This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: July 2021

The Nationals and Cubs Burn Down the House    The Cleveland Guardians
Sweet Home Toronto: The Blue Jays Return to Canada    Almost, Joey Votto

June 2021    Comebacker Index    August 2021

Thursday, July 1

Major League Baseball announces its starting lineups for the All-Star Game to be held at Denver on July 13, through a two-phase process that shows that participating fans did their homework. While there are obvious choices that need no explanation—Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Ronald Acuna Jr. among them—the selections of others (Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier, Cincinnati’s Jesse Winker) show that casual baseball fans marking down their choices passed the IQ test. Of the 17 players chosen above, eight are making their first All-Star Game start. Mike Trout, opted by the fans despite having missed half of the season to injury, was named to the starting lineup for the seventh time—followed by Salvador Perez (six) and Buster Posey (five). Guerrero leads all players in total votes; at age 22 years and 107 days, he’s the youngest player ever to lead the tally.

Tatis is the first Padres position player named to the starting lineup since Tony Gwynn in 1998. 

Three days later, reserves will be announced. From that list, the most prominent name is the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani—who becomes the first player ever to be named as both hitter and pitcher.

Merrill Kelly continues to be a saving grace for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He collects his third straight win—the DBacks’ only three victories over their last 27 games—as he pins down the front-running San Francisco Giants with seven solid innings in a 5-3 win. Kelly also notches an RBI single to give Arizona a 2-1 lead in the second; it’s only his second career hit in 78 at-bats.

Jacob deGrom is his usual electric self, but only after an uncharacteristically bad first inning in which he allows three runs to the Braves at Atlanta; it’s the most tallies he’s allowed in any game thus far this season. Following that slip-up, deGrom pitches six shutout innings, allowing just two more hits while striking out 12—including eight in a row. He leaves the game with his New York Mets trailing, 3-2; they come back to tie on a Dominic Smith home run in the ninth, but the Braves respond with a walk-off infield single from Freddie Freeman to win, 4-3.

Ehire Adrianza’s triple to lead-off the three-run first for the Braves snaps a 0-for-37 slide by hitters against deGrom in the opening inning—the longest such drought since at least 1921, according to ESPN.

deGrom has now struck out eight straight batters four different times in his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only Nolan Ryan has done it even twice since 1961.

Former Colorado star Nolan Arenado returns to Coors Field for the first time since his controversial trade to the St. Louis Cardinals, receives a nice (but hardly overwhelming) round of applause from a crowd of 30,410—then proceeds to go hitless in four at-bats as the Redbirds fall to the Rockies, 5-2. Adam Wainwright pitches eight solid innings for the Cardinals, but is removed with the game tied at 2-2; reliever Giovanny Gallegos cannot hold it, as Elias Diaz’s two-out, three-run homer in the ninth gives the Rockies a 5-2 walk-off win.

The Rockies are 29-16 at home—and 6-31 on the road.

Friday, July 2

It’s love at first pitch again for the Miami Marlins against Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Braves at Atlanta. Miami’s Pablo Lopez plunks Acuna in the back with his first—and, as it turns out, his last—delivery of the evening; the umpires, well aware that the Marlins have made a habit of drilling the Braves’ leadoff star, ejects Lopez. Marlins manager Don Mattingly is the next to go when he vociferously argues to no avail. Adding insult, Acuna eventually rounds the bases and scores the game’s only run on Ozzie Albies’ sac fly, as Drew Smyly (5.2 innings) and five relievers shut down the Marlins for a 1-0 victory. Lopez thus becomes the only starting pitcher ever to throw one pitch and be charged with defeat in a 1-0 game.

It’s a rather newsworthy day both on and off the field for the Dodgers. In the morning, they’re feted at the White House by President Joe Biden in the customary post-championship visit—but pitcher Trevor Bauer is not present, as he’s placed on a seven-day administrative leave as MLB tries to gather more information into the allegations that he assaulted a woman back in California. Later in the evening, the Dodgers trail Washington after six innings, 3-1, as Nationals ace (and soon-to-be Dodger) Max Scherzer limits the world champs to a run on four hits with eight strikeouts. But then Scherzer departs—and the Nationals bullpen, as so many relievers seem to do immediately after taking over for a starter who’s pitched well of late, implodes. The Dodgers strike for nine runs in the seventh and sail from there to a 10-5 victory, giving Julio Urias his 10th win of the year.

The bad news for the Nationals isn’t limited to relievers who can’t throw. Leadoff slugger Kyle Schwarber—who set a franchise mark with 16 home runs in June—injures his hamstring while running the bases. By the time he returns to action, he’ll be a Red Sock, having been traded to Boston on July 30.

The Chicago White Sox decide that Yermin Mercedes needs a tune-up—sending him to Triple-A. The rookie DH-first baseman, who broke out in April with a .415 batting average and five home runs, has since hit just .196 with a pair of dingers over 158 at-bats, suggesting that the book on Mercedes is out and has been well read by opposing teams.

Saturday, July 3

The rampaging Milwaukee Brewers make it 11 wins in a row, flattening the Pirates at Pittsburgh, 11-2. The streak is the second longest in Brewers history, after a 16-game run from the end of 1986 into 1987. Omar Narvaez collects a career-high five hits (all singles) for the Brewers, while Avisail Garcia drives in five runs. Meanwhile, the Pirates have lost six straight—the fourth time this year that the Bucs have had a skid of equal or longer length.

Sunday, July 4

The New York Yankees avoid falling below .500 this late into the season for the first time since 2016 thanks to Gio Urshela—who launches a three-run bomb in the second inning of the second game of a mini-doubleheader—and Chad Green, who pitches three shutout innings, including the seventh immaculate inning (nine pitches, nine strikes, three outs) in Yankees history. The 4-2 victory over the visiting Mets in the nightcap offsets a grisly 10-5 loss in the first game, blown once again by badly struggling closer Aroldis Chapman—who fails to retire a single batter while giving up the first three of six Mets in the deciding seventh inning.

Green’s perfect inning, in the seventh, is the second one thrown by a Yankee this year; Michael King achieved one on June 4 against the Red Sox.

The Cubs lose their ninth straight game, 3-2 at Cincinnati—but for all it’s worth, they at least get more than eight hits, the first time they’ve done in their last 20 games. The relative abundance of hits doesn’t help put more runs on the board as they hit into three double plays—including one to end the game in the ninth.

Only two other teams—the 1967-68 Yankees (27 games) and the 1905 Boston Beaneaters (22) had longer streaks of games without collecting more than eight safeties.

The Giants enhance their MLB-best record to 53-30 and maintain their slim half-game margin in the NL West over the Dodgers—who hold the second-best record, at 53-31—with a 5-2 win over the Diamondbacks at Arizona. Anthony DeSclafani comes within an out of his third complete game of the season, settling for his ninth win of 2021, but batterymate Buster Posey jams his thumb while gloving a pitch; he’ll be out of action until July 19, also missing the All-Star game for which he’s be chosen as the NL’s starting catcher.

Monday, July 5

The Cubs’ 10th straight loss—dropping the team below .500 for the first time since May 16—shows a ballclub visibly showing the strain of the moment. Manager David Ross is ejected after objecting to a ball four call to the Phillies’ Bryce Harper in the sixth; a tight game then turns into a lopsided event as the Phillies explode for nine runs over the final two innings, en rout to a 13-3 win. In defeat, the Cubs continue to give work on the mound…to back-up infielder Eric Sogard, who’s evolving into an accidental two-way player and, thus, a poor man’s Shohei Ohtani. Sogard pitches for the fifth time this year, giving up his first three runs after throwing 3.1 shutout innings (allowing four hits and no walks) through his first four appearances. It’s pointed out that since the Cubs’ slump began, Sogard has made more appearances on the mound (three) than closer Craig Kimbrel (one), in part because the Cubs haven’t been able to give a late lead for Kimbrel to protect.

The skid is the Cubs’ longest since losing 12 straight in 2012; the franchise record is 16, from 1996-97.

Speaking of Ohtani, the Angels’ dual-star collects a single in five at-bats during the Angels’ 5-4 home loss to Boston. While the simple single by itself makes little news, it ends a streak of 10 straight extra-base hits—the last seven of those being home runs. His previous single came on June 25 at Tampa Bay, 10 days earlier.

Another single makes history. In the Dodgers’ 5-4 loss at Miami—breaking Los Angeles’ nine-game win streak, by the way—Albert Pujols’ eighth-inning single makes him the fourth player in MLB history to secure 6,000 career total bases.

Miami fans will have to wait a bit longer to witness the potential greatness of Sixto Sanchez. The young Marlins pitcher, 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA in seven starts last year, dealt with shoulder soreness (to say nothing of off-field issues such as visa headaches and a false COVID-19 positive test) that has kept him from getting into action during the first half of the season. But now it’s been revealed that Sanchez has a partial tear of his shoulder, requiring surgery that will keep him out until the start of 2022—at the earliest.

