musgrove’s no-hitter also keeps safe the longest drought by a team without one—regardless of when in franchise annals it took place. That mark belongs to the Phillies at 8,944 games, from 1906-64.
Earning second credit on Musgrove’s no-no is catcher Victor Caratini, who also makes history by becoming the first backstop to catch two straight MLB no-hitters, one each for a different team; he was behind the plate when the Cubs’ Alec Mills threw the majors’ previous gem last September at Milwaukee.
In Phoenix, the Reds get a no-hit effort of their own—but Tyler Mahle can only make it through four innings, conceding no hits but nonetheless laboring with four walks and 92 pitches, 53 for strikes. The Cincinnati bullpen coughs up a 5-0 lead late, and into extra innings the game goes—but Tucker Barnhart strokes a two-out single in the 10th to bring home the gift runner and give the Reds a 6-5 victory over the Diamondbacks. As for Mahle, his four hitless innings extend a run of straight scoreless frames by Cincinnati starters to 21; the streak will end at 24 the next night when Jeff Hoffman gives up a run in the fourth inning.
Saturday, April 10
At this point, Mets fans don’t know whether to laugh or cry when Jacob deGrom gets screwed out of another win despite an awesome effort on the mound. At New York against the Marlins, the elite ace is once again electric—scattering a run on five hits through eight innings with a career high-tying 14 strikeouts and no walks—but as usual, he gets zilch support from his teammates, who are shut down on three hits by Trevor Rogers and three relievers in a 3-0 Miami win. deGrom’s only mistake comes in the second when prized Marlins rookie Jazz Chisholm launches a 100-MPH fastball into Citi Field’s upper deck in right—on a 0-2 pitch. It’s the first time deGrom has surrendered a home run on that count.
Arizona’s Tim Locastro makes stolen base history in the midst of a four-hit game against Cincinnati, stealing his 28th lifetime bag without once ever getting caught—breaking Tim Raines’ record to start a career. Earlier in the first inning, Locastro is picked off first base—but that’s different from being caught stealing. With Locastro—currently subbing for the injured Ketel Marte—the Diamondbacks ease to an 8-3 home win over the Reds.
After a lengthy rain delay, the Blue Jays perform their own drenching with a 15-1 rout of the Angels at their home away from home in Dunedin, Florida. Leading the way from the bottom of the Blue Jays’ lineup is 25-year-old outfielder Josh Palacios, who in his second major league game collects four hits with four runs scored; the only other AL player ever to do that within one of his first two career games was Wid Conroy, who did it in the Tigers’ first-ever game in 1901.
Sunday, April 11
One day before, J.D. Martinez’s short-term future was in doubt after experiencing COVID-like symptoms. Today, he is cleared to play—and, in a big way, continues to show that last year’s shortened off-season (.213 average, seven homers over 54 games) was a fluke. Martinez homers three times for the third in his career, adding a single and driving in four runs as the Red Sox drill the Orioles at Baltimore, 14-9, for their sixth straight win.
Martinez is the fifth player to hit at least three homers in a game for three different teams, having previously turned the trick for Detroit and Arizona. In eight games this season, he’s collected 12 extra-base hits—tying Dante Bichette’s all-time record from 1994—and has produced at least one long hit in nine straight games going back to last season, tying five other Red Sox players for the longest such streak in franchise history.
Monday, April 12
Three MLB games are postponed on Monday—two of them because of weather, the other out of concern for civic safety. That later game was to take place in Minneapolis between the Twins and Red Sox, but the region is on high alert after yet another police shooting and killing of an unarmed African-American in the area, leading to high tension, demonstrations and sporadic looting. Additionally, Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks—an African-American who played in Minnesota for three seasons before joining New York—requests that he sit out against the Blue Jays at Dunedin, Florida, stating that it would be been hard to go out and play following this latest incident. The Yankees graciously nod to Hicks and defeat the Blue Jays without him, 3-1.
A.J. Hinch comes to Houston for the first time since being thrown out of the Astros’ orbit for ignoring the cheating schemes that helped the team win the 2017 World Series under his watch, returning as Detroit manager and leaving satisfied with a 6-2 win. Helping to brighten Hinch’s mood is a crowd of 15,779 that gives him a standing ovation when introduced, and a couple of young Tigers who contribute to the win: Pitcher Casey Mize, who grabs his first career win in nine tries with seven shutout innings, and outfielder Akil Baddoo, who garners a double and third home run of the season.
The Cubs continue to limp at the plate, collecting just four hits in 30 at-bats during a 6-3 loss at Milwaukee. In 10 games so far this year, Chicago has produced just 49 hits—the lowest total for any 10-game stretch in Cubs history. The team’s .164 average is far and away the lowest thus far in 2021. And yet, they’ve managed to win four of 10 games.
