Monday, June 30, 2008

Bonds: What are you waiting for?

Since the return of Alex Rodriguez to a struggling lineup on May 20, the New York Yankees are 24-14, scoring 5.36 runs/game (compared to 4.06 through the first 44 games of the season). The performance, combined with stellar pitching from Chien-Ming Wang (before he got hurt), Andy Pettitte (3 ER in his last 27 IP), Mike Mussina (2nd in the AL in wins), and Joba Chamberlain (1.84 ERA in 5 starts)... has propelled the Yankees to within five games of first place in the extremely competitive AL East.

On June 22, designated hitter Hideki Matsui limped off the field during a 4-1 win over Cincinnati and hasn't played since. It's another injury on his surgically-repaired left knee, which has landed him on the 15-day DL. Manager Joe Girardi acknowledged on Sunday that another (season-ending) surgery could be in order. If that's true, the Yankees' lineup will suffer much like it did without Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees' farm system is light on power-hitting bats in the high minors, and the trade market isn't strong yet. If only there were a slugger the Yankees could summon out of thin air. Wouldn't it be great if he were also free?

Oh wait, there is. Barry Bonds has been offered to each of the 30 major league teams to play at the league minimum of $390,000 (prorated for a shortened season). So, the arguably greatest hitter of all time is sitting on his ass while some teams like the Yankees struggle for offense. Let's go ahead and knock down some of the common reasons for not signing Bonds, from the Yankees' perspective:

1) He's too old. Last season, at the age of 42, Barry Bonds put up a line of .276/.480/.565 in 475 plate appearances. His home ball park had a park factor of 100- exactly neutral with respect to inflating/deflating hitting statistics. Where's the evidence that just one year later, all of a sudden Bonds would be able to hit home runs. Or at the very least take a walk- realize how absolutely insane a .480 on base percentage is... Barry Bonds reaches base a little less than half of the time. Plate discipline is not one of those things that suddenly drops off a cliff with age; so I fail to see the evidence that Bonds' age has anything to do with why he hasn't yet been signed.

2) He's a bad teammate. Most people would point to the altercations with Jeff Kent in the Giants' clubhouse, and Bonds' unwillingness to talk to reporters after games, as the main evidence for this claim. First of all, given the interactions with teammates after he left the Giants, that there's equal evidence it's Kent who's the bad teammate, not Bonds. Second of all, how do we have any idea that the way Bonds treats reporters corresponds to the way he treats his teammates? Bonds has no obligation to please these people, especially when they write scathing, inflammatory, borderline libelious things about him. As for the Yankees, they just signed and quickly promoted into the starting rotation, a man who was recently released from his previous team for "disrespecting teammates and club personnel." Doesn't that seem to suggest that Cashman is willing to give a little leeway on the whole "bad teammate" thing?

3) OMG STEROIDS!!!1!!!1!! Right, the 800 pound gorilla about Barry Bonds is the evidence that he took performance enhancing drugs prior to 2005. Some sub-points about this topic:

3A) Media circus Come on- it's the New York Yankees, who already have approximately 8,000 beat reporters and another 30,000 Japanese reporters in the clubhouse every day, and paparazzi who take pictures of Alex Rodriguez lounging in Central Park and going after the she-male muscular type. There's got to be some kind of saturation point for Media Circus-itude. Tied to this are the apparent concerns about Bonds' legal battles with perjury and so forth. Well, his court date is set for next January, four months after the season ends. Approximate effect on the Yankees' clubhouse: zero. Approximate effect on the Yankees on the field: also zero.

3B) He's a cheater! That's of course debatable, depending on your interpretation of the rules of MLB prior to 2005- the chemicals he allegedly took were not banned by MLB, but were illegal without a prescription. Either way, he's not taking them now- last season he had more "random" drug tests than any other player and not one came back positive. Okay, so he could be taking HGH, which does not show up in urine tests. But the evidence is mounting that HGH doesn't affect player performance anyway, and so by definition is not a PED. There is a general feeling around baseball that no one cares whether players are suspected of PED use- Astros' GM Ed Wade traded for Miguel Tejada knowing full well that his name would be in the Mitchell Report. In the Report itself, there's e-mails within the Boston front-office suggesting that Theo Epstein knew that Gagne's struggles could be lack-of-steroids related, and traded for him anyway.

