This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: October 21-27, 2013
Allen Craig's Trip of a Lifetime Pay Attention to the Game, Fox
Video Replay at its Best (It Doesn't Involve Video) The Retirement of Jim Leyland


Obstruction of Justice?
Oh boy. With the World Series tied and important momentum to be determined, it had to come down to this in Game Three.

In one of the most absolutely fascinating endings to any baseball game, the St. Louis Cardinals grabbed a 5-4 win on a crazed play capped by an interference call. Chances are, you’ve already seen, heard or read about it, so we’ll spare the blow-by-blow account—but the insanity was packed into the final, frantic few seconds when a wild throw from Boston catcher laid out third baseman Will Middlebrooks, making him a human speed bump for Cardinals runner Allen Craig, who fell on top of him while trying to get up and scamper home with the winning run. At the moment, the Cardinals had already won; third base umpire Jim Joyce—oh no, him again—instantly ruled that Middlebrooks had, according to the rules, interfered with Craig and automatically awarded the Cardinals with the run that won the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Mass chaos ensued. The Cardinals came racing out of the dugout to congratulate Craig, who they discovered had reinjured a foot that had kept him out of the first two rounds of the postseason; nearby, Boston manager John Farrell led a posse of Red Sox players that surrounded home plate umpire Dana DeMuth—having a most interesting series—and asked him just what in the hell just happened.

Was it the Right Call?
The call by Joyce—who made for infamy in 2010 when his blown call robbed Detroit’s Armando Galarraga of a perfect game—wasn’t flawed. What is flawed is the rulebook and its unyielding interpretation of obstruction, which states: If “an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.”

Whether or not Middlebrooks was deliberate in his attempt to block Craig was, in Joyce’s correct reading of the rulebook, “immaterial.” Even had Middlebrooks, lying on his stomach, had not raised his legs as Craig tried to jump over him—a hint to many that Middlebrooks was attempting to trip Craig up—Joyce said he still would have called interference.

Dissecting the Deliberation
The way we see it is that Middlebrooks, in a desperate attempt to dive at catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s errant throw, established his position in trying to make the play; outside of making himself vanish, there was nothing else he could do at that point. There wasn’t time to curl away and give Craig his space—and by the way, Middlebrooks wasn’t exactly lying over the baseline that Craig, in theory, was to follow. Perhaps it can be said that defensive sloppiness put Middlebrooks in his no-win position, so in a sense the Red Sox are still to blame.

The rule is the rule, and Joyce was correct to make the call. But perhaps it’s time to take the “read-only” option off the rulebook and consider an amendment. (A day later, MLB employee Joe Torre said that the league would consider doing just that.)

Setting Up Disaster
Farrell may very well win the AL Manager of the Year award, but Game Three—and his ninth inning strategy in particular—was not his finest moment. Here's two boneheaded moves that may come back to haunt him at series' end:

Bonehead Move One: What in the world was Boston outfielder Daniel Nava doing positioned so far away from the left field line when Craig deposited his hit in that direction? It seemingly took Nava an eternity to race over to get it, allowing a slow-footed Yadier Molina to advance two bases to third while a gimpy Craig legged out a two-bagger. If this was the Red Sox’ idea of a no-doubles defense, God help them. (In the end, He didn’t.)

Bonehead Move Two: At that point, with runners in scoring position, one out and first base open, why not intentionally walk Jon Jay, a left-handed hitter facing right-handed Boston closer Koji Uehara, and then face right-handed hitting Pete Kozma—a .152 postseason hitter, a .217 regular season hitter and a strikeout victim earlier in the game with the bases loaded? With the bags loaded, you set up a force at any base. Sure, Kozma could have been pinch-hit for, but the Cardinals had no left-handed bats available on the bench.

Haunting Similarity I
Game Three was the first World Series contest to end on an error since Mookie Wilson’s grounder went through the legs of Boston’s Bill Buckner to famously end Game Six of the 1986 Fall Classic, keeping the New York Mets alive in a series they would win.

Haunting Similarity II
Craig was the first player to pinch-hit, knock out an extra-base hit and score the winning run in a World Series game since Los Angeles’ Kirk Gibson made history with his walk-off home run in Game One of the 1988 Fall Classic against Oakland.

Is the Abnormal the New Normal?
A night after the crazy ending to Game Three, Game Four ended with the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong being picked off first base, the first time that has ever happened in a World Series game.