Happy birthday, Paul Lo Duca—now pay up! The former catcher has an expensive 49th birthday he won’t want to remember, as he’s ordered by a judge to pay $500,000 (plus interest) to umpire Joe West in a defamation case. West sued Lo Duca after the latter claimed in an April 2019 podcast that the umpire used favoritism to make calls for and against hitters. The lawyer for West was concerned that Lo Duca’s statements, if unchallenged, would have hurt West’s chances of making the Hall of Fame.
Tuesday, April 13
In the best pitching duel seen yet in this early season, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber and the White Sox’ Lucas Giolito trade zeroes at Chicago until Giolito is excused following a leadoff walk in the eighth. Bieber carries on and wraps up nine scoreless innings—but despite the game continuing into extras at 0-0, the Indians ace still notches the win as a pair of runs including the gift runner on second break the ice and melt the White Sox, 2-0. It’s the third time Bieber has thrown nine shutout frames in his short career, though on this one he won’t get credit for the complete game or full blanking.
Cleveland’s Yu Chang is a late-game replacement against the White Sox and makes no errors in his short time at first base, which is a relief after the online abuse he absorbed earlier in the day following his throwing error the day before that brought home the winning run for Chicago. The Taiwanese-born Chang shows reporters racist tweets aimed at him, which fortunately are heavily outweighed by anti-racist responses from just about everyone else. Still, it shows just how far we still are from being a truly civilized culture.
The Mariners paid James Paxton $8.5 million for a one-year return to Seattle—and now it appears the money was not a good invetsment. The 32-year-old southpaw, who spent the previous two years with the Yankees, is undergoing season-ending surgery on his left elbow after just one appearance in which he threw 1.1 innings in an aborted start against the White Sox on April 6. The oft-injured Paxton, despite some good results when healthy, has never thrown more than 160.1 innings in any one of eight previous seasons.
Missing me yet, Braves? So asks Adam Duvall, unceremoniously jettisoned by Atlanta after a pretty effective short season (18 homers and 41 RBIs over 68 games in 2020, postseason included). Duvall sports a content grin in the uniform of the Marlins after crushing the Braves with his eighth career multi-homer game and seven RBIs as Miami cruises to a 14-8 rout. Duvall is the first player with at least seven RBIs for two different teams—one of which occurs while playing against a former team.
Here’s a couple more reminders that we are not yet out of this pandemic. Toronto outfielder Teoscar Hernandez tests positive for the virus and will sit out the next 10 days, while the Cubs are crossing their fingers that they’re not sitting on a potential outbreak time bomb as pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who was supposed to start Chicago’s 3-2 win at Milwaukee, is scratched with possible viral symptoms—that, on top of positive tests from two team coaches that lead to the sitting of three relievers who were in close contact with them.
Wednesday, April 14
The White Sox’ Carlos Rodon, practically an afterthought after two tough seasons, blossoms upon the stage as never before by throwing the 20th no-hitter in Pale Hose history, blanking Cleveland 8-0 before 7,000 fans at Chicago. It’s a bittersweet no-no; the 28-year-old lefty enters the ninth with a shot at a perfect game, but with one out hits Roberto Perez—who doesn’t realize that he’s the Indians’ first baserunner until being told at first base. Just one play before, Rodon nearly gives up his first hit, but is saved by a fantastic defensive play by first baseman Jose Abreu—who takes Josh Naylor’s grounder and barely beats him to the bag, sliding feet-first to tag the base by a hair over Naylor’s head-first slide.
Rodon’s career had appeared to fade into obscurity, as Tommy John surgery limited his action over the past two seasons to 11 appearances (nine starts) and a 6.17 ERA. The White Sox released him last December and took him back afterward, signing him to a one-year, $3 million deal.
The last no-hitter thrown by an AL pitcher was also a White Sock, just last year when Lucas Giolito stymied the Pirates at Chicago. The last perfect game remains Felix Hernandez’s gem for Seattle in 2012.
Major League Baseball apparently isn’t done coming up with ideas within its testing lab—otherwise known as the minor leagues. It’s told the independent Atlantic League, during the second half of its upcoming season, to move the pitching rubber back one foot to 61’6” while deploying a “double-hook” rule which decrees that once the starting pitcher is removed from the game, the designated hitter must go with him.
While the moving back of the rubber is just desperation to increase offense, there is something to the double-hook rule—a carrot stick for managers not to remove starters at the slightest sign of imperfection (see Blake Snell, Game Six, 2020 World Series). It will be curious to see how it works out, because among all the silly, stupid rule changes being experimented with or even currently being used in the majors (i.e., the dreaded gift runner on second in extra innings), the double-hook might be something everyone can nod their heads at.
