In the second part of the series, we hand out some more awards to honour the 2008 season. They range from the best trade of the season, to great pitching feats, a retiring pitching great, and the trail of destruction left by a certain St Louis Cardinal.
Trade of the season – The Brewers’ trade for CC Sabathia
How do you choose between the Dodgers’ trade for Manny Ramirez and the Brewers’ trade for CC Sabathia? Mid-season trades always cause a stir when they take place, but more often than not their predicted impact on the pennant race fails to materialize. However, in both of these cases, you can make a strong claim that they were decisive in pushing their respective teams into the postseason. The regular season numbers speak for themselves:
Sabathia (debut on 8 July) – 17 starts, 11-2 record, seven complete games, three shutouts and a 1.65 ERA.
Ramirez (debut on 1 August) – 53 games, batted .396/.489 /.743, with 17 homers and 53 RBIs.
If you put greater emphasis on postseason performance, Manny would certainly come out on top. In his eight postseason games for the Dodgers, he hit an incredible .520/.667/1.080 with 4 homers and 10 RBIs. In contrast, Sabathia was knocked out after 3.2 innings in his single NLDS start against the Phillies, although he had every reason to run out of steam after his heroic performances helped to drag Milwaukee into the postseason.
Taking into account the fact that this was the first time the Brewers had made it to the play-offs since 1982, CC just gets the nod for me in terms of immediate impact. Even so, fans in Milwaukee may wince every time Matt LaPorta, the prospect who went to the Indians as part of the trade, appears in the daily highlight packages for several years to come.
Best no-hitter – Jered Weaver and Jose Arredondo versus the Dodgers
Any no-hitter is special. Jon Lester’s no-hitter against the Royals was yet another part of his remarkable story battling back from cancer. As is often the case with these pitching feats, his great outing was backed up by a memorable fielding play. Jacoby Ellsbury made a tough diving catch to rob Jose Guillen of a base hit in the fourth inning to keep the no-hit bid going and Lester took full advantage.
Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter against the Astros took on extra significance because he did it in the Milwaukee Brewers’ ballpark after the game was moved to a neutral venue due to Hurricane Ike. Coincidentally, the closest Zambrano had come to a no-hitter before this was in another game against the Astros back in 2006 when his attempt at a perfect game was broken up in the eighth inning.
However, the winner for this award goes to a two-man no-hitter that technically does not count as such. The Angels’ Jered Weaver (six innings) and Jose Arredondo (two) combined to stifle the Dodgers’ bats in an interleague game on 28 June, yet the blue side of L.A. was still celebrating at the end of the night thanks to a couple of errors and a sacrifice fly that resulted in their team scoring an unearned run in the fifth inning. With the Dodgers’ pitching staff able to hold the Angels scoreless, that was enough to win it by a final of 1-0. It was only the fifth time in MLB history that a team has won a game without recording a hit and it’s only fair that Weaver and Arredondo get some sort of recognition for their performance.
(CC was nearly a contender for this award as well, only for a contentious scoring decision to put the skids on his no-hit attempt against the Pirates. $161m of the Yankees’ money should soften the blow).
Retiree of the year – Greg Maddux
Some of us don’t know what it is like to watch a baseball season without Greg Maddux. ‘The Professor’ of pitching was always a joy to behold; a master of his craft whose combination of guile and skill allowed him to befuddle batters throughout a career that spanned twenty-three Major League seasons. Maddox won four Cy Youngs in a row (1992-95) and eighteen gold gloves, whilst achieving the rare feat of being both successful and well-liked by most (if not all?). He notched the 350th win of his career against the Rockies on 30 June as a San Diego Padre and he added five more before hanging up his cleats for good. Maddux bowed out in typically modest style at a press conference in his home town of Las Vegas during the recent Winter Meetings.
Other contenders for the award were Mike Mussina, who ended his career in great style by finally becoming a twenty-game winner in his last season, and the two ballparks in New York that have been the scene of so many classic moments in baseball history.
Most damage caused by one player in a game – Albert Pujols vs the Padres on 21 May
The Cardinals had a mediocre season, but Albert Pujols continued his relentless pursuit to inflict pain on all who stand before him. Batting .357 and hitting thirty-seven home runs while striking out just fifty-four times, the first baseman won his second MVP award in four seasons. Numbers-wise, his best game was probably against the Dodgers on 6 August when he went 4 for 4, including a grand slam off Derek Lowe. However, his most damaging display came on 21 May when, during just one tour of the bases, he sent two Padres players to the treatment room.
His first victim was pitcher Chris Young. On a 1-2 pitch, Pujols creamed a line drive back where it came from, blasting the unsuspecting Young squarely in the face. After a scary couple of minutes, the bloodied pitcher was able to walk off the field with Pujols standing on first base eyeing up his next target. A Ryan Ludwick groundout moved him to second base and when Troy Glaus hit a single into right field, Pujols rounded third base and smashed into catcher Josh Bard, spraining the backstop’s ankle in the process.
Bard would be out of action for the next two months, while Young required surgery on his fractured nose and didn’t pitch again until 30 July.
Player most likely to get British Formula One fans interested in baseball – Jensen Lewis
An award with a nomination list of one. Combine the first names of two current British Formula One drivers and you get Jensen Lewis. The young right-hander took on the closer’s role for the Indians as the season went on and he successfully brought his team home to the chequered flag on thirteen occasions, blowing just one save opportunity along the way. The signing of Kerry Wood makes it unlikely that Lewis will remain in the ‘glamour’ position of the Cleveland bullpen (subject to an injury, which wouldn’t be the biggest surprise of 2009), but look for him to continue developing as a pitcher in a lower-pressure situation.
Best baseball coverage – the team on Five
Bringing the awards to a close, we have to hail another brilliant year of baseball brought to us by the best TV sports team in the business. Here’s hoping that they will return next year, either on Five or elsewhere. Baseball in Britain will be much the poorer without Jonny, Josh, Erik and the rest of the crew.