Hey Fox—There's a Game Going On
Fox has always had this thing of ramping up the sideshow during the course of a baseball game, particularly during the postseason. But twice this past weekend, such unnecessary theatrics came back to bite them—and in the process, infuriated its audience.

First there was the moment in Game Three when announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver were forced to sit silent as one of the more intriguing moments from early on took place. Matt Holliday’s pop-up to center field was botched when Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury, distracted by teammates, muffed an attempted catch—but made up by firing a strike back to first, where Holliday was tagged out after straying too far beyond the bag. All this, while Fox was playing a pre-recorded, between-innings interview with Boston back-up catcher David Ross. Memo to Fox: The prerecorded chats have all the revelation of a say-nothing post-game interview and, in most cases, there a million other things the managers and coaches would rather be doing. Drop the interviews, please.

At least we got to see the Holliday single-turned-out, which leads us to the bottom of the ninth in Game Four—and Gaffe No. 2. While Wong was about to be picked off first base, Fox was doing what it usually does as the tension mounts: Showing endless close-up shots of fans in the stands nervously absorbing the suspense of it all. And while we were being treated to such a shot, the screen suddenly cut to a hasty redirect by a different camera showing us the second after that final, unexpected out.

Maybe we should have been watching Fox Deportes, broadcasting in Spanish—and more focused on the action.

The Divine Nine
The Red Sox’ 4-2 loss in Game Two ended a streak of nine straight World Series victories, five shy of the record set by the New York Yankees from 1996-2000. That’s not all; when the Cardinals drew first blood in the fourth inning to take a 1-0 lead, it was the first time in 48 World Series innings between the two teams that St. Louis actually had an advantage on the scoreboard. (In the Red Sox’ sweep of Colorado in 2007, they only trailed for a total of three innings.)

Keeling Over on the Nielsens
MLB was praying that pro football wouldn’t have the kind of pull to attract a bigger audience for a lousy Thursday night game vs. Game Two of the World Series. Its prayers were answered: The Red Sox and Cardinals got a 9.5 rating while the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers attracted only a 3.3—although it must be said, the football game was being shown on the NFL Network, a slightly less available channel as opposed to Fox.

Still, there’s no reason for MLB Central to be opening any champagne in celebration. The ratings for the first two World Series games were below 10—the second time that’s happened. The first time? Last year’s series between Detroit and San Francisco. By depressing comparison, the first two games of this past year’s NBA finals drew ratings over 10. Perhaps MLB should get LeBron James to shift his focus away from a fantasy appearance in a NFL game and have him start swinging a bat.

Video Replay Done Right
In Game One, the umpires did something that, long ago, could have avoided the coming video replay nightmare involving manager challenges and quotas: They huddled together and got a call reversed without the help of a TV monitor or a war room back in NYC. Sure, they were prodded by Boston manager
John Farrell, who protested that second base ump Dana DeMuth got it wrong in the first inning when he claimed that the Cardinals’ Pete Kozma had possession of the ball on a force play at second but lost it on the exchange to his throwing hand.

Farrell pleaded with DeMuth to get a second opinion from the other umps, which the umpire fraternity is often loath to do since it could be conceived as showing up their colleagues on the field of play. But they rightly overturned the call and correctly ruled that the ball actually glanced off the side of Kozma’s glove without him ever maintaining possession. As crew chief John Hirschbeck told a disbelieving St. Louis manager Mike Matheny: “Our job is to get it right.”

Fast Start
According to Elias, the Red Sox became the first team ever to score at least twice in each of the first two innings of the first game of a World Series.

The Continued Rise of That Wacha-macallit
Michael Wacha continued his late-season breakout, becoming the first rookie to win four postseason games (without a loss, mind you) by earning credit for the Game Two victory at Boston. The Cardinals’ 22-year-old had allowed just one run in his first 26 playoff innings before David Ortiz put the Red Sox briefly ahead in the sixth; only three pitchers, all Hall of Famers, had previously given up a run or less in their first 25 postseason innings: Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Don Sutton.

Calling Lucius Fox
How hard are the Cardinals’ young pitchers throwing? The answer lies in catcher
Yadier Molina’s glove—or multiple gloves, that is. The All-Star backstop showed off his ripped glove at the end of Game Two, courtesy of guys “throwing 98-99 (MPH).” He claims it’s the first time he’s ever had to go to a third glove in a single season.

