MLB General

The Full Count: Shutouts galore

2H, 1BB and 12K in 8 innings

1. Shut down and shut out: There were an inordinate amount of shutouts last night in the big leagues. Pitching prevailed as seven teams put up straight zeroes on the day. Let’s start with the American League, where three teams got blanked. The AL Wild Card race was affected, as the Twins won 8-0 while the White Sox lost 1-0. For the Twins, Johan Santana won his 17th game to take the lead in each of the pitching Triple Crown categories. The Sox lost to the Red Sox in David Ortiz’s return. Ortiz went 0-3 but the Red Sox escaped thanks to Kason Gabbard’s nice start. Elsewhere, the team that has allowed the most runs this season shut out the team that has scored the most. That’s right, it was Royals over Yankees, 5-0. For KC, Todd Wellemeyer went for a very long save, going 3.1 innings and striking out five. The Yankees still lead the Red Sox by 8 games while the Twins have opened up a 1.5 game lead on the White Sox.

2. Shutouts, NL Edition: There were way too many shutouts last night to contain in just one article. The Cards took on the Nats, winning 2-0 behind Albert Pujols’ 5th homer in 3 days. That gives him 44 on the season, more than last year when he won the MVP. Milwaukee crushed LA with a Doug Davis complete game. Davis allowed just four hits while striking out eight on the day. Claudio Vargas helped the D-Backs earn a shutout win of their own as he outdeuled the Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis. And finally, Bronson Arroyo of the Reds surged back after his recent inconsistency, going for a complete-game blanking of the Giants while his ERA dropped to 3.33. According to Elias Says, this was only the seventh time in major league history that there were seven or more shutouts in a single day.

3. What’s going on?: The Tigers lost again last night. The team that has held the best record in the majors for so long finally finds itself and its starting pitching in a slump. Detroit has only won 4 of their last 13 games and just 9 of their last 27. While the Tigers still hold the best record in the major leagues and Kenny Rogers is on fire, many are now questioning whether this team really is “for real.” Jeremy Bonderman blew a three-run lead last night and has not looked like himself for the past month and a half. Bonderman has a 5.05 ERA and a .280 opponents’ batting average since the break, and he along with Nate Robertson and Zach Miner declined in August. But the Tigers have plenty of time to solve their problems before the postseason begins–if they can hold on to their playoff spot.

4. Now they’re the worst: Could things get any worse for Cubs fans? How does a loss to the Pirates sound? That’s what happened last night, as Pittsburgh won their second game of a four-game series. The Pirates’ Jason Bay had one of his best games of the season, with 2 homers and 4 RBIs. He is just shy of his career highs in both categories, set last year. The Cubs declined to the notorious title of “worst team in the National League.” Basically, considering how relatively bad the NL is, they’re the worst team in the majors. The 55-83 Cubbies have gone 1-9 their last ten to cement this dishonor.

5. Hell does not freeze over: And the Cincinnati Reds’ Key Griffey is hurt again. For Griffey, who last played a full season in 2000, this shouldn’t be news. But he is a major contributor to a contending team, so this could be important. Girffey’s current malady is a dislocated toe that leaves him out indefinitely. The 36-year old has no guess as to when he might be back. Source:

MLB General

The Full Count: Royal pain in the ass

1. Beating the Royals: We’re not sure whether defeating Kansas City is getting harder or if teams are just taking them lightly. Either way, the Royals, who swept Boston last week, were in position to take a four game series against Chicago yesterday. But the White Sox won to split the series at two games a piece. Mark Buehrle was victorious for the first time in 9 starts, with two earned runs allowed in a quality start. Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye each drove in runs for the White Sox, who held onto the Wild Card lead with the 5-4 victory. With a Minnesota loss last night they lead the Twins by 2.

2. Embarrassment avoided: The Mets hadn’t just been beaten by the Phillies for three straight games, they had been crushed. Philly won the first 3 games of a 4 game set by a combined score of 27-4, including two shutouts. But the Mets retaliated with a little offense and slick pitching of their own in a 7-2 victory. Their 3-4 punch of Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado was very effective in the win. Beltran went 4-5 and hit his 34th homer of the year. He now has a team-high 99 RBIs on the season. Delgado was even better, with 2 homeruns and 4 RBIs on the day. He has a respectable 28 and 78 this season. Pitching-wise, John Maine was effective again, with 6 solid innings and two runs allowed. The runs were because of Ryan Howard’s 42nd shot of the year, tying him with David Ortiz for the ML lead. With the win the Mets kept a 13-game lead in the division.

