Bartolo's blast among strange but true feats that make MLB great

ByJayson Stark ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 27, 2016

So here it is, the last week of December. And you know what I can't get out of my head? Bartolo Colon's home run. Yeah, really. What the heck is wrong with me, anyway?

And then I realize. Nothing is wrong with me. I'm thinking about Bartolo's magical home run because it makes me laugh -- but also because it reminds me of something I never want to forget.

That baseball is awesome. And this totally goofy, totally exhilarating, totally out-of-the-blue home run was one of those OMG moments that sums up the strange but true beauty of this incredible sport.

Every single day, for six months a year, we find ourselves asking: How the hell did that happen? Or: When was the last time that happened? Or: Did you just see what I saw? Or something like that. Well, you know what? Even in December, when we find ourselves halfway through baseball's long, cold, box-score-free offseason, that's something to celebrate.

So what better time to savor those beautiful moments than the final week of 2016, when there is no baseball at all -- other than the awesome memories that get us through the winter? C'mon, raise your champagne glasses as we toast the 100 percent nonfictional wackiness that makes baseball so relentlessly cool.


Here's to Bartolo Colon, the strangest but truest offensive force in all the land. Who out there would have wagered that he'd hit a home run this year before Jason Heyward, Justin Turner, Russell Martin, Nick Markakis or his own catcher, Travis d'Arnaud? But it happened.

Hank Aaron hit his last home run -- No. 755 -- when he was 42 years, 166 days old. Bartolo hit his FIRST home run when he was 42 years, 349 days old. Nobody in history had ever waited until they had logged that many years on earth to hit their first home run. But this guy was pretty much the perfect candidate for that feat, right?

"You could tell it was his first home run," quipped Jimmy Fallon, while bringing this up on an episode of "The Tonight Show," "because at each base, he stopped and asked for directions to the next one."

Bartolo made 65 trips to the plate this year -- and struck out in 40 of them. So how amazing is it that, when he wasn't swinging and missing, he did even more cool stuff. Like becoming the oldest man ever to draw his first walk. He did that on Aug. 15, against Arizona's Robbie Ray. In the 281st plate appearance of his career. Barry Bonds once walked 94 times in a span of 281 plate appearances, if that gives you any idea how hard it is to walk zero times.

Hey, but that wasn't all. On Aug. 26, Bartolo hit a double and a single in back-to-back innings. They call that a multihit game, friends. And you know it had been a while since his last multihit extravaganza, seeing as how the team he did it with the previous time (the 2002 Expos) doesn't even exist anymore. In between those unforgettable Bartolo Colon multihit games, all the other pitchers out there got 982 multihit games. Just thought you should know that.

The zero hero

And here's to Caleb Joseph, backup catcher for the Baltimore Orioles and one tremendous dude. You might not have noticed this, but nobody -- not even Bartolo -- had a stranger but truer year than him.

We count 678 different players who drove in at least one run this year. What made Joseph's season kind of notable was that, well, he wasn't one of them. His season went like this: 141 plate appearances, zero RBIs. Wait. What?

Five American League pitchers drove in a run this year. One of them (Anthony Ranaudo) was a relief pitcher. A National League pitcher (Adam Wainwright) knocked in 18 runs. But somehow, Caleb Joseph arrived at home plate with 83 runners on base -- and drove home none of them.

So how hard is it for a man to go through a whole season and drive in as many runs as Kim Kardashian? Glad you asked. No position player since the invention of RBIs had ever gone to the plate 100 times in a season without finding a way to drive in at least one run. But here's my heartfelt New Year's message to Caleb Joseph: It's always better to make strange-but-true history than no history at all.

The grandest finale

Here's to the incomprehensible finish of the epic seventh game of a classic World Series. Now that you've had a couple of months to let it breathe, try to digest the degree of difficulty of all the nutty stuff that had to line up to make that finale the instant classic it became.

Let's begin with Indians starter Corey Kluber. Game 7 was his 140th start in the big leagues, counting the postseason. He had never made any start in which he struck out nobody -- so naturally, he whiffed zero in this start (on the way to digging the Indians into an early 5-1 hole). ... But a few innings later, along came Jon Lester, ambling out of that Cubs bullpen for his first relief appearance in nine years. No National League pitcher threw a two-run wild pitch during the entire regular season -- of course, Lester did in this game (to cut the Cubs' four-run lead in half).

