Friday, October 9, 2009

ALDS Game 2: It Don't Mean A Thing

When things get underway in the Bronx tonight, whether that's right at 6:07 or not, both teams will send starting pitchers to the hill to make their postseason debuts.

Nick Blackburn was still in the minor leagues in 2006 when the Twins won the AL Central by one game before getting swept in the ALDS by the A's. He made a brief and unheralded debut as a relief pitcher in 2007 but was added to the starting rotation to begin '08 after the departure of Johan Santana. Since then, he has put up two remarkable similar, slightly above average seasons for the Twins. He went 11-11 and had an ERA just over 4, pitching right around 200 innings, striking out just under 100 and walking about 40 in each.

Blackburn hadn't been great leading up to Game 163. He had accrued an ERA of 5.60 over his previous 10 starts, with peripherals even uglier than usual (53 IP: 71H, 16BB, 23K, 9HR, Opponents OPS .885). However, he came up huge in the play-in game, holding the Tigers to one run over 6 1/3 innings pitched, which is probably why Ron Gardenhire has elected to pitch him on short rest tonight. He's not an overpowering guy but can obviously get the job done by changing speeds and locations.

Our boy A.J. Burnett has been in the league for 9 more seasons than Blackburn and was on a team that made the postseason - the 2003 Marlins - but started only 4 games before losing the rest of that season to Tommy John surgery. He was around the team and even played catch on the field at Yankee Stadium during that World Series, but didn't pitch in it. The only other time he's been on a second place team was in 2006 with the Blue Jays but he only made 21 starts for them and they didn't come especially close to making the playoffs. He's made the 4th most starts of any active pitcher not to appear in the postseason.

Does any of this matter? History shows that in the Wild Card era, 134 pitchers have made their postseason debut, and only 14 have had a game score higher than 70. Granted, Burnett would probably rank towards the top of the pack of those pitchers in terms of talent and previous success and 70 is a damn good game score, but the odds are against him making a big splash tonight.

As has been discussed ad naseum, his chances are theoretically bolstered by having Jose Molina as his personal catcher. I probably like Jose Molina more than I should. He makes performing the duties of a catcher look easy with his excellent framing of his pitches and effortless snap throws to first. If nothing else, he should be better at corralling Burnett's errant balls, which should come in handy considering he leads the AL in walks, wild pitches and hit batsmen. But let's remember that how A.J. Burnett fares tonight will have a lot more to do with him than him than the guy he's throwing to. I'm with Jorge, I just hope they win.

Every game in a 5 game series is an important one, but Game 2 is the biggest swing game. it always determines whether the series is even or one team is facing elimination. Depending on what happens under potentially ugly conditions in the Bronx, the Yankees could head to the Twin Cities with the luxury of having three games to get one win or needing to take one of two on the road to avoid elimination. If they lose tonight, their homefield advantage and any edge they gained by taking the longer ALDS won't mean a thing.

There's something else that makes the tune complete,
It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing,
It don't mean a thing all you got to do is sing.

It makes no difference,
If it's sweet or hot,
Just give that rhythm,
Everything you've got,
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

A Mystery Fit For A Sultan

Over at the New York Times, they have a story about a short bit of footage of Babe Ruth that recently was discovered by an elderly man some among home videos in New Hampshire and donated the Major League Baseball Film and Video Archive (where our buddy Schiff is currently working):
The latest Babe Ruth film, unseen publicly until now, is part of a 90-second clip shot from the first-base stands at Yankee Stadium. There is no sound. But there are sweeping views of the park. And there is Ruth, obvious by his shape and waddle.

He is shown in right field, hands on his knees, glove on his right hand. To a casual fan, it appears unremarkable. But it represents the archive’s only game action of Ruth playing in the outfield — where he spent more than 2,200 games — other than a between-innings game of catch.
According to the article, there is no known film of Ruth pitching for Boston or doing anything more than warming up to pitch for the Yankees, either. Only a very small amount of footage of Ruth is know to exist (about an hour's worth), and given his immense popularity and the scarcity of it, when a new piece turns up, it's a pretty big deal.

