Albert Pujols and the legendary blast that should never have happened

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lidge-100315.jpgI remember when I first realized that Albert Pujols was GREAT. I already knew he was great, mind you, but there came a time when the simple lower-case modifier was no longer good enough to describe the St. Louis Cardinals slugger. Sort of like calling the Grand Canyon big, or the Pacific Ocean wet, it didn’t quite measure up.

Anyway, the moment when Pujols became GREAT for me came in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS, when he slugged a game-winning home run of such Hobbs-ian proportions that it nearly derailed not only the train at Minute Maid Park, but Brad Lidge’s career along with it.

Lidge was filthy that night, with high-90s gas, a high-80s breaking ball and a bucket-full of confidence. But Pujols changed that with one effortless, violent flick of his wrists. It’s not a wonder it took Lidge three years to recover.

[For those of you with a fuzzy memory, you can relive the moment here. As for Astros fans, you may comfort yourselves in knowing that your team eventually advanced to the World Series despite Pujols’ heroics. Then, you may cry yourselves to sleep knowing it’s not going to happen again anytime soon.]

Morgan Ensberg, the third baseman on that Astros team, gives readers some insight into that game in his blog – which is quickly becoming a must-read. In a post on Monday, Ensberg writes that Pujols shouldn’t have had the chance to play hero in that game, that if he had been positioned properly at third base, Pujols would not have even come up to bat.

In the ninth inning, Lidge started out by striking out John Rodriguez and John Mabry, with leadoff hitter David Eckstein coming to the plate. A light-hitting contact hitter, Eckstein was simply looking to get on base and was highly unlikely to pull the ball down the line. Ensberg, recalling this, says he was positioned too close to the line by manager Phil Garner.

But you should know that there is a optical illusion at Minute Maid Park. Phil Garner (manager) sits in the first chair of the dugout protected by the handicap elevator in the first base dugout. From his vantage point, it looks like the third baseman is directly inline with him.  However, the view from the third baseman’s vantage point is off to the left by about 5 feet. This is a problem.

Garner is lining me up according to the spray chart, but I am not where he thinks he is moving me.  I am actually closer to the line then he would want due to the illusion but there is nothing that can be done.  From his view I am in the exact spot that I need to be.

Eckstein ends up singling into the hole past Ensberg, Jim Edmonds follows with a walk and Pujols makes history. Baseball, ladies and gentlemen, is a game of details.

If Phil’s view wasn’t off-set, I could have made the play and the game would have been over. [Instead] Lidge throws a fast ball that Eckstein hits in the 5-6 hole for a base hit.
Two batters later, Pujols makes history and there is no optical illusion involved there at all.

Ensberg gives some other interesting details in his post, so go head on over and check it out. I find it fascinating how the simplest of mistakes can change the course of baseball history. But seeing as how in this instance Pujols gave baseball fans such an unforgettable moment, I’m perfectly OK with how things turned out.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Erik Johnson likely to open 2016 in the White Sox rotation

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Starting pitcher Erik Johnson #45 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on April 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the White Sox 10-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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With the White Sox losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency, Erik Johnson will likely get a shot to contribute out of the rotation to open up the 2016 season, GM Rick Hahn said in a conference call on Wednesday, per a report from’s Scott Merkin.

“As we sit here today, I think it will be an opportunity for Erik Johnson to convert on sort of the return to form he showed back in 2015 when he was International League pitcher of the year for [Triple-A] Charlotte,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the Minor Leagues over the course of the last season.

“So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”

Johnson was called up from Triple-A Charlotte in September and made six starts, allowing 14 runs (13 earned) on 32 hits and 17 walks with 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. That followed up an impressive five months in the minors where he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 136/41 K/BB ratio across 132 2/3 innings.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and each included Johnson on their top-100 prospect lists, ranking him 63rd, 67th, and 70th, respectively. The right-hander was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Major League Baseball will investigate Yasiel Puig for his role in Miami nightclub brawl

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

It was reported on Friday afternoon that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was involved in a brawl at a Miami nightclub. Details were scant at the time, but he reportedly left with a bruise on his face.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Major League Baseball plans to investigate Puig under the league’s new domestic violence policy for his role in the brawl. Citing a report from TMZ, Hernandez notes that Puig shoved his sister, “brutally sucker-punched” the manager of the bar, and instigated the brawl.

The Dodgers and Puig’s agent have thus far refused to comment on the situation.

Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was the first player to be investigated under the league’s new domestic violence policy earlier this month, as he allegedly assaulted his wife. Reyes has pleaded not guilty after he was charged with domestic abuse in Hawaii.

As our own Craig Calcaterra pointed out, commissioner Rob Manfred does not need to wait for Puig to plead guilty or to be found guilty to levy a punishment.

Dayan Viciedo close to signing with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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Patrick Newman is reporting that the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and outfielder Dayan Viciedo are close to an agreement on a contract. Newman notes that the Dragons are close to signing pitcher Jordan Norberto as well.

Viciedo, 26, has struggled since making his major league debut in 2010 with the White Sox, batting an aggregate .254/.298/.424 with 66 home runs and 211 RBI in 1,798 plate appearances. He spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Nashville (Athletics), hitting a composite .287/.348/.450. While Viciedo can hit the occasional home run, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else at the big league level. Given his age, he could prove himself in Japan and parlay that into a renewed shot in the majors in the future.

The White Sox signed Viciedo out of Cuba in December 2008, agreeing to a four-year, $10 million deal. The club re-signed him to one-year deals in 2013 and ’14 for $2.8 million each and $4.4 million ahead of the 2015 season.

Blue Jays sign J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract

J.A. Happ
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Update (8:45 PM EST): Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Happ will get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million each in 2017 and ’18.

*’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the Blue Jays have signed lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million.

Happ, 33, had a rebirth as a member of the Pirates last season after starting the season with 20 subpar starts with the Mariners. He made 11 starts for the Buccos, boasting a 1.85 ERA with a 69/13 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this past August that Happ’s newfound success had to do with a delivery tweak suggested by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. The Blue Jays are certainly hoping that adjustment is the full explanation for his success.

The Jays’ signing of Happ most likely signifies they won’t be pursuing free agent lefty David Price.

This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays. The Astros dealt him to Toronto in a July 2012 trade. He posted a 4.39 ERA with a 256/113 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with the Jays, then went to the Mariners in a trade this past December that brought outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays.