Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
With no news in sight Major League Baseball is officially closed for business until 2011. So, of course, there is no better time than now to reflect on the top stories of the past year.
Without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top stories from the past year:
GIANTS WIN WORLD SERIES
Heading into the 2010 postseason there may not have been a team more unlikely to go all the way than the San Francisco Giants. But when all the smoke cleared it was Bruce Bochy's crew that stood tall.
Backed by a tremendous starting staff and some of the most clutch hitting you will ever see, the Giants claimed their first World Series title since moving to San Francisco, winning the franchise's first championship since 1954.
Edgar Renteria was 7-for-17 in the Fall Classic, including a big home run in the series clincher.
As dominant as starters Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and closer Brian Wilson were along the way, it was the timely hitting from unlikely sources that ended the suffering in San Francisco, where fans had watched their team falter in this round on three other occasions.
There was no more improbable hero than World Series MVP Edgar Renteria, who was 7-for-17 in the Fall Classic, including a big home run in the series clincher. Renteria, a World Series hero in 1997 with the Florida Marlins, had played just 72 games for the Giants in the regular season and was almost left off the postseason roster.
YEAR OF THE PITCHER
You don't think performance-enhancing drugs made a difference? Well keep this in mind: runs were down five percent from 2009 and batting average, home runs and earned run average were all at their lowest in 17 years.
Still not convinced? Well, there were six no-hitters this season, including the second one ever in the playoffs. Without an awful umpiring call in Detroit there would have been another.
The six no-hitters were the most in the majors since 1917.
But, speaking of that perfect game in the postseason...
ROY HALLADAY NO-HITTER IN PLAYOFFS
So much for wondering how Roy Halladay would handle pitching in the postseason for the first time in his career. All the National League Cy Young Award winner did in his first postseason start was throw the second playoff no- hitter, holding the Cincinnati Reds hitless in Game One of the NLDS and joining New York's Don Larsen, who threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
By the way, this wasn't the light-hitting Florida Marlins, who Halladay tossed a perfect game against earlier in the year; this was a Cincinnati club that was statistically the best hitting team in the National League this season.
Although Halladay's season did not end with a World Series title, his maiden voyage into the National League had to be deemed a success, as he tied for the major league lead in wins (21), and led the league in shutouts (4), complete games (9) and innings pitched (250 2/3). He also finished second in the NL with 219 strikeouts and was third with a 2.44 ERA - the second lowest of his 13-year big league career (2.41 in 2005).
AN IMPREFECT CALL MARS A PERFECT GAME FOR GALARRAGA
As dominant a year the pitchers had, it was almost even more impressive given that we almost had another perfect game on the night of June 2 when Detroit's Armando Galarraga came within an eyelash of the milestone against the Cleveland Indians.
After retiring the first 26 batters in succession, Indians shortstop Jason Donald was called safe on a ground ball to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Replays showed that Galarraga clearly beat Donald to the bag while receiving Cabrera's toss, but umpire Jim Joyce made an emphatic safe call to the dismay of the entire Tigers team and the fans at Comerica Park.
Following the play and immediately after the game, Detroit manager Jim Leyland and most of the Tigers players -- most notably Cabrera -- were yelling furiously at Joyce. The crowd vociferously booed him, realizing the call on the field was incorrect. After seeing a replay postgame, Joyce apologized to Galarraga and the two shared a tearful embrace on the field prior to the start of the next game.
Had the correct call been made, Galarraga's perfecto would have been the second in six days, the third in less than a month and the fourth inside of 11 months.
The moment lost in all this mess is the terrific play of center fielder Austin Jackson, who made as good of a play to start that ninth inning as you will ever see. Had Galarraga gotten the perfecto, Jackson's play would have gone down as one of the best plays of all-time.
There has never been a prospect who was hyped as much as Washington phenom Stephen Strasburg. And incredibly enough, he was better than advertised in his major league debut, as he struck out an eye-popping 14 of the 24 Pittsburgh Pirate batters he faced while consistently hitting 100 mph on the radar gun.
Stephen Strasburg starts became must-see events.
Strasburg starts became must-see events not only in Washington, but wherever he pitched. The flame-throwing righty was getting rock-star treatment whenever he pitched and was drawing comparisons to Dwight Gooden in the 1980s and Pedro Martinez in the '90s.
Unfortunately, though, as quick as it came it was gone just as fast. Strasburg was shut down in early August with an elbow injury that required the dreaded Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg could pitch in 2011, but his return certainly won't match the electricity and excitement his starts produced in the little over two months of this season.
NEXT STOP COOPERSTOWN: KEN GRIFFEY RETIRES
One of the more remarkable careers came to an end quietly in early June when Ken Griffey Jr. called it quits midway through his 22nd big league season.
