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Top MLB stories of 2008

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The top stories of the past year, in no particular order:

10) CLIFF LEE'S AMAZING TURNAROUND

After winning 46 games from 2004-06, Cliff Lee's 2007 campaign was immediately derailed when an abdominal strain he suffered in spring training forced him to start the season on the disabled list. Lee was never able to get on track a year ago, and was eventually demoted to Triple-A Buffalo in late July after going 5-8 with a 6.38 ERA.

Coming into spring training this season, Lee was expected to fight for the fifth starter spot along with youngsters Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers, but not much was expected from the 29-year-old given his struggles of the previous year.

Lee, though, won the job outright in March and the rest, as they say, is history. He went an MLB-best 22-3 this past season with an AL-leading 2.54 ERA, second in the majors only to Johan Santana of the New York Mets (2.53 ERA), en route to an AL Cy Young Award.

9) JOHAN SANTANA SWITCHES LEAGUES

On the heels of one of the worst collapses in baseball history in 2007, the New York Mets went out and acquired two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins in February.

The Mets still blew a late lead, but it was no fault of Santana's, as the left-hander went undefeated in the second half of the season, finishing the year 16-7 with a league-best 2.53 ERA, while putting forth one of the most heroic efforts in Mets history on the second-to-last day of the season, tossing a three-hit shutout on three-days' rest.

8) ROGER CLEMENS' FALL FROM GRACE

Let's see, where do we begin with Clemens? The Mitchell Report came out at the tail end of 2007, but the fallout lingered into 2008. Instead of just taking his lumps, Clemens denied to almost anyone who would listen that he never took performance-enhancing drugs.

After proclaiming he was being railroaded on 60 Minutes, the whole drama played out on television in early February when Clemens testified before Congress. If Clemens thought those hearings were going to help his cause, he was sadly mistaken. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner came off as a liar and was made a fool of.

Not to mention all the damage that this mess has done to his family, as it was learned that Clemens' wife had received packages of human growth hormone, in addition to the uncovering of the pitcher's extramarital affairs.

In the end it still comes down to who you believe more - Clemens or his slimy personal trainer Brian McNamee. If Clemens is a zero in the game of life, McNamee probably rates at about a 2, but I, like most people felt like he was telling the truth with regards to Clemens.

I have to admit I am not a big fan of the Home Run Derby, held on the day before the All-Star Game. ESPN drags it out for nearly four hours, and rarely does it deliver the goods. This year, though, Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton put on a show for the ages on the undercard of the Mid-Summer Classic.

Hamilton blasted a derby-record 28 homers in the first round - three of which well over 500 feet - but ultimately lost out in the end to Minnesota's Justin Morneau.

I am not the type of guy to get all caught up in feel-good stories, but even I have to admit, I got chills watching Hamilton blast ball after ball into the Bronx night. Add in his incredible comeback from the depths of drug abuse for a moment, which made the performance even that more magical, and it was just an amazing display.

With a little bit of wind, he would have knocked one of his smashes out of the ballpark. You almost got the feeling, though, that the ghost of Babe Ruth has sitting on the facade keeping a few of them inside the stadium.

6) SPEAKING OF THE ALL-STAR GAME...

I think it just ended. The final All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium lasted four hours and 50 minutes and ended in the 15th inning when Morneau scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Texas shortstop Michael Young.

The game tied the record for innings played in an All-Star Game, matching the 15 innings played in the 1967 affair. Thanks to the length of the contest, a number of other records fell, including the most players used, runners stranded on base, stolen bases, and strikeouts.

My favorite part of the game, though, was in the 13th inning when the right field "Bleacher Creatures" started chanting "Hit the ball to Uggla, Hit the Ball to Uggla" a shot at Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, who committed three errors in the NL's loss.

5) MANNY GETS TO BE MANNY IN HOLLYWOOD

There were few things more despicable than Manny Ramirez's final month or so in Boston. Ramirez faked an injury, refused to play and even got into a scuffle with the traveling secretary of the Red Sox prior to his trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31.

