The Most Memorable MLB Moments from 2012

Ron Juckett@ronjuckettContributor IIIDecember 10, 2012

The Most Memorable MLB Moments from 2012

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    As 2012 itself draws to a close, it is time to look back at some of the great and amazing moments this year in Major League Baseball.

    In a season that ended with the San Francisco Giants winning their second World Series in three years, we also saw baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since 1967.

    With Mariano Rivera lost to an ACL tear early in the season in Kansas City, we saw the Yankees play their first postseason game without Rivera, Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada on the active roster since Game 6 of the 1981 World Series.

    The Boston Red Sox continued their epic collapse of September of 2011, while the Oakland Athletics defied all expectations and won the American League West.

    It was a great season for fans of the game, and here are a few of the most memorable moments of the year in chronological order.

    *All box scores are courtesy of Baseball Reference and Retrosheet.

April 21: Philip Humber's Perfect Game

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    In an early-season Saturday afternoon game moved to Fox for the odd chance that the main New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park was rained out, Chicago White Sox pitcher Philip Humber gave the country an afternoon to remember.

    In his second start of the year, Humber just dominated the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field and threw only 96 pitches to become perhaps to be the unlikeliest pitcher in baseball history to pitch a perfect game.

    Humber would fan nine Mariners that afternoon and then pitch so poorly the rest of the year that the White Sox removed him from the starting rotation in early August.

    It just goes to show—like pitching a perfect game playing MLB 2K12 and getting to meet supermodel Kate Upton—that anything can happen in sports on any given day.


April 25: Paul Konerko Hits Home Run No. 400

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    Four days after Philip Humber’s perfect game, 36-year-old Paul Konerko joined the 400 home run club in Oakland.

    The White Sox first baseman hit No. 400 off Grant Balfour in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game at two.

    Konerko became the 48th player in Major League Baseball history to join that club.

    Two more would break the 400 career home run mark before the season ended. Teammate Adam Dunn would hit his milestone August 18 in Kansas City off Tim Collins, while Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz would crack the number on July 4 in Oakland off A.J. Griffin. 


May 8: Josh Hamilton Cracks 4 Homers

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    Texas Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton will never forget May 8 as long as he lives.

    That night in Baltimore, Hamilton became just the 16th person in baseball history to hit four home runs in a game.

    The first came off Orioles starter Jake Arrieta in the first, as Hamilton took Arrieta deep to center field for a two-run shot.

    Hamilton took Arrieta deep again in the top of the third, hitting his second two-run blast of the evening to left-center.

    Hamilton greeted Zach Phillips rudely out of the bullpen, driving an 0-1 pitch into the Baltimore night for his third two-run homer of the game in the seventh.

    Darren O’Day made no difference to Hamilton hitting, as Josh powered his fourth blast of the night again to deep center.

    Shortstop Elvis Andrus was on base ahead of Hamilton all four times and was part of Hamilton’s eight-RBI night in the Rangers' easy 10-3 win over the Orioles.


June 1: Johan Santana Nails Down Mets' First No-No

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    From their first-ever game in St. Louis on April 11, 1962 until May 30, 2012, the New York Mets had never had a no-hitter thrown by a Mets player in their 51 seasons of baseball.

    On Friday night, June 1—ironically against the St. Louis Cardinals—that streak of futility finally ended with an 8-0 win.

    Johan Santana had that honor of getting that first no-hitter at Citi Field by striking out eight Cardinal hitters and walking five on 134 pitches.

    Mets fans by the thousands, from Astoria to Port St. Lucie, will claim they were there that night, but only 27,069 can really say they were there on one of the biggest nights in Mets history. 


June 13: Matt Cain's Perfect Game

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    On a chilly and windy night in San Francisco, Matt Cain just dominated the Houston Astros in historic fashion.

    In pitching his masterpiece, Cain struck out 14 en route to a 125-pitch gem.

    Cain only reached a full count on four Astros hitters and ended up fanning three of them.

    In a season that saw Cain become the ace of a World Series winner, this was truly the crowning personal achievement of his career.


June 29: Aaron Hill Hits for the Cycle Twice in Two Weeks

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    Aaron Hill had a great overall year down in the desert of Arizona. On June 29, he turned a great year into an epic one.

    Most players have a difficult time hitting for the cycle just once in their career. Hill managed to do it twice in just 15 days!

    The first time came at home at Chase Field against the Seattle Mariners.

    The second came up in Milwaukee against the Brewers.

    Facing Randy Wolf, Hill started the night hitting a ground-rule double to left in the first. After a single in the third, Hill took Wolf deep down the left-field line for a two-run homer.

    Needing a triple for that cycle, he did just that in the sixth. Driving a 2-0 pitch from Livan Hernandez to the alley in right-center, Hill indeed got his three-bagger, and the Diamondbacks won easily, 9-3.


July 9: Prince Fielder Wins Second Home Run Derby

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    After spending millions to renovate Kauffman Stadium, the Kansas City area was rewarded with the 2012 All-Star Game.

    While the game itself saw the National League blow out the American League 8-0, the Home Run Derby would be known for some fireworks of its own.

    After American League captain Robinson Cano failed to take hometown favorite Billy Butler as one of his picks, the standing-room-only crowd jeered Cano his entire appearance very loudly. Cano ended up not homering at all.

    Finishing fourth after the first round, Prince Fielder smashed 11 home runs in the second and then defeated Jose Bautista in the final with 12 more.

    The 2009 champion became the first player to win the Home Run Derby representing both leagues and joins Ken Griffey Jr. as the only multiple-time winners of this event.

August 15: Felix Hernandez Throws a Perfect Game

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    From 1876 through 2011, there had been only 20 perfect games in Major League Baseball history.

    When Felix Hernandez stepped to the mound the afternoon of August 15, he would deliver the third perfecto of 2012.

    Seattle’s Safeco Field became the first stadium in baseball history to host the honor of two perfect games in one year as King Felix mowed down the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0.

    In his 12-strikeout performance, Rays hitters only reached a three-ball count three times on the day.

    Rarely does a dominant pitcher actually throw a perfect game. While Sandy Koufax and Roy Halladay were able to throw one in their prime, Bob Gibson and Roger Clemens never even threw a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game.

    No-hitters were so common this year that we actually saw seven of them thrown! The entire decade of the 1980s saw only 13 no-hitters and three perfect games.


August 16: Clay Buchholz Fans Side on 9 Pitches

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    The act of striking out the side in baseball may not be rare per se, but doing it on the perfect total of nine pitches is.

    Boston’s Clay Buchholz was able to do just that on August 16 in Baltimore against the Orioles.

    In what ended up being his last win of the season, Buchholz got Adam Jones and Matt Wieters looking before getting Chris Davis swinging in the bottom of the sixth inning.

    Buchholz was not the only pitcher to pull the feat in 2012. Arizona’s Wade Miley whiffed the Colorado Rockies on nine pitches at home in the third inning during his last start on October 1.


September 30: Baltimore Returns to the Playoffs

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    It did not matter that the only guarantee was just a one-game crapshoot—the Baltimore Orioles were assured of playoff baseball for the first time since 1997.

    Embracing the total team attitude taught by manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles started showing at the end of 2011 what they were capable of when they knocked the Boston Red Sox out of a wild-card spot to end the season.

    Building on that confidence and paced by timely hitting, good starting pitching and a great bullpen, the Orioles hung with the New York Yankees all year long and were actually tied for the division lead with three games to go in the season.

    For the record, it was J.J. Hardy's leadoff home run off Zach Stewart in the third that put the Orioles in the postseason, but it was a complete effort from the entire ballclub that gave Baltimore a season to remember.

    The O's defeated the Red Sox that day 6-3 and would go on to beat the Rangers in the Wild Card Game before giving the Yankees a very tough five-game series in the ALDS.


October 1: Washington Nationals Clinch NL East

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    When the Pittsburgh Pirates downed the Atlanta Braves on Monday, October 1, it was time to celebrate in Washington.

    They found out they had won their first NL East crown outright since 1994, when they were the Montreal Expos, during the top of the ninth of their game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

    For the Nationals and the city of Washington, it was redemption.