3. Lack of focus?: Maybe the Yankees couldn’t concentrate with all the hype that is already surrounding their upcoming 5-game set with the Red Sox. Whatever happened, they didn’t look like themselves in their 12-2 loss to Baltimore. While their offense could only muster two solo shots against pitiful starter Rodrigo Lopez, the Yankees’ pitching was even worse. Jaret Wright, who is very inconsistent, had one of his worst days yesterday with 5 earned runs allowed. He also allowed a homerun for the first time in over 50 innings, snapping a major-league long streak. Octavio Dotel, in his second appearance of the season for New York, allowed 3 runs in less than an inning. New York now heads into the Red Sox series with a 1.5 game lead over their heavy rivals.

4. What happened?: The Padres had seemingly captured the division lead until the Dodgers went on their tear. Now it seems like San Diego can’t even win a game. They just took a four game sweep to San Francisco and have lost 8 of their last 10. Jake Peavy lost yesterday to bring his record to an outstanding 6-12, the second most losses of any NL pitcher. He didn’t even have a bad start, but the Padres failed to support their staff until a pinch hit grand slam in the 9th inning by Josh Barfield. Suddenly the Padres, who had led the NL West for about two months, find themselves with a losing record and in 3rd place.

5. You’re out!: As suspected, eight members of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels were suspended for their roles in Wednesday’s brawl. Managers Mike Scioscia and Buck Showalter were among those who will miss some action. Showalter will miss four games, while Scioscia will only miss three for some reason. Adam Kennedy, who started the fight by charging the mound, will only get 4 games compared to reliever Scott Feldman’s 6. Feldman did hit Kennedy with the pitch, but we think that the person who actually started the fighting should get a more severe punishment. A few other players won’t see action over the weekend for both teams.

MLB General

The Full Count: Red Sox Swept by a AAA team?

1. A Royal Sweep: What has happened to the Boston Red Sox? The team, once dominant over the AL East, has lost five straight games. They have fallen from first place to 3 games back in that span, and they are just not looking good right now. The Kansas City Royals of all teams just hammered the Sox in a three game sweep. Yesterday they prevailed 5-4, despite an incredible 8th-inning single by David Ortiz that many national columnists are calling “clutch.” Anyway, the Royals got three hits and two RBIs by vet Reggie Sanders, and a decent start by Runelvys Hernandez, who had allowed 17 runs in his previous two outings. For the Red Sox, Curt Schilling allowed an uncharacteristic 11 hits and 5 runs to one of the league’s worst offenses. Until the Red Sox can figure out what’s going on, the Yankees have a chance at dominating the division.

2. Different Sox, different story: Ready to take some more blame, Alex Rodriguez? The Yankees slugger, who had been relatively quiet for like a week, made a costly throwing error against the White Sox. His errant throw let Jermaine Dye score, and four runs total crossed the plate that inning. So with those runs and a Scott Podsednik RBI, the White Sox won to take the series of three. Javier Vasquez walked six but struck out 8 and Bobby Jenks closed the door for his AL-leading 31st save. With that Chicago was able to re-pass Minnesota for second place in the division. The 76-38 Tigers, who were off yesterday, still loom large in first.

3. Back to the normal: The Earth rotates, the sky is blue, and the Houston Astros are in Wild Card contention. Those are the facts of life these days. The `Stros, who have won the Wild Card and advanced to the NLCS for two consecutive seasons, are now two games back after sweeping the Pirates. Roger Clemens pitched last night to close out the series, with his 4th win of the year. Incredibly the Rocket has allowed three earned runs or less in each of his 10 starts. So now the Astros, despite an underwhelming record of 56-58, trail the leading Reds by just 2.5 games. In the American League, their record would put them 11.5 games out.

4. One game changes everything: San Diego had the NL West lead when they woke up on Thursday. Now, after they lost and the Dodgers won, the Padres find themselves tied for second. SD lost to El Duque Hernandez of the Mets, who after early struggles has won four straight decisions. The Dodgers, meanwhile, defeated the Rockies despite an ace performance by their starter Jason Jennings. Underrated youngster Andre Ethier hit his 11th homerun for LA. They lead both the Padres and the Diamondbacks (who were off) by a half-game. With how crazy this division is, however, the Dodgers could find themselves in third place by tomorrow.