Did you ever get the feeling that COVID-19 is attempting a last-gasp effort at messing with the 2021 season? A couple of days after the Cubs were sweating out a possible outbreak, it’s now the Astros’ turn. It’s announced that five players—All-Stars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, Gold Glove catcher Martin Maldonado, young slugger Yordan Alvarez and utility rookie Robel Garcia—are placed on the injured list “as a result of health and safety protocols.” Further word is mum, but rumor has it that at least one of those five players has the virus—and the others are, at the very least, being held out as a precaution. Meanwhile, veteran Twins shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who has refused to get the vaccine, comes down with a case of—well, whadayaknow—COVID-19. What date he returns on is up to the virus and not the vaccine, unless he has a change of heart on the science.
Corbin Burnes looks like the real deal. The rejuvenated pitcher, who we named as the NL’s worst pitcher of 2019, is all but untouchable again with six shutout frames allowing just two hits, no walks while striking out 10 in the Brewers’ 7-0 home win over the Cubs. In 18.1 innings thrown over three starts so far this season, Burnes has allowed just one run on four hits, no walks, and 30 strikeouts. The Cubs, meanwhile, are now hitting .163 for the year; only the awful (43-119) Tigers of 2003 started their first dozen games with a lower mark at .159.
There is one upbeat footnote to the Cardinals’ 6-0 home loss to Washington, as Yadier Molina catches his 2,000th game for St. Louis. Though five other players have caught more games over their careers, none of them played 2,000 times behind the plate for one team.
Thursday, April 15
It won’t be as newsworthy as Carlos Rodon’s no-hitter from the day before, but fellow White Sock Lance Lynn follows up the former’s gem with a pretty good outing of his own, conceding two runs on five hits to the Indians through six innings before departing with a 2-1 deficit. But on a more historical note, Lynn strikes out 10-plus batters with no walks for the second straight start—making him the first White Sox pitcher ever to accomplish that. Cleveland fights off a late Chicago uprising—and one upset Adam Eaton—to grab a 4-2 victory.
Several heroes emerge for the Braves in a come-from-behind, 7-6 victory over the visiting Marlins to help avoid a four-game sweep at home. First there’s veteran Pablo Sandoval, playing the role of pinch-hitter extraordinaire as he drills a three-run bomb in the seventh—his third homer of the year, all off the bench—to give Atlanta a 5-3 lead after six innings. Closer A.J. Minter can’t hold a one-run lead in the ninth as the Marlins rally for two runs, but the Braves bounce back in the bottom half as Dansby Swanson’s one-out single with the bases loaded delivers the game-winner in a 6-5 decision.
Friday, April 16
If the first meeting between upgraded NL West rivals Los Angeles and San Diego is a sign of things to come, it’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s a little bit of everything before a boisterous, pandemic-restricted sellout crowd of 15,000 at Petco Park: A home run (and two more errors) for Fernando Tatis Jr., making his first appearance since messing up his shoulder 10 days earlier; four lead erasures, including two by the Padres in the eighth and ninth innings to send the game into overtime; an extra-inning, benches-clearing dispute after the Padres’ Jorge Mateo is nailed by Dodgers reliever Dennis Santana; and the first win as a Dodger for David Price, who pitches the final two innings and becomes the benefactor of a five-run 12th as Los Angeles survives with an 11-6 win, pushing their record to 12-2. “Yeah, it felt like a rivalry tonight,” says emotionally drained Dodgers manager Dave Roberts after the game.
The New York baseball vibe is not exactly a good one at the moment. Let’s start with the Yankees. The Bronx Blunders lose their third straight and sixth of their last eight with a pitiful display against the visiting Rays, falling behind fast, gathering just three hits and bungling three errors in an 8-2 loss—putting them in sole possession of last place in the AL East for the first time since 1998. The Yankee Stadium crowd of 10,000 becomes so fed up that it begins throwing balls on the field during the eighth inning, leading to a two-minute delay and Yankees players longing for the days of cardboard cutouts.
Life isn’t much better for the Mets. The problem isn’t that they’re playing terrible—they’re technically first in the NL East—it’s just that they aren’t playing, being postponed for the seventh time already this season as they show up at Denver for a weekend series with the Rockies just in time for a late-Winter snowstorm to unload. Meanwhile back in Flushing Meadows, the organization makes news in a dubious manner as an article in The Athletic exposes a toxic workplace culture where sexual harassment ran all but rampant before new owner Steve Cohen took charge last Fall—and while that may sound like past tense, some of the employees accused of the inappropriate behavior are still employed in the Mets’ front office. In an attempt to slay the cancel culture beast, once-and-current Mets exec Sandy Alderson acknowledges the accuracy of the story but also assails The Athletic’s reporting. “Not every instance involving men, women in the workplace is a capital offense, okay,” Alderson argued. “There are a lot of intermediate steps that can be taken, and we’ve done that in a variety of different cases. And have included capital punishment as a consequence in some cases, but not every case rises to the level of execution. And that’s what honestly I think is happening with these articles.”
