In a season that will be remembered for perfect games, no-hitters and near misses, there were lots of options for this list. Here goes my top 10. Send me yours.
More Year in Review for 2012:
2012 Year in review: Baseball's top 10 individual performances
1. Panda becomes a World Series home run hero
Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols and Pablo Sandoval. Those are the four players who have hit three home runs in a World Series game. The Kung Fu Panda struck in Game 1 last October on his way to earning the World Series MVP award. Sandoval performed large on the biggest stage of the season.
2. Josh Hamilton assaults Baltimore pitching
Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers sandwiched a double between four home runs in his assault on Baltimore pitching on May 8. Hamilton hit two homers and the double off Orioles starter Jake Arrieta. He then victimized Zach Phillips and Darren O’Day. Hamilton raised his AL-leading batting average to .406 with his five hits and ended the day with 14 homers and 36 RBIs, both tops in the American League, making him the early favorite for AL MVP.
3. Justin Verlander dominates the Pirates
Justin Verlander was honored with two nominations on this list. The most notable was his four-hit, one-walk shutout against the Oakland A’s in the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS. However, his most dominating effort came in May with a one-hit shutout of the Pirates. Josh Harrison bounced a hit up the middle in the ninth inning to break up the no-hitter. Verlander walked two and just two runners reached second base in the 6-0 Tigers win.
4. Raul Ibanez takes over for A-Rod
It took guts for New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to pinch-hit for star Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning with the game on the line in Game 3 of the ALDS. But Raul Ibanez was called off the bench to hit for A-Rod with the Yankees down 2-1 with one out and facing Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who had been lights out all season. Ibanez rewarded his manager not once but twice. He took Johnson deep to tie the game, sending it to extra innings. Ibanez struck again in the 12th inning with a bomb to win it, giving the Yankees an edge in the series.
5. Humber, Cain and Hernandez pitch perfect games
As mentioned above, it seemed as if some pitcher was flirting with a no-hitter every couple of nights. So, to honor the perfect games, I present them as a three-way tie for No. 5.
Phil Humber of the White Sox entered the season with a modest 11-10 lifetime record with just 214.1 innings in his 6-year career. But in his second start of 2012, the journeyman righthander tossed a perfect game at Seattle, striking out nine in the White Sox 4-0 win.
Matt Cain, the ace of the Giants, was at his best in a 10-0 whitewashing of the Astros. Cain struck out 14 in his perfect game. He had a three-ball count on just four hitters, striking out three of them in his masterpiece.
Just 11 days after a masterful performance at Yankee Stadium in which Felix Hernandez needed just 101 pitches in a two-hit 1-0 win over the Yankees, he threw a perfect game at home against the Rays. Once again, there was very little run support for King Felix as the Mariners won 1-0. Hernandez whiffed 12 Rays in the 113-pitch effort.
6. R.A. Dickey strikes out the Orioles
The National League Cy Young winner also had two stellar performances seriously considered for our greatest list. After winning three consecutive starts without allowing a run, R.A. Dickey won back-to-back one-hitters over Tampa Bay and Baltimore. He didn’t walk a batter in the win over the Rays, but allowed an unearned run. So, the performance that is officially No. 6 came when Dickey walked just two and struck out 13 in the win over the Orioles.
7. Ryan Braun blows up San Diego
Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP, had four of the Brewers’ seven hits and drove home six of their eight runs in Milwaukee’s 8-5 win at San Diego. After hitting home runs in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, Braun came to the plate in the ninth inning with an opportunity for a rare four-home run game. He tripled in a couple of runs with a shot to deep right-center.
8. Mike Napoli's 6 RBIs against the Angels
With the Rangers struggling to stay on top of the AL West as the Oakland A’s surged, Texas fell behind the Angels 4-0 in the first inning. It was Mike Napoli to the rescue as he homered in the second and third innings before adding a double in the fifth. His six RBIs helped the Rangers take an 8-4 lead in a game they would eventually win 8-7.
9. Curtis Granderson's 5-hit game
Curtis Granderson joined Josh Hamilton as the only players with a five-hit game in 2012 that included as many as three round-trippers. The Twins led 4-0 after the top of the first, but after two-run homers by the Yankees’ center fielder in the first and second innings, the Yankees led 6-4. He added his third home run of the day in the fourth, then singled in his last two at-bats in search of a fourth dinger.
10. Aaron Cook uses 81 pitches of awesomeness to beat Seattle
This game didn’t get much attention in a season when no-hitters were relatively common, but Aaron Cook’s effort in a 5-0 win over Seattle was among the best all season. Needing just 81 pitches — the fewest for any complete game in 2012 — Boston’s Cook didn’t allow any Mariners to reach second base. He faced just one batter over the minimum as he allowed two singles with both runners erased on double plays. Another batter reached on an error and was stranded at first. Cook had a two-ball count on just three batters the entire game.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie or email him at Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com)