Baseball 2013: Bosox win, Rivera exits, now replay
(AP) - David Ortiz, Jonny Gomes and those bearded Boston Red Sox became the face of October, making for a most hairy joyride to the World Series championship.
The Red Sox reversed course and went from worst to first. Major League Baseball also saw big shifts this year- many bright, others more dark- at a time when the game could be transformed forever.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, at long last, found the winning touch. Mariano Rivera went out in style. But the sweeping Biogenesis suspensions showed the sport is far from drug-free. And the acrimony between Alex Rodriguez and MLB seems to get worse every day.
Plus, a whopping change coming up in what's expected to be Bud Selig's final season as commissioner: Instant replay will settle most disputes, rather than nose-to-nose rhubarbs between managers and umpires.
A look around the bases at 2013 and beyond:
I'LL TAKE ANOTHER: Ball. Foul. Ball. Foul. Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava and the Red Sox elevated the art of taking pitches and hitting foul balls to a new level, drawing cheers at Fenway from fans who appreciated their plate prowess. Boston wound up taking its third crown in a decade- fittingly, World Series MVP Big Papi drew four walks in the Game 6 clincher against St. Louis. Winning trends tend to be copied, so look for more patient teams to wait for their pitch next year.
AHOY!: The rise of the Pirates inspired just about everyone in the majors. After 20 straight losing years, Andrew McCutchen, Clint Hurdle and this band of Buccos reclaimed Pittsburgh as a baseball town. They came within a win of reaching the NLCS. Now they need to stay on top- not an easy trick, either. The Nats and O's both fell off their playoff form. Cleveland and Kansas City are on their way, they hope.
THE GOODBYE GUYS: Mariano Rivera, Todd Helton and Andy Pettitte all played for the last time. Colorado gave Helton a retirement gift he could ride into the sunset- a champion horse. Pettitte came up with his own treat- in his final outing, he pitched his first complete game in seven years. Rivera made a touching farewell tour, and the Minnesota Twins found a perfect present- a rocking chair made of broken bats, a tribute to Mo's devastating cutter. At 43, the all-time saves leader had tears in his eyes at Yankee Stadium when teammates Derek Jeter and Pettitte walked to the mound to pull him. "It's time to go," Jeter told his friend.
MATTINGLY'S HERE, FOR NOW: In June, it appeared Don Mattingly was on the verge of being fired as manager of the last-place Dodgers. Then, Yasiel Puig! The excitable Cuban rookie became the talk of baseball with his unbridled play, Los Angeles breezed to the playoffs and Donnie Baseball's job was safe. But Puig fell flat in the NLCS finale loss at St. Louis, and Mattingly's status is uncertain once again.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE PROBLEMS: The Astros won the MLB opener, prompting some to dismiss dire predictions for the AL rookies. Reality quickly set in- in their next game, Texas' Yu Darvish came within one out of a perfect game. Overmatched nearly every day, low-budget Houston went 51-111, lost its final 15 games and set a big league record for strikeouts.
GEMS: Homer Bailey and Tim Lincecum pitched no-hitters in July. On the final day of the regular season, Henderson Alvarez celebrated his no-no in most unusual fashion. He was standing in the on-deck circle with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when a wild pitch by Detroit gave the Marlins a 1-0 win and put Alvarez in the record book.
MEN WILL BE BOYS: It was throw-down night at Dodger Stadium in June when a throwback brawl broke out between All-Stars from 1980s and `90s. Managers Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly, along with coaches Mark McGwire and Matt Williams got heated up after Arizona and Los Angeles threw at each other.
CLOSING TIME: Koji Uehara became a sure thing in Boston, only after closers Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan got hurt. Uehara had been good in the past, but nothing like this. And a year before, the Rays' Fernando Rodney suddenly became unhittable. Maybe a new pitch makes them all-World. Whatever, you can bet fantasy players are already scouring the stats for sleepers, trying to find the next guy who will blossom into a beastly closer.
HIRE AND HIGHER: Jim Leyland and Davey Johnson walked away and Dusty Baker was fired. The manager's carousel is spinning, and there are jobs open with the Tigers, Cubs and Mariners. Will former skippers Manny Acta and Eric Wedge get a call, or will clubs look to promote newcomers Brad Ausmus and Tim Wallach?
TAKING ANOTHER LOOK: MLB intends to greatly expand instant replay next year, making most every call reviewable except balls-and-strikes. "It will be different," World Series crew chief John Hirschbeck said before Game 1. A few hours later, umps huddled to correctly reverse a missed play on the bases. Next season, no arguments and no fuss. But no matter how many times they see it, Red Sox fans might not agree with Jim Joyce's obstruction ruling.
HALL OF FAME ... OR SHAME: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas make their debuts on the Cooperstown ballot, with voting results coming in early January. Writers pitched a shutout last time, a loud statement against players who prospered in the Steroids Era. Will this election be different? The early consensus is Craig Biggio will get chosen on his second try, along with the new Big Three. Mike Piazza, Tim Raines and Jack Morris could make it sometime. But the taint of drugs is likely to keep out Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro for a long, long time, if not forever.
THEY'RE IN PLAY: A day after his team won the World Series, Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury became a free agent. So did outfielders Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson, catcher Brian McCann and pitchers Roy Halladay, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana. Also, the Yankees need to figure out how much to pay star second baseman Robinson Cano. Some of that might be decided during the winter meetings in early December.
THE ANGST OF A-ROD: All-Stars Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera all accepted 50-64-game suspensions that stemmed from the Biogenesis drug investigation. Alex Rodriguez drew the most severe penalty at 211 games, appealed and didn't miss a day pending the results of the union's grievance. Rodriguez and legal team then filed suit Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB, accusing them of engaging in a "witch hunt." No telling when this will be settled. Is there a chance A-Rod will play for the Yankees on opening day? Yes.
SELIG'S SWAN SONG: After a couple of balks, Commissioner Bud Selig insists next year really will be his final season and that he'll retire at 80. He took over as acting commissioner in 1992 and MLB saw unprecedented growth during his tenure, along with several labor battles that led to peace with the players. He also was in charge when the 1994 World Series was canceled and during the days of heavy steroid use. At this point, no one is even close being a clear-cut favorite to succeed Selig.
PRIZE FIGHT: Who ya got for NL MVP- Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina or Paul Goldschmidt? Miguel Cabrera seems to be a lock on the AL side, with Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer lined up for Cy Youngs. Award season starts Nov. 11 with the AL Rookie of the Year.
ON DECK: Slightly over 100 days until teams break out the bats and balls for spring training in Florida and Arizona. Then MLB travels Down Under for the regular season opener- in Australia, it'll be the Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground on March 22.
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