If you don’t think there’s going to be a work stoppage before the start of the 2022 season, think again. As the current Basic Agreement between players and owners is set to expire at the end of this year, the union will undoubtedly throw this factoid at management: The average MLB salary has dropped 6.4% from an apparent peak in 2017. Some of that can be attributed to the financial blow of the pandemic, but salaries softened for a good two years before that, when life was good in the majors—at least more for the owners, on a financial level. Here’s another thing to note for those who think that major league players are greedy millionaires; nearly half of the players starting the 2021 season are making less than $1 million, with a third of them (316 of 902) earning under $600,000, close to the minimum. Still a lot of money, yes, but it’s all about equity and value—two words that the players’ union are sure to bring up when negotiations on the new Basic Agreement begin.
Max Scherzer can still crank it up, throwing up to 96 MPH and doing his part to quiet the visiting Diamondbacks in advance of a ninth-inning, icebreaking walk-off blast from Kyle Schwarber to give the Nationals a 1-0 win. Scherzer’s 10 strikeouts, the 99th time he’s reached double-digits, passes Cy Young for 22nd on the all-time list.
Saturday, April 17
After waiting out two days of postponed games, Mets ace Jacob deGrom finally gets to the mound and takes out any idle frustration on the Rockies in Colorado—striking out 14 and allowing three runs (all unearned, thanks to a Jeff McNeil throwing error) in just six innings of work. Nine of his K’s came consecutively, making him one of only eight pitchers ever to do so—and of those, only Mets legend Tom Seaver made it to 10. After deGrom’s departure, Edwin Diaz comes on to strike out the side in the bottom of the seventh to wrap a 4-3 Mets victory in the first game of a shortened doubleheader.
The 17 strikeouts among the 21 retired by the Mets translate to an 81% K rate among all outs—the highest in a post-1900, modern-era game. For the Rockies, the best news is that they don’t have to play two more innings and risk setting the record for striking out in a nine-inning game.
The Cubs’ offense finally breaks out of hibernation and piles it up on the visiting Braves, scoring a 13-4 rout on the strength of six home runs. In their previous 13 games to start the season, the Cubs scored just 34 runs and were hitting well below .200. But Chicago’s offensive awakening isn’t the biggest news to come out of this game; that’s reserved for 36-year-old Atlanta pinch-hitter Sean Kazmar Jr., who makes his first appearance in a major league game since 2008 when he logged eight hits in 39 at-bats over 19 games for San Diego. It’s not the longest absence between appearances in major league history—that distinction belongs to Ralph Winegarner, who went 13 years and 14 days between stints from 1936-49—but it does beg the question: Where has Kazmar been these last 13 years? After a couple of years in the Padres’ minor league system, Kazmar was released, had brief stays with the Mariners and Mets organizations, then latched on with the Braves—where he spent 2013-19 as mainstay at Triple-A Gwinnett. (Kazmar was idle in 2020 as the minors were shut down by the pandemic.)
So how does Kazmar celebrate his return to the majors? By grounding into a double play.
The Reds defeat the visiting Indians 3-2 with the help of the gift runner on second in the 10th and the 31st triple play turned in franchise history. That occurs in the eighth when first baseman Joey Votto snags Josh Naylor’s liner, tags Franmil Reyes as he tries to dive back to first, then throws to third to triple off Eddie Rosario, who erroneously bolted home. Votto wasn’t apparently thinking of history; he could have easily trotted over to third, touched the base on his own and completed the 15th unassisted triple play in regular season history.
In the Diamondbacks’ 6-2 loss at Washington, Tom Locastro is thrown out trying to steal second in the third inning—the first time he’s ever been caught stealing after successfully swiping 29 bases, which barely broke Tim Raines’ record to start a career.
The Dodgers win Round Two of their initial season series with the divisional rival Padres in a game that lacks everything but the kitchen sink (unlike the night before) but nevertheless plays tight to a thrilling finish. Starters Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish do their best to make it a pitchers’ duel, with the former leaving after six shutout innings while the latter exits after seven frames, allowing just one hit—but also one run. The Dodgers add to their slim lead in the ninth with a solo homer from Justin Turner, and then in the bottom half of the ninth—with two outs and runners on second and third—Tommy Pham’s line drive to right-center is caught on a spectacular diving play by center fielder Mookie Betts, who reaches out and tucks the ball into the palm of his glove just millimeters from turf to clinch the 2-0 win.
COVID-19 continues to mess with the schedule, knocking the Twins and Angels out of action both today tomorrow. (The Twins’ game on April 19 at Oakland will also be postponed.) Minnesota has to bow out after two players—outfielder Kyle Garlick and an unnamed teammate—along with a team staff member tested positive for the virus before the start of the series, which began Friday. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who has refused to take the COVID vaccine, was already out after testing positive earlier in the week.
Sunday, April 18
A slow start to the season is too much for veteran slugger Jay Bruce, who announces his retirement prior to the Yankees’ 4-2 home loss to Tampa Bay; despite being active for the game, he does not play. In a career lasting 13-plus seasons, Bruce hit 319 home runs but never hit for high averages; since the end of 2017, he batted only .212. A three-time All-Star, Bruce hit over 30 homers five times and surpassed the 100-RBI mark twice. He signed a minor league deal with the Yankees and cemented a roster spot after Luke Voit missed the start of the year with an injury.