The White Sox’ Yasmani Grandal will be out for nearly the next eight weeks after tearing a tendon in his left knee while checking his swing in an 8-5 loss at Minnesota. You would think any team wouldn’t lose too much sleep over a guy hitting .188 like Grandal, but his 14 home runs and 38 RBIs both rank second on the team, and because he draws so much more walks (60) than hits (34), his .388 on-base percentage isn’t far behind Yoan Moncada’s .395 for the team lead.

Tuesday, July 6

The Cubs make it 11 straight losses, handicapping themselves with an unmistakably rough start when Andrew McCutchen’s grand slam off Jake Arrieta gives Philadelphia a 4-0 lead just four batters into the first inning. The Phillies don’t stop there, outlasting the Cubs 15-10 at Wrigley Field behind Bryce Harper’s five hits including his 15th home run—a three-run shot to end a streak of 16 consecutive home runs belted with no one on base.

Harper’s 14 solo homers to start this season fall three short of the all-time mark of 17 set by Atlanta’s Felipe Alou in 1966; Marwin Gonzalez’s 25 straight solo shots is the all-time record, regardless of time of season or career.

Arrieta’s latest crash-and-burn shows a pitcher nowhere close to the invincibility of his 2015 Cy Young Award-winning campaign. He’s winless in his last eight starts—a stretch in which he’s produced a brutal 9.67 ERA.

Call it the Curse of the No-Hitter. Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner throws one (albeit a seven-inning gem) and the Diamondbacks lose their next 24 road games. Baltimore’s John Means throws one and the Orioles lose their next 20 on the road. Six Cubs pitchers combine to no-hit the Dodgers, and then they lose nine straight on the road…followed by the two losses against the Phillies back on their home turf at Chicago.

The Seattle Mariners become the last team outside of the Toronto Blue Jays (who have yet to be allowed back in Canada) to play at their home ballpark at 100% capacity, but only 16,547 spectators take advantage; perhaps others had visions of the carnage that the Mariners had coming. The visiting Yankees, who have not lost a season series to the Mariners since 2002, pound their way to a 12-1 trouncing. Giancarlo Stanton sets the pace with a three-run homer in the first; Luke Voit collects a career-high five hits (four singles and a double) in six at-bats.

Shohei Ohtani continues to impress—this time, with his arm. For only the fourth time in his MLB career, the 27-year-old Japanese native records seven innings on the mound, allowing two runs on five hits and—here’s the most amazing stat—no walks, while adding an RBI double in four at-bats to cool off the Red Sox (11-1 in their previous 12 games), 5-3 at Anaheim. Helping out at the plate is second baseman David Fletcher, who strokes four hits to extend his hit streak to 20 games.

Tampa Bay’s scheduled game against Cleveland is postponed because of Elsa, the approaching tropical storm briefly upgraded to hurricane strength; a doubleheader is played the next day to make up.

Wednesday, July 7

We have another no-hitter—but then again, we really don’t. In the second game of a mini-doubleheader at St. Petersburg, five Rays pitchers group to hold Cleveland hitless, 4-0, walking two and allowing another baserunner via error. Tampa Bay’s Fab Five includes starter Collin McHugh (two innings), Josh Fleming (who gets credit for the win pitching the next 2.2 frames), Diego Castillo (0.1) Matt Wisler (one) and Peter Fairbanks (one). The Rays breeze in the earlier game as well with an 8-1 result, as Michael Wacha scatters four hits over six innings. The double-defeat extends Cleveland’s losing streak to nine games and knocks it back to the .500 mark, eight games behind Chicago in the AL Central.

Even though seven-inning games count in the standings and anyone who pitches all seven frames in one gets credit for a complete game, no-hit efforts are not allowed official entry into the record book—as Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner found out on April 25.

With his 32nd home run of the year at Anaheim during the Angels’ 5-4 win over Boston, Shohei Ohtani passes retired former Yankee Hideki Matsui for the most home runs by a Japanese-born MLB player over an entire season. (Quick note: We’re still not at the All-Star Break yet.) Ohtani’s solo shot in the fifth breaks a 2-2 tie and gave the Angels the lead to stay, putting them two games above .500 for the first time since late April.

Coming into the 2021 season, Matsui had the four highest season totals by a Japanese native, topped by the 31 he smacked for the 2004 Yankees. Outside of he and Ohtani, the next highest home run total is 18 by Seattle’s Kenji Johjima and the White Sox’ Tadahito Iguchi, both in 2006.

Ohtani’s 32 homers are the most by anyone before the All-Star Break since Chris Davis racked up 37 in 2013.

Is it time for a parade in Phoenix? The Diamondbacks win consecutive games for the first time since May 10-11, defeating the visiting Rockies, 6-4. Eduardo Escobar, Arizona’s lone All-Star rep, has three hits including his 19th home run while knocking in three runs. The loss for Colorado drops its road record to an astonishingly bad 6-33 mark—even worse than the Diamondbacks’ ledger away from home (10-36).

Cubs win! Cubs win! Chicago’s dance with infamy finally ends as the Cubs break an 11-game skid with an 8-3 victory over the visiting Phillies. Alec Mills throws 5.2 innings to improve to 4-2 on the year—but more importantly, the Cubs bullpen, so bad of late, contributes 3.1 shutout innings, allowing just a hit and walk to wrap things up.

Thursday, July 8

The continuing anti-Astros mania apparently is still affecting a number of star players from Houston’s disgraced world champion team of 2017. Second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa, who figured prominently during the Astros’ cheating-enhanced campaign, have bowed out of next week’s All-Star Game—for curious reasons. Altuve simply says he needs a break and wants to rest up for the season’s second half; sounds reasonable, except you don’t see anyone else on the roster stiff-arming the prestigious event (except Mets ace Jacob deGrom). Correa, meanwhile, claims he wants to stay in Houston and be with his wife, who’s pregnant with their first child. It’s not that she’s due to deliver at any moment; that’s not expected to happen until November.

What’s likely happening here is that Altuve and Correa simply don’t want to face the music—not necessarily from the sellout crowd at Denver’s Coors Field, but in the clubhouse from AL teammates who were on the other side in 2017, players who might hold a grudge against what the Astros did against them in 2017. Players like Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, whose Red Sox were knocked out by Houston in the ALDS. Or the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and closer Aroldis Chapman, the latter of whom gave up the Astros’ winning run in ALCS Game Two. Or any number of guys who were on AL West teams the Astros routinely beat up on during the regular season, perhaps with the help of a garbage can and massage gun.

After cruising to a 15-5 victory the day before, the Nationals pick up where they left off against the Padres, running out to an 8-0 lead after three and a half innings with Max Scherzer on the mound. And that’s when a guy named Daniel Camarena rewrites the script. With two runs already in on the inning, the Padres give the 28-year-old California native a rare at-bat—and he stuns Scherzer and sends the Petco Park crowd into near delirium with the first grand slam hit by a reliever since Don Robinson in 1985. Fernando Tatis Jr. makes it a one-run game two batters later with a solo shot, ending Scherzer’s night; the Padres tie it in the sixth and win it in the ninth, 9-8, on Trent Grisham’s walk-off single.

Camarena is only the second pitcher in MLB history to belt a grand slam for his first career hit. The other was Bill Duggleby, way back in 1898.

The season’s 10th hat trick of home runs is provided by the Phillies’ Brad Miller, as he goes deep in the third, fifth and seventh innings while knocking in five total runs in Philadelphia’s 8-0 thumping of the Cubs in Chicago. It’s Miller’s 14th career multi-homer game, but his first netting three; he’s the first Phillie since Jayson Werth in 2008 to go three-deep.

Despite recent rumor to the contrary, the Marlins like manager Don Mattingly to the point that they’re keeping him through 2022. Miami general manager Kim Ng announces that the team has exercised a mutual option with the 60-year-old Mattingly for next year, ensuring that at least he’ll be paid by the team for a seventh straight year. Mattingly is already the longest tenured manager in Marlins history, and fifth among active MLB pilots.

Friday, July 9

It’s a good night, early on, for the Angels in Seattle. David Fletcher leads off the game with a home run to extend his hit streak to 22 games—the majors’ longest this season—Shohei Ohtani crushes a 463-foot bomb that’s the sixth ever deposited in T-Mobile Park’s upper deck for his MLB-best 33rd homer of the year, and Alex Cobb pitches 5.1 fine innings to give Los Angeles a 3-2 lead. But the Mariners tie it in the seventh, and with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth, Mitch Haniger unloads on Angels reliever Jose Quintana, belting his second career grand slam to provide the winning touch in a 7-3 victory.

Ohtani has hit 16 homers over his last 21 games, something no other American League player has ever accomplished. His tape-measure shot was officially two feet short of the longest ever hit at T-Mobile Park; Chris Carter belted one 465 feet on August 29, 2016.

The Mets have a little bit of everything going on in their 13-4 drubbing of the visiting Pirates. They collect 10 runs in the sixth inning—highlighted by a grand slam from Francisco Lindor—and are aided by a pair of blasts from switch-hitting Jonathan Villar, one from each side of the plate.  According to STATS, the Mets are the first team to benefit from all three of the above feats in the same game.

