AL rides its stars to Interleague success
Greinke's 10th win among Junior Circuit's highlights vs. NL
Baseball has always been a superstitious game, and that development was around long before the innovation of Interleague Play that has energized the sport since being introduced in 1997.
But if the National League thought the American League was going to be in for some rough times in 2009 -- the 13th season of Interleague Play -- well, maybe it's time for the NL to stock visiting clubhouses with broken mirrors, black cats and ladders in 2010.
Because once Yankees closer Mariano Rivera notched his 500th career save by getting Alex Cora to bounce out to second base and end the Bronx Bombers' 4-2 win over the crosstown-rival Mets at Citi Field on Sunday evning, the Junior Circuit had once again given its Senior counterpart a jolt of midsummer mastery.
In the 251 Interleague games that dotted the Major League schedule in two stints (May 22-24 and June 12-28), the American League went 137-114 (.546) and nine of the 14 AL clubs had winning records. The 2009 season marked the sixth straight campaign in which the AL won the season series, extending its all-time Interleague lead to 1,673-1,534 (.522).
Astute observers of the schedule will note that this year's Interleague season isn't quite complete, however. The Chicago White Sox and Cubs will go at it one more time in a makeup of a rainout at Wrigley Field on a date to be determined.
Regardless of that impending result, the NL bounced back a bit from the 149-103 beating it took from the AL in 2008 and maybe will take a little bit of momentum to the July 14 All-Star Game -- the NL has lost the past five Midsummer Classics -- and World Series, where it has won two of the past three -- the Cardinals in 2006 and Phillies last year.
For now, however, it's time to honor the Interleague year that was with some standout stats and performances.
The Tampa Bay Rays were the only team in the Major Leagues to bat .300 in Interleague Play, and that was a big reason for the club's 13-5 record in the 18-game slate against the NL. But the Rays also pitched a little bit, compiling a 3.48 team Interleague ERA that tied for fifth best in the AL. Other teams swinging the Interleague sticks with success were the Angels (.297 average), the Baltimore Orioles (.291) and the Florida Marlins, who led the NL with a .280 clip.
In the power department, the Angels and Tigers tied for the Interleague homer lead with 29, and the Angels were in a run-producing class by themselves with 118 RBIs. That led to the Angels having the best overall Interleague record (14-4) this year and assuring themselves of a 1 1/2-game lead in the AL West over the Texas Rangers.
The Angels won eight of nine games in NL parks and scored 64 runs, averaging 7.1 per game, for their proud manager, Mike Scioscia, who made a name for himself as a Los Angeles Dodgers catcher in the 1980s.
"Personally, I prefer the National League style, although I've grown to appreciate the offense you can create with the DH," Scioscia said. "We haven't won these games because we're playing National League clubs. We've faced some clubs that have been playing great baseball -- the Dodgers, Colorado, San Francisco. We've faced some tough clubs and won because we've been playing good baseball."
Individual hitting leaders offered a few surprises and a few no-brainers.
File overall Interleague batting leader Casey McGehee of the Milwaukee Brewers and his .429 batting average in the surprise category, and then label super-sluggers Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals -- the home run leader with nine ... in 15 games -- and Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins -- the RBI leader with 24 -- in the "Duh!" department.
Other occurrences that can be marked in the business-as-usual column: the Rays' B.J. Upton leading in stolen bases (11) and the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki topping the list in hits (33).
On the pitching side, Felix Hernandez of the Mariners truly was King, notching an Interleague-lead-tying three victories, topping the ERA charts at 0.84, tying with A.J. Burnett of the Yankees for the strikeout lead (33) and leading the Majors in innings pitched (32 1/3).
And as a team, the 11-6 White Sox were the only unit to post a club ERA under 3.00, checking in at 2.79. Starters Gavin Floyd (0.86) and John Danks (1.71) finished in the top 10 for overall Interleague ERA, and closer Bobby Jenks tied for second with six saves.
When asked if this surge means the White Sox are turning a corner, manager Ozzie Guillen refused to let his club's Interleague joyride signify anything greater in the grand scheme of things.
"No," Guillen said. "Because every time I feel that way, my heart's been broken, big-time. I'm going to take it one day at a time and try to move on real sneaky and quiet and see where we are in September."
Ah, yes. "Where we are in September."
For plenty of teams, what transpired over these 18 Interleague days won't mean much when the pennant races really start to roil. But on the same token, quite a few clubs righted themselves in a manner that could very well have October implications.
The Angels regained first place in their division for the first time since Opening Day. The Rays and Marlins rode solid Interleague records to contending positions in their respective divisions. And David Ortiz's resurgence at the plate helped the Boston Red Sox to an 11-7 Interleague record that has them three games ahead of the Yankees -- who went 10-8 in Interleague Play -- atop the AL East. The Red Sox have now won 12 of their past 15 Interleague series, dating back to 2007.
Interleague Play 2009 will be remembered for all of this and for more, including its spectacular final day.
Sunday brought us Rivera's magical entry to the 500 club, with only all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman ahead of him. Gary Matthews Jr. of the Angels pulled off a straight steal of home plate against the Arizona Diamondbacks, making him the third player to accomplish that feat this season.
And the feel-good story of the summer, Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals, continued to solidify his position as a contender for the AL All-Star Game start in St. Louis on July 14, picking up his 10th win.
And then there's Interleague Play itself, 13 years in and stronger than ever, having recently punched the ticket of its 100 millionth fan at a Cleveland Indians game two weeks ago.
"The milestone of our 100 millionth fan demonstrates the great support that the fans of Major League Baseball have for Interleague Play," Commissioner Bud Selig said.
"Major League Baseball has set its attendance record in four of the last five years, and Interleague Play has been a key to that success."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.