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Top MLB Stories of 2009

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We will get into Jason Bay signing with the New York Mets next week when it becomes official. From what I hear, this may not be as set in stone as it appears.

Boston had major issues with his shoulders and the Mets are giving him as thorough a physical as you can get. They can't afford to be wrong on this one, which explains their absolute silence on the issue. If Bay were to fail his physical after all this, that may finally be the straw that breaks the camel's back for fans in Flushing.

So before we get into all that, we will take a look at the top stories of the past year, in no particular order:

YANKEES BECOME TEAM OF DECADE WITH 27TH WORLD SERIES TITLE


Alex Rodriguez put his postseason struggles behind
him in 2009.
A year after missing out on the playoffs, you knew the Yankees were going to spend last winter, and they did not disappoint, as they shelled out a total of $423.5 million for three players in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira.

The moves paid off for general manager Brian Cashman and company, as the Yankees cruised to their 27th World Series title in the first year of the extravagant new Yankee Stadium.

Things really didn't start clicking for the Yankees until Alex Rodriguez returned from hip surgery on May 8. A-Rod homered on the first pitch he saw, and the Yanks were off and running.

New York rolled to the AL East title, then made quick work of the Minnesota Twins before eliminating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in six games to claim their first pennant in six years.

Rodriguez put his postseason struggles behind him, as he was the driving force behind the first two series victories, despite the fact that Sabathia was named ALCS MVP.

The Yankees then bookended the decade with their second World Series title, as they took care of the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

New York ended the decade with eight division titles, nine postseason appearances, and four World Series trips with two victories.

STEROIDS, WHAT ELSE?

There wasn't a story that dominated the decade in baseball like that of the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in the game. It was no different this past year, as three more prominent players were linked to using some sort of performance enhancing drug.

It started right before spring training when it was learned that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroids back in 2003 while playing for the Texas Rangers.

Unlike Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, Rodriguez did admit to using some sort of performance-enhancing drugs for a period of time, and actually seemed honest and forthright in his admission.

The same cannot be said for two of his friends - Manny Ramirez, who was suspended during the season for a positive test, and David Ortiz, who was linked to the infamous 2003 list that was supposed to be anonymous.

Both Ramirez and Ortiz played the supplement card, but in the court of public opinion they were guilty. I know I have said this before, but MLB has become Shawshank Prison - not a guilty guy in there. How many times are we going to go to the "I didn't know it was banned" well?

Sadly, if history has taught us anything, it is that we know that these three won't be the last big names busted.

ALBERT PUJOLS' MONSTER SEASON

With Alex Rodriguez now considered tainted, Major League Baseball made a concerted effort to make Albert Pujols the face of the game. El Hombre was more than up to the task, as he put forth one of the best offensive seasons of his career, culminating with his second straight and third NL MVP Award.

Pujols, who was also named the Sporting News Player of the Year and the Outstanding Player of the Year by the MLBPA, hit .327 with a career-best 47 home runs, 135 RBI, 124 runs scored, 45 doubles, one triple, and a team-high 16 stolen bases this year.

He helped the Cardinals win the NL Central Division, but they were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs.

Now MLB has its fingers, toes, tongues and everything else it can cross, crossed, hoping Pujols never gets caught up in some sort of PED scandal.

THE RISE OF ZACK GREINKE

There were not many feel-good stories this year better than the emergence of Kansas City right-hander Zack Greinke, who rose from the depths of depression to win the American League Cy Young Award for the lowly Royals.

Heralded as the Royals' best pitching prospect since Bret Saberhagen when he came upon the scene in 2004, Greinke struggled not only on the field, but off of it, as he missed most of the 2006 campaign with a social anxiety disorder.

Armed with all the potential in the world, the Royals treated Greinke with kid gloves -- and rightfully so -- from that point on, slowly bringing him along, even letting him pitch out of the bullpen in 2007 to get him right, both mentally and physically.

Greinke proved he was healthy last year with 32 starts, but this past season he established himself as the best pitcher in the AL, as he went 16-8 with a 2.16 earned run average and 1.07 WHIP, while striking out 242 batters for a Kansas City team that lost 97 games. His league-leading ERA was the AL's lowest since Pedro Martinez posted a 1.74 mark in 2000.

ROY HALLADAY TRADED...FINALLY

It is not often that the best pitcher in baseball becomes available. So you knew it was going to be a crazy summer once then-Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi made it known that he would entertain offers for former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay.

It seemed to be the only thing people were talking about leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Philadelphia went hard after him just before the deadline, but ultimately did not want to meet Ricciardi's exorbitant asking price. Ricciardi was gone shortly after the season, though, and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro again opened up discussions for Halladay with Alex Anthopoulos.

This time Amaro got his man, as the Phillies landed Halladay for a trio of prospects, including blue chipper Kyle Drabek, then signed him to a reasonable three-year extension.

CLIFF LEE CHANGES THE LANDSCAPE OF THE NL

In coming up short at the trade deadline for Halladay, the Phillies "settled" for the next best thing, as they acquired the American League's reigning Cy Young Award winner in left-hander Cliff Lee for a handful of prospects for the Cleveland Indians.

Lee's impact was felt right from the start as he gave up a run in a complete game victory in his Phillies debut. He shined, though, in the postseason, where he was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, including a pair of brilliant performances in the World Series against the Yankees.

His Game 1 win was one of the best games ever pitched in the Fall Classic and scared the heck out of a lot of people who thought the Yankees were going to have their way with the Phils.

Of course, as we all know now, Lee's stay in Philly was short-lived as the team went back to the guy they wanted originally in Halladay. On the same day the Phils pulled off the Halladay deal, they shipped Lee to Seattle for three prospects.

KEN GRIFFEY RETURNS TO SEATTLE

Arguably one of the greatest athletes to ever play in the Seattle area, Ken Griffey Jr. returned in 2009 to where it all started for him, as he signed with the Mariners, the team with which he started his Hall of Fame career with back in 1989.

Griffey was a 10-time All-Star in Seattle, is the team's all-time home run leader and won the AL MVP for the Mariners in 1997. However, he forced a trade to his hometown Cincinnati Reds after the 1999 campaign and things were never the same, as injuries more than overshadowed his time there.

The Kid returned to Seattle for the first time since leaving during the 2008 season and was blown away by the reception he received from the fans. The Mariners' front office felt the same way and brought him home last February on a one-year deal.

Sequels, of course, rarely live up to their predecessors and this was no different. Griffey appeared in 117 games for the Mariners last season and hit just .214 with 19 home runs and 57 RBI.

Despite his poor showing, though, Griffey will be returning for a 22nd big league season, as he recently inked another one-year deal with the Mariners.

MARK BUEHRLE PERFECTO

Mark Buehrle was one of the few players who was able to speak one-on-one with President Barack Obama at the All-Star Game in St. Louis. Buehrle was then able to have a second conversation with the world's biggest White Sox fan nine days later, after tossing the Pale Hose's first perfect game since 1922.

Buehrle's perfect game appeared to be in danger when Gabe Kapler blasted an offering to deep center in the ninth. But Dewayne Wise, in as a defensive replacement, made a spectacular catch at the wall to keep the perfect game alive. Wise, who climbed the wall and made a jumping grab, almost lost the ball as he fell to the ground.

The final two outs were less dramatic for Buehrle, who fanned Michel Hernandez to get within one out of history. Buehrle pulled off the rare feat by getting Jason Bartlett to ground out.

NICK ADENHART TRAGEDY

No team should have to deal with what the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had to endure in 2009, as promising right-hander Nick Adenhart was killed in a car accident just hours after the finest outing of his young career.

Shortly after tossing six scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics on April 8, Adenhart was among four passengers in a silver Mitsubishi that was broadsided by a van that ran a red light in Fullerton, California. A female driver and male passenger in the Mitsubishi were dead when police and fire department personnel arrived.

It was later determined that the driver of the van was drunk.

The Angels used the Adenhart tragedy as a source of inspiration, as they kept his jersey in his locker the rest of the season and included it in the celebration when they clinched their third straight and fifth American League West title in six years. As a team they then jogged to the center-field wall, where a picture of Adenhart throwing a pitch was placed after the crash, and poured beer over his head.

Adenhart was 22.

HARRY KALAS' PASSING

You would have been hard-pressed to find a more beloved sports figure in Philadelphia than Phillies Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas. So, the news of his sudden death in the press box at Nationals Park shortly after the start of the season was met with absolute heartbreak in the City of Brotherly Love.

Kalas, known for his signature home run call "Outta here!", taught the game of baseball to two generations in Philadelphia. Of course, the most famous of his calls came on April 18, 1987, when Mike Schmidt hit his 500th career home run during his Hall of Fame career.

In addition to his legendary baseball career, Kalas also voiced over programs for NFL Films and called NFL games for Westwood One Radio. He previously broadcast games for Big 5 college basketball in Philadelphia and Notre Dame football.

Kalas became the fourth person to be given the honor of having their body lie in repose inside a major-league baseball stadium - after Babe Ruth, Jack Buck, and Miller Huggins - when his casket was displayed behind home plate and fans were encouraged to pay their respects at Citizens Bank Park.

Like the Angels with Adenhart, the Phillies also made sure to honor Kalas each step of the way in their celebrations, as they hung his sports jacket in the dugout and paid tribute to their beloved broadcaster when they clinched the National League pennant.

Kalas was 73.

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

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