Saturday, July 10

Just three days before what would have been his second All-Star Game start, Atlanta star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is lost for the rest of the season after tearing an ACL in the Braves’ 5-4 win at Miami. The play occurs when Acuna falls awkwardly on his right leg after making a high leap on an attempted catch of a Jazz Chisholm Jr. fly ball on the right-field warning track; he crumples to the ground, clutches his knee and otherwise lies motionless as Chisholm rounds the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

Acuna’s loss is a massive blow for the Braves, who have been scuffling all year (44-44) but are nevertheless within striking distance of the first-place Mets, four games ahead in the NL East. It’s also a huge loss for Baseball in general; Acuna is one of the game’s most entertaining and flashy stars, and a no-brainer selection among All-Star Game voters. In roughly half a season’s worth of work (82 games) in 2021, Acuna hit .283 with 24 home runs, 52 RBIs, an MLB-high 72 runs and 17 steals.

Gerrit Cole returns to Houston for the first time since leaving the Astros following the 2019 World Series, and reminds fans of what they’ve been missing. In an impressive effort, Cole deals a three-hit shutout, walking two and striking out 12 on an MLB season-high 129 pitches, as the Yankees edge their way to 1-0 win. Providing the game’s only run is Aaron Judge, whose third-inning solo homer is accentuated with a trot around the bases mimicking Jose Altuve’s “don’t-rip-my-shirt-off” pose during his 2019 ALCS -winning walk-off.

The last pitcher to throw more pitches in a nine-inning shutout that wasn’t a no-hitter was Anibal Sanchez, who amassed 130 throws while shutting down the White Sox on May 24, 2013.

According to Yankees stats guru Katie Sharp, New York has allowed just 22 hits in their last six games—the fewest in any such stretch in franchise history.

Just when things couldn’t get worse for the woeful Diamondbacks…they get worse. At Los Angeles, the Snakes give up an all-time franchise-high (and Dodger Stadium-record) 22 runs as the Dodgers score early and often—and late and often—in a 22-1 rout. The Dodgers score in just four innings—and don’t score at all between the third and sixth—rallying for five in the first, four in the second, seven in the seventh and six in the eighth. Of Los Angeles’ 21 hits, eight are home runs—tying the franchise mark last set in a 2019 home game, also against Arizona; Albert Pujols hits two of the round-trippers to give him 675 in his storied career, and Justin Turner and Mookie Betts each add grand slams, making the Dodgers the first team ever to have multiple games with multiple slams within the same season.

Dick Tidrow, who passes away at age 74, was a former pitcher who won 100 games and an executive 100% liked by co-workers at Giants headquarters, where in the 2000s he helped mold the team’s quasi-dynasty of the early 2010s by drafting catcher Buster Posey and its core pitching staff of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. As a player, Tidrow was drafted four times alone, including the very first amateur draft in 1965; as a 1972 rookie with Cleveland, he posted an impressive 2.77 over 237.1 innings but failed to earn a single AL Rookie of the Year vote likely due to a 14-15 record. Tidrow was part of the early 1974 trade that sent he, Chris Chambliss and Cecil Upshaw from the Indians to the Yankees, was gradually converted into a reliever and became part of the Bronx Bombers’ 1977-78 championship madness. It’s also where he picked up the nickname “Dirt” because his uniforms never looked clean. By the time he was traded to the Cubs at the end of the 1970s, Tidrow had become a full-time reliever, frequently pitching over 100 innings without a start; in 1980, he led the majors with 84 appearances. After his retirement in 1984, Tidrow spent nine years as a scout for the Yankees before latching on with the Giants’ front office in 1994.

Sunday, July 11

The 2021 MLB Amateur Draft commences with the Pirates picking Louisville catcher Henry Davis as the overall #1 pick; the hard-hitting collegian batted .370 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs over just 50 games this past year. Meanwhile, the season’s two most talked-about NCAA players—Vanderbilt’s one-two pitching punch of Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker—are also opted for within the first 10 picks. Leiter, the son of former MLB pitcher Al Leiter, is selected second by Texas, while Rocker—who entered the season as the expected #1 draft pick—slips to #10 and is scooped up by the Mets as concerns about his pitching health abound.

Certainly the most “What, wait” pick in the first round comes at #25 when the Oakland A’s drafted shortstop Max Muncy—no, not any relation to the Dodgers’ star of the same name. That Muncy was selected back in 2012, in the fifth round…also by the A’s. This Muncy is an 18-year old who recently graduated from Thousand Oaks High School, north of Los Angeles.

Miami’s Pablo Lopez becomes the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out the first nine batters he faces when he sets down the Braves’ order on strikes in each of his first three innings. Then, over the next three frames, Lopez doesn’t strike out a single batter—but does get the win, departing after six innings with a solid lead the Marlins will keep on their way to a 7-4 victory. Jesus Aguilar’s first-inning, three-run homer sets the pace for Miami. Ehire Adrianza, filling in at the leadoff spot for Atlanta a day after Ronald Acuna Jr.’s season-ending injury, is hitless in four at-bats.

Things weren’t looking good at the start of the day as four Phillies players—including ace Aaron Nola, scheduled to start against the Red Sox—and everyday third baseman Alec Bohm are placed on the COVID-19 injury list. But the reinforcements come through; six relievers combined to keep Boston at arm’s distance, while Bohm replacement Ronald Torreyes goes 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs to give Philadelphia a 5-4 road victory.

Apparently no lead is safe when you’re the Yankees. There have been 465 games this year in which a team has taken a lead of four or more runs into the ninth; only twice has that team lost. Both teams were the Yankees. It happened on June 30 against the Angels, and it happens today at Houston, where the Astros pile up six runs in the final frame—the last three tallies on Jose Altuve’s walk-off homer off New York’s Chad Green. In an apparent rebuttal to Aaron Judge’s Altuve imitation the day before, Houston teammates tears off Altuve’s jersey as he arrives home with the winning run.

Monday, July 12

The Mets’ Pete Alonso captures his second straight All-Star Derby, making it look too easy in outhammering an intriguing field of eight sluggers including crowd darling Shohei Ohtani and cancer survivor/sentimental favorite Trey Mancini, the latter of whom Alonso defeats in the final round. Alonso joins Ken Griffey Jr. (1994, 1998-99), Prince Fielder (2009, 2012) and Yoenis Cespedes (2013-14) among those winning multiple Derbys. Ohtani is the popular (and odds-on) favorite to win the competition, but he fizzles early on, roping one shot after another into the outfield as if he was focused on winning the Line Drive Derby instead. He finally breaks into a home run groove and rallies just enough to tie first-round opponent Juan Soto—but after two rounds of overtime, Soto emerges as the winner over a clearly exhausted Ohtani. Soto bows in the second round to Alonso, but provides the packed Coors Field crowd in Denver with the longest home run of the night, sending one drive 520 feet—second in recorded Derby history to Sammy Sosa, who smashed a 524-foot drive at Milwaukee in 2002.

For those who think players like Alonso are in the Derby just to have fun, think about this: He’s made more money ($2 million) with his multiple Derby triumphs than he has playing two-plus years with the Mets ($1.47 million).

Ohtani is the subject of controversy earlier in the day when ESPN pundit/loudmouth Stephen A. Smith claims that the Angels’ two-way star can’t be the face of baseball because he “needs an interpreter so you can understand what the hell he’s saying.” Forget the xenophobia contained in the comment; Smith’s rant is just plain stupid, because…nobody goes to a baseball game to watch the players talk. They come to watch them play. Nearly 30% of MLB’s workforce is foreign-born—and many of those players don’t speak English as a first language. MLB represents the very, very best of what the world has to offer, and every player should be embraced based on the level of their abilities, not their proficiency in the English language.

Tuesday, July 13

The American League extends its ongoing dominance at the All-Star Game, defeating the National League, 5-2, at Denver’s Coors Field for its eighth consecutive Midsummer Classic victory. Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani starts the game on the mound and leads off at the plate as the league’s designated hitter; he retires the side in his one inning of work—with several pitches topping 100 MPH—and grounds out twice in his two at-bats before leaving for the night. Ohtani receives credit for the win, as ASG rules don’t require the starter to go five innings to earn victory since it’s assumed no one pitcher will throw more than two frames.

Offensively, the AL is lifted by Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who crushes a 468-foot solo home run in the third and brings home a second run on a fifth-inning grounder. Guerrero and his Hall-of-Fame father join two other dad-son combos (Bobby and Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr.) who all homered in at least one All-Star Game; he’s also the youngest player to win ASG MVP honors, surpassing Griffey Jr.

Ohtani is the second Japanese-born pitcher (after Hideo Nomo in 1995) to start an All-Star Game—and the second (after Masahiro Tanaka in 2019) to win one.

The AL’s other home run on the night is supplied by Tampa Bay’s Mike Zunino, somehow appearing in the All-Star Game despite a .198 season average; he’s the first sub-.200 hitter to ever go deep in the event.

All-Star Game monopolies have been quite the thing for the past 60 years; the AL streak was preceded by a streak of three (NL, 2010-12), 12 (AL, 1997-2009, the infamous 2002 tie excluded), another three-game run (NL, 1994-96) and six (AL, 1988-93). Oh, and shortly before all of that, NL win streaks of 11 (1972-83) and eight (1963-70).