More specific to the Yankees- Um... Jason Giambi? Andy Pettitte? These two players have admitted to taking some drug in an attempt to enhance their performance. I have watched about 75% of Yankees games this year, and I've not once heard Yankees fans boo either player. In fact, I've not once heard opposing fans boo either player, certainly not louder than they boo Jeter and Rodriguez. Conclusion: fans don't care about Giambi and Pettitte and their PED pasts; why should they care about Bonds'? (I have my theories, but Jason Whitlock is a much more credible source on that particular topic...)

3C) Yankee reputation! I'm not even sure what this objection really means, but I've heard it. Look, as anyone who's ever worn a Yankees shirt/jersey in public outside of New York/New Jersey can tell you, the Yankees are not exactly welcomed with cookies and milk across the country. At every ball park in the big leagues, you can hear fans making accusations about the Yankees' love for certain sexual acts. For millions of baseball fans, the only thing that will make them sympathetic to the Yankees, ever, is about 90 years without a title. Having a player who other fans despise is not something new to the Yankees. It's like anti-Bonds people aren't even trying. And if the Yankees sign Bonds and win the World Series, no one can claim it's because they "bought" Bonds; if he comes in at league minimum, your team could have had him too! And they passed on him! Because your GM is an idiot!

In closing, Brian Cashman:

Sign Barry Bonds.
Can't believe you haven't signed Barry Bonds yet.
What part of sign Barry Bonds do you not understand.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Double Deuce!

I was in the middle of watching the amazing pitching duel between Andy Pettitte and Johan Santana when Mother Nature decided to throw her own curveball. During the rain delay, Fox cut over to the equally close Cubs-White Sox game. It was the bottom of the seventh inning with nobody out, and an 0-2 count on Carlos Quentin. Thom Brennan was going over the strikeout numbers for Marmol as they panned to a shot of Kerry Wood. I had to rewind my DVR for a second look....

Kerry Wood is not at all pleased at something. He is clearly raising both middle fingers. Another look:

I guess not living up to your potential as one of the all time best starting pitchers is pretty anger inducing. But hey, you're the closer and your team has the best run differential in baseball to go with first place! What's there to be mad about?

Also, someone should definitely write an angry letter to Fox. Imagine all the children who have been corrupted by seeing two seconds Kerry Wood flipping off no one in particular during a baseball game? More than those who saw Janet Jackon's half-nipple, that's for sure!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Calendar Year All-Stars, Part II (AL)

Here is the continuation on the Calendar Year All-Stars, those players chosen for the All-Star game based not upon a small sample (the first few months) but on the larger sample of July 2007-present. Under discussion today: the outfielders and pitchers of the American League.

Leading vote getters: Manny Ramirez (.291/.379/.516), Josh Hamilton (.310/.355/.572), Ichiro Suzuki (.285/.346/.365)
Runs Created Leaders: Grady Sizemore (59), Hamilton (59), Carlos Quentin (58)

Ichiro is clearly one of those Perennial All-Stars getting his votes bumped because of the rabid fan base in Japan, voting for him despite ranking 11th in the AL in Runs Created. Hamilton is an easy pick for most people because its the combination of MVP-type numbers and an amazing comeback story. Sizemore and Quentin are having good first halves, but how do they compare to the top outfielders since July 2007?

Manny Ramirez (.293/.380/.509, 568 PA)
Josh Hamilton (.315/.364/.584, 481 PA)
Ichiro Suzuki (.317/.365/.386, 758 PA)
Grady Sizemore (.269/.379/.483, 746 PA)
Carlos Quentin (.272/.376/.492, 372 PA)
Johnny Damon (.303/.374/.452, 663 PA)
Magglio Ordonez (.328/.397/.526, 683 PA)
Vladamir Guerrero (.307/.367/.517, 635 PA)
Nick Markakis (.304/.388/.502, 712 PA)

This is certainly one of the deepest positions. Despite the injury that cut short Hamilton's 2007, he still ranks up there among the best choices for the All-Star game. No one's slugging percentage is remotely close. Manny Being Manny is a solid choice as allways, but its tough to count out the performances of both Magglio Ordonez and Vladamir Guerrero. I think Mags has got to be in, and the tough decision between ManRam and Vlad will have to be left unto some sort of random number generator. Still, this is one of the votes that is closer to the Calendar Year All-Stars than the Small Sample All-Stars, although I'm certain both Sizemore and Quentin will be selected for the reserves.