5. Don’t believe it Phillies fans: The Fightins might be 3 games out of Wild Card contention and starting a series against the Cincinnati Reds who lead the WC race but don’t get your hopes up. This is, after all, the Phillies. They will break your hearts every time. Even worse so because they give you some hope. Just move it along. Move it along to football and the Eagles. This has been a public service announcement from Sportscolumn blog.

Kansas City Royals

July 24 in Sports History: The Pine Tar Incident

In 1983: George Brett of the Kansas City Royals hit a two-run homerun off Goose Gossage of the New York Yankees in the top of the ninth at Yankee Stadium to take a 5-4 lead. Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles alerted manager Billy Martin that the pine tar on Brett’s bat was a little too high, and Martin argued. Umpire Tim McClelland recalled the obscure rule 1.10(b), which stated that “a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the handle.” Brett’s bat apparently was covered up to 20 inches. He walked to the dugout and signaled that Brett was out. Brett erupted out of the dugout in one of the most famous tirades in history and had to be restrained by teammates; and the Yankees were awarded a 4-3 victory. The Royals protested, and A.L. President Lee MacPhail ordered the home run to stand. The protested game was finished on August 18, with the Royals holding on to win, 5-4 — 25 days after the game had started. Brett, who up to that point had been best known for almost missing the 1980 World Series because of hemorrhoids, would now be famous for the time he went all Jack Nicholson in The Shining on an umpire.

In 2004: The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry reached a fever pitch (sorry, folks) with a bench-clearing brawl at Fenway Park. In the top of the third inning, Boston’s Bronson Arroyo hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch. As A-Rod stared Arroyo down, Sox catcher Jason Varitek stepped in and told the $250 million dollar slugger, “We don’t throw at .260 hitters. Get your ass down to first base.” After a few more pleasantries, Varitek shoved Rodriguez and the benches cleared. Varitek and A-Rod were ejected, along with Boston’s Gabe Kapler and New York’s Kenny Lofton and Tanyon Sturtze. A handful of players were also fined and suspended. The ending was also memorable, as the Red Sox rallied off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning to win on a Bill Mueller homerun, 11-10. Many felt that this game helped turn the Red Sox season around, and they eventually won the World Series.

MLB General

The Full Count: Sweeps season

1. Bring out the Brooms: Sunday’s games featured 5 teams that completed a sweep. Two of them are the aforementioned Yankees and Braves, while the others are the LA Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds. The Angels crushed the D-Rays by a combined 20-7 in the series, including a 7-5 win yesterday. Howie Kendrick, their highly touted prospect, went 3-4 with two RBIs. The team is now above .500 for the first time in months and appears to have finally recovered from their awful start to the season. Meanwhile, the Reds completed a Rockies sweep with a 6-4 win. All four of this series’ games were decided by two runs or less, meaning this is one of the closest sweeps you’ll ever see. Adam Dunn hit his 30th homer of the year, becoming the third-fastest Red ever to reach that mark in a single season. For the Rockies Jose Mesa blew his 6th save of the year. The final sweep was in St. Louis, as the Cards used a 4-5, 3-RBI performance by Albert Pujols to finish off the Dodgers. Brad Penny, in his first start since the All Star game, allowed 6 runs and 10 hits in five innings. The combined score of that series was 21-6.

2. Another Braves Streak: The Braves’ 14-year division title streak arguably isn’t the most important 14-game streak for the team right now. Chipper Jones, the former All-Star and NL MVP, notched an extra-base hit for the 14th consecutive game last night. He did so by nailing a homerun and going 3-3 in the Braves’ 10-5 win over the Padres. The win gave the Braves a much-needed road sweep of San Diego, with a total of 36 runs in the series. Chipper’s extra base hit streak has tied an 80-year-old major league record, first set in 1927 by Paul Waner. Jones is now hitting .564 with a remarkable 1.836 OPS in July. He has raised those stats from .291/.839 going into the month to .329/.976 now, both good for fifth in the NL. Jones has also hit 6 of his 15 homeruns and 18 of his 57 RBIs this month and is a sure-fire lock for NL Player of the Month. Atlanta is still a dozen games behind the Mets, though they are just 5.5 back in a loaded NL Wild Card race.