Smudgegate II?
The Cardinals won the 2006 World Series over Detroit in spite of Tiger pitcher
Kenny Rogers, who was all but caught using pine tar on the palm of his glove hand during Game Two. Rather than demand that he be ejected, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa quietly asked the umpires to tell Rogers to remove the substance out of respect for his good friend, Detroit manager Jim Leyland; Rogers complied.

Fast forward to Game One of the 2013 series this past week. Boston starting pitcher Jon Lester threw 7.2 excellent shutout innings against the Cardinals, looking better with each batter he faced. The acclaim turned to suspicion afterward when Tyler Melling, a pitcher in the St. Louis farm system, tweeted that while watching a close-up of Lester ready to deliver on TV, he noticed a mysterious green substance at the inside tip of his glove and believed it to be Vaseline.

As often happens with social media, the tweet grew throughout the murmurland like a virus until it reached national awareness. Forced to give an explanation, Lester adamantly denied the accusation, claiming the green substance was an extra, legal dose of resin to combat his excessive perspiration. There were no complaints, official or otherwise, from the Cardinals, who reportedly asked Melling to delete the tweet shortly after he punched it out.

Stub Flub
A fan couldn’t believe his eyes when he searched Stub Hub for a World Series ticket and found one—for $6. He was later notified that the ticket was (surprise!) a fraud and that all his travel arrangements to fly from his home in Pittsburgh to Boston and back would be for naught. Stub Hub apologized but refused to give him a comparable ticket per its policy—but gave in when the ticket victim took his story to Deadspin. Our question is: Why would anyone go through the trouble of scamming three lousy bucks out of a fake ticket?

The Masanori Murakami of the Scorer's Table
Four years after Hideki Matsui became the first World Series MVP of Japanese descent, another Fall Classic barrier was broken thanks to Gaku Tashiro—who became the first Japanese native to serve as an official scorer at the World Series. Tashiro got the job after serving ten years in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which he joined when he came over from Japan to cover fellow countryman Ichiro Suzuki when he first began play with the Seattle Mariners in 2001.

In Case You Didn’t Know…
This is the first time since 1999 that the World Series was represented by the teams with the best record from each league.

Time for a Retirement Cigar
They can remove the ashtray from the Detroit dugout:
Jim Leyland has quit. The 68-year-old manager stepped down after eight seasons with the Tigers, whom he led to back-to-back division titles and two AL pennants (in 2006 and 2012). He’ll continue working in the Detroit front office, but says “the fuel was getting a little low” in the dugout and knew as far back as June that this would likely be his last go-around as a pilot.

Leyland managed four teams over 21 years; he’s remembered for rising the Pittsburgh Pirates out of the depths of their dysfunctional drug culture of the early 1980s and made them a primary contender that won three straight NL East titles from 1990-92 with Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Doug Drabek; was handed the keys to an All-Star roster of talent in Florida that won him his only championship in 1997, only to see it collapse a year later (as it happened in Pittsburgh) when ownership sliced down the payroll; presided over a one-year reign at Colorado in 1999 that was so disastrous, he walked away from the dugout for the next seven years; and then his triumphant return to Detroit, where he suffered only one losing campaign in eight seasons.

Leyland’s 1,769 wins (against 1,728 defeats) place him 15th on the all-time list; if Dusty Baker (1,671) doesn’t get a job somewhere next season after his release from Cincinnati, that will leave San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy (1,530) as the winningest active manager in the game.

What-Who?
The Cleveland Indians have sent a survey to fans asking them to give a 1-to-5 rating on how they feel about a number of team-related topics. Among them: What is the fan’s feelings regarding the long-standing, controversial Chief Wahoo emblem that has been used on the team’s apparel going back to 1947? It’s actually a five-part question, as follows:

• This logo reflects the heritage of the Indians;

• I feel a strong positive emotional connection to this logo;

• This logo makes me proud of the Indians;
• This logo represents more than the team—it represents the city of Cleveland; and
• This logo is an important part of my support for the Indians

Note that there’s no option that says, “This caricature offends me.”

It’s curious that the Indians have at least brought the subject up at a time when the NFL’s Washington Redskins are being increasingly pressured to change its nickname, which many consider offensive to Native Americans.