All that said, let me throw out there one intriguing possibility:

Milton Bradley (.323/.437/.611) has the highest OPS of any American League regular over the past 365 days. He's currently the Rangers' DH and played in the NL last season, but he is listed on the roster as an outfielder. I think, despite the low number of plate appearances (442), he has to get some consideration over his teammate Hamilton. Just because one guy is a recovering coke addict who has found Jesus and the other one throws tantrums on the field shouldn't influence your vote (assuming your vote is based on statistics...).

Designated Hitter
Leading Vote Getter: David Ortiz (.252/.354/486, 37 RC)
Leading Runs Created: Milton Bradley (54), Hideki Matsui (47, .323/.404/.458)

We've dealt with Bradley already, and Matsui is leading DHs in 2008, with Ortiz having a down year and some inuries. Still, he has reached Derek Jeter territory in fan voting, and it would take a few seasons of absolute wretched hitting for the voters not to make him the starter. From the last year:

David Ortiz (.305/.414/.585, 609 PA)
Hideki Matsui (.302/.384/.486, 659 PA)
Aubrey Huff (.279/.352/.495, 633 PA)
Jim Thome (.257/.376/.536, 623 PA)

All right, it's not even close, it's Ortiz.

There is no vote for pitchers and I think its a shame. I don't think it would be too much to ask of MLB to come up with a list of their nine starting pitchers to be included on the roster, and then let the fans spend two weeks voting for the starter. It would be a large undertaking to try and fill the whole roster, so let's just try and figure out who should start the game based on the last years' statistics.

Strange times are afoot in the pitching ranks. With stalwarts like Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Johan Santana, and David Wells out of the league and even baseball, it's the young guns that have to fill the void. Of course, the two stats that carry the most weight for managers selecting the All-Star pitching staffs are ERA and Wins, and both statistics have their flaws. The Hardball Times tracks Pitching Runs Created, and here are the 2008 leaders:

Roy Halladay (57; 3.12 ERA)
Shaun Marcum (57; 2.65 ERA)
Cliff Lee (55; 2.45 ERA)
Felix Hernandez (53; 2.83 ERA)
Ervin Santana (51; 3.32 ERA)
Mariano Rivera (50; 0.76 ERA)
Zack Greinke (50; 3.40 ERA)

First of all, I want to note how incredible it is that a relief pitcher is in the top six pitchers in the AL; Rivera has been simply brilliant. That said, let's look at how some top pitchers have performed over the last 365 days. I'm going to have to use ERA because that's what's available, but walks and strikeouts also give a clue to dominance.

Halladay (33 starts, 249.1 IP, 3.21 ERA, 177 K, 49 BB)
Marcum (32 starts, 193.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 146 K, 52 BB)
Lee (20 starts, 135.1 IP, 3.92 ERA, 108 K, 30 BB)
Hernandez (35 starts, 235.1 IP, 3.40 ERA, 190 K, 72 BB)
Santana (27 starts, 167.2 IP, 4.56 ERA, 155 K, 54 BB)
Greinke (23 starts, 166.2 IP, 3.03 ERA, 139 K, 51 BB)

And add in some of last year's best pitchers:

Sabathia (33 starts, 225 IP, 3.60 ERA, 208 K, 50 BB)
Beckett (30 starts, 203.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, 212 K, 39 BB)
Lackey (25 starts, 178.2 IP, 2.57 ERA, 142K, 34 BB)
Matsuzaka (29 starts, 171 IP, 4.26 ERA, 155 K, 86 BB)

And the pitchers who will get consideration to start the game because of their win totals:
Mussina (31 starts, 176.1 IP, 4.59 ERA, 100 K, 32 BB) 10 wins
Saunders (28 starts, 178 IP, 3.89 ERA, 104 K, 47 BB) 11 wins
Padilla (24 starts, 138.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 92 K, 52 BB) 10 wins

That's a lot of different stat lines to consider. But let me ask: with the game on the line, would you rather have a pitcher from group A, group B, or group C? The choices have to be down to Halladay and Sabathia, with the Doc getting the nod based on his superior control.