3. The worst beats the best: Kansas City, who owns the worst record in the AL, had yet to beat the division-leading Tigers on the season going into Sunday’s game. Well that finally changed, as the Royals edged Detroit 9-6. Before the loss the Tigers were 11-0 against the Royals on the season with 3 series sweeps. They narrowly missed out on their fourth as they were up 3-0 in the series until yesterday’s loss. Leading the Royals was Joey Gathright, a Devil Rays outcast, who hit 4 RBIs and a triple. Underrated David DeJesus, likely the Royals’ best hitter, went 4-6 on the day to improve his average to a team-best .309. The loss ruined a great day by the Tigers’ Marcus Thames, a breakout player this year who homered twice and drove in 5 runs. It’s not that this game truly matters–the Tigers still own a 29.5 game lead over incompetent Kansas City.

4. Ready for battle: Many thought the Red Sox owned the AL East going into the All Star break. The Yankees changed that kind of thinking when they completed a sweep of the defending champion White Sox on Sunday. That moved New York to a mere half-game back of the stumbling Red Sox, who went 1-3 against the A’s over the weekend. The Yanks defeated the White Sox 6-5, 14-3, and then 6-4 yesterday to capture the sweep. The big news from Sunday’s game was Mariano Rivera, who worked two innings to complete his 400th career save. He is one of only four players–including Padres All-Star Trevor Hoffman–to reach that mark. 21 of Rivera’s saves have come this season and he has a 2.02 ERA. His career ERA is just 2.31 with a 1.04 WHIP. While many closers–including the all-time saves leader, Lee Smith–have struggled getting into the Hall of Fame, Rivera is one who will be first-ballot.

5. O Brother, Where art thou?: While rookie Jered Weaver is tearing it up for the Angels with a 1.12 ERA and 6-0 record, his brother Jeff is just trying to start over. Big Weaver was recently traded to the Cardinals for a minor-leaguer, and he will have to prove that he is even worth that. He went 3-10 with a 6.29 earlier this year for the Angels, and he will make his first start for his new team tonight against the red-hot Braves. Weaver is one of the most overpriced players in the majors this year, with the above performance for an 8 million dollar price tag. The Cardinals need him to perform, as Mark Mulder is on the DL and much of their staff has struggled.

Kansas City Royals

June 21 in Sports History: Swing like Bo Jax

In 1986: Bo Jackson became the last celebrated player to willingly sign with the Kansas City Royals. Jackson, a two-sport star and Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn, was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April. Not wanting to play for the sad-sack Bucs, he opted to play minor league baseball instead. He would play 25 games for the Royals in 1986 and join the Los Angeles Raiders in 1987 as a hobby (his words). Jackson would star with both the Royals (he started in centerfield in the 1989 all-star game and homered) and Raiders until a serious hip injury in a 1991 playoff game with the Raiders would end his football career. He attempted a comeback in 1992 with the Chicago White Sox and retired for good in 1994. Many consider Jackson to be the greatest athlete of his generation.

MLB General

The Full Count: Rooks come up big

Give him a cigar: Mets Rookie Alay Soler followed up fellow Cuban Orlando Hernandez’s complete game victory over the suddenly hapless Diamondbacks with a shutout of his own. Soler handed Brandon Webb his first loss of the season, giving up only two hits in a 5-0 victory. It was the first shutout by a Mets rookie since 1994. The Diamondbacks have fallen fast; going 0-6 (including a 15-2 drubbing Sunday) since the Grimsley affair and dropping into second place behind the Dodgers in the NL West. The Mets, meanwhile, have increased their lead over the Phillies in the East by 5.5 games. If Hernandez and Soler can provide consistent starts at the back-end of the rotation, the Mets might wrap it up by Independence Day.

Rookie what we have here: Soler wasn’t the only rookie to turn in a brilliant performance over the weekend. Seattle Mariners phenom Felix Hernandez put together his best outing of the season, a complete game four hitter over the baffling and punchless Angels. Hernandez had nine strikeouts, no walks and retired 17 straight batters at one point. In D.C., it was a battle of rookie hurlers as the Nationals Shawn Hill outshined the Phillies Cole Hamels. Hill allowed only two hits over seven innings to earn his first victory since 2004 (he missed the entire 2005 season with an elbow injury) as the Nats defeated the Phils‘ 6-0.

