12/11/2002 07:40 am ET
Grace's arm earns Blooper honors
Pitching debut earns inaugural MLB.com honors
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
Grace's pitching debut:
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PHOENIX -- How can a game of monstrously losing proportions quickly turn into one of laughter and fun?
Try a little comic relief.
That's what Diamondbacks veteran first baseman Mark Grace did while the NL West-leading club was dropping a 19-1 blowout to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Bank One Ballpark on Sept. 2.
The 38-year-old Grace, armed with a 70-mph fastball and a quiver full of one-liners, took the edge off the anguish of defeat by taking the mound in the ninth inning, fulfilling his wish to pitch in the Major Leagues after 14 seasons.
It was a quintessential funny moment, and America's baseball fans overwhelmingly endorsed Grace's appearance as the just-announced winner of the Blooper of the Year honors for the 2002 season, part of MLB.com's "This Year in Baseball Awards."
It easily beat the competition, which included Seattle skipper Lou Piniella covering home plate with dirt, Houston's Jason Lane having troubles in right field, Marlins' outfielder Kevin Millar coming up short on a try for a two-base hit and a young Red Sox "announcer" calling a homer by the opposition.
Arizona starter Rick Helling handed the Dodgers a 7-0 lead, then reliever Eddie Oropesa was forced to grit his teeth in the eighth inning, giving up 10 runs without any help from an already depleted bullpen.
So in the ninth, out trots Grace. He had teased longtime friend and TV announcer Rick Sutcliffe for years about how easy a pitcher's life was. He soon learned the downside.
Grace got the first two batters on fly balls, but LA rookie Dave Ross crushed his first-ever big-league homer to left field on a 67-mph fast...er, pitch. Grace retired the side in relative triumph after throwing 12 pitches -- five balls and seven strikes.
"That poor kid got his first home run and it was off Mark Grace," laughed Grace. "But five minutes of fun in a game like this, I'll take it,"
The fans especially loved Grace's dead-on imitation of teammate Mike Fetters' unusual pre-pitch ritual, which features a deep breath, a blink-of-an-eye turn of the head and a demonic-like stare at the batter.
MLB.com's "This Year in Baseball Awards" debuted on Nov. 7. More than 300,000 votes were cast for the six inaugural awards, which included Play of the
Year, Blooper of the Year, Setup Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the
Year, Pitcher of the Year and Player of the Year.
The awards were created to allow fans to have the final say on the top moments and players from the 2002 baseball season.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.