Relief Pitcher

I've already made my choice quite clear. Over the past 365 days, here's a stat line for you:
73 games, 79 IP, 1.71 ERA, 87 K, 10 BB (and 42 saves)

Here's another to consider... Joba Chamberlain, who probably won't get any mention for the game due to his hybrid role the past calendar year, but:

44 games, 72.2 IP, 1.49 ERA, 90 K, 30 BB

I'd take both of those lines over any of the following:

Putz: 56 games, 57 IP, 2.84 ERA, 69 K, 24 BB
Papelbon: 67 games, 65.2 IP, 2.06 ERA, 92 K, 11 BB
Nathan: 69 games, 72 IP, 1.38 ERA, 77 K, 16 BB
Street: 62 games, 66.1 IP, 3.66 ERA, 80 K, 15 BB

Sure, Papelbon has more strikeouts and Nathan has a lower ERA. But neither of them is the Sandman.

Matt's AL All-Stars:
C Joe Mauer
1B Kevin Youkilis
2B Ian Kinsler
3B Alex Rodriguez
SS Derek Jeter
OF Milton Bradley
OF Josh Hamilton
OF Magglio Ordonez
SP Roy Halladay
CL Mariano Rivera

Friday, June 20, 2008

Calendar Year All-Stars, AL (Part 1)

Every year, the Mid-Summer classic rolls along and writers/bloggers everywhere try to convince the world that the game is irrelevant. Still, the event gets decent ratings for a week-night exhibition game, and the voting methods are arbitrary enough that they always cause debate. This is particularly true in an age where online voting exists, as fans from extremely popular teams don't need to pick up ballots at the ballpark. The result, most recently, is that the starting players are usually dominated by Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Mets; additionally the occasional popular foreign import, such as Ichiro, galvanizes support from his home country.

While it is definitely true that the All-Star game needs to be mid-season in order to avoid irrelevance (i.e. The Pro Bowl), this has some unfortunate disadvantages. One of these problems is that players are typically judged on two criteria:

(1) Perrenial All-Stars, who continue make the team long after they are truly the best at their position, or;
(2) Small Sample All-Stars, who have an amazing first half of the season only to return to average.

So while there is some prestige behind post-season awards such as the Silver Slugger and Rolaids Relief-Man, far more performance bonuses are tied to having hot starts and making the All-Star team. Still, I wonder what we would find if we searched the past year's worth of stats (spanning the second half of 2007 and the first half of 2008) for each player. Who would be the most deserving all-stars then? I will be consulting the current votes leaders from this article, as well as the leaders in THT's Runs Created statistics. will be the source of stats from the last 365 days for each player.

Current Vote Leader- Jason Varitek (2008- .240/.320/.408, 7 HR in 196 AB; 20 RC)
Base Runs Leader- Joe Mauer (42; 2008- .335/.420/.441, 2 HR in 236 AB)

Varitek is obviously a Perennial All-Star choice, spurred on by the rabid Boston fanbase intent on having as many Red Sox as possible start the game in Yankee Stadium. Being the tenth best catcher in Runs Created, in the AL, is tantamount to saying he's the least productive regular player in baseball. The past 365 days he's had a .244/.353/.408 line, just as bad as his season to date. Mauer, unsurprisingly, leads AL catchers in runs created, but his full 365-day line is (.307/.394/.429). Still good, but I think we may be able to find some better catchers.

Mauer (.307/.394/.429, 580 PA)
J. Posada (.329/.435/.521, 444 PA)
A.J. Pierzynski (.288/.332/.417)
G. Laird (.247/.297/.381)
V. Martinez (.283/.357/.426)

Martinez and Posada were 1 and 2 in Runs Created among catchers last year. Posada has missed a bunch of games this season, which explains his lagging in the voting, but he has hit like a monster since his return on June 5. Martinez, meanwhile, has struggled this season, with an OPS+ of 79. Posada's numbers are clearly better than Mauer's, but Mauer has had 136 more plate appearances. It's a tossup here, but I'll have to give it to Mauer since his contribution is likely more valuable.

First Base
Current Vote Leader: Kevin Youkilis (2008: .305/.376/.530; RC 49)
Runs Created Leader: Justin Morneau (54; 2008: .306/.366/.489)

This is a deep position full of solid hitters. Youkilis and Morneau are certainly deserving candidates, but let's take a look at the past 365 days:

K. Youkilis: .273/.371/.461, 606 PA
J. Morneau: .284/.349/.461, 680 PA
J. Giambi: .238/.370/.523, 370 PA
P. Konerko: .248/.345/.471, 629 PA
C. Pena: .251/.384/.538, 646 PA

Here's a great example of why the 365-day approach awards players who would not normally be recognized. Sure, Carlos Pena isn't having a good season this year, made worse by his broken index finger that will keep him on the DL for a while. However, he was not selected to the 2007 All-Star game despite a .287/.395/.609 line at the break. He was even better in the second half of 2007. His OBP and SLG are better than both Youkilis and Morneau over a similar number of at bats. He also has more HR and RBI than either of them over that stretch. Voting an injured player into the All-Star game already happens regularly, so this would be no different.

