Put it in Neutral
The move out of Toronto is understandable, but why punish the Blue Jays by turning the series into three virtual home games for the “visiting” Phillies? Yes, the Jays will officially be the home team at Citizens Bank Park, batting lastbut do you expect Phillie fans to go with the charade and root for Toronto? A wiser solution, philosophically if not financially, would have been to move the series to Buffalo, a mere 150 miles away from Rogers Centre. Yes, the minor league ballpark in Buffalo seats only 20,000, but smaller venues didn’t keep MLB from moving Oakland home games to Las Vegas in 1996, nor is it keeping it from setting up some Florida Marlin “home games” in San Juan, Puerto Rico later this year. Apparently, MLB hasn’t learned from a few years back when they transplanted a series in hurricane-ravaged Houston between the Astros and Cubs to Milwaukeeless than 100 miles from Chicago
MLB announced this past week that it would shift a three-game interleague series between the Blue Jays and Phillies in late June from Toronto to Philadelphia, because the G20 summit is scheduled at the same time just blocks away from Rogers Centreand the intense security that surrounds the meeting of the world’s top heads of state could be inconvenient (if not worse) for the many fans expected to see the reigning two-time NL champions as well as the return of former Blue Jay ace Roy Halladay.
Did You Ever Have the Funniest Feeling You Was Being Watched?
In the aftermath, Phillie manager Charlie Manuel vigorously denied the claims that the team was stealing signs, saying that Billmeyer was using the binoculars to scrutinize Phillie catcher Carlos Ruiz’s positioning behind the plate. Yet FSN showed Billmeyer using the specs while the Phillies were at bat, not when on the field. The Rockies were skeptical and join a growing list of opponents who are fueling the reputation of the Phillies as a team that cheats from the bullpen. In the aftermath of this incident, MLB has warned the Phillies to put away the binoculars, or else.
The advantage of being given three extra home games doesn’t seem to be enough for the Phillies, who this past week were caught in a scandal regarding their bullpen and a pair of binoculars. In the first inning of Monday’s game at Colorado, the Rockies noticed Philadelphia bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer appearing to use binoculars in the visiting pen behind the center field bleachers while the Phillies were at bat. Someone in the Rockies’ dugout called up to the local TV broadcast crew (FSN Rocky Mountain), which proceeded to catch Billmeyer looking through the binoculars before quickly putting them down. An inning later, FSN showed Phillie outfielder Shane Victorino talking on the dugout phone that connects to the bullpen. (What could Victorino wanted to know from the bullpen: An update on Brad Lidge’s health?)
A Bittersweet Finale
Trey Hillman became the season’s first managerial casualty this past week when he was fired by the Kansas City Royalsbut because replacement Ned Yost was out of town and because Royal general manager Dayton Moore is a close friend of Hillman’s, he was allowed to manage one last game after being told of his release, which ended in a 6-4 victory over Cleveland that followed seven straight losses. (Royal players did not know of Hillman's firing until after the game.) Hillman had come to Kansas City in 2008 with no major league managerial or coaching experience, and failed to turn around a Royal team that has been continuously awful since the mid-1990s; the bigger disappointment for Hillman is that he failed to deliver on promising expectations for the 2009 Royals, who finished 65-97 despite a Cy Young Award performance from Zack Greinkewho, finally, won his first game of the year in Hillman’s swan song.
Where's the Hurry?
Stephen Strasburg appears to be ready for the majors. This past Wednesday, he threw six innings of no-hit ball for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs against Norfolk, lowering his minor league ERA to 1.06; in 34 innings, he’s allowed just 14 hits and eight walks, striking out 40. He would already be in a Washington uniform, but it’s obvious the Nationals are holding him out until June 1 because, by doing so, it will delay his free agent status by a year. And besides, with the Nationals actually playing above .500 to start the season (thanks to a remarkable turnaround in their pitching staff), there’s no SOS-induced rush to bring Strasburg to the team.
