These were 10 moments from June, 2016 that reminded us why baseball is the greatest
We are now nearly halfway through the baseball season. And as terrifying as that is -- just where has all of the time gone?! -- it also means that the games are starting to get serious. While a game in April counts the same as one in September, with each passing day, the chance to make your push for the division title grows slimmer.
As everyone looks forward to a well-deserved All-Star break in a few weeks, who were the players and teams who made their mark on the game, the standings and our lives in June? Read on.
10. Madison Bumgarner: DH?
At this point, we've officially given up on referring to the Giants' hurler as only a good hitter for a pitcher. We expect the AP Style Guide to update next year's manual to include this note, too. Bumgarner started the month off with his 13th career home run, flexing his rippling biceps to start off the scoring in the Giants' win against the Braves.
He made sure to put on a show in BP later in the week, sparking talk of a pitchers' HR Derby.
That all led to Bumgarner taking the mound against the Athletics to close out the month on June 30. Playing in Oakland, Bruce Bochy could have gone to his bench and played with a DH. Instead, he stuck with his dinger-slugging, well, slugger. It was the first time a team has gone that route since 1976 when the White Sox allowed Ken Brett, George Brett's brother, to hit for himself.
It makes sense, though. Entering the night, Bumgarner had a .718 OPS since 2014. There are 35 qualified batters this season with an OPS lower than that.
So what did the left-handed-tossing, right-handed-hitting pitcher do in his first at-bat? Why, smash a double of course. Bumgarner finished his day at the plate going 1-for-4 with a run scored.
9. Bartolo Colon is ... THE BASERUNNER
If we're going to talk about pitchers displaying non-pitching skills, it's imperative to include Colon. One month after setting the world ablaze with his first career home run, Colon was back at it with his baserunning abilities. After doubling (because, yes, for all of our gleeful joy, Colon has turned himself into a competent batsman), he needed to run to third before coming around to score.
The best part is his Broadway dancer-like twinkle toes as he comes into third base. Even Bob Fosse wouldn't look as good on two feet.
8. Wil Myers has the Wil to win
Myers looked every bit the future superstar his Minor League track record portended him to be when he made his debut with the Rays in 2013. With a head of bed hair and a powerful swing, Myers hit 13 home runs in only 88 games to walk away with the Rookie of the Year Award.
Over the next two seasons, the outfielder/first baseman battled injuries and ineffectiveness, hitting only 14 home runs across 614 plate appearances. His OPS dropped from .831 to .675. Was Myers going to be a tale told around campfires: The Prospect Who Almost Was?
Scratch that. Myers hit .329/.429/.765 in June with 11 home runs. He led the Majors in fWAR at 2.2. And while all home runs are beautiful, none was better than his three-run home run in the top of the ninth against the Rockies on June 10 to win the game.
7. The Dodgers host a one-night only circus
Dodgers fans in attendance on June 23 may have been confused. They probably looked down at their ticket stubs and remarked, "I know this says 'Baseball Game Ticket,' but all I'm seeing is the glory of a Barnum and Bailey circus -- complete with clowns, whimsy and cotton candy."
How else can you explain this high-wire comedy act from Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez?
But then the game ended on a Yasiel Puig Little League home run that paired so well with "Entry of the Gladiators." (You know -- the circus song.)
All that's needed now is a dome in the shape of a circus tent.
6. Melvin Upton Jr. balances the home run scales
Of course, the law of home runs mirrors that of the conservation of mass: Nothing can be created or destroyed. So for each gift of a Little League home run like Puig's, someone else's legitimate home run must be taken away. It appears that Melvin Upton Jr. has been tasked with this most important job of scale balancing. After robbing Matt Joyce of a ding dong in April, Upton was called upon by the forces that govern existence to take away two more.
His first came against Freddie Freeman:
Clearly emboldened, Upton next not only robbed a home run, but he doubled up the runner on base, too. Plus, he hit his own home run later in the game. We may now need an even more powerful entity to keep Upton in check.
5. Jose Altuve is betrayed by his feet
A cycle is a rare and wondrous creation. It involves skill to get the hits, luck to get the ball to land in the right spots and speed to extend those hits to doubles and triples.