Second Base:
Current Vote Leader: Dusty Pedroia (.274/.322/.398; 34 RC)
Runs Created Leader: Ian Kinsler (58; .308/.361/.490)

Another Red Sox player leading the popular vote, another terrible choice. Just going on this years' stats, Pedroia is seventh among AL second basemen. There are actually a lot of good choices, and so voting in Pedroia is going to mean a snub for one of the actually productive AL keystoners. The last 365 days:

D. Pedroia: .296/.347/.420 (705 PA)
I. Kinsler: .298/.373/.465 (634 PA)
B. Roberts: .280/.364/.458 (718 PA)
P. Polanco: .332/.385/.455 (623 PA)
R. Cano: .288/.337/.451 (677 PA)

As you can see, it's not hard to find an AL second baseman more valuable than Pedroia. Roberts has been either the first or second man in Runs Created at 2B for several years now. If Robinson Cano played for any other team, his Perennial All-Star possibility would be nil, and if he continued his terrible first half/amazing second half routine, he might never play in another All-Star game. Obviously at Immaculate Inning we have sort of a soft spot for Ian Kinsler. I mentioned last year in a similar post that if I were voting in May the clear choice would have been Kinsler, so I pick Kinsler in the toss-up this time around.

Third Base:
Vote Leader: Alex Rodriguez (.335/.414/.629; 42 RC)
Runs Created Leader: Casey Blake (44; .263/.339/.433)

I have no idea how Blake leads the AL third baseman, but A-Rod is not far behind despite missing a month with a quad strain. That demonstrates how feeble the position is after A-Rod, and so this is really an easy exercise. Miguel Cabrera makes things interesting with his .297/.380/.503 line the past 365 days, but A-Rod blows it away with .321/.423/.616. Cabrera would be more competitive among first basemen (the position he's been playing this year), but he's listed at third on the ballot.


Vote Leader: Derek Jeter (.276/.333/.381, 37 RC)
Runs Created Leader: Jeter and Michael Young (.281/.337/.407)

The vote has Perennial All-Star written all over it, especially for someone who's been watching Jeter ground out feebly all season. Still, this is a contest where you perform well by out-doing your peers, and Jeter and Young are neck and neck in terms of offensive production this season. Orlando Caberera is on their heels with 36 RC, followed by Bobby Crosby at 32. Using the past 365 days:

D. Jeter (.295/.353/.412, 697 PA)
M. Young (.314/.369/.418, 708 PA)
O. Cabera (.271/.321/.364, 715 PA)
B. Crosby (.242/.294/.358, 415 PA)

Remember when the decision was three, four, or sometimes five players deep all with great stats? Well now it's down to Jeter and Young, who both have slightly-above-average stats. Young is the better defender, Jeter is the better baserunner. They've both hit 11 homers over the past 365 days. Well, since I went with Mauer over Posada, I have some homer-karma available, so I'll go with Jeter over Young.

Next time, I'll go through the outfielders and the surprising pitching staff. Until then, go to to cast your ballot, but please... only one Red Sox infielder (Youk). Please.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Immaculate, Twice in a Month!

The chisel marks have barely cooled on the Immaculte Inning rock when suddenly, Felix Hernandez etches his name into baseball immortality. Last night, the Seattle Mariners pitcher struck out the side in the fourth inning against the Florida Marlins, becoming the 13th American League pitcher to throw an Immaculate Inning. The feat came in a particular string of dominance for Hernandez, who ended up striking out six straight from the third to the fifth inning. The victims:

Jeremy Hermida
Pitch 1: Fastball (89 mph) down and inside corner, called strike
Pitch 2: Splitter (88 mph) down and inside corner, called strike
Pitch 3: Curveball (85 mph) outside corner, swinging strike

Jorge Cantu
Pitch 4: Fastball (97 mph) belt high over the plate, called strike
Pitch 5: Fastball (97 mph) belt high over the plate, swinging strike
Pitch 6: Fastball (96 mph) chest high and inside, foul tip caught by catcher