Ramirez, though, adjusted rather quickly to the National League and carried the Dodgers on his back into the postseason, hitting a remarkable .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI in 53 games. Manny continued to hit in the playoffs, but his .520 batting average, four home runs and 10 RBI were not enough for LA.

Of course, ManRam is still a free agent, and where he winds up next season is still up in the air. Look for a return to the Dodgers, though. They seem to be the only team that wants him.

4) CC CARRIES MILWAUKEE ON HIS BACK, THEN HITS THE JACKPOT

If Ramirez's trade to LA wasn't the biggest midseason move, the Milwaukee Brewers acquisition of Cleveland Indians ace CC Sabathia was. Sabathia, the 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner, got off to a slow start with the Indians, but started to hit his stride right before the trade in early-July.

Sabathia, who was eligible to become a free agent after the year, went 11-2 with a miniscule 1.85 ERA in 17 starts for the Brewers, starting on three- days' rest time and again down the stretch to help get Milwaukee into the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

The big left-hander then hit the jackpot after the season, signing the richest deal ever handed out to a pitcher, as the New York Yankees locked him down for seven years and $161 million.

3) YANKEES MISS PLAYOFFS IN FINAL YEAR OF STADIUM; THEN SPEND LIKE

"DRUNKEN SAILORS"

While Sabathia helped the Brewers to their first postseason appearance in 26 years, the Yankees' run of 13 straight playoff appearances came to an end in the final year of Yankee Stadium.

New York had been a part of the postseason every year since 1995, but injuries and an improved AL East led to a third-place finish for the Yankees in Joe Girardi's first year as Yankee skipper. Meaning, of course, that the building that had hosted more postseason games than any other was quiet in October of its final year.

The Yankees, who wrapped up nine of their 26 World Series titles on 161st Street and River Avenue, will move across the street to a $1.3 billion upgrade next April.

And when the Yankees head into their new state-of- the-art facility, they will have plenty of new faces, as they have not only signed Sabathia, but have added righty A.J. Burnett (5 years, $82.5 million) and first baseman Mark Teixeira (8 years, $180 million).

For those of you keeping score, that is $423.5 million so far this offseason.

2) PHILLIES END CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE'S FRUSTRATION

Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and even So Taguchi will likely never have to pay for another meal when dining in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Phillies captured the franchise's second-ever World Series title and gave the city its first major championship since 1983 with a relatively easy five-game win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Hamels solidified himself as an elite starter in the playoffs, while closer Brad Lidge completed his perfect season, making good on all 48 of his save opportunities.

The party in Philly may still be going on, but even that lengthy celebration may pale in comparison to an Eagles Super Bowl championship a little over a month from now. That's right, I am picking the Eagles to win the Super Bowl.

1) THE RISE OF THE RAYS

Following 10 years of serving as the doormat in the AL East, this was supposed to be the year that the Tampa Bay Rays took the next step. But, that next step was expected to be in the form of the franchise's first .500 season.

What actually transpired, though, you could not have found a person on the planet to predict, as the upstart Rays won 97 games on their way to winning the division, holding off the high-spending Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to do so.

The Rays continued their run in the playoffs, knocking off Chicago in the first round before dismissing the Red Sox in seven games of the ALCS. Tampa's magical run ended in Philadelphia, but the groundwork for something much more important had already been laid.

Tampa Bay will basically field the exact same team next season. Just about every player in the lineup is under 30, their pitching staff is just as young and is only going to be better next year with a full season from lefty David Price.

Now they just need those fans in St. Petersburg to stop dressing up like empty seats in April and May.

HONORABLE MENTION: The emergence of Tim Lincecum, Ken Griffey belting home run No. 600, 100 years and counting for the Cubs and Jon Lester completing a comeback from cancer with a no-hitter and a 16-win season were some of the stories that just missed the Top 10 cut.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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