As for the Yankees, their loss to Tampa Bay ends a grisly weekend in which they are swept by the Rays, drop their fifth straight game overall and deepen their existence in the AL East basement with a 5-10 record, their worst start since 1997. This, despite another strong start for Gerrit Cole, who allows three runs (two earned) with 10 strikeouts and no walks through 6.1 innings; his 39 K’s sets a Yankees record for the most over one’s first four starts.
Shane Bieber does one better than Cole. With 13 strikeouts over eight innings of a 6-3 Cleveland win at Cincinnati, the Indians ace matches Nolan Ryan in 1978 for the most K’s (48) over his first four season starts in major league history. Even more impressive, Bieber is the only hurler to strike out at least 10 in each of his first four outings since they moved the pitching mound back to 60’6” in 1893.
Monday, April 19
Lucas Giolito apparently is not a morning pitcher. In the traditional Patriots Day game at Boston’s Fenway Park—which always starts at 11:00 a.m.—the White Sox ace has arguably the worst start of his six-year career, allowing eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits over an inning-plus of work as the Red Sox ease from there to an 11-4 victory. Wrapping up the pitching duties on the day for the White Sox is Yermin Mercedes, the designated hitter who becomes the first non-pitcher to make his major league fielding debut as a pitcher since catcher Dee Moore found himself on the mound on September 20, 1936, shortly after arriving in Cincinnati to start his big-league career.
Albert Pujols is sneaking up on many career milestones, but he achieves one that he’d rather forget about. In his first at-bat of the Angels’ 6-4 loss to Texas, he grounds into his 400th career double play, an unprecedented figure in major league history. (Cal Ripken Jr. is second on the all-time list with 350.) If it’s any consolation, the future Hall of Famer does steal his first base since September 2019 as part of a four-run Angels rally in the seventh.
Tuesday, April 20
Corbin Burnes continues to be, in a word, outrageous. The white-hot pitcher pitches six more shutout innings, strikes out 10 more and walks none at San Diego to extend his K/BB ratio into record territory—striking out 40 batters without a pass to start the season, breaking the old mark among starters of 35/0 set by Adam Wainwright in 2013. Three Milwaukee relievers finish up the shutout started by Burnes with a 6-0 win over the Padres.
MLB’s overall batting average to start the 2021 season is mired in the low .230s, and it certainly isn’t going to get bumped up by the Dodgers-Mariners matinee in Seattle. A total of three hits—two by the Dodgers, both of those leading to the game’s only run in the third—is all that’s collected between the two teams, tied for the fewest combined total since 1969. It’s also the fewest hits by both teams in an interleague game.
The A’s, who were the last team to win their first game of the season after losing their first six contests, have now won 10 straight. They shut down the visiting Twins not once but twice in a seven-inning doubleheader, winning the first game 7-0 behind Sean Manaea’s seven-inning shutout and Matt Olson’s grand slam, before eking out a 1-0 squeaker in the nightcap. The second game is interrupted for 28 minutes when an outfield bank of lights at the aging Coliseum goes out.
Wednesday, April 21
No team has ever started the season at 0-6 and then, at some point in the remainder of the season to follow, won 11 straight games. The A’s have now done both before the end of April. Oakland’s win streak continues with a wild, come-from-behind 13-12 effort over the Twins in 10 innings, scoring three in the bottom of the 10th thanks to the generous donations from the Minnesota defense, which commit errors on back-to-back plays with two outs to allow all three runs to cross the plate. The Twins’ loss ends a frustrating three-and-out at the Coliseum, scoring a dozen in defeat—wasting a two-homer effort from Nelson Cruz—a day after scoring none in a pandemic-mandated short doubleheader; they’re 6-11 on the year. The A’s, meanwhile, are 12-7 and a half-game in first over Seattle in the AL West.
Dinelson Lamet’s first outing on the mound for the Padres this year might be his last. The exciting right-hander, who posted a 2.09 ERA in 12 starts last season, leaves after just two scoreless innings in a 4-2 home loss to Milwaukee with tightness in his pitching forearm. An MRI determines that Lamet will, for now, not need surgery.
Controversial outfielder Yasiel Puig, frustrated by his inability to sign with an MLB team this past Winter, had settled for a roster spot with Aguila de Veracruz in the Mexican League. Puig hopes he can showcase his “new and improved” play and get more sniffs from major league teams.
We’re just hoping that, now that he’s in Mexico, all those rumors of him being hunted down by cartel henchmen some years ago while with the Dodgers were just that—rumors.