Believe the hype (finally): The Minnesota Twins Joe Mauer has finally begun living up to the promise of being the top draft pick. The 2001 no. 1 overall has been on a tear, raising his batting average over a eighty points in the last month. Mauer was hitting .305 on May 10. Going into today’s action, he is leading the league with a .386 mark. He is hitting ..528 in June while slugging .778; and has failed to reach base in only two of the last 31 games. In fact, it is believed (according to the Elias Sports Bureau) that Mauer is only the third player in Major League history to reach base four times in five consecutive games.

That’’s entertainment: The Chicago White Sox have been one of the most entertaining teams during the first half. They didn’t disappoint this weekend with a wild series against the Indians. On Friday night, Jermaine Dye homered late to give the White Sox a 5-4 win. On Saturday, the Indians bullpen melted down again (causing a reported locker room shouting match between Bob Wickman and Paul Byrd), allowing another late-inning rally as the Sox won 4-3. On Sunday, the Indians jumped out to a 10-2 lead before giving up six runs in the ninth as another Chicago miracle came up just a little short.

Did that just happen?: The Royals have won only 16 games this year, but on Sunday they etched themselves into baseball lore positively (for a change) by turning one of the most unique triple plays in baseball history. With nobody out and runners on first and third, Tampa’s Russell Branyan hit a shallow fly ball to center field. Aubrey Huff tagged up from third and apparently scored when the throw from center was wild. Pitcher Scott Elarton was backing up the play and alertly threw out Rocco Baldelli trying to advance to second. In a bizarre twist, the Royals felt that Huff had left third early and appealed the tag up. The umpire agreed that Huff did take off a step too soon and called him out. Did you get all that? Just your ho-hum 8-1-6-1-5 triple play. “I’ve never seen any triple play quite like that,” Royals manager and master of the obvious Buddy Bell said. The Royals, however, stayed true to form and lost the game 8-2.

MLB General

The Full Count: Roger Clemens makes up his mind

1. He’s coming back: After denying contacting the Astros on Tuesday, Roger Clemens signed a huge contract with the team yesterday. The deal would be worth an outrageous $22,000,022 over the whole season, but because Clemens won’t be coming back until June 22 at best, he’ll get a prorated portion that comes out to over $12 million. Not bad for a 43-year-old entering his 23rd major league season. But before Clemens can join the major league roster, he’ll have to make at least 3 minor league starts. The first will be with single-A Lexington, where his son Koby plays. Then he’ll start with the Double and Triple-A Astros teams, and then make his return as early as June 22.

2. Happy to be a Royal: Not many people in the world of baseball want to be a Kansas City Royal, as the team has absolutely no hope for about the next decade or so. But former Atlanta assistant Dayton Moore is, as he will be replacing fired Allard Baird as Royals GM. Moore said he is “looking forward to joining the team and becoming part of the Kansas City community.” Whatever. He has a lot of work to do, as the Royals have been the worst team in the majors for two years running now. Through their first 50 games they are 13-37.

3. Duel of the Year: Anybody who didn’t think that the Pedro Martinez-Brandon Webb matchup wouldn’t live up to the hype was proved wrong on Wednesday night. Neither pitcher allowed a run in a game that didn’t see a score until the 13th inning. Webb pitched seven innings and allowed just four hits and one walk. His scoreless inning streak is now at 25 after two complete-game shutouts last week. But Pedro was even better, going eight innings, striking out eight, and allowing five hits. No runs were put on the board in regulation, but in extras the Mets’ Endy Chavez won the game on a bloop single. The Diamondbacks took the hard loss and are virtually tied with the Dodgers for their division lead. The Mets lead the NL East by 4.5 over the Braves.

4. Carrying his team: Jason Bay, playing in Pittsburgh where he never gets any media attention, is having a flat-out spectacular season. Last night he hit another homerun in the Pirates’ 6-1 win over the Brewers. He finished May with 12 homers and 35 RBIs on the month, which makes up most of his 17 and 46 on the year. Bay has also hit .302 and has been one of the only positives on a 19-34 team that altogether lacks pitching. If Bay ever gets traded to a contender, he will become an absolute superstar.

5. Are they really the best?: The Tigers have played some bad competition for the majority of this season, which diminishes their 35-18 record. But now that they will begin to face some playoff-caliber teams, we’ll see if they’re for real. Well, so far in their murderous upcoming stretch they’ve proved the doubters right, as they are down 3-0 in their series against the Yankees. Last night they lost 6-1 to New York, who featured a complete-game shutout from Mike Mussina. Alex Rodriguez got three hits and drove in two for the Yankees, who are still tied with the Red Sox for the division lead. Meanwhile, the Tigers are still leading the White Sox in their division, though they probably won’t be after facing Boston, Toronto, and new rival Chicago in their next three series.

