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Archive for June 2nd, 2010

June 2, 2010 will go down as a momentous day in baseball history. Future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement and first base umpire Jim Joyce blew a call on what should have been baseball’s third perfect game this season. Both events will be remembered for some time to come. Tonight’s Yankee game, however, will not.

The Yankees victory over the Orioles was overshadowed by an eventful day in baseball that included this blown call at the end of a would-be perfect game.

Although baseball is by far one of the most unpredictable sports, some games just scream mismatch. Brad Bergesen versus Phil Hughes was one example. After a scoreless first inning, the Yankees essentially put the game away with a four run second inning. The offense, which featured three hit nights by Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, would go on to pile up nine runs, but the rest of the game was all about Phil Hughes plowing through the Orioles lineup.

Over seven innings, Hughes only went to one three-ball count, while throwing 72 of his 102 pitches for strikes. His only hiccup occurred in the sixth inning, when Ty Wiggington singled home Miguel Tejada, who had doubled earlier in the inning. In addition to improving his record to 7-1, Hughes also surrendered two runs or fewer for the eighth time in his 10 starts and moved up to third in the American League with a 2.54 ERA.

Aside from Hughes continued emergence as an ace starter, the biggest story for the Yankees was the return of Jorge Posada to the lineup as a DH. Before the game, Posada acknowledged that he would likely be occupying the DH role with increasing frequency, a concession that Posada hitherto had been unwilling to make. Although Posada will still see his fair share of games behind the plate, a more permanent transition to DH will not only help ensure that he stays healthy, but also allow the Yankees to benefit for Cervelli’s superior defense.

In addition to Posada’s return, the continued hot hitting of Curtis Granderson also bodes well for the Yankees. With his three hits tonight (his only out was the result of an outstanding running grab by Adam Jones in deep right center), Granderson is now hitting .400/.434/.700 in 23 plate appearances since returning from a groin injury.

With everything falling into place, the Yankees could be primed to take advantage of a favorable June schedule. For that to happen, games like this  need to become more routine. If the Yankees can have enough forgettable wins, they’ll be on their way to another memorable October.

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Umpires Behaving Badly

Within the span of a week, two umpires, Joe West and Bill Hohn, made news by prematurely giving the heave-ho to a starting pitcher. So much for the idea about a good umpire being the one nobody notices.

It used to be that managers, like Billy Martin, were the instigators when it came to on-field arguments. Now, the umpires themselves seem to be initiating the conflicts.

On May 26, West, who was umpiring at first base, ejected White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle in the third inning for protesting the second of two balks called against him. After the second balk was called, Buehrle shrugged his shoulders and dropped his glove, which West interpreted as the pitcher’s attempt to “show him up”. The ejection prompted a more visceral protest from Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who continued venting about West’s arrogance well after the game.

Bill Hohn’s ichy trigger finger was exercised on May 31 in a game between the Astros and Nationals. The victim this time was Roy Oswalt, who was also tossed one out into the third inning after letting out a yell when a close 3-2 pitch was called a ball. According to Oswalt, the scream was more an expression of frustration than protestation, but following a familiar theme, Hohn interpreted the action as an attempt by the pitcher to “show him up.”

In both cases, MLB officials took sides against the umpires involved in the ejection. In the case of Hohn, MLB vice president Bob Watson went so far as to publicly state that the umpire would be sternly reprimanded. As for West, an undisclosed fine was levied.

Since the two incidents, many have sounded off on the growing level of unprofessionalism among umpires, with most targeting their venom toward West, who earlier in the season embroiled himself in a controversy by making remarks about the length of games played between the Red Sox and Yankees (remarks which the umpire, through his publicist, volunteered to readdress).

Although MLB should be concerned about the comportment of its officials, its greater concern should be the quality of their calls. Toward that end, it’s come time for MLB to develop and make public a rating system for its officials. Just like players must face the daily scrutiny of their performance, the officials who oversee the games should as well. Even if it means a labor conflict, it’s time for baseball to impose more stringent requirements on its umpires.

Do MLB Umpires Need to Be the Better Man?

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After the Yankees stranded runners at first and third with no outs in the bottom of the sixth, the stage was set for Javier Vazquez to wilt. And, sure enough, the Orioles immediately staged a rally against the Yankees’ righty, placing runners at second and third with one out. At that point, Girardi faced a critical decision in the game. Instead of going to the bullpen, the Yankee manager opted to intentionally walk switch hitting Matt Wieters and let Vazquez go after the right handed hitting Adam Jones. Like Vazquez, Jones has had a trying 2010 season in which he has fallen well short of the expectations promised by his 2009 campaign. In many ways, the confrontation between Vazquez and Jones represented a cross roads for both players…a moment that has the potential to serve as spring board into the coming summer months.

Arod and Ty Wigginton become entangled as Miguel Tejada's errant leads to two runs (Photo: AP)

From the first pitch of the at bat, Vazquez seemed as if he knew exactly how he was going to get Jones out. A first pitch slider hit the outside corner for a strike, and then a changeup followed inside off the plate. With the count even at 1-1 and the possibility of another off speed pitch in Jones’ mind, Vazquez went back outside with a 90mph fastball that hit the corner for a strike. Instead of wasting a pitch on 1-2, Vazquez went back to the change, again just over the inside part of the plate, prompting Jones to swing over the pitch. As Cervelli pumped his fist, it seemed as if Vazquez grew three feet taller. There was still one more batter left to get, but Julio Lugo swung at a first pitch change and grounded into a 6-4 force to end the inning. As he walked off the mound, the crowd, which moments earlier had groaned, now cheered, giving Vazquez his first positive moment in Yankee Stadium in seven years.

Although it sure seemed like Vazquez was walking off the mound triumphantly, the score was still tied 1-1. In already his third start against the Yankees in 2010, with each one better than the next, Brian Matusz matched zeros with Vazquez until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Curtis Granderson launched a homerun into the right field stands, notable not only because it gave the Yankees a lead, but also because it came off a left hander. The Orioles got their young lefty even in the very next half inning, however, when Vazquez left a fastball over the middle of the plate to Corey Patterson, who blasted his third homerun of the season.

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