Even though the film comes with no date and no sound, they've been able to deduce a decent amount of clues from it, based on the flag pole in centerfield, dimensions of and advertisements the outfield walls, lack of numbers on the jerseys, time of day, size of the crowd, positioning of the Yankees' dugout, batter on deck and the fact that Ruth struck out looking.

There's some interesting discussion starting over here on the Bats blog (and as always over here) as to what the footage can tell us, but the archivists think that it might be from one of the first two games of the 1928 World Series against the Cardinals. You can watch just the original film at the Bats Blog or a report about the MLB Archive with the main article. Check it out.

Damning With Faint Praise

On the heels of yet another anti-Chip Caray piece, again by Richard Sadomir, the well-respected David Pinto tires admirably to find something good about the TBS broadcast:
TBS does deserve praise for one aspect of its coverage, however, keeping the broadcast about the game. There are no guests in the booth, no taking an inning to talk about the news of the game rather than the play on the field.
I can't recall any circumstances where there was a guest in the booth if a playoff game, but I could be wrong because if I was watching, I would have temporarily blacked out from rage. Guests in the booth inevitably subtract from the broadcast, with the only exception being Jimmy Kimmel, and he was banned forever as a result.

Praising TBS for not having guests in the booth is like congratulating Ryan Franklin for not giving up a home run against the Dodgers or patting the Red Sox on the back because they managed three singles against John Lackey yesterday. "Hey well at least they didn't fuck up in every way imaginable!" I never thought I'd say this, but the sooner the broadcasts are turned over to FOX, the better.

Youk's Teammates Hate Him Too!

Well, some of them do, anyway:
So why, then, is this Everyman not unequivocally embraced and revered by his teammates? Why, when a reporter approaches another key Red Sox player to speak about Youkilis does he respond, “I’d rather refrain’’?

It should be Youk’s team, his clubhouse, and it might be some day, but some of his peers believe Youkilis still has some growing to do. They’d like to see him filter some of his strongly held opinions. They’d like him to respect the veteran protocol that has long been a part of baseball’s fabric. And they want him to control his temper.


“At one point some of the veterans came up to me and said, ‘Can you talk to this guy?’ ’’ manager Terry Francona said. “What I tried to tell them was Youk just needs to get it out of his system. Watch him sometime. Thirty seconds after his outburst, he’s screaming for his teammates.
Isn't that fackin' chaaahming? The dood's like a fackin' fwah yeah old!

This quote from Jackie MacMullan was also pretty amusing:
He does not look like an MVP candidate; more a refrigerator repairman, a butcher, the man selling hammers behind the counter at the True Value hardware store.
To that I would add:
  • Fishmonger
  • Car stereo salesman
  • Longshoreman
  • Mason
  • Ice road trucker
  • HVAC technician
  • Short order cook
  • Plumber
  • Dickhead bouncer at a college bar
  • Elementary school janitor
  • Harley Davidson mechanic
  • Mover
  • UPS guy
  • Short bus driver
  • Hot tar roofer
  • Landscaper
  • Electrician
  • Garbage man
  • Road paver
  • Street sweeper
  • Finish carpenter
  • Carpet installer
  • Park ranger
  • Chicken farmer
  • Sausage stuffer
  • Coal miner
  • Steel worker
  • Forklift operator
  • Mr. Clean stand-in
  • The guy with the awful beard from the Sam Adams commercials.
I might even admit that the article is actually a good read if I wanted to jeopardize the stranglehold we've developed on Kevin Youkilis hatred over here, but you know I can't do that.

Holliday, Bucknor, Buckner & Instant Replay

Mornin' Fackers. You can change that to "good morning" if you're not a Cardinals or a Red Sox fan.

On one hand, you could be a genteel Midwesterner who just saw his or her team send two Cy Young Candidates to the mound on consecutive nights and are now facing an elimination game. You would also have had to witness Matt Holliday, a player that everyone had grown quite fond of and had been mentioned in conjunction with a long term deal, drop a routine ball that would have ended the game. In all fairness, he did hit a home run in the second inning, but will inevitably be identified as the goat of the Cardinals' 2009 postseason if they don't somehow come back to win the next three.