The All-Star Game is widely enjoyed by those watching it either in person or on their devices of choice (TV, mobile, et al). But almost en masse, they criticize one thing: The uniforms. The AL wears all blues and the NL all whites, with nothing more added except a three-letter code for each represented city vertically slabbed on the front of the shirt, obscured by the team logo that knocks it out. The minimalist attempt at modern chic design by Nike fails to grab people’s attention in a positive way, and leave fans pining for the days when ASG players simply wore their team’s regular jerseys as an obvious (and rightful) way to represent their ballclubs.

Earlier in the day, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred gives his unofficial State of Baseball speech via the traditional pre-ASG Q&A with reporters. Front and center among the topics is some good news: Manfred says that MLB is “likely” to get rid of the seven-inning doubleheaders and the extra-inning ‘gift runner’ on second base in 2022, saying that the two rules continued to be instituted because the league was highly concerned that the lingering pandemic would continue to wreak havoc on the players. But he balances the good news with the awful, mentioning that the league is leaning toward banning the shift—saying that baseball needed to go back to its roots. “Let’s just say you regulated the sport by requiring infielders on each side of second base,” he told reporters. “What does that do? It makes the game look like what it looked like when I was 12 years old.” Hey Rob: The ghost of Lou Boudreau would like a word with you.

Manfred also touches on the A’s ongoing efforts to get a new ballpark built in Oakland—and pushes the familiar pressure tactic of threatening a move elsewhere if it doesn’t get done; says that he will huddle with union boss Tony Clark on making it more mandatory for players selected for the All-Star Game to actually attend the event, following the exodus of several star players this year; and wouldn’t directly say whether Arlington’s new Globe Life Field would be barred from future ASG consideration if the State of Texas passes voter suppression laws similar to those in Georgia—which led to MLB moving this year’s ASG from Atlanta in protest.

The 2021 MLB Amateur Draft wraps up with 612 players selected through 20 rounds. Among the more interesting factoids to come out of the draft: The Angels become the first team to exclusively opt for pitchers, with 20 hurlers selected over 20 rounds; Jacob Steinmetz, a 17-year-old right-hander from Elev8 Baseball Academy, is selected #77 by the Diamondbacks as the first practicing Orthodox Jewish player ever taken in an MLB draft; and although there are few legacies (sons of former players, e.g.) selected than in years past, perhaps the most notable this time around is UC-Berkeley’s Darren Baker, the son of Houston manager Dusty Baker—and the young kid who, as San Francisco bat boy during the 2002 World Series, nearly got run over at home plate while trying to scoop up a bat, only to be saved by the Giants’ J.T. Snow.

One of our favorite traditions every year at draft time is to scroll through the list of those selected and check out the coolest names listed. This year provided us with no disappointment. Among those drafted: Pitcher Joe Rock (#66, taken by, but of course, the Colorado Rockies), infielder Christian Encarnacion-Strand (#128, Minnesota—imagine the uniform stitcher who has to put that name on the back of a jersey), second baseman Kobe Kato (#388, Houston), outfielder River Town (#434, Kansas City); pitcher Nick Zwack (#502, New York Mets); pitcher Gage Jump (#550, San Diego), first baseman Justice Bigbie (#555, Detroit), and pitcher Blake Beers (#578, Oakland).

Thursday, July 15

The lone game scheduled to kick off MLB’s official second half of 2021 is postponed when at least six members of the Yankees—including star slugger Aaron Judge and third baseman Gio Urshela—test positive for COVID-19. It’s the first pandemic-related postponement of an MLB game in three months, as the far more transmissable “Delta” variant of the virus threatens to give rise to yet a new surge in cases just when everyone thought the pandemic was ending and ballparks were back to full capacity.

Two weeks before the trading deadline, the first major move takes place as the Cubs trade outfielder Joc Pederson to Atlanta for first base prospect Bryce Ball, currently situated at the Class A+ level in the minors. Thus ends Pederson’s short tenure in Chicago, where he hit .230 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs over 73 games; with the Braves, he is expected to do the best he can to make up for the team’s loss of star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., out for the year with a torn ACL.

Friday, July 16

The Padres post a relentless, record-setting pasting of the Nationals in Washington, scoring in every inning but the seventh and rolling to a 24-8 rout. The 24 runs are easily the most scored by the Padres in franchise history, conversely, the 24 allowed by the Nationals also set a team mark; the previous high for both came on May 19, 2001 when the Padres bombed away at the Expos (as the Nationals were then known as) at Montreal, 20-5. Individually, Jake Cronenworth hits for the third cycle in Padres history, and the second by any MLB player this season; Tommy Pham comes within a triple of making it two San Diego cycles on the night and scores five runs to tie Al Martin’s single-game mark from 2000; and Wil Myers drills two home runs among three hits with a career-high seven RBIs.

Collectively, the Nationals throw 258 pitches on the night. Since pitches began being tracked in 1988, only one team—the A’s, with 263 in a 20-4 loss to Detroit on April 13, 1993—have thrown more in a game lasting nine innings or less.

After being postponed the day before due to a COVID-19 outbreak among New York players, the Yankees and Red Sox are allowed to play on—and Boston makes it seven-for-seven on the year against its archrivals, silencing the Yankees by a 4-0 count at Yankee Stadium. J.D. Martinez and Christian Arroyo both go deep for Boston, while Eduardo Rodriguez picks up his seventh win tossing 5.2 shutout innings, allowing two of the three hits netted by the Yankees on the night.

The Red Sox’ overall streak of eight straight wins against the Yankees (stretching back to the end of the 2020 season) is the third longest against New York in franchise history; they won nine in a row from 2008-09 and 17 straight from 1911-12.

The Yankees aren’t the only team feeling the viral pinch. In Denver, Rockies manager Bud Black, first base coach Ron Gideon and four players—including scheduled starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela—are sidelined after being placed on the COVID-19 injury list. Pitching on short notice in Senzatela’s place, Chi Chi Gonzalez is hammered for five first-inning runs by the visiting Dodgers, and seven overall through four innings before being removed; Los Angeles rolls to a 10-4 victory as Julio Urias records his 12th win of the year to co-lead the majors with the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks, who also reaches 12 with a 5-1 triumph at Arizona.

With a pinch-hit single late in the game, the Dodgers’ Albert Pujols surpassed Willie Mays for 12th on the all-time hit list with 3,284. However, if you want to include Negro League numbers, Mays still leads Pujols with 3,293—or more, since statistical data on Negro League players remains piecemeal. The next target on the hit parade for Pujols is Eddie Collins, #11 with 3,315 hits.

It’s official: The Toronto Blue Jays will end their forced, pandemic-era exile placed upon them by the Canadian government and play for the first time in front of Toronto fans since the end of the 2019 season, starting with a July 30 game against Kansas City. The decision does come with a caveat; unvaccinated players (to which, incredibly, there still are some within MLB) cannot go anywhere but the hotel or the stadium and must have no interaction with the general public.

Trevor Bauer isn’t the only major leaguer being forced to sit in MLB limbo. Washington infielder Starlin Castro has been placed on a seven-day administrative leave after a possible case of domestic abuse which the league is looking into. The incident allegedly took place in the spring, but information has been hard to ascertain; Castro had already sat out three days in mid-June when the allegations came to light, but was allowed back into action pending further information. Apparently some of the info is internally coming to light.

Saturday, July 17

After the Nationals and Padres engaged in a wild 24-8 game the night before, another shootout takes place at Nationals Park on Saturday—the kind nobody wants. As the Padres are taking the field for the bottom of the sixth, gunfire is heard echoing around the ballpark, spooking players and fans into covering for safety. It’s later discovered that the shots are fired between two cars outside of the venue’s third-base gate, with three people hurt. One was a female spectator walking outside the ballpark who was said to suffer a non-life-threatening injury; the other two are in one of the cars and check themselves into a hospital, where authorities later arrive to question them. Though there was initial panic inside the ballpark near the third-base gate, the crowd eventually calms and exits in an orderly fashion as Nationals officials activates the emergency protocol to empty the ballpark.

The game will be picked up the next day where it was left off, with the Padres securing a 10-4 victory before the start of the regularly scheduled game.

The Yankees finally get in the win column against the Red Sox behind Gerrit Cole’s rain-shortened complete game and back-to-back homers in the sixth from Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres. The 3-1 victory is halted and considered final as Boston begins batting in the seventh with heavy rain intensifying. Officially, Cole pitches six innings, striking out 11—including three against Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez, whose 29-game streak of reaching base safely comes to an end.

Besides the rain, the game is interrupted in the bottom of the sixth when Boston left fielder Alex Verdugo, after throwing a warm-up ball to a Red Sox fan in the Yankee Stadium bleachers, is hit in the back by that same ball—after a Yankees fan apparently grabbed it from the Boston fan. An irate Verdugo turns to the bleachers and engages in a heated conversation—never a good thing to do with Yankees fans, especially when you’re wearing a Red Sox jersey—before being calmed down by teammates. In response, Boston manager Alex Cora briefly takes his team off the field in protest.