Wages Worthy of a Freak?
Out of the playoff picture after winning it all last year, the Giants were nevertheless at work this past week, re-upping former two-time Cy Young Award winner
Tim Lincecum for two years and $35 million. While this is a price reduction for Lincecum, who made $22.2 million this past year, it’s still considered a surprisingly high tab for a guy who’s badly declined; over the past two years, no pitcher has lost more games and only one (Edinson Volquez) has recorded a higher qualified ERA than Lincecum’s 4.76 mark. Yet Giants fans still love Lincecum, and he did show some rebound this past year—capped with his first career no-hitter in July at San Diego—suggesting that The Freak is slowly and perhaps successfully moving toward a late-career reinvention that many older pitchers face when their once-mighty fastballs fade.

But the Lincecum deal is sure to alarm general managers across baseball who fear that any starting pitcher will now come to them and say: “If Timmy gets that kind of money after being that bad, why should I get less?” Lower paid employees for the Giants probably won’t be thrilled with the cash given to Lincecum as well, as you’ll read next.

Labor Pains
It was reported that the U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the Giants and Miami Marlins for unfair labor practices. While this is hardly surprising about the Marlins, who can’t seem to go a week without some sort of news of someone getting shafted by owner
Jeffrey Loria, it’s puzzling to see them with grouped with the Giants, who have made maximization of revenue something of an art form. (To wit: they made at least $200k this past week loaning AT&T Park out to Kanye West so he could propose to Kim Kardashian) And it’s not the first time the defending champions have been in the crosshairs of the Department of Labor; in August, the Giants settled another dispute and paid $544,000 in back wages and damages to 74 employees who were denied overtime pay.

The Rest of the NL East Yawns
Speaking of the Marlins, team president
David Samson gave an early, lofty assessment of the 2014 season to local reporters: “I promise you this: We’re not going to lose 100 games next year. Not close.” Think bigger, David.

Sour Brown Sugar
Fans in Philadelphia have been notorious for turning on some of the Phillies’ best players over the years—just ask
Del Ennis, Mike Schmidt and Dick Allen—and now Dominic Brown believes he’s the latest target. The young outfielder, whose breakout 28 home runs made him one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal Phillies season, got a lot of heat for daring to go to a Philadelphia Eagles game rooting for the other team (and not just any team, but the hated Dallas Cowboys). Brown replied through his Twitter account: “Philly doesn’t love me. I get boos almost every night.” Let’s hope Brown is joking or exaggerating in the heat of the moment, because Philly fans have a skewed way of remembering such things.

Ay-Yi-Yi
The Triple-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres, relocated to El Paso, asked locals to determine a new team name. They chose Chihuahuas.


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Best and Worst of the 2013 Season

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.348 103 193 26 1 44 137 71 19 5 3

Were it not for some late-season maladies and Chris Davis’ unexpected punch in Baltimore, the reigning MVP—likely to win it again—might have nabbed his second straight triple crown, something never done before. In retrospect, Cabrera’s 2013 campaign contained more potency than even last season; he matched his career high in homers and set personal bests in batting average, RBIs and slugging percentage. Cabrera is still only 30, so he could very well maintain this stratospheric level for a number of years to come.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.302 103 182 36 3 36 125 80 19 3 15

It took barely two years, but the well-built Delaware native completed his rise to stardom as the NL’s most complete offensive force—hitting for average, power and even showing off a little speed with 15 steals. (He also ended the season with a 19-game hitting streak.) The question becomes: Will the 26-year old see his game rise even higher? Goldschmidt doesn’t hold slam-dunk odds of winning the NL MVP given he played for a .500 team, but if voters look elsewhere, trust us—he’ll get more chances down the line.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Brendan Ryan, Seattle-New York

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.197 30 63 12 0 4 22 19 4 2 4

The 31-year-old shortstop is a whiz with the glove and a fizzle with the bat. For the second straight year, Ryan could not hang over the so-called Mendoza Line (translated: .200) and offered very little power on top of that with a weak .273 slugging percentage. It didn’t matter if he was wearing the uniform of the Mariners or the Yankees (who plucked him away late in the year with the idea that he’d somehow help their playoff charge). Ryan’s a free agent for 2014; he’ll be relieved just to land anywhere.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.184 30 72 14 0 9 26 41 3 2 12

