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INSIDE THE GAME: The love is in all the details

Have I ever mentioned that I love baseball? Maybe once or twice?

As far back as I can remember, I loved the action, the pitting of pitcher vs. hitter, the former sometimes winning with an unhittable fastball in on the fists, the latter often catching up to it and knocking it into another area code, or in between, the fielder sprinting to a spot for a diving catch. Ah, the action …

But perhaps equally if not more, I love knowing something someone else doesn’t know.

Part of my attraction to baseball is the history of the game — the great feats, the utter failures, the come-from-behind wins, the unlikely heroes — because it can be broken into such incredible minutiae I can absorb, store and break out in the press box during a pitching change.

I don’t claim to have researched all of these. Most are things that other people knew that I didn’t, but I will take just a smidge of credit for finding them and sharing:

• In the greatest coincidence department, consider Cardinals great Stan “The Man” Musial and legendary pitcher Warren Spahn. Musial collected 3,630 hits in his incredible career, but oddly enough, exactly half – 1,815 – came at home and the other half on the road.

Spahn in his amazing stint on MLB mounds won a whopping 363 games … and at MLB plates, had exactly 363 hits.

• One standard trivia question asks the seven ways a player can get to first base, and the standard answer is base hit, walk, hit by pitch, error, fielder’s choice, catcher’s interference and fielder’s interference. Some consider the dropped-third strike the eighth way, and I can live with that.

But there are actually 23. Can you figure out the others? See the end of this column for the answers.

There are actually 15 ways a pitcher can commit a balk, but I digress …

• There was actually a perfect game credited to a relief pitcher. In 1917, Babe Ruth started a game for the Red Sox against the Washington Senators and, when he walked the first batter, was ejected for arguing with the umpire. Ernie Shore took over and, after the runner was caught stealing, he retired the next 26 batters in a row.

* Few people know that a pitcher can actually record six straight strikeouts in an inning. How? Glad you asked.

The first two batters strike out, the third batter strikes out but reaches on a dropped-third strike. The same happens to the next batter. The next batter fans and reaches first to load the bases. Finally, the sixth batter strikes out. Six Ks.

* Larry Yount, the brother of Brewers Hall of Famer Robin Yount, entered his first MLB game to pitch for the Astros and, on one of his warmup pitches, injured his shoulder. He was replaced and never made it back to the bigs.

* Did you know it’s possible for a triple play to occur without a fielder touching the ball? It’s not that hard to understand it you know the rules.

Try this: runners on first and second, no out, and the batter hits a pop-up in the infield. The batter is out because of the infield fly rule, the runner on first passes the runner on second and is declared out, then the batted ball falls to Earth and hits the runner that was on second. Three outs.

* Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller once hit a foul ball into the stands that hit his own mother. Despite the odds of any fan being hit by a foul ball being estimated at 300,000-to-1, in 1939, Feller’s foul shot at a game in Cleveland hit his mom and broke her collarbone. In 2010, Denard Span hit a foul that struck his mother during a spring training game.

* I’ve vexed many people with this one, so don’t share the answer if you know it or if I’ve told you: What is the greatest number of base hits that a team can get in its one half inning at bat without scoring a run?

* OK, the reaching first base thing. I admit there are very subtle differences on some and I don’t understand some others, but here’s the 23, according to ESPN the Magazine:

Base hit, walk, intentional walk, hit by pitch, error, fielder’s choice, dropped third strike, catcher’s interference, fielder’s interference, spectator interference, fan obstruction, pinch runner, force out at another base, batted ball hits ump, batted ball hits runner, fielder obstructs runner, failure to deliver a pitch in 20 seconds, sacrifice fly dropped, sacrifice bunt that fails to advance a runner, runner called out on appeal, four illegal pitches, preceding runner’s putout allows batter to reach base …

And finally, if a runner is on base and the game is suspended, then the runner gets traded before the game is made up, a new player takes his place free of pinch-running rules.

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