With the All-Star festivities underway in New York, I think it's time to take a look back at all the memorable moments of the first half of the 2008 Major League Baseball season.
The year 2008 marked a fresh start for both the league, and many of the league's players. The season opened up on March 25th with a short two-game series between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics across seas in Tokyo, Japan. Commissioner Bud Selig felt the need to attempt to expand the fan base, and since David Ortiz is a fan-favorite in Tokyo, why not? The game experienced the first year without pitcher Roger Clemens, and outfielder Barry Bonds. The New York Yankees' first baseman, Jason Giambi, and Texas Rangers' outfielder Josh Hamilton started the season off with a clean slate. Giambi, who has been involved in the big steroid scandal, but eventually came clean, started off slow, but eventually came out of a horrible slump for the third-place Yankees. Josh Hamilton's early years involved drugs and alcohol, but he has made a miraculous recovery, and has been having a monster 2008 season, hitting 21 home runs, and 95 runs batted in (RBI) for the Rangers.
The season has been far from boring past that. We have been lucky enough to witness more than one no-hitter, including one pitched by a cancer survivor, Jon Lester. Lester, the Boston Red Sox's starting pitcher, pitched a no-hitter on May 19th against the Kansas City Royals. The no-hitter gave Lester his sixth win of the season. Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves' third baseman, has been having his best season in quite a while, and hit his 400th homerun. Chipper hit his 400th around the same time that Ken Griffey Jr., arguably one of the best hitters in MLB history, became the sixth player to hit 600 homeruns. Griffey has earned his rightful stop in the immortal Baseball Hall of Fame before he's even eligible. He can now be mentioned in the same breath as baseball greats Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays.
Can you imagine playing two nine-inning baseball games back-to-back? Well, not only did the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres play 18 innings straight, but they did it all in one game. In fact, they played a 22-inning game on April 17th. It wasn't even an offensive explosion! The Rockies eventually crawled away with a 2-1 victory thanks to an RBI double off the bat of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who is currently on the disabled list. Both starting pitchers pitched fantastic, nearly flawless games, but that proved to be the problem. Together, the game took 15 pitchers, and the game was scoreless until the 14th inning.
This league seems to be getting younger by the year. In this year's All-Star game, the very last one at Yankee Stadium, there are more than 20 first-year All-Stars, which is showing that baseball is getting younger. This year's National League roster consists of rookie catcher Geovany Soto of the Chicago Cubs. The 25 year old Soto was very honored just to get mentioned as an All-Star. Soto's teammate, Kosuke Fukudome (another rookie), will be starting in center field on Tuesday, for the National League All-Stars. Other first-timers for the National League include, among others, the Florida Marlins' (50-45) second baseman Dan Uggla, outfielders Ryan Ludwick (St. Louis Cardinals), and Nate McLouth (Pittsburgh Pirates). All three will be starting on the bench, but will, nevertheless, get some playing time throughout the game. I haven't even mentioned the front-runner for the American League's Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays. Longoria has out-hit all but one of the league's third basemen; Alex Rodriguez is the only exception. Longoria was selected to his first career All-Star game, and will be second-string behind Rodriguez.
Though he may not be an All-Star this season, San Diego's 42-year old pitcher Greg Maddux reached a milestone very few pitchers reach in their careers. Maddux won his 350th game as a starting pitcher. The win came on May 10th against the Rockies. However, it seems Maddux is being overshadowed by the younger guys like Edinson Volquez of the Cincinnati Reds, Scott Kazmir of the Tampa Bay Rays, Cliff Lee of the Cleveland Indians, and Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants.
It's not Major League Baseball until you've mentioned Manny Ramirez, one of the best outfielders in the game. Manny led his Boston Red Sox back to take the American League East Division lead just before the All-Star break. Manny is most known for just "being Manny", and having a good time, but his 18 home runs is what's been most noticeable lately. His Red Sox are a half a game ahead of the second-place Rays, who are on a seven-game losing streak going into the break. But, the Detroit Tigers' slow start is more surprising than the Rays' 55-39 record, their best start in franchise history. Detroit started the season as the favorite to win the World Series, which sounded good at the time. Just before the season opened up, Detroit made a blockbuster deal that brought pitching ace Dontrelle Willis, and young slugger Miguel Cabrera to Detroit for a bunch of no-namers. Willis was injured, and sent down to the Minors for a fresh start not too long ago, and Cabrera got off to a really slow start. So, that allows the Chicago White Sox to take the lead in the American League Central Division, while Detroit is third with a 47-47 record.
The most recent blockbuster deals have been more effective. Looking for that 'guy' to bring the team over the top, the Milwaukee Brewers snagged 2007 AL Cy Young winner (awarded to the best overall pitcher each year) C.C. Sabathia, from the Cleveland Indians in a four-player trade. Sabathia has gotten off to a quick start, going 2-0 in his first two starts with his new team. Sabathia even added a home run on Sunday night against the Cincinnati Reds. The very next day, the Chicago Cubs responded to their division-rivals move by trading for Oakland Athletics' starting pitcher Rich Harden, in a six-player deal. Harden wasn't awarded with the win on Saturday, his first start with Chicago, but he did manage to strikeout ten batters, and he left the game with a 7-0 lead.
All of these events lead us up to today, where we find the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox as the favorites to represent their respective leagues in the World Series come November. But don't forget, there is still a whole half a season to play, and anything can happen.