Thursday, April 22
The Giants shut down the Marlins at San Francisco, 3-0, with all of their runs notched during a two-out, first-inning rally. But the more noteworthy bit to come out of the game—besides a giant rabbit brought in by a fan—is that it’s the fifth straight shutout caught by back-up Giants catcher Curt Casali. Only four other backstops can previously claim a similar achievement, with Pittsburgh’s Ed Phelps going six straight games in 1903, all without sitting one out (the Pirates’ six straight blankings remain a major league record).
For the 25th time in franchise history, the Reds hit six or more home runs—but for the first time, they lose while doing so. At Cincinnati, the Reds and Diamondbacks go into extras knotted at 8-8, but Arizona bunches up six tallies, easily enough to offset a three-run rebuttal by the Reds to triumph, 14-11. It’s the second straight game that Arizona has scored five or more runs in an extra inning; since 1974, only the White Sox (on August 6-7, 1994) have done the same.
If the Reds were frustrated losing with six home runs, imaging how they feel when they read that in Boston, the Seattle Mariners win with seven runs…on three hits. Two of those come in the 10th inning, capped with a three-run homer from Mitch Haniger to put an exclamation point on the M’s 7-3 victory over the Red Sox. Boston pitchers are in a giving mood; they walk seven Mariners, hit another and allow one more to reach by error.
Friday, April 23
Among the many impressive pitching performances so far this season, none of have surpassed the brilliance of the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, who arguably has the finest start of his excellent career to date in a 6-0 home win over Washington. The 32-year-old ace, throwing constantly near or at 100 MPH, throws a two-hit shutout, walks none and strikes out a career-high 15 batters—which helps get him into the record book on several fronts. His 50 K’s so far in 2021 are the most by any pitcher through his first four starts of a season, and he ties Pedro Martinez (1999) and Gerrit Cole (2019) with at least 14 in three straight outings.
deGrom’s excellence is nearly overshadowed by the Twins’ J.A. Happ, who takes a no-hitter into the eighth against the Pirates before it’s broken up with one out on Jacob Stallings’ double. That will be the last batter faced by the 38-year-old Happ, as the Minnesota bullpen wraps up the one-hit shutout in a 2-0 home win. Though the box score will show Happ as looking sharp, only 51 of his 95 pitches are strikes, with 13 first-pitch strikes among the 25 batters he faces.
The Padres make it two straight at Dodger Stadium—and three straight overall this year against the Dodgers—with a 6-1 victory aided by shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who provides an echoing of history. Tatis’ two home runs come on the same field 22 years to the day that his father (Fernando Tatis) launched two grand slams in the same inning while playing for St. Louis. It’s the fourth multi-homer game of the younger Tatis’ career; Yu Darvish throws seven solid innings to help solidify the San Diego victory.
Saturday, April 24
Trevor Bauer improves to 3-0 and the Dodgers snap out of a funk with a 6-4 home win over San Diego—but the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. once again steals the show. For the second straight night, Tatis goes deep twice, covering one eye as he rounds the bases each time in mock salute to Bauer’s claim that he closed one eye while facing the Padres in Spring Training. Tatis becomes the first player to hit multiple homers on back-to-back days off of former Cy Young Award winners (Bauer and, the day before, Clayton Kershaw) and the second player after Barry Bonds to go two-deep in consecutive games as a visiting player at Dodger Stadium. Yes, Tatis commits his eighth error of the season to lead all major leaguers, but this display of weekend power shows that whatever had been ailing his shoulder is no longer affecting his overall play.
Bauer didn’t get mad at Tatis’ one-eyed trot around the bases; instead, he’s all thumbs up after the game. “I’m all for it. I think it’s important the game moves in that direction and we stop throwing at people because (hitters) celebrated having some success on the field.”
The Astros stomp all over the Angels at Houston, 16-2, but the big story isn’t the two-plus hits collected by eight of nine Astros starters or the three doubles from Michael Brantley. The historical glory is instead reserved for 28-year-old rookie Kent Emanuel, a veteran of seven minor league seasons with a career 4.77 ERA who takes over for starter Jake Odorizzi (forearm tightness) with one out in the first and, in his big-league debut, proceeds to go the remaining 8.2 innings to pick up the win. The last pitcher to not start, throw as many (or more) innings and get the win in his debut was the Giants’ John Montefusco, who took over for Ron Bryant with no one out in the first on September 3, 1974 and proceeded to go the distance, allowing a run on six hits through nine innings at Los Angeles.
A highly anticipated matchup between two of the game’s top aces hardly disappoint, as the Yankees and Gerrit Cole top the Indians and Shane Bieber at Cleveland, 2-1. Both New York runs come on solo homers in the fifth from Aaron Hicks and Rougned Odor, while Cole strikes out 11 on 111 pitches over seven strong innings. Bieber also lasts seven frames, collecting nine K’s on 119 pitches, but drops to 2-2.