Lance Lynn is rewarded for his excellent first half by being given a two-year, $38 million extension through 2023 by the White Sox, avoiding free agency at the end of the season. The 34-year-old right-hander is 9-3 with a 1.99 ERA in his first year with Chicago, his fifth team over the past five seasons—and over 10 seasons holds a respectable 113-74 record and 3.48 ERA.

Sunday, July 18

The season’s longest hit streak comes to an end at 26 games as the Angels’ David Fletcher goes 0-for-5 in a 7-4 home loss to Seattle. Fletcher’s streak was the second longest in Angels franchise history; Garret Anderson had a 28-game run in 1998.

Cardinals closer Alex Reyes sets an MLB record by earning his 24th save without a blown opportunity to start his career, walking two Giants in the ninth but otherwise keeping them scoreless to secure St. Louis’ 2-1 home victory. Reyes remains the only closer not to suffer a blown save yet this year.

A day after blowing a 6-0 lead and losing, the Mets fall behind by six runs in the first inning at Pittsburgh—and came back to win, 7-6, on Michael Conforto’s two-run homer in the ninth. In regards to the highlights reel, the Mets’ last-gasp heroism is secondary as to how they fell behind; trailing 3-0 with three Pirates on base in the first, New York pitcher Taijuan Walker swats Kevin Newman’s dribbler down the third-base line toward the third-base dugout, convinced he had done so before the ball hit the chalk—but home plate umpire Jeremy Riggs rules the ball fair, and all three Pittsburgh runners score while the Mets spend their time arguing the call. There’s no video replay as grounders down the line are not reviewable, and Mets manager Luis Rojas explodes out of the dugout, vehemently arguing and bumping Riggs as he gets ejected.

Only two other teams—the Braves in 1997 and the Rays in 2019—lost a game after leading by six runs, before coming back the next day to win after trailing by six.

For the first time in what surely must have feel like an eternity, Orioles pitcher Matt Harvey finally gets it together and throws six shutout innings as Baltimore blanks the Royals at Kansas City, 5-0. It’s the Orioles’ first shutout victory since John Means’ no-hitter at Seattle on May 5; Harvey, meanwhile, ends an atrocious 11-game stretch in which he was 0-7 with an 11.20 ERA.

Harvey’s next two starts will also be shutout efforts lasting six innings each.

The Blue Jays will be more than happy to be back in Toronto soon—while the Rangers will be happy never to see Buffalo again. In a seven-inning doubleheader, the Jays easily triumph with shutout victories—5-0 in the lidlifter as Hyun-Jin Ryu tosses a complete-game three-hitter, followed by a 10-0 rout in the nightcap behind four home runs including Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s first-inning grand slam. It’s the first time that the Blue Jays sweep a DH with two shutouts, while it’s the first time since 1971 that the Rangers—known back then as the Washington Senators—lose two games on the same day without notching a run. (Of course, apply asterisks if you wish, as these are seven-inning contests.)

Monday, July 19

Home runs are aplenty, blasted both early and in bunches; in fact, there are seven instances of back-to-back homers hit in the majors, a one-day MLB record.

In Buffalo, the Red Sox rack up eight runs in the first inning against the Blue Jays, all of them scoring on three home runs from Kiké Hernandez, Hunter Renfroe and rookie Jarred Duran. It’s the most runs ever scored in the first by a team with all the tallies crossing exclusively on home runs. Boston plates three more in the second and rolls to a 13-4 victory.

In Washington, former Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler is given the assignment of starting a bullpen game for the Marlins; it doesn’t go so well for him. Detwiler is smacked for eight runs on eight hits—four of them round-trippers—before departing with no outs in the second inning. In MLB annals, only Mike Fiers for the 2019 A’s gave up more home runs (five) while recording three outs or fewer in a start. For Detwiler’s Marlins, this is just the start of a grisly night in which they suffer a big-time 18-1 beating from the Nationals, who overall hit six homers—including two from Juan Soto and one even from starting pitcher Jon Lester, the fourth of his once clueless batting career.

In Cincinnati, the Mets continue to be the most interesting team in baseball—for better or for worse. New York collects seven home runs—one shy of the franchise record, and tied for the most ever allowed by the Reds—gives up seven runs in the first two innings, blows three leads including one in the ninth, commits four errors…and wins, defeating the Reds in 11 innings, 15-11. Four different Mets knock in three runs—including Michael Conforto, who homers twice.

Two of the day’s seven back-to-back homer feats are accomplished by the Mets; Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil in the first, and Kevin Pillar and Conforto in a five-run 11th. It’s only the second time in history that a team goes back-to-back in the first inning and, later, after the ninth; the Pirates also did it in a September 1950 game against the Cardinals.

The Rangers continue to have an awful post-All-Star Break experience, as they’re pounded by the Tigers in Detroit, 14-0. It’s the third straight shutout loss for Texas, outscored 29-0 during that stretch; no team has allowed that many runs while getting blanked in three straight games since the 1906 Brooklyn Superbas, who gave up 31. (Throw in Friday’s 10-2 loss against Toronto, and the Rangers have been outscored 39-2 since the break.)

The Rangers are 57-97 since the start of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Tuesday, July 20

As expected, the City of Oakland approves financial terms for a $12 billion waterfront development that would include a new ballpark for the A’s—but the A’s aren’t happy about it. Team president Dave Kaval publicly sours on the deal, though he admits that he hasn’t even read through the details. But he does know that an estimated $352 million that the A’s would be asked to contribute toward infrastructure costs outside of the ballpark that will not be reimbursed from the city—though Oakland officials assured him that the money would come from regional, state and Federal resources.

Though many people inside and outside of the media build this up as a climactic event in the long-running new ballpark saga for the A’s, this is hardly the end; in fact, it’s just the beginning. The term sheet approved by the Oakland City Council basically is the starting point for the A’s and the city to haggle, amend, and re-approve down the line. The A’s may be barking about a possible move to Vegas, but that is nothing more than a negotiating tactic. That surely won’t smooth the mood of Carroll Fife, the lone councilmember among seven who voted against the project. “If the A’s are not happy with what was produced today…I don’t know where we go from here—after doing somersaults, after receiving insults, after being disrespected, after all of the things Oakland A’s fans and Oakland residents have gone through…It’s not a negotiation. It’s really, ‘Do what we say, or we will leave.’ This is not rooted. That is not respectful.” Welcome to Ballpark Politics 101, Carroll.

St. Louis closer Alex Reyes looks like he’ll get the evening off as the Cardinals breeze into the ninth inning with a 6-1 lead over the visiting Cubs. But reliever Luis Garcia allows the first three Cubs to reach—one on a strikeout/wild pitch, another on an infield single, the last via walk; suddenly, Reyes’ number is called. He’s not the panacea for the Cardinals; he walks two and gave up two hits—the last a double from Ian Happ that scores two runs and puts the Cubs ahead to stay, 7-6. Not only is it Reyes’ first blown save of the year, but of his career—ending an MLB-record streak in which he had successfully converted his first 24 lifetime save opportunities without blowing one.

Tampa Bay’s 9-3 home win over Baltimore isn’t noteworthy for the first start by Orioles’ John Means since May 5, or the five RBIs from the Rays’ Francisco Mejia. Rather, all the attention is focused on the broadcast booth, where the first all-female crew in major league history gives the call for the game broadcast on YouTube. The cast includes Melanie Newman, who’s been calling Orioles games on radio since last season; in-booth analyst and stat guru Sarah Langs; sideline reporter Alanna Rizzo—the brother of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo—and studio hosts Heidi Watney and Lauren Gardner.

Hearing a female commentator may still sound jarring to those who’ve all but been conditioned to male voices on air since the beginning of broadcast time, but it’s long since been proven that the women can do just as good a job—if they’re given the chance. Anyone who still despises the idea on principle can go cry on Aubrey Huff’s Twitter account.

The Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull, who threw a no-hitter on May 18 but has only pitched twice since, will miss the rest of the season—and likely the start of the 2022 campaign—after it’s announced that he will undergo Tommy John surgery on his forearm. Just two years removed from a dreadful 3-17 showing in 2019, Turnbull was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA through nine starts this season.

With the White Sox’ Tim Anderson ending his hit streak at 16 games last night, that leaves the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt with the longest active streak at 15 games—followed by the Nationals’ Starlin Castro, at 14. But Castro will be stuck at 14 for a while; currently on paid administrative leave by MLB as they look into charges of domestic abuse, Castro doesn’t exactly get a promising update when Washington GM Mike Rizzo addresses reporters and tells them that the Nationals “do not plan on having him back” in 2021. Castro will eventually be handed with a 30-game suspension—and Rizzo, keeping his word, says that the team will release him as soon as that penalty ends.

Wednesday, July 21

Yermin Mercedes, who began the 2021 season with a bang before plummeting to Triple-A three weeks ago, says he will take time off from baseball “indefinitely” via an Instagram post tagged with a simple graphic saying, “It’s over.” In a remorseful tone, the 28-year-old Dominican native posts his apology to “those who have offended me” and for his “immaturity to the members of the radio, television and press.”

A day later, Mercedes will announce that he’s ending his early retirement.

