DURING AN OFF-SEASON IN WHICH TEAM owners gave money to players with the giddiness of Howie Mandel, several prominent names found new homes as fans across the country began dreaming of October. Japanese superstar Daisuke Matsuzaka landed in Boston after the Red Sox paid $51.1 million just to negotiate with him; former Cy Young winner Barry Zito headed across the Bay, from Oakland to San Francisco, after inking the largest contract ever given to a pitcher (seven years, $126 million); and even the most fatalistic Cubs fans had high hopes when sweet Lou Piniella and $136 million centerfielder Alfonso Soriano arrived in Chicago. There was a lot of waiting during the season: waiting for an aging slugger to limp across the finish line of the home run chase, waiting for an aging pitcher to make up his mind on whether to come out of retirement. But in the end the season offered a bit of everything: jaw-dropping individual performances—but not by those high-paid players mentioned above—bizarre moments you couldn't make up, a historic collapse and an exhilarating sprint to October.
JOSH HAMILTON of the Reds, a No. 1 pick in 1999 whose career was derailed for six years by a combination of injuries and addictions, hits a home run in his first major league start on April 10. Hamilton then homers twice the next day. He is named NL Rookie of the Month for April.
TO COMMEMORATE the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, KEN GRIFFEY JR. (red cap) asks for and receives permission from commissioner Bud Selig to wear Robinson's number 42 on April 15. The idea spreads, and ultimately more than 150 players, including five entire teams, wear the number, which was retired by the league in '97.
A TRIO OF NO-NOS
MARK BUEHRLE faces the minimum 27 batters at Comiskey Park on April 18 when he tosses the first no-hitter for the White Sox since '91. Detroit's Justin Verlander (June 12) and Boston rookie Clay Buchholz (Sept. 1) also throw no-hitters in '07.
TAKEN TOO SOON
TRAGEDY STRIKES the Cardinals' organization on April 29 when 29-year-old reliever JOSH HANCOCK is killed when the SUV he is driving while intoxicated strikes a tow truck on a St. Louis highway. Preston Wilson (right) and the Cardinals wear a patch bearing Hancock's number 32 for the remainder of the season.
BIG INVESTMENT, QUESTIONABLE RETURN
JAPANESE righthander DAISUKE MATSUZAKA makes his highly anticipated Fenway debut on April 11 against countryman Ichiro Suzuki and the Mariners. Matsuzaka and Boston lose 3-0 to Seattle's Felix Hernandez. The 26-year-old Matsuzaka finishes the year 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA.
RETURN OF THE ROCKET
ROGER CLEMENS ends speculation about his return to the diamond when he appears in the owner's box at Yankee Stadium on May 6 and announces, "Well, they came and got me out of Texas, and I can tell you it's a privilege to be back." Clemens, however, is mostly a disappointment for the Yankees, going just 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA. He
AFTER GIVING up a career-high 13 hits in five innings in an 8-5 loss to Atlanta on June 1, CARLOS ZAMBRANO (right) scuffles with his catcher Michael Barrett in the dugout and later in the clubhouse. Barrett suffers a black eye and a deep cut in his lip that requires six stitches to close.
STALKING A RECORD
AS HE NEARS Hank Aaron's home run record, BARRY BONDS of the Giants remains as joyless as ever. The agonizing wait mercifully comes on Aug. 7 at 8:51 p.m. Pacific time at AT&T Park. Bonds swats a pitch from Nationals lefthander Mike Bacsik over the outfield wall in right center, 435 feet away. In a postgame press conference Bonds remains defiant toward anyone who doubts the legitimacy of his feat. "This record is not tainted at all. At all," Bonds says. "Period. You guys can say whatever you want."
GOODBYE TO A KILLER B
NEEDING THREE hits to reach 3,000 for his career, Houston's CRAIG BIGGIO gets five in an 11-inning win over the Rockies on June 28. He becomes the 27th player—and first Astro—to join that exclusive club. A month later the 41-year-old second baseman, who played his entire 20-year career in Houston, announces that he will retire at season's end.