Sunday, April 25
Madison Bumgarner throws a no-hitter—actually no, he doesn’t. Pick your side. In the second game of a seven-inning doubleheader at Atlanta, the veteran Arizona pitcher—who came into the game having posted a 7.16 ERA in 13 career starts with the Diamondbacks—faces the minimum 21 batters through seven no-hit innings, with just one batter (Ozzie Albies) reaching via error before being erased on a double play. There will be no eighth or ninth inning for Bumgarner, as pandemic-era rules are still in effect for all doubleheaders to consist of two seven-inning games; he has only 98 pitches thrown on the day and could have made it through nine. But as soon as he completes the “faux-no”—a 7-0 Arizona win—the Twitterverse lights up with reasonable arguments on both sides debating whether Bumgarner’s gem should go in the record book as an official no-hitter. MLB pre-emptively opined on the matter and, sticking to its policy of the last 30, said that a no-hitter must be official only after nine or more complete-game innings. Which is strange, because MLB does give Bumgarner credit for a seven-inning complete game.
Our view? We agree with MLB. We’ve never considered shortened no-hitters of seven or fewer innings in the past—so why should we now? (We do give credit to Andy Hawkins’ eight-inning no-hit loss in 1990, because that game was played to a complete, nine-inning conclusion.) Meanwhile, we’ll continue to plug our noses, absorb the silly pandemic rules of the day and hope that, starting in 2022, we’ll be back to a truer normal with all games set for nine innings and no more gift runners on second.
The Bumgarner no-no is just half of an utterly miserable day for the Braves. In the first game, the Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen himself takes a no-hitter into the sixth, allowing just one hit in his own “complete-game” seven-inning shutout won by Arizona, 5-0. The one hit posted by the Braves—a single by Freddie Freeman—over both games is the fewest ever recorded in a twinbill. But an asterisk should still be applied, since the Braves only we’re given 14 innings, not the normal 18 given to teams in more authentic baseball times.
Oakland’s winning streak is finally stopped at 13 games in Baltimore as the Orioles’ John Means clamps down on the A’s and Austin Hays launches two home runs to give the O’s an easy 8-1 win. The 13-game streak is the third longest since the A’s moved to Oakland; they won 14 straight in 1988, and famously grabbed 20 in a row in 2002 to set a then-AL record.
Baseball fans will have to wait two months for the Dodgers and Padres to meet up with one another again, and that’s a shame given the terrific first seven games played between the two teams over the past week and a half. The series finale at Los Angeles, like the previous six games, is full of intensity; the Padres scramble back from a 7-1, sixth-inning deficit, scoring twice each in the seventh, eighth and ninth, then forge the gift runner home from second in the 11th to outlast the Dodgers, 8-7, and take a 4-3 lead in the season series. Fernando Tatis Jr. belts his fifth home run of the series and scores four times, the final tally the game-winner after being placed on second as the gift runner to start the 11th.
For all it’s worth, Tatis is the first player ever to collect five homers and two steals in a single series.
Monday, April 26
In a move that could accelerate the Rockies’ return to respectability but at the same time exposes current front-office tensions, Jeff Bridich agrees to step down as general manager. Bridich’s resignation reflects an organization in turmoil; the Rockies traded popular All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado and $51 million of his salary to St. Louis in an offseason move that infuriated Colorado fans, made no significant roster additions for 2021, and haven’t attempted to extend looming free agent star shortstop Trevor Story. Bridich’s dismissal is accompanied by the promotion of team COO Greg Feasel to president, the first person that the Rockies have employed under that title since the death of Keli McGregor in 2010. But Feasel, a former NFL player, has no baseball ops experience—and owner Dick Monfort, who at this moment is tops on the s**tlist for most Rockies fans, says he will not look for a permanent replacement for Bridich until the end of the season.
In other words, Rockies fans, enjoy the upcoming All-Star Game that’s been dumped in your lap. It’s the only quality baseball you’re likely to see at Coors Field all summer.
On the field, if the Rockies are looking to rally themselves out of the dumps, they fail spectacularly. They get squashed in San Francisco by the Giants, 12-0, netting just three hits off Anthony DeSclafani as he pitches his second career shutout. The loss drops Colorado to an NL-worst 8-14 record.
It’s a 1960s special at St. Louis where, in a crisp two hours and 22 minutes, the Phillies’ Zack Wheeler allows just one hit over eight innings and earns the win in a 2-1 triumph over the Cardinals. Taking the loss for the Redbirds is Adam Wainwright, who goes the distance but remains winless (0-3) through five starts in 2021; it’s his 25th career complete game, tying Clayton Kershaw and trailing only Justin Verlander (26) among active pitchers.
There’s never a dull moment when the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani takes the mound. In Arlington, the Angels’ two-way star becomes the first player since Babe Ruth in June 1921 to get a start on the mound the same day he leads the league in home runs. After spotting the Rangers with four first-inning runs, Ohtani settles down, doesn’t allow any more tallies through five innings, and picks up his first win of the year thanks in part to his own contributions with the bat—going 2-for-3 with a single, double, walk, two RBIs and three runs scored as the Angels ultimately triumph, 9-4.