Break up the…Diamondbacks? Back-to-back home runs by Pavin Smith and Daulton Varsho in the seventh break a tie and ultimately hand Arizona its fourth straight win, 6-4 over the visiting Pirates. It matches the Diamondbacks’ longest win streak of the year, which took place back in mid-April before everything fell apart. The DBacks still own the majors’ worst record, at 30-68; they would need to go 33-31 the rest of the way to avoid a 100-loss season.

After blowing a 6-1 lead and losing on a walk-off home run at Los Angeles the night before, the Giants respond in kind and bruise Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen for three runs in the top of the ninth, bouncing back from a 2-1 deficit and becoming the first team to record 60 wins on the year with a 4-2 victory. Wilmer Flores’ two-run shot puts the Giants ahead at 3-2; they pick up an insurance run on a questionable ball four call to Curt Casali that forces home a run and prompts Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts to get ejected after vehemently arguing the call.

The wild, wild Gateway to the West: In their 3-2, 10-inning win over the visiting Cubs, the Cardinals hit five batters and walk two. St. Louis is far and away the team leader in HBP (72—the Padres are second with 58) and also walks (414, 19 ahead of second-place Cincinnati).

Thursday, July 22

Yankees reliever Brooks Kriske caps a dreadful night for the New York bullpen in Boston with a record-tying feat of shame. Asked to close out a victory in the 10th after the Yankees have taken a 4-3 lead, Kriske throws two wild pitches to his first batter (Xander Bogaerts), allowing gift runner Rafael Devers to tie the game; after walking Bogaerts, he sends two more deliveries past home plate to the next batter (J.D. Martinez) allowing Bogaerts to advance to third; Bogaerts will next score on Hunter Renfroe’s sac fly to win the game for the Red Sox, 5-4.

Kriske’s four wild pitches in one inning ties a modern (post-1900) major league record held by five others, including Hall of Famers Walter Johnson (1914) and Phil Niekro (1979). The pre-modern record of five belongs to Bert Cunningham, pitching for the 1890 Buffalo Bisons of the one-year Players League.

In the Padres’ 3-2 win at Miami, Fernando Tatis Jr. steals his 23rd base of the year—and in the process becomes the fastest player (by games) to record 50 career steals and home runs each. His 223 games needed to set the milestone surpasses Ronald Acuna Jr.’s 251 games.

The fading Twins send 41-year-old slugger Nelson Cruz, along with a minor leaguer, to Tampa Bay for two minor league pitchers. Despite his advanced age, Cruz continues to rake, batting .294 with 19 home runs and 50 RBIs through 85 games with the Twins.

It’s another crazy finish in Los Angeles—and again, it benefits the Giants. Trailing the Dodgers 3-1 entering the ninth, the Giants rally for four runs thanks to another wild save attempt gone awry from Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen—and the umpires, who gift the Giants with two questionable calls including a missed check swing by Darin Ruf that easily extends beyond 50% and brings home the tying run on a two-out walk. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts once again gets ejected, the first time he’s been thumbed in back-to-back games. The 5-3 Giants win puts them three games ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West.

This is the first time in the modern era that two teams facing one another have won by scoring three runs after entering the ninth trailing in three straight games.

Friday, July 23

The Cleveland Indians are officially changing their name to the Cleveland Guardians. The new name is formally announced via a two-minute video on the team’s Twitter feed, narrated by Tom Hanks with music by the Black Keys. In a separate statement, Cleveland owner Paul Dolan explains the name change: “‘Guardians’ reflects those attributes that define us while drawing on the iconic Guardians of Traffic just outside the ballpark on the Hope Memorial Bridge. It brings to life the pride Clevelanders take in our city and the way we fight together for all who choose to be part of the Cleveland baseball family. While ‘Indians’ will always be a part of our history, our new name will help unify our fans and city as we are all Cleveland Guardians.” The name change will take effect starting in 2022.

This is the first name change by an MLB team since Tampa Bay altered its name from “Devil Rays” to “Rays” in 2008. ”Guardians” will be the fourth name employed by the Cleveland franchise, following the Blues (1901-04), the Naps (1905-14, after team star/manager Nap Lajoie), and the Indians. Some say that the team was briefly named the Bronchos early on, during a time when official team names were elusive and fans often got comfortable with whatever moniker the team’s beat reporters would whip up. (Our historical sources pretty much agree on the above timeline.)

Bryce Harper steals three bases, including the first swipe of home by a Phillies player since Jayson Werth in 2009, as Philadelphia eases to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Braves. It’s Harper’s first steal of home since 2012; his 11 thefts on the year are just a tad behind pace to match his career mark of 21 in 2016.

The Tigers’ post-All-Star Break surge is muted with a 5-3 loss at Kansas City. Ryan O’Hearn’s three-run home run in the fourth is the big blow for the Royals, who snap Detroit’s seven-game win streak—all coming after the All-Star Game. It’s the longest run by the Tigers since winning eight straight in 2016.

Veteran pitcher Rich Hill, 6-4 with a 3.87 ERA over 19 starts for the Rays, is traded to the Mets for injured reliever Tommy Hunter and minor league catcher Matt Dyer. This will be the 11th different jersey the 41-year-old Hill will don in his 17-year career.

Nelson Cruz, the 41-year old recently acquired by Tampa Bay, has an agreeable debut for the Rays. At Cleveland, the ageless slugger goes deep for a solo home run in the third inning, then walks and scores as part of a six-run ninth that pulls the Rays away with a 10-5 victory over the Indians.

In his second game back after a month-long layoff, the Angels’ Justin Upton strikes out for the 1,917th time in his career, passing Curtis Granderson for #10 on the all-time list. Upton otherwise has an RBI double, but it’s not enough as the Angels suffer a 5-4 loss at Minnesota.

Saturday, July 24

The Angels’ Patrick Sandoval, who entered tonight’s game against Minnesota with a career 3-13 record, takes a no-hitter into the ninth inning—where, with one out, the Twins’ Brent Rooker, a rookie hitting .083, breaks it up with a soft double. Sandoval is removed one batter later, one out shy of a complete game, but gets the win as the Angels edge by with a 2-1 decision. Sandoval strikes out 13 and walks one during his gem.

Sandoval’s effort isn’t MLB’s only brush with no-hit fame on the night. In Houston, the Astros’ Framber Valdez keeps the Rangers hitless through six innings—but departs after walking six batters and throwing 99 pitches. Ryne Stanek, Houston’s third pitcher of the game, finally allows the first Texas hit when Isiah Kiner-Falefa strokes a leadoff base hit in the eighth. It’s one of two hits on the night for the Rangers, who drop their 11th straight game, 4-1.

Sunday, July 25

It’s not quite Jose Canseco being pulled from the on-deck circle to be told he’d been traded to Texas in 1992, but Adam Frazier can pretty much relate. The Pirates’ second baseman is removed late in a 6-1 loss at San Francisco, not as a point of strategy or preservation but, instead, transferal of contract. Frazier is told he’s being traded to San Diego, where he’ll be hoped to strengthen the Padres’ postseason chances. The Pirates will receive three minor leaguers in return. Frazier was the NL’s starting second baseman at the All-Star Game earlier this month, is second in the NL with a .324 batting average and first in the majors with 125 hits.

At Boston, Domingo German puts together the longest no-hit bid by a Yankee since 2001—when Mike Mussina came within an out of a perfect game—and still has a chance for the win after Alex Verdugo breaks up the bid with a leadoff double in the eighth. But after being removed at that point, in comes reliever Jonathan Loaisiga, who faces four batters—all of whom reach via hit, and all of whom score—to give the Red Sox a shock 5-4 victory. It was the latest bullpen implosion for the Yankees, who’ve made it a bit of an art form of late.

The Rangers drop their 12th straight game, bowing 3-1 to the Astros at Houston—but at least they kind of, sort of had a lead. Kind of, sort of, in that they score in the top of the fifth to take a 1-0 lead—but then give up two in the bottom of the frame to the Astros. So, technically, the Rangers haven’t held a lead at the end of any inning in their last 105, the longest such drought by an MLB team in over 50 years. Texas’ skid is tied for the fifth longest in franchise history; the very worst is a 15-game slide suffered at the end of the 1972 season, the Rangers’ first in Arlington after 11 years in Washington.

Monday, July 26

Down 6-0 after an inning to the visiting first-place Astros, the Mariners aggressively chisel away at the deficit, and then, boom—Dylan Moore’s two-out grand slam in the bottom of the eighth completes a big comeback for Seattle, defeating Houston by an 11-8 count. Full of raw but promising talent, the Mariners—who haven’t been to the postseason since 2001—are an MLB-best 24-11 since June 12 and just a game behind Oakland not only for second place in the AL West, but for the final AL wild card spot.

Speaking of comebacks, never count out the Red Sox. Down 4-3 in the eighth to the feisty Blue Jays, Boston grabs the lead with a two-run homer from Alex Verdugo to ultimately give the Red Sox their 33rd comeback victory, 5-4, and pad their lead in the AL East over idle Tampa Bay to 1.5 games. No team has come from behind more this year to triumph.