    Before moving to Washington from Montreal, it looked like the Expos could potentially be headed towards outright contraction before the players union stepped in and said no.

    Washington, going 34 years itself without a MLB club, had not even seen a postseason game since the 1933 World Series, when it was an American League city.

    It would eventually lose to St. Louis in five games during the National League Divisional Series, but the national pastime is alive and well in the nation’s capital.


October 3: Miguel Cabrera Wins Triple Crown

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    The last day of the season saw the Detroit Tigers visiting Kansas City and Miguel Cabrera earn baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years.

    Cabrera received a huge standing ovation from the Kansas City crowd when he was lifted in the bottom of the fourth inning for Ramon Santiago.

    It may not seem as big of a deal to lead the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in with all the new statistics we have now, but the last time the feat had been done was by Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

    When added to the fact that the Tigers did not wrap up the AL Central until the last few days of the season, Cabrera’s monster campaign ended up earning him the AL MVP by a comfortable margin.


October 3: Athletics Win the Wild West

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    On June 30, the Oakland Athletics were 13 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers after dropping a 7-2 decision in Arlington.

    On the last day of the season, Oakland defeated Texas in Oakland to win the division.

    Over the last 83 games, the A's went on an absolute tear, going 57-26 while the Rangers played .500 ball.

    The end result was as remarkable a comeback as the 1978 New York Yankees climbing out of a 14.5-game hole midseason.

    In pressing all the right buttons, manager Bob Melvin pulled all the strings for a team expected to be a lot closer to 100 losses on the year, let alone pushing 100 wins.

    With a playoff spot secured a couple days earlier, Oakland took the division lead for good in the bottom of the fourth when Josh Hamilton misplayed a Yoenis Cespedes fly ball to center.

    As Cespedes stood on second, Coco Crisp and Stephen Drew scored the go-ahead runs, and A's fans were sent over the moon.

    Oakland forced the Detroit Tigers to a deciding Game 5 of their divisional series before running into the buzz saw called Justin Verlander. 


October 5: Chipper Jones' Last Game Nearly Sparks a Riot

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    As Atlanta Braves fans settled into Turner Field for the first ever Wild Card Round game, there was already a feeling of melancholy even before the game started.

    Before the season, beloved third baseman Chipper Jones had announced he would retire at the end of the year, and this extra game was the last time Jones was ever guaranteed to wear a Braves uniform as a player.

    Trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth and runners on first and second with one out, shortstop Andrelton Simmons appeared to flare a base hit between shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday.

    Left field umpire Sam Holbrook felt Kozma was still making a good faith effort to catch the ball and called the infield fly rule as the ball was about to hit the ground.

    A near riot ensued as debris rained on the field for a good 15 minutes, causing both teams to retreat to the safety of their dugouts.

    Jones did reach on an infield single with two outs in the ninth to extend the game and drew a long and heartfelt ovation from the faithful, but baseball’s first game in its newest round will forever be known for a 215-foot infield fly.


October 10: Raul Ibanez Powers Yankees off the Bench

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    Trailing 2-1 in Game 3 of their American League Divisional Series against the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi made the bold decision to pinch-hit for his All-World slugger Alex Rodriguez with Raul Ibanez.

    With the series tied at one and the Orioles trying to lock down a commanding 2-1 series lead in the ninth, Girardi made the huge gamble to get something started.

    Boy, did it ever.

    Ibanez strolled to the plate with one out and took Jim Johnson's 1-0 pitch deep into a sea of happy fans in right to tie the game.

    A quick Oriole rally was quickly put down in the 10th on a line-drive double play, and the bats on both sides remained quiet until the bottom of the 12th.

    Brian Matusz—who had retired the side quickly in the 11th—watched Ibanez take the first pitch of the 12th inning deep into the Bronx night in right to give the Yankees a 3-2 win.

    Ibanez was the first person in baseball history to homer in his first two at-bats in a playoff game he did not start, and the Yankees eventually won the series in five games.


October 12: Cardinals Storm Back from 6 Down to Win Their NLDS

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    After three innings of the winner-take-all Game 5 of their National League Divisional Series with the Washington Nationals, the St. Louis Cardinals trailed 6-0.