Tuesday, April 27
In the latest example of trying anything at the minor league level to see if it sticks, the Pioneer League—an independent circuit based in the Northwest which partners with MLB—announces that it will settle any ties after regulation with a home run derby. Each team will send one of their player to the plate and get five pitches—presumably from the opposing team’s pitcher, not one of their relatives—and whichever one gets the most home runs wins the day. If it remains tied, they try again with another five pitches using a different hitter until a winner is decided.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. belts three home runs—something never accomplished by his Hall-of-Fame father—in the Blue Jays’ 9-5 win over Washington at Dunedin, Florida. The 22-year-old Blue Jays’ star becomes the seventh youngest player to go deep thrice; none of the other six knocked in the seven runs he accumulates. One of Guerrero’s homers was is third grand slam of his career.
The Dodgers’ suffer their first three-game losing streak since August 2019 by dropping a 6-5 decision to the visiting Reds. Overall, Los Angeles has lost six of eight but remain tied for first in the NL West with San Francisco, which also loses at home (to Colorado in 10 innings, 7-5).
Wednesday, April 28
It’s another solid start—and another frustrating result—for Mets ace Jacob deGrom. In his fifth start of the year, deGrom allows just a run on three hits over six innings and strikes out nine visiting Red Sox players, giving him 59 for the year to tie Nolan Ryan (1978) for the most collected in one’s first five outings of a season. But the Mets, as they frequently do when deGrom takes the bump, fails to generate any offense, being shut down on two hits between Boston starter Nick Pivetta (3-0 with a 2.81 ERA) and three relievers. The 1-0 Boston win is one of five shutouts on the night, raising the total to 66 this month. That’s a record for the month of April.
Thirty of the 58 at-bats in the game end in strikeouts. There are only six hits.
The Cardinals’ Genesis Cabrera is in a Land of Confusion as he takes the mound in relief for Johan Oviedo to start the sixth inning at St. Louis against the Phillies. With his first pitch, he hits Phillies start Bryce Harper in the side of the face; with his second, he plunks Didi Gregorius square in the back. (Harper leaves the game but will not miss any time.) Things might have gotten uglier from there if the score was, say, 7-0 instead of 3-3, but Phillies manager Joe Girardi is still ejected after complaining why umpires send warnings to both benches when his team hasn’t had a chance to retaliate. Andrew McCutchen, the next batter to face Cabrera, luckily isn’t hit and pokes a single to center to knock home what would ultimately be the winning run in a 5-3 Philadelphia victory. After that third batter, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt goes out to Genesis, tells him That’s All, and removes him.
Shildt immediately recognizes that Cabrera is not in any kind of groove but can’t replace him until he faces three batters, per MLB’s mandate that all pitchers must face a minimum of three batters within an inning. By being forced to leave Cabrera in, opposing hitters are unnecessarily put at risk. The three-batter rule has done little to shave time off games; throw this hazard into the mix, and MLB should reconsider continuing with it.
One of the more mystifying umpire calls so far in 2021 takes place in Milwaukee where the Marlins’ Isan Diaz rolls a slow grounder that’s grabbed by Brewers pitcher Zack Godley and lobbed to first to easily beat Diaz for the out. Except that first-base umpire Marty Foster declares Diaz safe due to runner’s interference from Godley. (Let’s roll the videotape.) Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell argues to no avail; runner’s interference calls are not subject to video review. After the game, Foster stands by his call, telling a pool reporter that the play was “clear-cut obstruction.” Sure—and the Hindenburg was a clear-cut perfect landing.
Thursday, April 29
The Mariners eke out a 1-0 win at Houston behind pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, who takes a no-hitter into the seventh before Carlos Correa breaks it up with a one-out double, and center fielder Taylor Trammell—who supplies the game’s only run with a third-inning solo homer, and finishes it with a sliding catch toward the infield on Correa’s sinking pop fly.
Friday, April 30
Ending a month in which batters collectively hit .232—the worst bat average for a full month since May 1968—and strikeouts continue to rise, it seems all too apt that we have two items of pitching dominance to discuss.
At Chicago, Cleveland ace Shane Bieber strikes out 11 over six competent innings, raising his monthly total to 68—the most ever recorded by a major league pitcher in April. Bieber gets help from Jose Ramirez (home run and three RBIs) to defeat the White Sox, 5-3, and improve to 3-2 on the year.
The Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, who held the previous April record for K’s (65 in 2019), earns his own place in the obscure history book. At New York, Cole glides through six shutout innings, striking out 12 and walking none as the Yankees bruise up the Tigers, 10-0. It’s Cole’s third straight start with no runs or walks allowed and 10-plus strikeouts, the third player to perform the feat; the other two were Clayton Kershaw (who did it twice, in 2015 and 2016) and Chris Archer (2015).
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