The older brother of Justin (also a first-year Brave) was never going to be confused for a batting champ, having hit just below .250 in each of his four years at Tampa Bay. But after a horrendous start for the Braves for which he never recovered, .230 or .240 sounds awfully good at this moment. Upton not only lacked for hits, he lacked for power (nine, down from 28 in 2012) and stolen base ability (12, down from 30+ while with the Rays). The Braves better hope he correctly screws his head back on; they owe him $60 million over the next four years.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
21-3 214.3 152 73 69 56 4 6 1 240 2.90

The 29-year-old fireballer won his first 13 starts and practically coasted through one start after another, never folding up while teammates always supported him with comfortable run support. He was so sound, he got the Game One assignment ahead of Justin Verlander for the first round of the playoffs. Scherzer is 52-19 over the last three years; after 2014, he becomes a free agent. Do the Tigers have enough money to make Scherzer their fourth $20 million-a-year player?


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
16-9 236 164 55 48 52 3 12 2 232 1.83

Unlike Scherzer, Kershaw had to fight for most of his wins—something of a continuing theme throughout his career. Case in point: On Opening Day, he shut out the Giants and broke a 0-0 tie with a home run of his own. There’s little doubt he may now be hailed as the game’s best pitcher and will likely nab his second Cy Young Award in three years; and like Scherzer, Kershaw will be a free agent after next season. We get the feeling the cash-happy Dodgers will be happy to re-up him for what he wants.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Joe Blanton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
2-14 132.2 180 96 89 34 4 9 0 108 6.04

The right-hander from Tennessee has always had a reputation for being an innings-eater—but as we often say, what good is that if he spends such frequent time on the mound getting hammered? The Angels probably should have gotten that clue given his 4.58 ERA over five seasons entering 2013; even if they did and crossed their fingers hoping for a positive rebound, they instead got a negative, thunderous thud from Blanton, who failed in every aspect of his game—as opponents hit him for average (.317) power (29 homers) and speed (17 steals in 17 attempts).


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis-Colorado

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
0-3 23.1 28 23 21 20 3 1 0 16 8.01

There was much talk earlier this year of the WBC Curse with numerous participants tourney getting hurt or just falling flat upon return to their club teams. Boggs clearly fell on the list of the latter, following up a solid 2012 campaign as the Cardinals’ set-up man to a disastrous appointment as the team’s closer to start 2013 before being demoted—first to mid-inning duty, then off the team completely. The Rockies took a chance and picked Boggs up, and he showed some return to form—but his St. Louis experience was dispiriting to say the least.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Boston Red Sox (97-65)

How do you erase recent bitter memories of Bobby Valentine, player dissension and clubhouse fried chicken and beer? Boot the manager and the player deadwood and post the AL’s best record. The Red Sox shed the underachieving angst of the last two years and started fresh under seemingly nondescript manager John Farrell and ran away with first place in the majors’ toughest division. Rebounds from David Ortiz, John Lackey, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury (among many others) didn't hurt.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)

When all else fails, there’s the Cardinals. It doesn’t matter if stars come or go, whether St. Louis is a big or small market—the Redbirds will always test you and get a result to please the millions of fans who show up to Busch. The Cardinals rose to the occasion yet again, despite the loss of Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte to injury and Mitchell Boggs (above) to ineptitude. In their place came one impressive rookie hurler after another, buffeted by a lineup that hit out of their minds (.330) with runners in scoring position. It’s just business as usual in Mound City.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Houston Astros (51-111)

Memo from the AL’s other 14 teams to the young, green, bargain-basement Astros: Thanks for allowing us the opportunity to beat you up over and over and over again. Nobody expected rookie manager Bo Porter’s outfit to surprise anyone, but you would have at least thought the team would have gelled and grown up to play some respectable ball as the season wound down; instead, the Astros lost their last 15 games to ensure the franchise’s worst-ever record—and the majors’ worst since the Tigers went 43-119 in 2003.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Miami Marlins (62-100)

To paraphrase Charlton Heston from the early scenes of Planet of the Apes: “You got what you wanted, Jeffrey—how does it taste?” After going for it with a new ballpark and $100 million payroll in 2012, detestable owner Jeffrey Loria went back to basics by slashing veteran talent and turning Marlins Park into a ghost town. Sensational rookie Jose Fernandez gave the Fish some saving grace, but he and the rest of a decent staff was often snakebit by an offense that scored fewer runs (511) in a non-strike season since San Diego in 1971.


The Ballparks on This Great Game