Getty Images

Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #14: Bartolo Colon hits a homer

14 Comments

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.

As Bartolo Colon walked to the plate in the second inning of the Mets-Padres game in San Diego on the night of May 7, he was a few days shy of his 43rd birthday. He was also a complete and utter offensive failure, posting a batting average of .089 in 225 at-bats, while striking out 119 times.

While that went by mostly unremarked upon for years, as he grew older and heftier and became something of a fan favorite, Colon’s lack of hitting ability actually began to become endearing. He often swung so hard that his helmet fell off in the process, drawing a mixture of cheers and laughs.

But on this night, the laughter disappeared and the cheers grew louder. Why? Because Bartolo Colon hit a homer:

The blast, which hit the lower level of the Western Metal Supply Building in left field of Petco Park, came off of James Shields. The pitch was a verrry straight 90 m.p.h. fastball, but a homer is a homer. Even when the home run trot can be timed with a sun dial.

In the wake of the homer, many people — even some who you thought would know better — argued that it justified pitchers batting and the lunacy of the designated hitter. Other, more sensible people, mind you, noted that this was merely the exception which proves the futility of having pitchers bat. Even newly-minted sluggers like Colon who, later that month, literally told the other team that he didn’t plan on swinging at any pitches in a game so they should feel free to strike him out.

Those arguments will never end, of course. Nor will the Colon at bats any time soon. He just signed a contract with a National League team, so maybe he’ll hit his second dinger at age 44.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.