Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Kuroda's Near Masterpiece

I was actually watching Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead (waiting for Treat Williams's movie-stealing scene when he screams at would-be assassin Steve Buscemi, "I
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am Godzilla!!!! Youuuuu are Japaaaannnn!!!!") when I absentmindedly flipped to the Dodgers-Braves game in time to hear Vin Scully say something to the tune of "we may be watching something big happening here." Hiroki Kuroda was perfect through seven innings in a dominating performance that wound up being a one-hit shutout in which he needed only 91 pitches to complete. What sticks in my mind about then whole game isn't Kuroda, but for the second time this year Gregor Blanco dropped down a bunt after the sixth inning in which the opposing pitcher had a no-hitter going. I went on about it then----Reds vs Braves 6/1/08----questioning the propriety of the move and this bunt was even worse as far as I'm concerned.
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As before, it's perfectly rule-abiding for a player to bunt in that situation, but is it right? The reasons for doing it are obvious: the Braves need to win this game; they owe nothing to the Dodgers or Kuroda; bunting is a big part of Blanco's game----I get it. But on the other hand, the score was 3-0; a bunt base hit wasn't going to be the tying run and the way Kuroda was pitching and as
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exhausted as the Braves must have been after their 17-inning affair on Sunday and then long flight to Los Angeles, they looked like they just wanted to go back to the hotel to sleep; and most importantly, if Blanco pulls that stunt with the wrong guy, he's going to get himself hurt.
Let's be honest here, the Braves aren't going anywhere this year. They're injury-riddled; reeling from their seeming ineptitude after the nonsensical demotion and quick recall of Jeff Francoeur; and they're said to be seriously considering being sellers at the trade-deadline rather than their usual position of buyers. There was no reason for Blanco to pull that stunt when Kuroda had a perfect game going. I'm surprised that an old-school manager like Bobby Cox and veteran players like John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine haven't had a talk with Blanco, accentuating that they appreciate the thought of
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trying to get something started by using his speed, but that it's probably not the way he wants to be looked at by other teams as having pulled such shaky stunts.
Both no-hitters, the first one against Johnny Cueto and the Reds and last night against Kuroda, were broken up cleanly so the point is moot; but Blanco, for his own safety should probably re-think doing that again because there are guys around who aren't rookies like Cueto; who aren't steeped in tradition and appropriateness as Japanese players are. Guys like Josh Beckett would very quickly let Blanco know what they thought about his gamesmanship by unleashing a ball at his head. Tony La Russa isn't the type of manager to go for that sort of thing either and would order his pitchers to retaliate for the perceived transgression. If for no other reason, Blanco should think about that before pulling the stunt again because he's going to get hurt.

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