The 40-year-old was hitting just .184 in 33 games this season for the Seattle Mariners after seeing his numbers drop off over the last several years. He hit .214 with 19 home runs and 57 RBI over 117 games in 2009 while serving primarily as the team's designated hitter.
One of the most prolific players in the '90s, Griffey ended his MLB tenure fifth on the all-time home run list with 630, ranking third among left-handed hitters. He was voted the AL Most Valuable Player in 1997, when he belted 56 home runs for a second straight year, drove in 147 runs and hit .304.
Nicknamed "The Kid," Griffey broke into the majors at the age of 19 with Seattle in 1989 after the Mariners selected him with the top pick in the 1987 draft. He went on to play 11 seasons in Seattle, where he was a 10-time All- Star and the MVP of the 1992 game staged in San Diego.
Griffey was dealt by Seattle to Cincinnati after the 1999 season and his career was never the same, as injuries started to take over, limiting him to just 206 games between 2002-2004.
As amazing as his numbers were you have to wonder how much better they could have been had he stayed healthy.
A-ROD GETS TO 600 HOME RUNS
Griffey was once touted as the player to break Hank Aaron's home run total. Injuries, though, took their toll and Barry Bonds became the man for the job. Now, it is New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez who is doing the chasing.
This past season A-Rod moved one milestone closer, as he passed 600 home runs and ended the year with 613, leaving him 149 shy of Bonds' 762. Like Griffey, though, injuries have started to move in and Rodriguez has only hit 60 over the past two years.
Signed through 2017, Rodriguez would need to average just over 21 a year to get to Bonds if he plays out his current deal. However, he will turn 36 next season and is already dealing with a surgically repaired hip.
The chase, though, is on.
JOSH HAMILTON'S COMEBACK STORY CONTINUES
The Josh Hamilton story added another chapter this past year as his remarkable season culminated with an American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Following an injury-plagued 2009, Hamilton helped lead the Rangers to their first AL West crown since 1999, as he topped the league with a .359 average and a .633 slugging percentage. He had 32 home runs, 95 runs scored, 40 doubles and 100 RBI despite missing most of the final month with fractured ribs.
Everyone knows the story with Hamilton. Selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, Hamilton was injured early in his minor league career and fell into a pattern of drug abuse shortly thereafter that ultimately got him suspended from the game.
Tampa eventually cut ties with the outfielder in 2006, leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft where he was selected by the Chicago Cubs before being moved to the Cincinnati Reds later in the day.
Hamilton shined for the Reds in 2007, but was dealt to the Texas Rangers the following winter. Hamilton's comeback really took off in Arlington, as he became an All-Star in 2008, stealing the show with a breathtaking performance in the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium that year.
LEE SHOCKS BASEBALL WORLD CHOOSES PHILLIES
Cliff Lee agreed to a five-year, $120 million deal with the Phillies.
All along you heard there was a mystery team lurking in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. Most people assumed it was the Los Angeles Angels, others thought it could be a real longshot like Minnesota or even Baltimore.
However, it was still believed that the prize of the 2010 free agent class would more than likely wind up either in New York for the money or back in Texas, where he had just helped the Rangers reach the World Series for the first time in team history.
In the end, though, there was a mystery team and it was the Philadelphia Phillies, the team Lee helped pitch to the World Series in 2009, but decided to trade him last winter to make room for Halladay.
Now thanks to a five-year, $120 million deal, the Phillies have both Lee and Halladay -- along with Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels -- and enter the 2011 season with one of the most dynamic pitching rotations in baseball history.
THE DEATH OF GEORGE STEINBRENNER
If there was ever a baseball story that could steal the spotlight from the All-Star Game it was certainly the death of George Steinbrenner, who passed away on the morning of the Mid-Summer Classic.
The longtime Yankees owner had reportedly been in failing health for years, and was rarely seen in public before succumbing to a massive heart attack.
Whatever you may think of Steinbrenner, this much I know: there will never be another owner like him. The Daniel Snyders, Mark Cubans and Dan Gilberts of the world can try, but they are not and never will be George Steinbrenner.
The quote from his initial press conference in 1973, when he took over the franchise, still resonates, albeit ironically. Steinbrenner said he would not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the team, a statement that was almost as off-the-mark as his insistence that he was dead-set against free agency, that it would ruin the game.
Known as "The Boss," Steinbrenner helped change baseball. He was at the forefront in the infancy of free agency, luring Jim "Catfish" Hunter to the Bronx prior to the 1975 season and Reggie Jackson two years later. Other early big signings were Goose Gossage in 1978 and Dave Winfield before the 1981 campaign.
With Steinbrenner at the helm, the Yankees won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants. The club went to the World Series in 1976, just his fourth season of ownership, and captured the first of two straight titles the following year.
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