Some believe that Strasburg will be called up by the Nats and used twice during an early June homestand against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, two teams that normally would draw no more than 15,000 to Nationals Park; but with the much-hyped Strasburg on the mound, sellouts are not inconceivable. It is all about the money.
A Dead End to the Mark McGwire Highway
The Missouri state legislature voted to remove Mark McGwire’s name from a stretch of Interstate 70 in St. Louis. According to the bill that still has to be signed by governor Jay Nixon, the freeway will be named after another Mark: Mark Twain.
(Belated) Death at the Ballpark
Death came unexpectedly this past week to a Wisconsin man who three weeks earlier had fallen head first 14 feet from the stands onto warning track dirt at Milwaukee’s Miller Park. Stuart Springstube, 51, was initially banged up from the incident that took place during batting practice on April 25 before a game between the Brewers and Chicago Cubs, but otherwise appeared to be fine. Yet in actuality he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage as a result of the fall, which caused severe internal bleeding within his brain that ultimately led to his death. Though a few fans have died just outside of ballparks over the last few years (escalator falls, etc.), this is the first in-stadium, on-field fatality we can recall since umpire John McSherry collapsed and died on Opening Day at Cincinnati in 1996.
Maybe He Just Likes Walking People
Toronto pitcher Brandon Morrow tied a Blue Jay record back on April 9 when he walked four batters in one inning. He broke that mark this past Monday when he gave passes to five Red Sox hitters in the second inning at Boston. The Blue Jays lost the game, 7-6.
Wounded of the Week
Otherwise, it was unusually dead quiet at the major league medical ward this past week with two notable return patients: Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge, and Oakland starting pitcher Justin Duchscherer, both of whom suffered setbacks with just as they looked ready to return to action.
Normally, we wouldn’t give the time of day in this section to a player with a broken pinkie that may or may not result in a trip to the disabled list, but that player is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Andre Ethier, who’s been baseball’s hottest hitter so far. Ethier claims he fractured the pinky during batting practice and is day-to-day, but by the time you read this, he very well could be DL-bound.
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Not Sleepless in Seattle
Proponents of the theory that baseball cures insomnia added fuel to their fire this past week with the stories of Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr. and New York Met broadcaster Keith Hernandez nodding off during games.
Everyone laughed at the incident involving Hernandez, who was caught on video with his head buried on the TV booth desk while a female producer tapped his shoulder to wake him up.
But it’s gotten ugly in Seattle in regards to the alleged Griffey incident. The story was first reported by the Tacoma News Tribune’s Larry LaRue, quoting two Mariner players who wished to remain anonymous. Griffey disputed the story, even as he clouded the atmosphere by refusing to answer to other reporters whether he really was sleeping in the Mariner clubhouse. And Mike Sweeney, the veteran slugger who’s become the team’s clubhouse fraternity leader, publicly pressed for the two “snitches” to identify themselves while calling for a boycott of LaRue until he reveals his sources.
Meanwhile, Griffey Jr.’s agent, Brian Goldberg, added a bizarre twist when he called the News Tribune and said he had “information” about LaRue that he threatened to go public with, that LaRue told Goldberg that he felt bad for publishing the story and wanted to retract it. Darrin Beene, LaRue’s boss, publicly laughed off Goldberg’s assertions, saying LaRue never wanted to retract the story and hadn’t even spoken to Goldberg since spring training.
This controversy, for all it’s worth, is just adding embarrassment for Griffey Jr., who’s taking the Willie Mays approach out to not knowing when to call it quits. The 40-year old has essentially been asleep at the plate so far in 2010, batting .200 with no home runs in 80 at-bats.
Get in the Zone!
Major league umpires have made the strike zone their own to the point that teams are scouting them as well as opposing players. You would think that with a clearly defined zone, players would count on what goes for a ball or strike, but many umpires have acquired reputations for tailoring the zone to their own likingand worse, seem to be just fine with it. Here’s who really needs to be scouting the umpires: Major League Baseball, who can detect who’s best adhering to the zone as it is definedand send warnings to those who aren’t. Teams shouldn’t have to deal with this.