Boston Red Sox

Odds and Ends for Thu May 25 2006: Schilling is a charitable blowhard

Does it surprise anyone that Curt Schilling loves Curt Schilling? He had a video game character created in his likeness for EverQuest II. You know, the video game where dorks play for days at a time and some get so obsessed that they kill themselves after playing it. The only upside to this story is that everytime someone beats the Curt Schilling character (named Major Asshole Curt Schilling), Sony will donate $5 (up to $10,000… quite an underwhelming figure, actually) to the ALS Association. Next up, Schilling will digitally replace John Malkovich with himself in Being John Malkovich. (via Deadspin)

In other news…

[CBS Sportsline]: Ruben Droughs might run into Jake Plummer in court.

[SF Gate]: Fans in SF think baseball tickets are lottery tickets

[Royales With Cheese]: Fixing the Royals attendance problems

[Inside Bay Area]: Oakland A’s owner searching for a place in San Jose to build a soccer stadium. How about this place?

MLB General

Full Count for Thu May 11 2006: Did the Royals play a minor league team?

1. Royal Flush: The Kansas City Royals seemed destined to be one of the worst teams in the MLB from the time the season started. They fulfilled their destiny for a while, but now, they aren’t the worst team anymore! KC completed a sweep of the Indians on Wednesday, with a surprise offensive outburst of 10 runs and 12 hits. We didn’t know the Royals offense was capable of this kind of production, as they scored a combined 24 runs on the series. Kansas City was balanced throughout the lineup, as each starter had an RBI. Jake Westbrook was their main victim, allowing 8 runs in 5.2 innings. The Royals now own the Indians, as their season record against the team is 5-1. Their overall record is now a game better than the Marlins.

2. The 77 year old battle: The Yankees-Red Sox game last night featured some of the best oldie pitchers in the majors. Mike Mussina and Curt Shilling were the starters, but Shilling was clearly outpitched as the Yankees won 7-3. Shilling gave up six runs and fell to 5-2 on the year. Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and Jorge Posada went yard off Shilling for the Yanks. And despite David Ortiz’s 4-4 with a homerun performance, Mussina (6-1) held the Sox to 3 runs in his 6 innings. Now the two teams are tied for the division lead again. Whoever wins tonight will take a one-game lead.

3. Un-der-rated!: Quick–name the best pitcher in the MLB so far this season. Martinez, Shilling, Maddux? No, it’s Arizona starter Brandon Webb, a Cy Young candidate who has established himself as one of the game’s best pitchers. He improved to 6-0 on the season last night, defeating Pittsburgh with six strong innings. His ERA is 2.30, and he is the league leader in innings pitched. In speaking of underrated, Arizona closer Jose Valverde earned his 10th save of the season. His ERA is 2.70. Oh yeah, Arizona got some offense too. Chad Tracy went 4-4, and the suddenly quiet Shawn Green drove in 3 runs. `Zona is in second place in the NL West.

4. Opposite directions: The Astros and the Cardinals were very close in the standings a week ago, but now the teams are on opposite streaks. While the Astros (19-15) have lost 6 in a row now, the Cards (22-13) have won 5 of their last 6. Last night Albert Pujols hit his 18th homer of the year for St. Louis, becoming the fastest to reach 18 homers since 1923. His 2 RBIs gave him 43 on the year, and he is on pace for over 200 in this category. The Cardinals defeated the Rockies, 7-4. Meanwhile, Houston fell to Los Angeles, 9-6. Lance Berkman (12) hit a three-run homerun, but the Dodgers got two round-trippers of their own from Rafeal Furcal and Jeff Kent. The Dodgers have won five in a row.

5. Moving backward: While the NFL’s labor situation received plenty of attention recently, the MLB’s labor situation could turn out to be just as improtant. If they cannot agree to a new labor contract by August, the MLB will scrap the 2006 drug policy and use the 2005 policy. This year’s drug policy mandates a 50 game suspension for the first offense, 100 for the second, and a lifetime ban for the third. The 2005 plan is much weaker: it gives 10/30/60 suspensions instead and doesn’t include testing for amphetamines. Of course, this doesn’t make Congress very happy. Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis sent a letter to commissioner Bud Selig stating that the issue raises “congressional concern.” This could get very, very interesting…