Spring is in the air. The flowers are blooming … and so is baseball as we are now one week into the regular season!
Doesn’t Opening Day feel like yesterday?
There are still over 150 games left. The season is just beginning, and every year is filled with history. We just saw Corey Seager get intentionally walked with the bases loaded—that’s the seventh time that’s ever happened.
Barry Bonds treatment for Corey Seager 😳
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) April 16, 2022
You never know what else could happen this year…
Miguel Cabrera is just a few hits away from 3,000. That’s essentially a sure thing. Maybe Craig Kimbrel somehow gets 27 more saves, and becomes the seventh closer to get 400 career saves? Also, we already saw one perfect game bid get unceremoniously cut short … could we see a lucky pitcher throw the 24th perfect game in MLB history?
Let’s look to the past to understand what could come in the future. And let us start with one of baseball’s most monumental events, which happened 18 years ago.
April 16, 1994 – Dinger is Born
That’s correct, 18 years ago Dinger was born.
The Rockies spent the first year of their existence without a guiding light. And it showed in their record: 67 – 95 (.414 W%)
So they needed a change … they needed a new identity.
It started in January 1994, when the Rockies announced the discovery of a dinosaur egg at Coors Field. This whimsical twist on reality referenced what actually happened during the construction of Coors Field when workers uncovered some dino bones.
Then, the big moment came in an April 16 game against the Montreal Expos (remember those guys?).
Scientists—you could tell they were scientists by their lab coats, head mirrors and rubber gloves—wheeled out the massive egg to the field. And then history was made…
The Rockies had found their identity in Dinger—this voracious little buffoon! Surely things would improve for Colorado, right?
They did improve their record to 53 – 64 (.453 W%) in the strike-shortened ’94 season. And in ’95 they had their first winning season!
April 17, 2010 – Ubaldo’s No-No
Although the Rockies found their identity and goofball of a mascot within a year … for the next 17 seasons they still couldn’t find a no-hitter.
It’s not a shock, as Coors Field was (and still is) a notorious hitter’s park. But back then it was even worse.
Coors Field opened in 1995. Here is how Rockies pitchers collectively compared to other teams from that first Coors season until 2009:
5.10 ERA – Last
1.19 HR/9 – t-3rd Highest
3.69 BB/9 – 4th Highest
6.13 K/9 – 4th Lowest
It was hard to be a Rockies pitcher. Then, Ubaldo Jimenez came along.
In 2009—his fourth season—Jimenez recorded a 5.3 fWAR season. That’s the highest single-season total by any Rockies pitcher up to that date (besting Aaron Cook’s 4.8 fWAR season in 2008).
Jimenez’ 2009 stats: 15 – 12, 3.47 ERA/3.36 FIP/136 ERA+, 1.229 WHIP, 218 IP, 8.2 K/9.
It seemed like the Rockies had the ace they had long coveted. Could Jimenez get even better?
Short answer, yes. He improved in pretty much every way the next year.
His 2010 stats: 19 – 8, 2.88 ERA/3.10 FIP/161 ERA+, 1.155 WHIP, 221.2 IP, 8.7 K/9.
The crowning moment on top of that season would’ve been a Cy Young. But instead, Jimenez settled for the first no-hitter in Rockies history. Sounds like a fair compromise.
Jimenez entered his April 17 start against the Braves fresh off back-to-back quality starts. Atlanta featured a generation-spanning lineup, headlined by the aging star in Chipper Jones and a young blue-chip prospect in Jason Heyward.
Braves leadoff hitter, Nate McLouth, put some power behind the first ball. But ultimately it was caught. After that—and besides some occasional wildness from Jimenez—it was smooth sailing in his dominant outing. Here is every out for your viewing pleasure:
Jimenez’ final line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 6 BB and 7 K.
After this game, the Rays, Mets, and Padres still had to notch their first no-no. Matt Garza and the Rays did it later that year. The Mets did it in 2012 (thanks, Johan!). The last team to do it was the Padres, courtesy of Joe Musgrove.
April 22, 2014 – Albert Pujols‘ 500th HR
Now this one is a throwback to Albert Pujols‘ decade-long tenure with the Angels. I couldn’t imagine Pujols wearing any other jersey … wow, isn’t it weird to see him in a Cardinals uniform now!
Jokes aside, Pujols’ first run with the Cardinals was as dominant as dominant comes. In his first ten seasons, he notched over 400 home runs. 408, to be exact. And he was just 30 years old … so Pujols’ limit wasn’t just 500 home runs. There was the far outside chance that Pujols could reach the illustrious 800-HR mark—but he’s no Sadaharu Oh.
Nonetheless, 500 home runs is a remarkable accomplishment. One that only 28 players have managed to do in regular season play. And Pujols became No. 26.
The 25-year-old Jordan was in his sophomore season, making his 13th start for the Nats. He had let up at least five runs in his two previous starts, so he entered the game a bit shaky already. And the first inning compounded that.
Three pitches later, he was sitting at No. 499.
Neither Pujols nor Jordan were done for the day.
Jordan let up one more first-inning run, but then hunkered down and retired 10 of the next 11 batters—including Pujols in his second PA.
But then came Pujols’ third at-bat. Trout set the stage in the top of the fifth with a lead-off single. Up next was Pujols. With a 1-2 count, Pujols drove him home with this historic shot.
Eight years later, and Pujols somehow isn’t done yet. He is sitting patiently at 680 HRs. He won’t reach 800, but every bomb puts him one step closer to the famed 700.
Will he reach it or will retirement come first?
I’m not looking forward to the day when Pujols retires. Because when he does, that means there will be no more active players from one of my favorite childhood games, Backyard Baseball 2003.
And that would mean I’m certifiably old. I already am … but I don’t need the certification.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)