‘Weekly’ Hit Ground Ball 2008 – Week Sixteen

All Star Rules (not) OK

As yet another extra inning came to an end, bleary-eyed British fans watching this week’s All Star game would have been forgiven for wanting the pulsating contest to draw to a close.  When Michael Young’s sacrifice fly finally won the game for the American League after five hours and forty minutes, closing in on seven in the morning UK time, plenty of Major League managers and general managers would have been sighing with relief as well.  

MLB treated us to a fifteen-inning thriller, full of incidents and memorable moments, but once again we had to witness Bud Selig looking uncomfortable in the stands at an All Star game.  Thankfully a result was achieved just before managers Clint Hurdle and Terry Francona were forced to send position players to the mound; however it was a close run thing.  Just six years removed from the 2002 All Star farce, it’s incredible that we almost ended up in the same situation yet again: the game being declared a tie because the teams had run out of pitchers.

There have been seventy-nine MLB All Star Games since the first at Comiskey Park in 1933.  This year’s contest was the eleventh time play has been extended into extra innings and in five of those cases the game only lasted one or two further frames, so this is far from a common event.  Still, Selig made a couple of rule changes after 2002 to deal with the issue and his claims that the result on Wednesday morning showed that they work is debatable.

To reduce the risk of teams running out of pitchers, the All Star rosters were increased to include thirty-two players.  Before and after the game, Selig stressed that the onus was placed on the managers to make sure some players were kept in reserve in the event of extra innings.  In fairness to the Commissioner, you could point to several incidents where Hurdle and Francona were overzealous with their in-game substitutions.  The Giants’ closer Brian Wilson was replaced with Billy Wagner after getting two outs in the eighth, despite pitching well.  It seemed a case of over-managing when Hurdle made the call and, with Wagner subsequently giving up a run to tie the game at 3-3, it was easy to question the move.  Francisco Rodriguez also pitched just one-third of the ninth inning so that he could make an appearance before Mariano Rivera’s arrival.  Several potential pitching innings were lost as a consequence of these moves.

However, we can hardly blame the managers for using all of the assets at their disposal.  If you are bringing sixty-four players to the All Star Game, the managers will naturally want to give as many of them as possible a chance to get on the field.  That is one of the reasons why the second major rule change that was implemented, awarding the winning league home field advantage in the World Series, is a complete load of nonsense.

Terry Francona brought both A-Rod and Jeter out of the game while an inning was in progress so that they could receive an ovation from their hometown fans.  The Red Sox manager earned widespread praise for his respectful handling of the situation, which goes to show that fans are more interested in the event as a whole than the final outcome of the match.  This year’s game was a gripping contest, but was that due to a burning desire to win home field advantage or was it simply a case of professional athletes wanting to do their best in a marquee event?  I’m inclined to believe it was the latter.

Selig’s pride is unlikely to allow it, but changes should be made to stop another All Star game from ending in disarray.  The game should be limited to a pre-defined number of potential extra innings (two should be adequate) so that managers aren’t put in the situation of sending valuable pitchers out there on short rest (as happened with Webb and Kazmir).  If the game is tied after eleven innings then end the game with honours even or, if you must have a winner, give the edge to the league whose representative won the Home Run Derby the night before.  Most importantly, accept the fact that it’s an exhibition, albeit one played in a very competitive spirit, and take away the ridiculous ‘home field advantage’ rule.  If there’s a fear that this would reduce the meaning of the event, reduce the roster sizes so that the best position players stay out there for most of the game.

It may seem strange to call for sweeping changes after such a great game, but it so nearly could have ended differently.  We shouldn’t need to wait until a young star like Evan Longoria blows out his arm when pitching an inning before realizing that. 

Week 16 wrap-up

The Rays (57-39) slipped to a seven-game losing streak last week, but they’ve rebounded strongly to re-take the lead in the AL East by 1.5 games over the Red Sox.  In the Central, the Twins are being linked with various hitters to add some more punch to their lineup.  Having closed to within 0.5 games of the White Sox (55-41), their ability to make a deal or two before the deadline could determine who wins the division.  The Angels (59-38) have no such worries in the West.  With their closet rivals, the A’s, trading away their best players to build for the future, L.A.’s eight game lead is unlikely to come under serious challenge.

The Mets’ winning streak ended at ten, but it was enough to help pull them to within a game of the Phillies (53-45) in the National League East.  The Marlins are just another half a game back, so this could be a three-horse race for the rest of the season.  Three teams are certainly in contention in the Central, where the Cubs (57-40) still lead the way despite having their advantage cut to two games over the Cards and three games over the Brewers.  The D-Backs (48-49) lead the Dodgers by one game in the West.

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