And how about Lester's personal catcher, David Ross? No player had ever hit a Game 7 home run on the final swing of his career -- but Ross did in this game (to get the Cubs back up by three). ... Two innings later, it was time for Aroldis Chapman's contribution to this madness. Before this game, he had made 244 appearances in a row (over the last 3 seasons) without allowing hits to the first three hitters he faced -- but he went double, homer, single in this appearance (and made the most important lead he'd ever been handed disappear).

Speaking of that homer, it had been over nine weeks and 111 plate appearances since Rajai Davis had had a chance to work on his home run trot -- but so much for that! He hit quite the game-tying, eardrum-rattling home run off Chapman in the eighth inning of this game. ... This meant that for the Cubs to win this World Series, they were going to have to do what no team had ever done -- blow a lead that late in a winner-take-all World Series game and then find the strength to come back and win. But of course, we now know that's exactly what they did ... with the timely assistance of a go-ahead run that was scored by a man (Albert Almora) who hadn't crossed home plate during the entire postseason.

So that led us to what had to be the strangest but truest final out of any World Series Game 7 ever. The man on the mound -- Mike Montgomery -- had never saved a game. The man at the plate -- Michael Martinez -- hadn't gotten a hit in more than seven weeks. And the catcher behind the dish -- Miguel Montero -- hadn't caught a pitch in over two weeks. But you know how you could tell it was all meant to be? Somehow or other, they all had the same initials (MM) -- because, well, of course they did.

Viral video alert

It was the late, great Jack Buck who once said, as Kirk Gibson limped around the bases: "I don't believe what I just saw." Well, here's to the magic of viral video, because only seeing it could convince you that stuff like this can actually happen, in actual life:

You know that old adage, what comes up must come down? Ha! Tell it to the Dodgers' Trayce Thompson. He launched this majestic May 3 home run that still hasn't returned to planet earth:

Indians pitcher Zach McAllister makes a living with his arm. But his left leg has never come in handier than it did Aug. 30, with this stylish Hacky Sack calf gem. Hey, an out's an out!

We're always in favor of players who use their head -- just not quite the way Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders used his noggin on this goofy May 9 play in San Francisco. Pass the Tylenol!

Say, is there an ESPY for multitasking? Cubs utility whiz Chris Coghlan should have clinched it with this cool trick. You think it's easy to call a timeout and hit a two-run single at the same time? Watch this!

Finally, you'll never head for the fridge during an intentional walk again, after what the Yankees' Gary Sanchez pulled off during this unsuccessful intentional walk on Sept. 10. If you're a lip-reader, check out Rays manager Kevin Cash after the dust settles. Sums up this whole column!

The name of the game

Here's to all those players to be "named" later. We love every one of them.

In an Aug. 5 game between the Braves and Cardinals, Adonis Garcia hit a ground ball that deflected off the pitcher, who was Jaime Garcia, and bounced directly to the second baseman, who (of course) was Greg Garcia. Too bad Rich Garcia couldn't come out of retirement and hustle to Atlanta in time to call one of those Garcias out at first.

In other news, Tim Kurkjian still can't believe nobody got drilled in that Aug. 17 Nova-Cain matchup (Ivan versus Matt, to be technical). ... And someone alert Jim Rome that on April 16, Hale (David) met Szczur (Matt) at Wrigley Field.

In other developments, Trea Turner hit four home runs at (yep) Turner Field this year. Think he really wants to see the Braves move out of that place? ... And if you enjoy this sort of thing, you have to admit there was something special about the Sept. 5 game in which Chavez (Jesse) was relieved by Ravin (Josh) at (where else?) Chavez Ravine. So what's in a name? Nothing but fun. That's all.

Flunking math

Here's to all the strange but true numbers of baseball. They all make perfect sense -- until they don't quite add up. Like these, for instance:

No pitcher in this millennium had ever racked up six strikeouts in a game in which he didn't even get six outs. But Astros math whiz Ken Giles cranked up one of those theoretically impossible 1 innings pitched, 6 strikeout lines this August, thanks to the miracle of a strike-three wild pitch. ... And how about the Rockies' Jon Gray? He struck out six hitters in a row in the second and third innings of a Sept. 17 start against the Padres -- but still gave up a hit. Hard to do (unless you mix in a strikeout-passed ball)!

