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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #22: Trevor Story and Gary Sanchez make big rookie splashes

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Neither Trevor Story nor Gary Sanchez won their league’s Rookie of the Year Award, but each of them probably got more ink than the respective winners, Corey Seager and Michael Fulmer, did. Dingers will do that.

Story, the Colorado Rockies’ shortstop, made his major league debut on April 4. He hit two homers that day. The next day he hit another. The day after that, another. The Rockies were off the next day, but in his fourth game he hit two more. He hit another in his sixth game to give him seven in the season’s first week. After that he slowed down, but finished April with 10 bombs and a slugging percentage of .696. The historical comparisons placed him in pretty lofty company, with his seven homers in his first six games putting him past Larry Walker, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Mays who had held the record with six each.

Story seemed to be on his way to the National League Rookie of the Year Award until a thumb injury ended his season in late July. When he went under the knife to fix it, he led the NL with 27 home runs, had posted 72 RBI and had a batting line of .272/.341/.567 in 415 plate appearances. The Rockies were at .500 at the time and were arguably in contention for a Wild Card birth. They’d finish the season by going 23-35 for a final record of 75-87.

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez saw action in two big league games in a 2015 cup-of-coffee, and a single game in early May of this year, but didn’t make it to the majors for good until the Yankees’ 107th game of the season on August 3. He didn’t hit as many homers as Story did in either his first six games or in his entire rookie season, but he hit a ton in a shorter time overall. Indeed, by the time he played his 45th career game he had hit 19 homers, which set a major league record for the fastest to that total in history. Before that Wally Berger held the record with 17 homers in 45 games.

Not all fast-starting sluggers went on to great careers — famous flashes in the pan Sam Horn had 14 in his first 45 games and fellow Yankee Kevin Mass had 15 — but Sanchez did not appear to merely be taking advantage of pitcher mistakes or guessing luckily. He finished the 2016 season with a line of .299/.376/.657 with 20 homers in all and 42 driven in. He walked a good deal as well, suggesting that he’s no fluke by any stretch of the imagination.

As year-end honors tend to favor players who played full seasons, it makes sense that Michael Fulmer of the Tigers beat out Sanchez for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. And as Corey Seager had a better overall season, it was not surprising that he walked away with the NL Award, despite Story’s fast start. Heck, Seager had a good argument for the MVP Award, not just rookie honors.

But Sanchez and certainly got people talking. And that places them in our top-25 stories of 2016.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Twins 14, Orioles 7: Baltimore jumped out to a 5-0 lead and led 6-2 after four but then the Twins started bashing. Actually, it wasn’t so much bashing as the ten runs they scored between the fifth and sixth innings all came without the benefit of a homer. Max Kepler and Miguel Sano did homer at other times in the game, however. Kepler drove in four. Sano and Eduardo Escobar each knocked in three. Minnesota even scored on a balk. This game had a bit of everything. Adam Jones hit a homer. It was his 125th dinger at Camden Yards, giving him the all-time lead in that park. The old record holder: Rafael Palmeiro.

Yankees 4, Royals 2: Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius and Chris Carter all went deep as the Yankees beat Jason Vargas. Vargas had a 1.01 ERA through his first seven starts. In his last two he’s allowed nine runs on 11 hits in ten innings. Both of those games have come against the Yankees, though, so maybe it’s more them having his number than him turning into a pumpkin.

Rockies 8, Phillies 1: Top prospect Jeff Hoffman got called up for a spot start and struck out seven over seven three-hit, one-run innings. Nolan Arenado hit a two-run homer. Philly has lost 18 of 22.

Reds 5, Indians 1: The Battle for Ohio Begins. With the loss, Cleveland is in the early lead to be stuck with Ohio. OK, I kid — I’m an Ohioan, I can do that — but I don’t know for sure what the winner gets. It’s either some cup or a trophy or maybe they get to cut in line at Cedar Point or something. Anyway, Scott Feldman was sharp, allowing one run and striking out nine in six innings, and Scott Schebler homered for the third straight game. Great Scott.

Angels 3, Rays 2: J.C. Ramirez outdueled Jake Odorizzi and the Angels broke a 2-2 tie on a Jumbo Diaz wild pitch in the seventh. Five total runs scored and 12 hits between the teams over nine innings yet this game went three hours and thirty seven minutes. Eleven walks and 20 strikeouts is the likely culprit. Sounds like a slog.

Braves 5, Pirates 2: Welcome to Atlanta Matt Adams. The newest Brave hit a two-run homer in his second start since being acquired from the Cardinals and Brandon Phillips hit his 200th career homer. Center fielder Ender Inciarte had a career-high five hits for the Braves who were not fooled at all by Gerrit Cole. Meanwhile, Mike Foltynewicz and four relievers held the Buccos in check.

Giants 6, Cubs 4: Joe Panik homered to lead off the game and doubled twice. Not to lead off the game, though. It’d be impossible to do all of that in one plate appearance. Brandon Belt and Justin Ruggiano homered as well, also in their own distinct at bats. There are rules here.

Astros 1, Tigers 0: A combined one-hitter in a bullpen game. The bullpen game was necessitated by a pinched nerve in Dallas Keuchel‘s neck. Brad Peacock got the start and allowed only one hit and two walks with eight strikeouts over four and a third. Chris Devenski, Will Harris and Ken Giles went the rest of the way for a combined four and two-thirds perfect innings. Michael Fulmer only made one mistake in walking George Springer to lead off the game and then giving up an RBI double to Jose Altuve. Otherwise he scattered eight hits and allowed only that one run in seven innings. That, however, was enough to lose the game.

Diamondbacks 5, White Sox 1: Zack Greinke struck out a season-high 12, allowing only one run in eight and two-thirds. Daniel Descalso hit a three-run homer in the fourth that provided all of the cushion Greinke needed.