Wednesday, July 16, 2008

American League 4-National League 3 (15 innings)

  • The game itself:
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This was a beautifully played game; well-pitched; (mostly) well-defended; and (mostly) well managed as both sides walked the tightrope trying to win and get as many players into the game as humanly possible; but again, the whole problem of trying to walk that tightrope comes up repeatedly.
Miguel Tejada looked like a player on a mission to show the world that he didn't need
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PEDs to perform at a high level; Dan Uggla's defensive gaffes proved why Joe Girardi wanted to play him in left field in the spring of 2006 and why his future is likely at a corner position on the infield or outfield; the pitchers wriggled in and out of trouble and picked up their teammates when necessary; and it ended appropriately on a close play at the plate on a sacrifice fly. Even though this was nearly a five hour marathon, it was only because it went fifteen innings and not because it was dragged out by interminable commercials and other delays like many of these games are; had the game ended in nine innings, it would've been an early end (time-wise), especially for an All Star game.
Despite the American League's supposed superiority after winning these eleven games in a row, the idea that they're the "dominant" league is a misnomer because the majority of the wins haven't been dominating performances; they've almost all been competitive and hinged on one or two plays or performances that they AL has gotten and the NL hasn't at crucial times.
  • The management from the commissioner's office on down:
Jayson Stark's report on the game included this little nugget from the commissioner, relayed to the managers during the game:

"...the commissioner's people send word to your people that this game must be decided somehow..."

That's all well-and-good, but what would Bud Selig's suggestion have been to Terry
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Francona or Clint Hurdle if it went much farther and either had run out of pitchers? If I were Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, I would've been on the phone with Selig after Scott Kazmir's second inning (especially since he started shaking his arm and losing the strike zone) and said in no uncertain terms, "my pitcher's not going back out there and I don't care what you do to me or what you have to do for another pitcher". Not only did Kazmir throw over 100 pitches on Sunday, he's got a history of arm problems and is on a reeling team that's in contention for a playoff spot. There was always a possibility, if left unchecked, that the adrenaline of the situation and desire to impress his teammates and fans that Kazmir
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was going to go overboard and try to throw too hard as Pedro Martinez did years ago; Scott Kazmir's arm and career is more important than coming to a conclusion in the All Star game.
The fine line that managers try to walk in the new era of the All Star game "counting" does more harm than good. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver on the Fox broadcast brought up an excellent point about Francona having to be concerned with not only winning the game, but handling another team's players (especially a division rival) and keeping them healthy. Clint Hurdle handled the pitching staff for the NL better than Francona did for the AL; but I'm wondering why Hurdle didn't bunt in the ninth and eleventh innings when the NL got the leadoff batter on, but decided to bunt in the twelfth. It made no sense; why bunt at one point and not the other?
  • The nonsense of the All Star game "counting":
The whole fallacy of the game "counting" for something is an attempt to trick people who don't pay attention to the game for its perceived lack of meaning into watching it. In reality, the home field advantage in the World Series is meaningless. This isn't football, basketball, hockey or soccer; baseball is not a sport in which simply playing at home is going to be a determining factor in the outcome of the game. Of course there are strategic decisions----the DH for example----that are affected by the venue, but it's way down on the list of reasons why a team wins or loses. We're talking about one game out of a possible seven; instead of three maximum games at home, the winning league gets four----it's not likely to make that much of a difference either way.
What the idea of making the game "count" for something has done is put the managers in the situation of having the straddle the line of trying to win for their league, protecting their players and getting everyone possible into the game. It's another half-baked attempt to drum up interest in what amounts to an exhibition game that should be taken seriously, but in a more lighthearted way than the suggestion of the game "counting" dictates.

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