Freddie Freeman pulled this off for the first cycle of 2016. Jose Altuve then wanted to follow suit. He was so close, too. Rounding second, he saw the triple he needed to close his loop. But like a child reaching for the jar of cookies that balances precariously on the counter, he was right there and yet ... too far.
Of course, had he pulled it off, would we still be talking about it? Probably not. Maybe, like Armando Galarraga's perfect game that wasn't, Altuve's cycle that nearly was is the better outcome -- for us, I mean. Altuve probably would have preferred the cycle.
4. The Rangers refuse to lose
In April, the Rangers were 14-10. Respectable, if only good for a half-game lead in the AL West.
In May, the team picked it up, going 17-11. Again, still only good enough for a half-game lead.
But in June, beautiful June? The team went 20-8 and enter July with an 8 1/2-game divsion lead, the largest in the AL.
Rougned Odor hit eight home runs, displaying the kind of power you rarely see from a second baseman; Jurickson Profar hit .333, rebounding from injuries that derailed his top prospect status, and Ian Desmond made the Rangers look like geniuses for signing him. The former shortstop hit .358/.423/.596 with 10 home runs, all the while displaying strong outfield defense at a brand new position.
He also reminded the world that, yes, playing infield requires having an actual laser attached to his shoulder.
That division lead could prove important later in the season. Though Colby Lewis had his second near-perfect game against the A's in two years, the team's disabled list looks like the hospital scenes in "Gone with the Wind." With Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and now Lewis himself all on the DL, it will be up to Cole Hamels to lead the way. Unless Desmond's laser arm leads to a second position switch, that is.
3. The Orioles are the owners and operators of Dinger Island
Before the season began, we knew the Orioles were going to hit a lot of home runs. After all, a team with Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez and Manny Machado? Of course the seats were going to be peppered with a barrage of flying objects.
In June, the team treated Major League pitching like the underpowered villains in a video game. All told, the team hit 56 home runs, nearly half of their 125 dingers on the season. It was thanks to everyone going on power binge: Adam Jones hit 11, Davis hit nine, Trumbo had eight, Alvarez picked up six (in only 59 PA) and Machado and Jonathan Schoop each had five. And with Hyun Soo Kim's second of the month, the team also set a June record for homers:
Really, it just means that every game looked like this:
Mmm, glorious dingers.
2. Ichiro picks up hit No. 4,257
No matter where you come down on the debate that raged on when Ichiro passed Pete Rose's MLB hits (when you combine Ichiro's Japanese and Major League hits), you have to admit that it's a very large and very impressive number. After all, Ichiro hit well in Japan and then came to America and simply kept hitting. He never stopped, never saw a dip in his performance between the leagues and simply proved himself a superstar in every corner of the globe.
Rejuvenated at the age of 42, Ichiro is hitting like he did a decade ago. His .342 average at the end of June is his highest since 2009.
But that's all academic. Because watching Ichiro swing the bat and run the bases is something like a religious experience. His career is a rich tapestry made up of 4,257 base knocks.
1. The Windians
Coming on the heels of the Cavaliers giving the city of Cleveland their first championship in 52 years, the Cleveland Indians decided to double up on the victory celebrations by refusing to lose. Which isn't hyperbole: Since the Cavaliers won the NBA title on June 19, the Indians haven't lost. (If we really want to split hairs, they haven't lost since June 15 -- so perhaps it was the Indians that inspired the Cavs to win ...)
But how does one remark upon the streak that now has Cleveland six games ahead of the Royals? Do you look at Francisco Lindor's great defense? Lonnie Chisenhall's hot hitting? The unstoppable quartet of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar?
No, you look at smiling baseball players. Because nothing makes athletes happier than winning. Jason Kipnis has those pearly whites:
Rajai Davis knows that when he laughs, the world laughs with him:
Salazar has 10 wins and he likes that:
And Chisenhall's name literally means "chiseled teeth of fine marble."
But now it's time to focus on July and its promises of All-Star Games, Home Run Derbies and trades galore. Because baseball is a grand narrative and it's time for its second act.