Archive for October 8th, 2010

While there have been some exciting games over the first two days of post season play, including historic pitching performances by Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, there have also been too many examples of bad umpiring.

Photo: Getty Images

In the Yankees vs. Twins ALDS, game one was witness to an erroneous trap call on a Greg Golson running catch that otherwise would have ended the game. The missed call didn’t impact the outcome because the next batter was retired, but it was exactly the kind of play that riles replay advocates. In game two of the series, much of the attention was shifted to Hunter Wendlestedt’s “creative” strike zone that seemed to shift home plate six inches toward third base when a lefty was at the plate. Although Wendlestedt’s alternative zone actually favored Twins’ starter Carl Pavano, that didn’t stop much of the focus from being on one missed call against Lance Berkman, which was followed by an RBI double on the next pitch.

In the first game of the Rays vs. Rangers series, a pitch that seemed to scrape off the fingers of Carlos Pena was ruled a foul tip, turning a run scoring hit by pitch into an eventual strikeout. Then, in game two, Michael Young appeared to offer at a third strike, but his somewhat obvious attempt was called a check swing. Young then deposited the next pitch over the centerfield wall.

Finally, in last night’s Braves vs. Giants NLDS, Buster Posey scored a run in the fourth inning on a single by Cody Ross. Posey was on second base at the time thanks to a stolen base earlier in the frame. The only problem, however, was the replay showed that Posey was tagged before reaching the bag. Naturally, the run proved to be the only one scored in the ballgame.

Photo: AP

Surprisingly, while Ron Gardenhire and Joe Maddon were both ejected in their respective games, Bobby Cox didn’t even leave the bench to argue the missed call on the Posey steal. Adding further irony, only the latter play would have been reviewable under most current proposals, so it’s very likely that neither of yesterday’s controversial calls would have been reversed even if there was expanded instant replay. Still, that hasn’t stopped the hue and cry for baseball to abandon the “human element” in favor of technological solutions.

The knee jerk demand for expanded replay is perfectly understandable. However, when you really put some thought to it, the feasibility of a workable system becomes less clear cut. Let’s take a couple of examples:

1)      With one out, Buster Posey is on first and Freddy Sanchez in on third. On a swinging strike three, Posey attempts a steal of second base, but is called out to end the inning. On the play, Sanchez had broken for home, but the attempt was rendered moot by the out at second. After looking at the replay, however, the tape reveals that Posey was actually safe. Now, what do you do with Sanchez? After all, if the infielder had known Posey was safe, he might have thrown home to nab Sanchez. The easy solution would be to send Sanchez back to third, but then than penalizes the Giants in the event that Sanchez was going to score. As a result, replay will have either created another inherently unfair situation, or opened another matter to umpires’ judgment, which is precisely what replay is trying to avoid.

2)      The Twins have runners on first and second with no outs when Jim Thome lines a smash to Greg Golson in right. Golson snags the ball before it hits the ground, but the umpire rules a trap. With the runners going on the pitch, Golson hurriedly tries to nab the slow footed Thome at first, but launches the ball in the stands, allowing one run to score. On further review, it is revealed that Golson actually made the play. Had the incorrect call not been made, however, the Yankees could have had a double or even triple play. Then again, Golson might have been making the same throw to first, so perhaps the overthrow should stand? What should be done with the runners? Again, the aftermath of replay is still going to leave one team feeling victimized.

The potential situations that could throw a monkey wrench into a comprehensive replay system are many. That doesn’t mean a more limited application can not be explored. While those options are being weighed, however, major league baseball would be better served by developing a more comprehensive and transparent rating system for its umpires. In fact, that’s exactly what the MLBPA seems to now be advocating.

Back in June, I proposed such a system, writing, “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.” The players seem to be on board. Now it’s up to Bud Selig and his owners.

Holding umpires to an increased level of accountability is the best way to ensure quality officiating. Then, and only then, should expanded replay be implemented. Otherwise, baseball will only being giving its umpires a crutch without actually trying to heal them.

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Heading into the ALDS, the biggest question hanging over the Yankees was the health of Andy Pettitte. Last night, the  veteran lefty allayed those concerns.

Andy Pettitte answered all the questions with his game two performance (Photo: Getty Images).

Over the first two innings, Pettitte’s command was a little shaky, particularly in the second when he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. At that point, however, Pettitte did what he does best…he limited the damage to a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia.