Meanwhile, in the batter's box, Maikel Franco of the Phillies did something Aug. 30 that no one had done in 14 years -- make five outs on four pitches. So how'd he pull that off? Three straight first-pitch outs, capped off by a game-ending double play. ... And over at first base, the Brewers' Jonathan Villar managed to get picked off by Julio Urias twice in the same at-bat on June 28. Villar can thank modern technology for that. The first pickoff was overturned by replay. Whereupon Urias just picked him off a second time.

How to make an entrance

You only get one chance to make your big league debut. So here's to the guys whose debuts were anything but ordinary.

Nobody made walking into the big leagues look easier than the Rockies' David Dahl. What did he do in the first 17 games of his major league career? He got a hit in all 17 of them, naturally. Just so he knows that's tougher than he made it look, ESPN Stats & Info's Sarah Langs reports that the list of players who have never hit in 17 games in a row includes, oh, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Carlos Beltran, Jose Altuve, Joe Mauer and Manny Machado. Whoever they are.

Then there was Padres phenom Hunter Renfroe. Pretty intimidating guy, apparently, because, in his very first trip to home plate in the big leagues, the Diamondbacks intentionally walked him. Think he'd find it amusing to know that Alex Rodriguez wasn't intentionally walked once this year?

But nobody had a crazier first act than Braves third baseman Rio Ruiz. It isn't easy to make your big league debut by playing in a game you never played in. But that's what Ruiz can tell his kids about his grand entrance Sept. 18. He headed for home plate to pinch-hit for the pitcher with two outs in the seventh inning and then ... the game got rained out! You wouldn't think that would count. But check that box score: There he is!

How'd that happen?

Finally, here's to the sheer, ridiculous, head-scratching, heart-warming essence of baseball -- a game where anything is possible, even all the stuff you were pretty sure was impossible. Until it happened.

How can you not love a sport in which the Giants have so much trust in their sweet-swinging ace, Madison Bumgarner, that they allow him to serve as his own DH in Oakland -- where, naturally, he doubles to start a six-run inning? And how can you not love a sport in which only one hitter in baseball has homered off the best pitcher alive (Clayton Kershaw) in each of the last two seasons -- and it's a pitcher (that very same Madison Bumgarner)?

How can you not love a sport in which Harper reaches first base seven times in one game without swinging at a single pitch (thanks to six walks and a hit by pitch)? And how can you not love a sport in which the Tigers' Shane Greene could save a game he didn't even know he was closing (thanks to like 1.8 trillion raindrops after he left the mound)?

How can you not love a sport in which Red Sox flutterball king Steven Wright could rattle off three wild pitches and four passed balls in one game -- and still win it? And how can you not love a sport in which a team (the Orioles) could have four of its first five hitters kick off a game with home runs -- and still lose it?

How can you not love a sport in which two different teams (the Braves and Twins) could start their season by losing nine games in a row -- and then both turn around and spin off four-game winning streaks? And how can you not love a sport in which another team (the Padres) could get shut out in its first three games of the season -- and then turn around and score 13 and 16 in its next two games (with some minor assistance from Coors Field)?

How can you not love a sport in which one manager (Clint Hurdle) can get himself ejected before the first out in the top of the first inning? And how can you not love a sport in which another manager (Joe Maddon) can get himself ejected moments after one of his pitchers (Kyle Hendricks) has a no-hitter broken up in the ninth inning (with some minor assistance from the always-innovative umpire Joe West)?

But seriously, friends, how can you not love a sport in which Dee Gordon could lead off the Marlins' first game after the tragic death of his friend, Jose Fernandez, by hitting his first home run in 358 days -- then run around the bases with tears in his eyes? And how can you not love a sport that gives us a World Series between two teams that hadn't won one in a combined 176 years, then cap it off with a pulse-racing, rain-delayed, extra-inning classic that goes down to the very last pitch?

So here's to baseball, the strangest, truest, greatest sport on earth -- even in the final week of December.