Mike Jacobs
Pitch 7: Curveball (84 mph) belt high, outside corner, called strike
Pitch 8: Fastball (96 mph) thigh high, way outside, swinging strike
Pitch 9: Slider (88 mph) thigh high, inside corner, called strike

Hernandez is just the third pitcher to throw an immaculate inning during interleague play, matching the Padres' Brian Lawrence who threw one against the Orioles in 2002 and Rick Helling's effort for the Brewers against the Tigers in 2006. The Florida-Sun Sentinel has the story, including this quote fom Jacobs:

"After facing him, it's not surprising he can do that. He did a good job filling the strike zone up with everything he had. He pitched everybody different every at-bat. He's pretty nasty. He's one of the better [ones] I've ever seen."
This AP story has more:

Portraying his youth, Hernandez was ambivalent to his accomplishments.

"I was just trying to throw strikes. That's all,'' Hernandez said. "I didn't know it was a nine (pitches), but it felt good.''

Despite the dominant start to the game, striking out nine and at one point retiring 11 straight hitters, Hernandez struggled to keep the Mariners in the lead. In the sixth inning he gave up three runs (two earned) and left the game in the eighth inning with a respectable pitching line, but nothing like it was shaping up to be in the fateful fourth. So in this one game we have a microcosm of Hernandez's career: at times, absolutely brilliant, and worthy of a "King." At other times, he flounders and winds up with a performance that's simply above average.

After a rookie season that stunned the American league, Hernandez struggled in 2006, putting up an ERA+ of just 98. A simply above average season followed in 2007, an ERA+ of 110 and only 165 strikeouts in 190 innings, a career low for him. This season is off to a great start, however. Amid talks of a long-term contract from the Mariners, he's got an ERA of 2.87 (139 ERA+) in 103 innings, striking out 91. He's got his coaches finally calling him an "ace" again. Whatever his title, today, he is Immaculate.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Rich Harden: Immaculate!

The Immacualte Inning Blog rises from its ashes to celebrate Rich Harden's Immaculate Inning, thrown today in a game against the Anaheim Angels. The oft-injured Oakland starter gunned down the first three hitters of the game in the following fashion:

Maicer Izturis
Pitch 1: Fastball away (91 mph)- called strike
Pitch 2: Changeup away (86 mph)- foul
Pitch 3: Fastball away (96 mph)- foul tip caught

Howie Kendrick
Pitch 4: Slider low and away (85 mph)- swinging strike
Pitch 5: Fastball away (93 mph)- foul
Pitch 6: Slider in the dirt (87 mph)- swinging strike

Garret Anderson
Pitch 7: Fastball away (93 mph)- called strike
Pitch 8: Fastball away (95 mph)- called strike
Pitch 9: Slider down and in (88 mph)- swinging strike

Our records indicate that this is the 41st Immaculate Inning in baseball history, and Harden is the 39th pitcher to accomplish the feat, and the first since Buddy Carlyle last year. He joins Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, and Rick Helling as the only pitchers to throw immaculate innings to start the game. Harden would go on to finish with nine strikeouts in six innings, but would have to watch from the clubhouse as his teammates took 12 innings to beat the Angels today. Harden now has an astounding 58 strikeouts, good for 15th in the AL despite missing a month with an injury. He's done it in just 47.1 innings, good for a ratio of 11.02 K/9 IP, which ranks first in the majors among pitchers with at least 40 IP.

Jane Lee of describes the situation:

Before that frame, Harden had kept things quiet on the mound -- except for a first-inning performance that had everyone in the Coliseum talking.

The 26-year-old pitcher began the game striking out the side on nine pitches, becoming the first A's player to do so since Lefty Grove did it in 1928.

"I don't think I had ever seen that before," Geren said.

But for Harden, it was "just three outs."

Apparently Harden was more concerned with getting yet another no-decision on the season (his fifth in eight starts). Still, congratulations to Rich Harden, we at Immaculate Inning couldn't help but mark your achievement, even if we're slightly mad at you that you don't go with the nickname "Dick." Your continued health could turn the A's into a juggernaut in the AL West, provided Billy Beane doesn't trade you for ten prospects this July.

In closing, we of course have to give you one of these. Savor it, let it melt in your mouth. You deserve it.