By Andrew Kahn
This past week was all about the home run—whether it came from the guy who’s trotted around the bases more than any active player or someone doing it for the first time. We witnessed home runs that ranged from historic to memorable to impressive. The first item, however, deals with an improbable success story.
Liftoff in Houston
The Houston Astros have had six straight losing seasons, tied with the Mets for the longest active streak. From 2011 to 2013 they were terrible, losing 106, 107, and 111 games. They were 70-92 last year. After scoring three runs in the ninth last night to beat the Angels 3-2, the Astros are 19-10 and have a six-game lead in the American League West. As The Wall Street Journal points out, since the regular season expanded to 162 games in 1961, no team has gone from sub-60 wins to the playoffs within two years. Despite the hot start, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs each give the Astros less than a 50 percent shot at making the playoffs. But if they do, it would be an incredible turnaround.
661 for A-Rod
Last Friday in Boston, Alex Rodriguez hit a 3-0 pitch over the Green Monster in the eighth inning to beat the Red Sox 3-2. It was career home run No. 660, tying him with Willie Mays for fourth all-time. The fan who caught the ball still has it, refusing to trade it for memorabilia. He’s been basking in the publicity and even set up a Twitter account to solicit ideas for the ball. This is not the only controversy surrounding the milestone, as the Yankees are refusing to pay Rodriguez for tying Mays. A-Rod and the Yanks had reportedly signed a “marketing agreement” in 2007 that would pay the slugger $6 million bonuses as he climbed up the home run ladder. The Yankees, in theory, would cash in through memorabilia and ticket sales. But due to Rodriguez’s tainted public image, the team is claiming it won’t promote his feats and therefore has no obligation to pay him. Rodriguez didn’t have to worry about retrieving No. 661, which he hit last night at Yankee Stadium. The third-inning blast landed in an unoccupied area near Monument Park.
Bryce Harper entered Wednesday with 60 career home runs, but he finished with 63, going yard against Miami’s Tom Koehler in his first three at-bats. The left-handed Harper took a tailing fastball to left field in the second inning and crushed his next two to Washington’s upper deck in right. He grounded out in his fourth and final at-bat, driving in a run in the process, and his five RBI helped Washington win 7-5. Harper’s 26 walks lead baseball and after Wednesday’s display he has eight dingers. If he can lay off high fastballs off the outside corner, the walk and power numbers will continue to rise.
A couple of players hit home runs in their major league debuts this week. On Tuesday, the Angels’ Carlos Perez collected a hit in his first major league at-bat. He led off the ninth inning of a tie game and smacked a line-drove home run to left to win it, becoming just the fourth player to hit a walk-off homer in his debut. The last to do it was Miguel Cabrera. Perez, a 24-year-old catcher, started again on Wednesday and will push Chris Iannetta, who is batting just .091, for playing time.
Minnesota’s Eddie Rosario took it a step further and went yard on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues. (Incredibly, 28 other players have accomplished this feat; 116 others have done it in their first at-bat.) The lefty went to the opposite field off Oakland’s Scott Kazmir. It’s fun to watch not just Rosario hit it, but his family’s reaction.
A Dodgers fan videotaped himself catching a home run in Saturday’s game against the Diamondbacks. When a replay was shown during the Dodgers broadcast, Vin Scully called it the “selfie of all selfies.” See for yourself:
A ball hit into the stands in Chicago that afternoon didn’t go so well for one Cubs fan. He tried to catch it with a box of nachos and ended up with neither. The risk didn’t seem great—it looks like there was only one chip left—but it’s hard to fathom he thought the flimsy cardboard could possibly support a descending baseball.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about baseball and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn