I’ll admit, I’m not much on reading magazines anymore. I let all of my mags just pile up. So I only just today read what was reported in Sports Illustrated last week, that a minor league player played all nine positions in a single game. He’s not the first to do this–it’s happened in the major leagues before–but it brings up this nagging question I’ve always had.
We all know what happens if you move your DH into the field. For the rest of the game, your pitchers have to bat. It makes it very risky to use a catcher as a DH unless you’ve got three on the roster due to the specialized nature of the position. But what about the converse? What if, with your DH still not in the field, you were to move a player already on the field to the pitcher’s mound? In this particular game, the super-utility player pitched the top of the ninth inning and recorded a save, so his team never came up to bat again after this defensive shift was made, but if the original “pitcher’s spot” came up, who would bat there, the DH or the backup catcher (since that was the position he was playing immediately before pitching)? What if they moved him back into the field; would the DH be able to just go on DHing? If an AL team had a kid in the minors who could field like crazy–I mean like Brooks Robinson/Ozzie Smith caliber fielding–but couldn’t get a call-up because of his abysmal hitting, and also had some ex-NL pitchers who were known to be proficient enough with the bat, like a Carlos Zambrano-type, in their rotation, would they be able to bring the kid up and make him the “starting pitcher” on days when the hitting pitchers’ turns came up, have him throw an intentional ball one (because you need to throw at least one pitch), and then just switch him with the actual starting pitcher, who would’ve “started” in the kid’s position? These are important things to consider.
I have to assume such a maneuver isn’t legal. If it was, Joe Maddon probably would’ve tried it by now.
Huh. The reason I haven’t posted at all this season so far is because I was bummed out when this entry got eaten by the Internet, but it turns out, the entire draft saved, it just failed to post. So first I’m going to post the entry I meant to post about half a year ago, and then I’m going to post today’s entry.
Most of the time, I try to keep this blog team-neutral. I suppose I might cover the AL East a little bit more because that’s what I pay the most attention to, but I rarely go full-fan.
This is not going to be one of those blogs.
The year was 1998, and I was nine years old and didn’t really follow baseball that closely, though I was already a Red Sox fan (born into it, as they say). The Sox had an up-and-coming star in 1997 AL Rookie of the Year Nomar Garciaparra and an aging, soon to be washed-up star in 1995 MVP Mo Vaughn. These were the names I knew, though some of the other players’ names were vaguely in my mind if they sounded interesting. Now, my father often got tickets to Yankee-Red Sox games at Yankee Stadium (it made the most sense, us living in New Jersey), but because he had young, school-age children, he generally tried to get tickets for weekend games, but for some strange reason, we were at the Stadium on a Tuesday night in September, watching the dominant Yankees taking on a Red Sox team that was 20 games back in the division, but actually had a better record than either of the other two division leaders. And there was a player there who I’d never heard of, and my father didn’t seem to know the name either, but it sounded kind of cool to me, and that player’s name was Jason Varitek. He wasn’t really well-known because he was still a rookie. And in his first at-bat, he hit a home run, and I instantly decided that I liked him, and then his second time up, he hit another home run, and that made him my new favorite player. I actually, looking back on this memory, wasn’t completely sure if it had actually happened; I seem to remember looking through old game logs–everything from 1998 and 1999–on baseballreference.com some time last year and finding no games that could possibly have matched the game in my memory, but when I heard that he might be retiring, I looked again and sure enough, there was a game that matched–an evening game, at Yankee Stadium, early in Jason’s career, in which he hit two home runs. Perhaps I’d ruled it out because it was in September and I didn’t think we would’ve been at a weekday evening game after the school year had started. But there it is, September 15, 1998, the first multi-home run game of Varitek’s career, and I’m absolutely certain that I was there. Since then, he’s become a consummate clubhouse leader, catching an MLB-record 4 no-hitters and countless near-misses, and a general class act. You’ll be missed, Tek.
Man, I’m getting anxious for the season to start. All I can do for now, though, is make some quick predictions. Let’s count the teams down from #30 to #1.
30. Houston Astros. Not exactly taking a huge risk on this one; the Astros were last in the league last year and show no signs of things improving in the near future.
29. Seattle Mariners. Likewise, no real signs of imminent improvement. I wish I knew what it was they wanted most, because I don’t believe their claims that they’re going to let King Felix play out the rest of his contract and reach free agency without trading him first. That could affect the playoff contenders.
28. San Diego Padres. No promising signs here, either.
27. Kansas City Royals. These guys basically exist to develop talent for other teams nowadays. Their biggest offseason move this year involved trading their best position player (full-year, anyway; Eric Hosmer is indeed a potential rising star) for another team’s #4 starter, who will probably slot into their rotation at around #2. So sad…
26. Chicago Cubs. Like the other four teams on this list, but with a bigger budget.
25. New York Mets. The talent is there, sort of, although their pitching is suspect. But their front office situation is as volatile as they come.
24. Baltimore Orioles. Basically the Mets with a more stable front office. And more offensive stars. And a better bullpen but even worse starters. Okay, maybe they’re not that similar to the Mets at all.
23. Pittsburgh Pirates. They probably overachieved with that hot start last year, but it did show that the talent actually does exist.
22. Washington Nationals. Could easily exceed this spot, though; they’ve got a lot of young talent, which means they could have a very surprising year.
21. Cleveland Indians. Another very young team.
20. Oakland Athletics. Personally, I thought they underachieved last year, but they’re being talked about as a team with no chance, and I have to admit that they’re quite lacking on the offensive side.
19. Chicago White Sox. Something just seems lackluster here. Maybe it’s the lack of star power?
18. Minnesota Twins. If they can avoid injuries, they could be good…but what are the chances of this crew doing that?
17. Toronto Blue Jays. As usual, handicapped by having to share a division with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays.
16. Colorado Rockies. Certainly nothing wrong with being in this position, even if it is outside of a playoff spot. They’re good, but they just don’t have that “WOW!” factor needed to crack the top half.
15. Florida Marlins. Plenty of big offseason acquisitions to beef up the offense and bolster the rotation. Now let’s see if they can actually get a full season out of Josh Johnson.
14. Atlanta Braves. They’re not as bad as they looked in September, but I do believe that that exposed them as not as good as they initially seemed.
13. Cincinnati Reds. They can certainly hit. Can they pitch?
12. St. Louis Cardinals. Yeah, this is as high as I can put the defending champions. Even without Albert, their lineup is still loaded, but unless they can bolster that leaky bullpen, they won’t be able to repeat.
11. Milwaukee Brewers. Wait, did I just put the Brewers–minus Prince Fielder and with Ryan Braun suspended for 50 games–atop their division? Yeah, I guess I did. That rotation is still quite impressive, and they’ve got other hitters to carry some of the slack.
10. Los Angeles Dodgers. Wait, seriously? Hey, take a closer look at last year’s standings. The Dodgers had the 13th-best record in the majors, so this isn’t really a huge jump. They played great in the second half, and as we clearly saw, they’ve got some supreme talents on this team. I forget, is the new playoff format starting this year? Because if so, the Dodgers are the second NL wild card in these predictions.
9. Tampa Bay Rays. Damn, it’s so tough to split hairs between the top AL teams. Tampa seems like the odd one out because their low budget prevented them from making any big-time signings, but…I don’t know.
8. Arizona Diamondbacks. You know, I keep forgetting about these guys, probably because they’re buried out west where I rarely get to see their games. I’m pretty sure they’re pretty good, but…I’m really kind of clueless.
7. San Francisco Giants. We’re only at #7 and already we’re at the NL 2-seed. San Fran underperformed due to the loss of Posey; they’ll be a strong team to contend with once again.
6. Boston Red Sox. Offseason moves have done little to patch up the areas that failed them last year; the Sox are hoping that they can win with the same players but better discipline. I just want to know why neither Lowrie nor Scutaro are part of the team anymore.
5. Texas Rangers. They lost C.J. Wilson, but added Yu Darvish, and of course, they’re still gonna rake. This may be a bit of a disappointment given that they’ve won back-to-back AL pennants, but they should at least return to the postseason.
4. New York Yankees. I still have no idea how the Yankees continue to be the Yankees these days, building pitching staffs out of smoke and mirrors, but that lineup is still as awesome as ever. In the long run, Montero for Pineda will favor the Mariners, but for the immediate future, with the Yankees possessing two major league catchers in Martin and Cervelli and another capable prospect in Romine yet sorely lacking starting pitching, it’s a good deal for the Yanks.
3. Detroit Tigers. Fielder is a nice addition, and the Tigers should definitely be a force, but I don’t think they’re deep enough in either rotation or lineup to be among the top 2.
2. Philadelphia Phillies. They might take a slight step back, as the stars are starting to age and their Big Four is back down to a Big Three, but they should still be the team to beat in the NL, at least for the regular season.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They sent a clear message this year, signing two of the top free agents on the market. What exactly does their depth chart at first base look like, anyway? They had a promising rookie last year in Mark Trumbo, and let’s not forget Kendrys Morales, out for the past year and a half due to injury. Looking at the team’s site, it looks like they want to teach Trumbo how to play third base and have Morales as the main DH. If they can make this work, they have incredible flexibility. Great rotation, too, and plenty of veteran relievers despite the young closer. I think they’re the team to beat.
New first round: Dodgers over Diamondbacks (they have enough time to set up their rotation to give Kershaw the ball); Rangers over Red Sox
LDS: Phillies over Dodgers in 3, Giants over Brewers in 4, Angels over Rangers in 3, Tigers over Yankees in 5
LCS: Giants over Phillies in 7, Angels over Tigers in 5
World Series: Hey, didn’t we see this World Series 10 years ago? Fewer games; same result: Angels over Giants in 6.
So all of a sudden, they’re talking about the 2011 World Series as potentially being the greatest of all-time. Is that accurate? Well, maybe. Now, the two series that normally take up the top two spots on any list of greatest World Series ever are 1975 and 1991. 1975 was before I was born, though I have seen an abbreviated replay of Game 6 on ESPN Classic, and although I was alive in 1991, I have no memories of that Series; I was only two years old at the time. I do have some vague memories of 2001, one of the many that sometimes got put at the #3 position in the past, although I wasn’t quite the overall baseball fan that I am today and as such didn’t really watch a Series featuring the hated Yankees. Is this better than 2001? I’d say so. Now, I’ve got a book that covered the first 100 years of the World Series (not the first hundred series; it was only 98 of them, 1903-2002), and it had a top ten and bottom ten. Invariably, all ten members of the top ten went 7 games (except, of course, for 1912, which due to a Game 2 tie ended up going 8 games). Well, check. They mentioned a number of close games being an important factor—look at 1975; while Game 6 is the most famous, there were something like 4 or 5 one-run games. Game 7 was a one-run game, the winning run being driven in in the top of the 9th. Game 3 was an extra-inning walkoff win. 1991, the final two games were extra-inning affairs, walkoffs; high drama all around. Well, look at this series. Game 1, Allen Craig comes up as a pinch-hitter in the 6th inning and breaks a 2-2 tie. Game 2, he does the same thing in a scoreless tie in the seventh, but the Rangers come back with two runs in the top of the ninth and win it 2-1. Game Three, the requisite lone blowout, but Albert Pujols makes it worthwhile with a historic performance, 5-for-6 with 3 home runs. Game 4 was probably the least dramatic, final score 4-0 Rangers. Still a good performance by Holland, but it’s the weak link for now. Game 5 was another one that was tied at 2-2 late, and then Texas scored a couple to win it 4-2. And then, Game 6. An instant classic. Rangers score one in the top of the first; Cardinals take the lead with a pair in the bottom of the frame. Rangers tie it up in the top of the second, and thanks to some shoddy defense, they retake the lead, 3-2 in the top of the fourth. Then they make an error and St. Louis ties it in the bottom of the fourth. For the third straight half-inning, the leadoff runner reaches on an error in the top of the fifth, and Texas takes the lead a third time, 4-3. Then things fall apart in the bottom of the sixth, and Alexi Ogando walks Yadier Molina with the bases loaded to tie up the score. Matt Holliday then continues to make his case for 2011 World Series goat by getting picked off of third, and the Rangers escape with the score tied, 4-4. Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz go back to back to start the top of the seventh, the latter tying the record for home runs in a single postseason, and the Rangers push another run across to make it 7-4. Allen Craig, into the game after Holliday injured himself on the play where he was picked off, continues to carve his place in postseason history by hitting a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth. There’s enough turnover that in the ninth inning, Pujols came up and gets his only hit outside of that five-hit game, doubling with one out and none on, and Lance Berkman walks behind him to bring up Craig again. He strikes out. One out away. Two strikes. David Freese, NLCS MVP, dropper of an easy pop-up in the fifth inning, that ball is back-back-back and off the wall! Pujols will score! Here comes Berkman! Freese going to third! Would this have been an instant classic if Freese had hit a 3-run walkoff home run there in the ninth? Maybe—they were still one strike away from elimination, and would’ve been going to Game 7 in dramatic fashion. But instead, it’s a two-run triple, tying the score at 7-7. 1975 had Games 3 and 6; 1991 had Games 6 and 7. 2011 had plenty of drama, but lacked extra-inning games. So this is better. The game goes to the tenth. Josh Hamilton, the Rangers’ slugging star, playing hurt and held without a home run through the first 15 games of the Rangers’ postseason and the first nine innings of their 16th, and there he goes. Two-run homer, 9-7 Rangers. But the Cardinals don’t quit, and the struggling John Jay and Daniel Descalso work their way on, first and second with none out. Lacking position players, LaRussa sends up his best bunting pitcher to pinch-hit, and Lohse lays down a perfect bunt. Second and third, one out. A run-scoring groundout makes the Cards the first team in World Series history to score in the eighth, ninth, and tenth innings of a World Series game, but they still trail 9-8. Pujols is intentionally walked, and Berkman gets into a 1-2 count, and base hit into centerfield! One strike away again, and the Rangers let it slip away! But Craig can’t deliver Pujols from third, and the Rangers’ Mr. Clutch, Nelson Cruz, is coming to bat in the top of the eleventh, and…something’s wrong…he’s injured! What is going on?! The Rangers don’t score, and leading off the bottom of the eleventh is David Freese, and again he gets a hold of one, deep to centerfield and GONE!!!!!!!! David Freese with a walkoff home run! I have to admit, at first I wasn’t sure what I had just seen, seeing something white in the dogpile at home plate, and then I saw the postgame interview and what the heck Freese’s jersey has been ripped off. Seriously, that’s just crazy. That’s strength, to just rip it apart like that. Who did that? Does it even matter? There’s a Game 7 coming up, and Game 6 was one of the greatest World Series games of all time. That cannot be debated. But will the Series as a whole be considered an all-time greatest? It’s definitely in the conversation, but…like I said before, 1975 had multiple extra-inning games. So did 1991. We’ve had three one-run games and a two-run game so far, and the one true blowout has a historic individual performance mitigating its lack of drama (and it actually was dramatic for awhile before the Cards just started pouring it on), but if tonight’s game is lopsided? It can’t make the number one spot. It’s definitely top ten regardless of what happens tonight, and if tonight’s game is tied after 9 innings? Then yeah, it should be in the conversation. And the teams involved help its case. St. Louis, wild card team, trailed by double-digits in late August and stormed back to steal the Wild Card on the final day of the season. Texas, first-wave expansion team, won a grand total of one postseason game in their first 49 years of existence, reached the World Series last year and making an encore performance. Fourteen of the original sixteen have won championships in the expansion era, so the Rangers have the third-longest drought. October: When legends are made.
Passed Ball is all about the weirder side of the game, so naturally Tony Plush, aka Nyjer Morgan, is considered the best thing to happen to this blog since Ryan Freel was holding conversations with a little man named Farney tat lived inside his head. I’d first heard about Tony Plush by way of the magazine–I forget exactly which one, since The Sporting News, ESPN the Magazine, and Sports Illustrated are all regulars at this household. But when I turned on Quick Pitch and saw him slip into the Tony Plush persona during a postgame interview, well, I’m on the verge of actually joining Twitter in order to follow him. Of course, it’s probably best if I avoid Twitter–my own feed would likely be an endless stream of complaining, because I’m of such poor health that on the rare occasions that I wake up feeling 100%, I expect it to not last. I’m by no means “sickly”, usually more than well enough to function, but it’s always like 85%, 90%. There’s always some sort of little thing. Earlier today I was probably only 50%. Right now I’m maybe 70%, probably even lower. There’s some sort of injury to my right index finger; I think I saw a bruise but I’m not sure…ah, yes, the other reason why Twitter and I wouldn’t mix: I’m far too verbose.
Tony Plush, everyone!
There have been an awful lot of games going deep into the night lately. First, there was last week’s 1-0, 16-inning classic between the Rays and Red Sox. Then there was Monday’s Royals-Red Sox game, delayed at the start by rain and then extended to 14 innings, the last few somewhat comical (but painful, for a Sox fan.) But last night’s Braves-Pirates epic took the cake. The Pirates scored twice in the first and once in the second, and Atlanta tied it up at 3-3 in the bottom of the third…and then neither team scored until the 19th, at which point all chaos broke loose. With one out and runners on second and third in the bottom of the nineteenth, Scott Proctor hit a grounder to third which was easily handled and thrown to home plate in plenty of time to nail the runner. Proctor actually fell down exiting the batter’s box, and Pirates pitcher Daniel McCutchen tried to tell his catcher to throw to first for the inning-ending double play (something that should’ve been impossible if not for Proctor tripping)…only to find that the runner from third, Julio Lugo, was called safe. I’m sorry, but there’s no way Lugo was safe. The reaction to this play has been swift and furious all across the internet.
On the flip side, Rangers 20, Twins 6. The Rangers become just the third team to score at least 3 runs in each of the first five innings. Michael Cuddyer pitched the eighth inning for the Twins, loading the bases but not allowing a run. This was truly hilarious to watch unfolding.
Okay, well, I’ve got the profile looking right (that is, matching up with the names I use on most other sites), but obviously I haven’t really been posting much at all. There was something a few days ago that I thought was worth mentioning, but now I don’t remember what it was. Anyway, I’m posting regarding a bizarre sequence in the Red Sox-Orioles game that highlights the mercurial nature of errors. Leading off the bottom of the fourth for Boston is Josh Reddick, who hits a grounder to the right side that first baseman Derrek Lee has to go to his right to get; he flips to pitcher Jake Arrieta for the apparent out, but the umpire incorrectly rules that Arrieta never touched first base and calls Reddick safe; it is naturally ruled an E-1 because Arrieta clearly beat Reddick to the bag and would have had the out had he not missed the bag (even though he didn’t miss the bag). Next up is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who lines a clean single to right that Nick Markakis bobbles before getting back in; Reddick appears to slow down a little as he approaches second before kicking it back into gear after the bobble, so it’s ruled an error on Markakis allowing Reddick to reach third. Immediately after that, J.D. Drew comes up and lines a grounder sharply but almost right to Lee, who absolutely butchers it–but deflects it right to the first base bag, so he’s easily able to pick it up and get the out at first–obviously, no error, even though with how quickly the ball got to Lee he probably could’ve had a play at home. This is baseball at its finest–a three-play sequence in which probably the worst defensive performance of the three of them is the only one in which no error was given out.