The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani looks to have found his groove—both at the plate and on the mound. In his 15th pitching start of the season, the 27-year-old wonder from Oshu, Japan allows a run on five hits and no walks through seven innings, while breaking the ice in the first with an RBI single as the Angels ease to a 6-2 home victory over the Rockies.

Ohtani’s five strikeouts give him an even 100 for the year; along with his 35 homers at the plate, no player has collected that many K’s and round-trippers within a single season. In fact, the man with the second highest home run total to go with 100 strikeouts is Wes Ferrell from 1931. He had nine homers. 

Angels manager Joe Maddon praises Ohtani to the hilt after the game, saying that the dual threat should be the runaway choice for AL MVP. “To me, it’s not even close…What he’s doing is so unique. It’s just so different compared to anybody else right now.”

Tuesday, July 27

It’s an interesting day to say the least in Seattle, where the Mariners have elbowed their way into the postseason conversation. After an emotionally gratifying, come-from-behind 11-8 home victory over Houston the night before, Mariners players arrive at T-Mobile Park shocked and angered to learn that the team has just traded revived reliever Kendall Graveman—4-0 with a stellar 0.82 ERA through 30 appearances—to the very Astros team Seattle is seriously challenging in the AL West for two underachieving players: Infielder Abraham Toro (.211 batting average) and 37-year-old reliever Joe Smith (7.48 ERA). Reaction from Mariners players were all but incendiary; one anonymously tells the Seattle TimesRyan Divish, “Are you (expletive) kidding me? It never changes. (The Mariners’ front office doesn’t) care about winning. How do you trade (Graveman) and say you care about winning? And you trade him to Houston? It never changes.” Those last three words were a not-too-thinly-veiled reference to the Mariners’ preseason controversy in which team president Kevin Mather, before he was fired, blurted disparaging comments about several former and current players while caring more about team control than team performance.

Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto urged everyone to calm down and be patient—the Graveman deal was just the start of a reshuffling of talent that would ultimately benefit the Mariners, with the trading deadline still four days away. Sure enough, by the end of the night, the Mariners do make another move, bringing in starting pitcher Tyler Anderson from the Pirates after a deal to send the southpaw to the Phillies collapsed upon “medical review.” Despite a lifetime 4.60 ERA and losing (27-35) record, the 31-year-old Anderson is still thought to have a bit of upside to him.

As for the game to follow between Seattle and Houston, the two new Mariners do well to help the team nearly pull off another huge comeback victory. Smith throws a scoreless inning of relief, and Toro belts a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to reduce the Mariners’ deficit, once at six runs, to a mere two; Seattle puts two more runners on base, but the threat fizzles and the Astros survive with an 8-6 win.

Toro’s home run makes him the first player in MLB history to homer against the team he’d be traded to the day before the deal was made—and then again against his former team the next day.

Anderson’s departure from Pittsburgh gives room for Luis Oviedo to make his first career start. To say it doesn’t go well is putting it mildly. In an inning-plus of work, the 22-year-old Venezuelan surrenders eight runs (six earned) on five hits, three walks and a hit batter, as the visiting Brewers roll to a 9-0 win over the lifeless Bucs. According to STATS, Oviedo is the first pitcher to allow eight or more runs in an inning or less of work in his first major league start.

When your team’s in the midst of a hideous losing streak, who ya’ gonna call? The Arizona Diamondbacks, that’s who. The Rangers end two embarrassing streaks with the help of the visiting DBacks, who’s sporting the majors’ worst (31-71) record; by scoring all five of their runs in the fourth, the Rangers finally had a lead at the end of an inning for the first time in 108 frames, and their 5-4 win stop a 12-game losing skid. Joey Gallo’s three-run homer is the big jolt amid the five-run rally, while Dale Dunning pitches effectively through 6.1 innings to earn credit for the win.

COVID-19 is not going away without a fight—or with idiocy among the unvaccinated, but that’s another story for another web site. Two star players, Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich and Washington’s Trea Turner, are both placed on the COVID injured list after testing positive for the virus. Turner’s positive is accommodated with intrigue; he’s removed after one at-bat in the Nationals’ 6-4 win at Philadelphia, fueling speculation that he had been traded. Turns out, he was removed after team officials had just found out of the positive test result.

Turner will be traded anyway, two days later along with Max Scherzer to the Dodgers.

Turner’s viral absence, coupled with what appears to be the impending trade of ace Max Scherzer, has made life depressing for Nationals fans. But it gets worse. Star pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who has made only five starts this year (1-2, 4.57 ERA), will undergo neck surgery and miss the rest of the season. Strasburg has pitched fewer total innings (26.2) over the past two seasons than he did in the 2019 postseason when he posted a 5-0 record and 1.98 ERA over 36.1 innings in helping to give the Nationals their first-ever world title.

Detroit’s Eric Haase and Minnesota’s Mitch Garver become the first-ever pair of opposing catchers to each hit grand slams in the same game. Garver’s blast open the scoring in the first; Haase’s ties it in the ninth. Miguel Cabrera applies the finishing touch for the Tigers in the 11th as his RBI single gives Detroit a 6-5 road win over the Twins.

Just what the heck was the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger thinking on this play? Whatever it was, the Giants said thank you very much and won the latest nail-biter between the two teams, 2-1 in San Francisco.

Wednesday, July 28

The Yankees’ pursuit of a modern-day version of Murderer’s Row—and a playoff spot—gets more intense as they trade for Texas slugger Joey Gallo, one of baseball’s ultimate Three Outcomes specimens as he’s on pace for 40 homers, 120 walks and 200 strikeouts. Also going to New York is reliever Joely Rodriguez; headed Texas’ way are four Yankees prospects—none of them ranked among the organization’s top five.

The deal is the headliner among three significant trades that took place within baseball on Wednesday.

The Marlins’ Starling Marte, a free agent at season’s end, is dealt to Oakland in exchange for promising young pitcher Jesus Luzardo, who’s struggled both with the A’s and their Triple-A team this year. Oakland will be the fourth team in three seasons for Marte, who was arguably the Marlins’ best all-around offensive force with team highs in batting average (.306), runs (52) and steals (22). Marte will be counted on to buoy the A’s down the stretch as they try to navigate their way through tough AL West competition toward the postseason—while the Marlins, with the addition of Luzardo, feel they have the makings of a terrific young rotation for the near future.

The Brewers also obtain needed punch to improve their chances of winning the NL Central by acquiring Eduardo Escobar from Arizona. The Diamondbacks’ lone All-Star representative, Escobar has bounced back from a subpar 2020 campaign; with 22 home runs and 65 RBIs, he’s having the kind of season that recalls his gallant 2019 numbers (35 homers, 118 RBIs). Two prospects were sent in exchange to Arizona.

The Escobar-less Diamondbacks fare better in their matchup with the Gallo-less Rangers, taking a 3-2 victory over the Rangers at Arlington for their first interleague win of the season after eight losses. Arizona is the last team this season to wipe the “0” off the interleague win counter.

The Twins smoke seven home runs to tie a Target Field record, while the visiting Tigers hit none—and yet still lose, 17-14. What Detroit lacks in power they make up for in persistent hitting; the Tigers become the first team since the Angels in 1978 to have all nine members of their starting lineup gather at least one hit, run and RBI each. No team had previous hit no home runs, gave up at least seven, and still won. The 31 combined runs set a record at the Twins’ 11-year-old ballpark.

Reports of Joey Votto’s fading power stroke have, apparently, become greatly exaggerated. In the Reds’ 8-2 win over the Cubs at Chicago, the veteran Cincinnati first baseman goes deep for the fifth straight game to tie a Reds record. But that’s not all; he also ties a franchise mark with seven home runs over those five games (Jay Bruce in 2010, Johnny Bench in 1972) and, for the first time in his potential Hall-of-Fame career, belts multiple homers in consecutive games. This, from a player who hit 12 homers over a full season in 2018, 15 in 2019, and a modest 12 through 68 games until five days ago.

The dismal Pirates may have walked the plank with the white flag (again) by trading away key players for prospects in an ever-cyclical quest for winning stability, but they currently do have at least one positive talking point. Rodolfo Castro, recently recalled from Double-A where he was hitting .300 with 11 home runs over 53 games, goes deep twice for the Bucs and becomes the first major leaguer ever to begin a career with each of his first five hits all being home runs, breaking Trevor Story’s 2016 mark. Castro’s jolts kept the Bucs from being shut out for a second straight night at home to the Brewers, though his three RBIs aren’t enough in a 7-3 loss.

The scheduled game between the Nationals and Phillies is postponed due to the latest COVID-19 outbreak, as four Washington players and eight “staffers” (coaches, assistants, etc.) have tested positive. This is the ninth postponement of an MLB game due to the virus this year, as the “Delta” variant continues to gain a foothold in a nation where a third of the public refuses to take the vaccine and helps allow its spread.

Thursday, July 29

Less than a week ago, Washington all-World talent Juan Soto was surrounded by All-Star teammates. Now, he must be thinking of changing his walk-up music to The Police’s So Lonely. As MLB enters the final 24 hours before the trading deadline, the Nationals unload outfielder/top NL June hitter Kyle Schwarber to the Red Sox, closer Brad Hand to the Blue Jays, and starting pitcher Daniel Hudson to the Padres. But all of that pales to the blockbuster transaction later in the evening that sends ace Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner to the defending champion Dodgers. In total, the Nationals are receiving eight minor leaguers in return, which will considerably boost Washington’s last-place standing among MLB’s minor league systems.