A-Rod's Home Run Tracker
With a grand slam that decided Friday’s 8-4 victory over Minnesota, the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez moved into seventh place on the all-time home run list with 587. He could reach 600 before he turns 35 at the end of July, easily making him the youngest major leaguer to reach that milestone. Beyond that and barring injury, Rodriguez is likely to pass Sammy Sosa (609) this season for sixth on the list, and by the end of the next year could be fourthwith only the three guys in the 700 Club (Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth) ahead of him. But remember: Rodriguez will always have that steroid asterisk hanging around him.
Settling For a Share
Yankee closer Mariano Rivera took the mound on Sunday against Minnesota with a chance to break the all-time mark for most consecutive save opportunties converted at home. He blew it, and blew it spectacularly; he walked in a run and then, with the Yankees still up by one, served up a grand slam to Jason Kubel that eventually won the game for the Twins, 6-3. Rivera's streak ended at 51, tied with Eric Gagne.
The Accidental Winner
Washington reliever Tyler Clippard leads the majors in wins as well as in double takes when people see him at the top of that leaderboard alongside the likes of Roy Halladay and Ubaldo Jimenez. But Clippard’s seven wins comes with a bit of tarnish; he won many of those games as a result of five blown saveswhich also leads the majorsand, as a result, became the pitcher of record as the Nationals rebounded to win those games. It’s the kind of win, the “accidental win,” pitchers don’t like to get; they’d rather just earn the hold or save and give the glory of the win to the pitcher they relieved.
Gold With the Bat, Mold With the Glove
Starlin Castro made for an electrifying debut over a week ago when he knocked in six runs in his first major league game for the Chicago Cubs. The 20-year old has continued to hit the ball well (.323 through Sunday), but he’s been something of a problem with his glove; he committed five errors in his first five games at shortstop.
This Week's Challenger to Anthony Young
Baltimore starting pitcher David Hernandez has gone 0-11 with a 7.30 ERA over his last 16 starts dating back to last August 17. It’s the longest such active streak in the majors, but well short of the record 27 consecutive losses produced by Anthony Young from 1992-93.
Why is Everybody Picking on Me?
Bengie Molina feels like he needs some love. The San Francisco catcher was ignored on the free agent market, returning to the Giants for a sum far less than he hoped; he has red-hot prospect Buster Posey, tearing up the Pacific Coast League in Fresno, breathing down his neck; and this past week, he was made fun of by ESPN for his reputation as being baseball’s slowest runner. The moment in question came last week when ESPN showed a clip of Molina running toward home while the famous “running on the beach” music from Chariots of Fire played in the background. (The network ran the clip of Molina, who was thrown out at home, in slow motionthough we’re not sure that was necessary.) Molina thought the sequence crossed the line to humiliation, which may be true, but remember that this is just a game and that ESPN is in the entertainment business as much as it is the sports news business. Here’s one thing about Molina you can’t make fun of: He’s hitting .330 through Sunday.
Relieving, in Name Only
If the move to the bullpen has inspired the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano, we’re not seeing it. Since being removed from the rotation, the former ace has appeared in eight games, allowing six runs on 15 hits in 8.2 innings. He was voraciously booed by the hometown crowd on Friday when he allowed a three-run homer to Pittsburgh’s Garrett Jones that broke a 6-6 tie.
Wanna Win? Throw a No-No
The San Francisco Giants’ paltry offense has had a way of frustrating its pitching staff since the departure of Barry Bonds, and here’s one more bit of evidence to support that: In starter Jonathan Sanchez’s last five starts against San Diego, he has allowed just 12 hits in 35.1 innings and produced a 1.79 ERAyet has won only one of those games, losing three. The one win: His no-hitter at AT&T Park against the Padres last July. In the four he didn’t win, the Giants have supported Sanchez with a combined total of five runs.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
The Dodgers’ Russell Martin ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 11 games. Experiencing the rarity that is a catcher in the leadoff spot, the 27-year old Martin is hitting .304 during his run.