    The Cards started chipping away at the lead against starter Gio Gonzalez for a run in the fourth and two in the fifth to cut the margin in half, 6-3.

    Washington manager Davey Johnson turned the game over to his bullpen at that point and hoped it would be able to get the last 12 outs to send the Nats on to the LCS.

    That lead was eventually cut down to one when Daniel Descalso took Tyler Clippard deep down the right-field line to start the top of the eighth, making it a 6-5 game. 

    Clippard settled down and got the rest of the Cardinals set down in order, and momentum swung back towards Washington when Kurt Suzuki drove in a big insurance run when he singled home Adam LaRoche with two outs, making it a 7-5 game.

    With the series on the arm of Drew Storen to close it out, Carlos Beltran doubled to start the ninth for St. Louis.

    After a Matt Holliday grounder and an Allen Craig strikeout, it looked like the Nats were indeed going to advance.

    But in an improbable turn of events, Storen lost complete command of the strike zone and walked Yadier Molina and David Freese to load the bases.

    Descalso promptly ripped the first pitch he saw from Storen to Ian Desmond at short, but Desmond could not make a play, and two runs scored to tie the game at seven.

    After Descalso stole second, Pete Kozma drilled a single down the line in right and plated the go-ahead runs.

    Jason Motte retired the shell-shocked Nationals in order in the ninth, and the Cardinals advanced to the National League Championship Series.


October 13: Derek Jeter Breaks His Ankle

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    What should have been a groundout to the Yankee captain in the top of the 12th inning off the bat of Jhonny Peralta ended up being an infield single when Derek Jeter broke his ankle attempting to field the ball.

    The opener of the American League Championship Series had only gone to extra innings to begin with when Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde blew a four-run lead to the New York Yankees in the ninth.

    Trailing 5-4 in the top of the 12th, Jeter fell to the Yankee Stadium dirt in obvious anguish, and with him went the Yankee season.

    Jeter’s x-ray showed the worst in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and the Yankees went quickly to the Tigers in four games.


October 24: Pablo Sandoval Opens World Series with 3-Home Run Night

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    Game 1 of World Series seemed to have the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

    The force in this case was the San Francisco Giants. The Giants reached the World Series on the strength of winning six straight elimination games to capture the NL pennant.

    The object was Detroit Tiger ace Justin Verlander. After winning all three of his playoff starts, Verlander came to the series on a full week of rest.

    What Verlander did not count on was Pablo Sandoval.

    Sandoval greeted Verlander in the first with a rocket home run to right for the first run of the series.

    By the time Sandoval batted again in the third, Verlander’s concentration had been challenged by the very tight strike zone called by home plate umpire Gerry Davis. Leading 2-0, Sandoval’s second at-bat saw him hit a towering two-run drive to left to make it a four-run lead.

    After Giant starter Barry Zito singled off of Verlander in the fourth to make it a 5-0 game, Sandoval would not get a third chance off the Tiger pitcher.

    Facing Al Alburquerque in the fifth, Sandoval pulled the hat trick taking Alburquerque deep to center to make it 6-0.

    Sandoval’s feat was only the fourth time ever a player had hit three bombs in a single World Series game. The others to do it are already in the Hall of Fame or will be when they retire: Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols.


October 28: Giants Sweep Series

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    The 2012 season ended at 11:41 p.m. Eastern time when Miguel Cabrera watched strike three go into Buster Posey’s glove.

    As closer Sergio Romo started to celebrate their 10-inning win in Game 4, the Giants took home their second championship in three years.

    The Giants just beat the Tigers silly in all aspects of the game. They ran, hit, fielded and pitched better than Detroit, and what looked like a close series on paper turned into an improbable sweep.

    Pablo Sandoval was named the MVP, while Giants fans started campaigning for manager Bruce Bochy’s Cooperstown induction.

    What became apparent to those of us watching and following is that there really now is a love affair between San Francisco and her Giants.

    What was once considered a 49ers town during their Super Bowl runs of yesteryear has been turned black and Giant orange.

    They love and know their baseball, and the Giants ended the 2012 season bringing home a winner to the city by the bay.