The Yankees entered the game with seven consecutive playoff victories against the Twins, all of the comeback variety. So, falling behind by one run in the second was hardly a reason for panic. Of more concern were the early returns from Carl Pavano, who limited the Yankees to one base hit over the first three innings. Aided by Hunter Wendlestedt’s generous strike zone, which seemed to include six inches off the plate to lefties (of which the Yankees lineup featured seven), Pavano pounded the strike zone early and then forced the batters to be aggressive later in the count. By the fourth inning, however, the Yankees’ game plan changed.

Curtis Granderson started the fourth inning with a leadoff double, his first of three hits, on a 2-0 pitch. Following the hit, the entire Yankees lineup went into attack mode. Pavano needed only six pitches to get through the next four batters, but was lucky to do so as all of them hit the ball hard. Singles by Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, which came sandwiched around an Arod sac fly, helped plate the tying run, but when Nick Swisher rapped into a 1-6-3 double play, Pavano avoided further damage.

The Yankees eventually took the lead in the fifth inning when Pavano was felled by another 2-0 pitch. This time, Lance Berkman lined the offering over the left center field wall for only his second home run in a Yankees’ uniform. In his two months with the team, Berkman had desperately been in search of his first Yankee moment, but it never came. He finally found it with his initial post season swing.

While the Yankees were busy solving Pavano, Pettitte shifted into another gear. All of a sudden, the veteran lefty looked as if he was in midseason form, spotting his fastball, pounding his cutter and dropping curves into the zone at will. At one point, Pettitte retired 12 batters in a row, but when the string was broken, it was done in a big way. With one out in the sixth, Pettitte fell behind Orlando Hudson on a first pitch curve that seemed to dissect the plate. After not getting the call, Pettitte decided to go with the same pitch, but this time Hudson was waiting for it. While the Twins’ second baseman rounded the bases on his game tying blast, Pettitte could seen mouthing “stupid pitch”, while Jorge Posada walked toward the mound patting his chest as if to say “my bad”. Despite the frustration, Pettitte rebounded to retire the dangerous Joe Mauer and then induced a weak grounder from Jim Thome after Delmon Young’s triple that eluded the running try of Granderson.

As they have often done against the Twins in October, the Yankees immediately recaptured the lead by scoring in the latter third in the game. The top of the seventh began with a walk to Posada, but the focal point of the inning was the next at bat by Berkman. After falling behind 1-2, Berkman took a pitch that crossed the inside part of the plate, but received the benefit of a favorable call. Berkman then took advantage of his second life by lining the next pitch over Denard Span’s head in centerfield, plating Posada and giving the Yankees another lead. The Twins were infuriated by the turn of events and manager Ron Gardenhire was eventually ejected for arguing balls and strikes later in the inning. However, lost amid the outcry was the fact that the second pitch in the bat was called a strike despite being well off the plate. In other words, the count was exactly as it should have been, even if it took two missed calls to get there.

The Yankees eventually added an additional run in the seventh and ninth on RBI singles by Jeter and Granderson, respectively, but the extra insurance ultimately proved to be unnecessary. After a 27-minute top of the seventh, Pettitte polished of his effort with a quick 1-2-3 inning in the bottom half. Then, in the eighth, Kerry Wood upped the ante by blowing away the three batters he faced in the bottom of the eighth. Finally, Mariano Rivera put a cap on the evening by earning his 41st post season save and sending the Yankees back to the Bronx needing only one victory to advance to the ALCS.

Players with a HR in First Post Season Game with Yankees

Player Date Series G# Opponent Pitcher Result
Lance Berkman* 10/7/2010 ALDS 2 Twins Carl Pavano W 5-2
Rondell White 10/1/2002 ALDS 1 Angels Jarrod Washburn W 8-5
Shane Spencer* 9/30/1998 ALDS 2 Rangers Rick Helling W 3-1
Jim Leyritz 10/4/1995 ALDS 2 Mariners Tim Belcher W 7-5
Rick Cerone* 10/8/1980 ALCS 1 Royals Larry Gura L 2-7
Roger Maris* 10/5/1960 WS 1 Pirates Vern Law L 4-6
Elston Howard* 9/28/1955 WS 1 Dodgers Don Newcombe W 6-5
George Selkirk* 9/30/1936 WS 1 Giants Carl Hubbell L 1-6

*HR came in player’s first at bat.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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