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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #17: Yoenis Cespedes shows off his wheels

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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.

If you have ever had the good fortune to see a players parking lot at a major league ballpark or spring training facility, you know that ballplayers love their wheels. There are a few normal Toyotas and pickup trucks parked there, but there are a great many more fancy cars. Expensive cars. Excessive cars. Ballplayers have a lot of money and, like almost anyone else with a lot of money, they like to spend it on a sweet ride. Or several sweet rides.

All of which makes the story that came out of Port St. Lucie, Florida last February a bit baffling.

The story, such as it was, was that Yoenis Cespedes has a lot of fancy cars. Indeed, each day, for the first week of spring training anyway, he showed up with a new one. There was this bad boy. This fire-breathing Lamborghini. The day before there was a three-wheeled thing. He eventually showed up on a dang horse.

The cars were certainly a lot of fun, but the fascination the Mets beat writers and columnists covering the team had with Cespedes’ fleet was a bit odd. Lots of players drive fancy cars, especially in spring training when they want to show their new wheels to their teammates. Why was it such a big deal in this case? Maybe it was because the players lot is so close to the media entrance in Port St. Lucie so they paid greater attention to the cars. Maybe it was because Cespedes had just signed a big contract with the Mets and the press was looking for as many Cespedes angles as they could find. Maybe it’s just a New York thing. Hard to say.

Eventually — and inevitably — the press’ fascination with the cars turned negative, with at least one columnist deciding that it was bad for Cespedes to be driving the vehicles he bought with his hard-earned money to work. For some reason it’s fine when some players show off pimped rides or some simply ridiculous vehicles that have been customized out the wazoo, but for Cespedes it was apparently too much. Unlike those other guys, Cespedes was told that he had better back up his “swag” with performance on the field. As I wrote at the time, there are some ugly, racist attitudes inherent in that sort of criticism.

Nevertheless, Cespedes backed it up just fine. He hit .280/.354/.530, 31 home runs and 86 RBI in 543 plate appearances. After opting out of his old deal, he and the Mets agreed to a four-year, $110 million contract at the end of November.

I hope he shows up to spring training this year in an aircraft carrier.

Sean Manaea pitches the first no-hitter of 2018

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Athletics southpaw Sean Manaea delivered his first career no-hitter against the Red Sox in a decisive 3-0 victory on Saturday night. Any thought of a perfect game was banished in the first at-bat, when Mookie Betts drew a leadoff six-pitch walk to open the first inning. From there, Manaea was nearly flawless, holding the Sox to four total baserunners and striking out 10 of 30 batters faced — a career record.

Manaea was gifted a three-run lead thanks to RBI doubles from Jed Lowrie and Stephen Piscotty and Marcus Semien‘s solo shot off of Chris Sale in the fifth inning. While the Red Sox managed to draw two walks off of Manaea, they didn’t come anywhere close to plating a run. Andrew Benintendi tried to break up the no-no in the sixth inning with an infield hit down the first base line, but strayed out of bounds and later saw his hit reversed on a call of batter interference.

Entering the ninth inning, the 26-year-old lefty was sitting at just 95 pitches through eight frames of no-hit ball. He quickly deposed Blake Swihart and Mookie Betts with a groundout and fly out, then walked Benintendi on seven pitches. Any threat the Red Sox might have posed was soon eliminated, however, as Hanley Ramirez ground into a force out to complete the no-hitter.

Manaea is the first A’s pitcher to toss a no-no since Dallas Braden’s perfect game against the Rays eight years ago. The last time the Red Sox were on the losing end of a no-hitter was also against an AL West rival, when the Mariners’ Chris Bosio clinched a 2-0 no-no on April 22, 1993. Manaea’s feat is even more outstanding given how dominant the Red Sox have looked this season: prior to Saturday’s defeat, they boasted a 17-2 record and had yet to be shut out during the regular season.