While the Nationals clean house, the Cubs threaten to be next. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago’s first baseman of the last 10 years and the #6 on the franchise’s all-time home run list, is traded to the Yankees, bulking up after acquiring Texas slugger Joey Gallo the day before. Though Rizzo’s average has slipped of late—since the start of last season, he’s batting .237—he remains a viable power threat and a Gold Glove-level presence at first. Going Chicago’s way in the deal are two high-end prospects, pitcher Alexander Vizcaino and outfielder Kevin Alcantara.

Without Rizzo, the Cubs absorb a 7-4 loss to the visiting Reds and Joey Votto, who continues his recent rampage. Rizzo homers for the sixth straight game, going deep in his first at-bat—making him the first player since Willie Mays in 1954 to collect a first-plate appearance homer in five consecutive games. Overall, Votto has eight homers during his six-game power binge; only six players have hit more over such a span, led by the Washington Senators’ Frank Howard, who crushed 10 in 1968.

Rizzo’s arrival in New York can’t come any sooner. The Yankees are blasted by the Rays at St. Petersburg, 14-0, as not even ace Gerrit Cole can contain Tampa Bay hitters—charged with eight runs (seven earned) over 5.1 innings despite striking out 10. This is the Rays’ largest shutout victory ever, eclipsing a 13-0 defeat of the Red Sox on April 30, 2009.

The Brewers easily sweep the Pirates at Pittsburgh, as their 12-0 clubbing bring their aggregate for the three-game series to 28-3. Manny Pina has the big day offensively with three hits including a pair of homers and five RBIs, but on the mound it’s Freddy Peralta, who for the 12th time this year allows two hits or less, besting Nolan Ryan’s MLB mark (openers excluded) of 11 from 1991. Opposing batters are hitting an insanely low .128 against Peralta this year—but his ERA remains a not-so-insane (but still quite good) 2.17, because he’s given up the same number of walks (47) as hits over 108 innings.

This wasn’t the Brewers’ worst beating against the Bucs at PNC Park; in an April 2010 series, Milwaukee outscored Pittsburgh by a 36-1 count over three games.

Sammy Sosa was once exposed a double-cheat—allegedly—in 2003 when he was caught with a corked bat while later being revealed as one of the names on the supposedly secret list of PED-positive players that MLB used to determine whether to enact steroid testing. Now Sosa has company in Seattle pitcher Hector Santiago. A month ago, Santiago served a 10-game suspension when he was caught as, so far, the only pitcher ejected using foreign substances while on the mound. Now he has bigger problems; MLB docks an 80-game suspension upon the 33-year-old southpaw for use of external testosterone.

Santiago’s explanation, in a statement provided by the players’ union: “In 2020, while I was not on the roster of an MLB club, I consulted a licensed physician in Puerto Rico who diagnosed me with a condition and recommended hormonal replacement therapy. Because I did not play in 2020, I did not consider that this therapy could ultimately lead to a positive test under MLB’s joint drug program. That said, I alone am responsible for what I put in my body, and I was not careful. Therefore, I have decided for forgo my right to an appeal in this matter and accept the suspension.”

Cleveland manager Terry Francona is stepping aside for the rest of the season as he continues to deal with both toe and hip issues that have made it physically difficult for him to do his job. Francona manned the Cleveland dugout only 14 times last year due to blood-clotting problems; he needs just six wins to supplant Lou Boudreau (728) as the winningest manager in franchise history. The Indians are 50-49, eight games behind the first-place White Sox in the AL Central—but they’re also fifth in line for the final AL wild card, 5.5 games behind Oakland, making their chances of reaching the postseason in doubt. Bench coach DeMarco Hale will navigate Cleveland the rest of the season as Francona’s replacement.

Friday, July 30

A day after trading away first baseman Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs finished off dealing away the core of their fabled 2016 infield by shuffling shortstop Javier Baez to the Mets and third baseman Kris Bryant to the Giants. Also gone is A-list closer Craig Kimbrel, traded to the crosstown White Sox.

The Nationals, meanwhile, finished off their fire sale by letting go of pitcher Jon Lester to Philadelphia, and catcher Yan Gomes and infielder Josh Harrison to Oakland. In just two days, the Nationals have traded away four of their Opening Day starting position players, two of their starting pitchers (including ace Max Scherzer) and their closer (Brad Hand).

Other last-minute deals before the mid-afternoon trading deadline involve other teams looking to make an against-the-odds run at the postseason. The Braves scoop up 2019 AL home run leader Jorge Soler from Kansas City, shortstop Amed Rosario from Cleveland, and re-acquire Adam Duvall from Miami. The Phillies, just ahead of the Braves for second place in the NL East, bring in struggling veteran starting pitcher J.A. Happ from Minnesota in addition to Lester, as the team is crossing their fingers that both will experience a reset and push the team up the divisional ladder.

While the Brewers enjoy a comfortable lead in the NL Central and the Reds looking sharp in second place, the Cardinals vowed to stay relevant by trading for the Rangers’ best pitcher (Kyle Gibson) and their closer (Ian Kennedy). The Cardinals are 9.5 games back of Milwaukee and 6.5 back of San Diego for the final NL wild card spot.

Overall, there are a record 10 players who began the month as a 2021 All-Star—and end it wearing the uniform of a different ballclub.

That the Braves and Phillies have bulked up to make a run at the first-place Mets in the NL East made a little more sense after the news that New York ace Jacob deGrom’s recovery from his recent arm issues has hit a pothole—and he’s now not expected back until September. From a team standpoint, deGrom’s setback further stresses the Mets’ importance of having acquired Rich Hill; from an individual standpoint, the prolonged absence essentially ends any chance for deGrom (1.08) to take the NL ERA crown, for which he was all but a lock had he consumed enough innings (162) to qualify.

Without deGrom, the Mets drop a 6-2 home decision to the Reds as Joey Votto once again goes deep—extending his run of consecutive games with a home run to seven, one short of the major league record. Votto’s blast is a sixth-inning solo shot, ending his run of five straight games in which he’s homered in his first plate appearance of the game.

At long last, they’re playing major league ball in Canada again. The Blue Jays host a true home game at Toronto’s Roger Centre for the first time in 22 months, defeating the Royals, 6-4 before a crowd of 13,000 mostly masked fans. The Jays lead the entire way, with home runs from Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez while George Springer collects three hits including two doubles.

Saturday, July 31

Back-up White Sox catcher Seby Zavala, seeing more action of late as Yasmani Grandal remains on the shelf, becomes the first player in major league history to hit his first three career home runs in the same game, adding a single with six RBIs. But it’s not enough for the White Sox, who bow to the visiting Indians, 12-11. Cleveland nearly became the second team in four days (after the Tigers at Minnesota) to have every member of its starting lineup collect at least a run, hit and RBI each, but leadoff batter Myles Straw didn’t get an RBI and Harold Ramirez didn’t tally a run.

Zavala’s breakout performance is all the more impressive considering that the 27-year-old West Covina, California native had five hits (three singles, two doubles) in his previous 40 career at-bats with two walks and 13 strikeouts.

Three of the four prime ex-Cubs did well in action for their new ballclubs. (The fourth, Kris Bryant, makes his debut for the Giants today.) Closer Craig Kimbrel pitched a 1-2-3 inning for the White Sox in Chicago’s loss to Cleveland. Anthony Rizzo reached base all five times he appeared for the Yankees in a 4-2 win at Miami, collecting a single, homer, two walks and an HBP; he’s 4-for-5 with two homers and three walks over his first two games in pinstripes. And in New York, new Mets shortstop Javier Baez, crushed a two-run homer to draw the Mets to within a run of the visiting Reds in the sixth inning; they’d win it in the 10th, 6-5, when Brandon Drury’s poke hit brought home gift runner Kevin Pillar.

In the Reds’ loss at New York, Joey Votto came tantalizingly close to homering in his eighth straight game and matching the record co-owned by Dale Long, Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr. His sixth-inning bid at history fell just inches below the top of the fence, ricocheting off for a long single; neither he nor the runner ahead of him (Kyle Farmer) scored in the inning, a pivotal blow as the Reds ultimately lost to the Mets in extras.

After going homerless in their previous four games—their longest drought of the year—the Giants made up for lost muscle and overpowered the visiting Astros on the strength of five home runs, 8-6. With the Astros adding three round-trippers, the eight combined tied an Oracle Park record previously notched in a 16-inning 2019 game won by the Rockies over the Giants, 8-5.

Tampa Bay pitcher Tyler Glasnow has given up on trying to make it work with a partial tear of his left elbow and will undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his season—and likely keeping him out for the 2022 campaign as well. The 27-year-old southpaw was 5-2 with a 2.66 ERA through his first 14 starts this season; he had set a major league record by recording at least 10 strikeouts in each of his first six starts at home.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits  Take a look back at the daily doings of baseball with the TGG Comebacker archive.