Do you have a box of tissues near you? If not, grab them quickly before watching this clip of Yankee closer Mariano Rivera's final trip to the mound in an MLB All-Star Game. Rivera has received a king's treatment in every city he has visited thus far on the season and the All-Star Game was no different. With the American League up by two runs in the bottom of the 8th inning, Mo entered to his usual "Enter Sandman" while a raucous Citi Field crowd cheered. Rivera later admitted that he had to fight back tears while standing on the mound. As for me? My attempts to hold them back were a little feebler.
Rivera also went on to win the game's Most Valuable Player award. At 43 years old, Rivera is the oldest player to do so, besting the previous mark of 40 years old, held by Cal Ripken in the 2001 All-Star Game. When Rivera officially retires at season's end, he will join Ripken as the only players to win the All-Star Game MVP in their final season in the major leagues.
I tried to think of some clever way to segue into what the Tampa Bay Rays have been doing lately, but there's only one word to describe it: absurd. After a three-game road sweep over the struggling Blue Jays to begin the second half, the Rays are now 17-3 in their last 20 games and have marched their way up the division ladder. Boston thought they had a seemingly strong foothold on their division lead, but that day is long gone. Tampa is now just a game and a half out of first place as they enter a four-game set with the Red Sox Monday night. Will Boston extend its division lead or relinquish it to the hottest team in baseball?
When Kansas City GM Dayton Moore traded away top prospect Wil Myers (and other prospects) to Tampa Bay in exchange for James Shields, not all fans were on board with the deal. ‘Big Game' James is one of the most dependable right-handed pitchers in the game, but did the Royals give up way too much for him? Jonah Keri digs deeply into the mind of the Royals front office, using some advanced statistics to prove that Shields, in actuality, is having one of the best seasons of his career.
At the beginning of the month, I linked a great article written by ESPN's Robert Sanchez, chronicling the heartbreak and aftermath of the suicide of Max Scherzer's brother. This past week, Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote a piece about the Scherzer tragedy and how it has touched the life of Mark McGwire despite the two never having met.
Oakland coaches probably thought there was something wrong with Yoenis Cespedes' swing, but it turns out he may have just been saving his power for the Home Run Derby. Cespedes, who won the competition with 32 long balls, came into the derby having been without a home run in his previous 71 at-bats, the longest home run drought among any of this year's participants. Cespedes is hoping to avoid the second-half home run slump that plagued 2006 runner-up, David Wright. Wright began that season by hitting 20 homers before the All Star break, only to finish the season with 26 in total. He admitted his swing had changed a little after hitting so many balls in the contest.
Seattle enjoyed a three-game road sweep over the Astros to open up the second half, but it was not the result of the games that made it interesting. On Friday, in the series opener, Brad Miller slugged two home runs and Brandon Barnes went 5-for-5, hitting for the cycle. It was the first time in major-league history that one rookie hit two home runs and another hit for the cycle in the same game. Now that is a statistic.
Matt Harvey will celebrate his one-year anniversary of major-league service next week and he already has one All-Star Game start under his belt. In fact, Harvey is one of only a handful of pitchers in baseball history who have started an All-Star Game less than a year into their career. The only other pitchers who share that distinction are Hideo Nomo (1995, Dodgers), Fernando Valenzuela (1981, Dodgers), Mark Fidrych (1976, Tigers) and Dave Stenhouse (1962, Senators).
Harvey picked up right where he left off on Sunday afternoon by completely dominating the Phillies at home in his first start of the second half. Harvey, now 8-2 on the year, struck out 10 Philly batters and walked zero, allowing not a single earned run on three hits. Harvey has now pitched at least seven innings in 14 of his 20 starts and picked up his sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season.
The Atlanta Braves hold a slim, six-game lead over the Nationals in the division heading into the second half. As slim as that lead seems, it is actually the largest lead of any division leader. In the other five divisions, the team in first place holds a lead of less than three games. This is the 20th season that Major League Baseball has played with a six-division format and it is the first of those seasons in which as many as five different division leaders have possessed such small leads at the All-Star break. This new level of parity around the league is extraordinary. Of baseball's 30 teams, 14 currently hold a ‘games behind' number of single digits in their division, meaning any kind of slump from a division leader could be very costly.
If there is one guy you don't want at the plate when the bases are loaded, it's Brandon Phillips. I'm not kidding. The Cincinnati second baseman belted a three-run double to help lead his Reds over the Pirates on Friday night. With that double, Phillips is now a ridiculous 12-for-15 (.800) with 28 RBI over the last two seasons when he is batting and the bases are full. Phillips is still one of the game's top second baseman and is on pace for one of his best seasons since 2009. He's currently batting .266/.318/.410 with 12 home runs and 78 RBI.
The Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins did their part in trying to pay homage to the Negro Leagues on Saturday by wearing throwback uniforms from the era. The Marlins wore the jerseys of the 1956 Triple-A Miami Marlins, each adorned with a '29' patch to honor Satchel Paige, who played for the Marlins. The Brewers wore the 1923 uniforms of the Milwaukee Bears of the Negro National League, and introduced former Negro League players George Altman and Lonnie Harris in a pregame ceremony. Here you can see the Marlins jersey and the Brewers jersey.
There was... umm... just one problem. Someone at the sewing machine made a little spelling error on manager Ron Roenicke's jersey. Despite the miscue, Roenicke wore it proudly.
There is just something about Hanley Ramirez and extra inning games. The 29-year-old infielder is fantastic while playing bonus baseball and he gave the fans in Los Angeles another taste of it on Saturday. Ramirez drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning on a double and then scored an insurance run later that inning, allowing the Dodgers to post a 3-1 victory over Washington. But what is so special about those extra frames? In his nine-year career, Ramirez is batting .467 (28-for-60) after the ninth inning. The only other players with a batting average above the .400 mark with at least 40 at-bats after the ninth inning are Hunter Pence (.429) and Nick Markakis (.427).
Opposing hitters are finally starting to figure out Rex Brothers, and with the thin Rocky Mountain air, that may not be a good sign going forward. Brothers picked up his fifth save of the season, even after allowing a ninth-inning run in a 4-3 Rockies victory over Chicago. It marked the fourth consecutive home game in which Brothers allowed a run, immediately following a streak of 17 shutout innings at Coors Field. That mark was the longest home scoreless streak for any reliever in franchise history.
Arizona still holds a first-place lead in the division but those pesky Dodgers just will not go away. On Sunday, outfielder Matt Kemp returned to the Los Angeles lineup, hitting a double and a home run in the second inning. It all turned out a little too good to be true though as Kemp wound up hobbling off the field with an apparent ankle injury in the ninth inning. Kemp's start marked the first time all season that Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford were all in the starting lineup together. We will probably have to wait a few more days to see that again however, considering Kemp will be sidelined with that day-to-day injury. Even with Kemp banged up and Yasiel Puig finally coming back down to earth, the Dodgers are still finding ways to win and as a result, they find themselves in a nice position to make a run for a playoff spot.
John Lopiano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow John on Twitter: @johnlopiano.
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