The 2011 MLB season has been one for the record books – more major milestones have been reached and records broken than any other year I can remember. Below are just some of the examples of things that have happened this season:
- Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals broke his own 2010 record by hitting 30 home runs in 10 consecutive seasons. Now in his 11th season, Pujols has hit over 440 home runs, averaging just over 40 a year, which is a lot for one of the few sluggers never mentioned in the Mitchell Report.
- Speaking of the Mitchell Report and power hitters, another name that was never brought up was Jim Thome. Currently playing for the Cleveland Indians again, Thome just became the 7th player in history to hit 600 home runs. This guaranteed Hall-of-Famer joins this short list with other Hall members like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays & Hank Aaron. Other notable players in the club that may not make it to Cooperstown because of their association with performance enhancing drugs include Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa & Alex Rodriguez. On a side note, I find it very interesting that the Minnesota Twins kept him both on their roster and playing regularly all the way up to his 600th home run, and then they placed him on waivers to ultimately trade him back to Cleveland. It seems they waited to ensure Thome hit the milestone while on the Twins simply to give them more publicity; I can’t imagine they weren’t already planning to trade him before he got to 600.
- Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers has had a career-defining season on the mound, and has helped lead his team to the AL-Central title. He is not only leading the American League for the pitching Triple Crown (Wins, ERA & Strikeouts) but is leading the entire MLB as well; if it were a six-pointed crown he would win it also because he also leads in Innings Pitched, Opponents Batting Average and WHIP. The 2011 season has been one for the record books for Verlander and he was only a few innings away from making baseball history. He pitched his second career no-hitter early in the season, which was a perfect game until a late walk, and since then has had two outings where he carried a no-hitter into the 8th and another into the 6th. Verlander will likely win the AL Cy Young award and should be a favorite to win the MVP as well with his closest and possibly only competition being Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees.
- It should come as no surprise that America’s team, the Yankees, had two players make history in 2011. First, Derek Jeter hit his 3,000th hit, joining the exclusive club with 27 other players of which only 3 are not in the Hall of Fame (and that includes Pete Rose who is still banned). Jeter is the only player to hit the milestone with a home run besides Wade Boggs, and one of the few to complete the feat with one franchise. Jeter already holds the record for most hits by a Yankee and though he is 37, will likely play a few more years with the Bronx Bombers and end his career having never played an inning with another franchise – something very uncommon in the free-agent era.
- Mariano Rivera, another player who has played every inning of his career with the Yankees, broke what for a while seemed to be an unbreakable record. Just recently, Rivera completed his 602nd career save, breaking Trevor Hoffman’s previous record. The next closest active pitcher is Francisco Cordero who only has 324, so this record should hold up for many years. I believe one of the reasons this record is such an accomplishment is because in this day and age, many closers throw 100 MPH or more, and doing that for numerous seasons is usually not possible for a human’s arm. Aside from the flamethrowers, many closers today did not begin their career as a closer but as a starter or long reliever that since lost their stamina. John Smoltz was the perfect example of this, playing most of his career as a starter for the Atlanta Braves, hurting his arm and transforming into a solid closer late in his career. Rivera was able to stay strong and healthy because he did not throw as hard, but instead threw a cut fastball that simply jammed hitters into hitting ground balls, keeping his ERA just over 2 for his career. He has also been the team’s closer his entire career except for his first two years in the big leagues when he was used as a starter and setup man for John Wetteland.
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