The play was compared to Bill Bucker's, but this game wasn't tied. If Holliday gloves that routine shallow fly instead of letting it deflect off his wrist and hit him in the balls, the game is over. Literally over. There were two outs and that would have been the third. But contrary to what Will Leitch wants you to think, Ryan Franklin still shares a bunch of the blame for giving up four straight baserunners after that and completing the gag. It's a short series so the difference between 1-1 and 2-0 is cavernous and to lose the game like that is a gut punch of epic proportions.

On the other hand you could be a surly Bahhstonian, either bitching about the umpiring or having to listen to a bunch of other people do it. At one point on Twitter last night, CB Bucknor was a trending topic. (If you're not familiar with Twitter, that means it was one of the 10 most common words or phrases being tweeted). Not typically a good sign for an umpire. Bucknor's Wikipedia page was vandalized and he was compared to Bill Buckner, pretty much the worst insult that can be levied by Red Sox Nation. I don't think he's going to get much of a welcome when he shows up at Fenway.

So what really went down? There were three calls that went against the Red Sox. Torii Hunter got a generous call from Joe West in the 3rd that should have been strike three and the end of the inning but instead loaded the bases for the Angels. They got a fourth out in the 4th inning as well, when the now-infamous Bucknor missed a tag that Youk applied to Howie Kendrick. Again in the 6th, Kendrick was erroneously called safe at first when Youk had to jump for the ball but obviously came back down on the bag in time. All clearly blown calls, especially the last two.

But none of them led to runs. Jon Lester, to his credit, got out of each of those innings unscathed, the only runs he gave up all night coming on a three run homer by Torii Hunter in the fifth inning. Certainly those calls didn't help. Lester had to throw more pitches than he should have as a result of each of them and as Matthew Pouliot from Circling the Bases notes, things might not have set up the same way for Hunter's home run in the fifth. In fact, they most certainly wouldn't have. With the way John Lackey was pitching last night though, it probably wouldn't have mattered.

It's one thing for your own player to make an inexcusable mistake, but it's another for the gaffes to be made by the umpires. One of the differences is that many of the mistakes made by umpires (including the two of those by Bucknor) could have been easily overturned by replay. Maybe the umps don't want to be upstaged by being corrected by replays, but would they rather get the calls wrong and draw the ire of entire fan base?

It would slow the game down, but if they went with the system the NHL has where all reviews take place in a central location, it wouldn't be that much of an issue. I'm guessing Sox fans would have waited the minute or two it took to review the play.

And this isn't about speed of play anyway. You know what really slows down the game? Commercials, and you don't see baseball cutting down on the number of 30 second spots between innings even though they are now selling in game spots and sponsoring everything imaginable within the telecasts. It sure as shit isn't about preserving the "human element" either, because no one likes the human element when it's their team getting boned.

This is about Bud Selig not wanting to move baseball forward despite the fact that technology is changing the world and release even a little bit of the icy stranglehold he keeps on the game. You can't unring the bell, Bud. Instant replay is here to stay. Every network has it and will use it to point out your umpire's mistakes at any given opportunity.

If I'm an ump, I'm begging for instant replay. I can't see the game in slow-mo-supershot-HD. So why would I want every fan to be able to see every one of my mistakes without being able to correct them? Replay is a free pass when you fuck up. It'd be like if I wrote this blog without using spellcheck and every error I made got that squiggly red underline when the posts went live on the site.

I can't believe I'm standing up for Red Sox fans, but it's ridiculous that the people in charge of baseball won't take the steps necessary to get calls right, even though the technology is readily available. People might not like it at first, but they'll get used to it. Instant replay has been rejected by a certain segment of fans in every sport at first, but that resistance tends to quiet down when it saves their team from losing a game due to an incorrect call by the ref.

It's obviously not going to happen during this postseason but it needs to be addressed at some point. If not for regular season games, then at least for October. There's no good reason not to get the calls right.

[Photo Credits: Holliday Pic, Umps Pic]