August 31, 2008
Every Given Sunday
Moving Forward to Rewind
Instant replay is here, although it's yet to be used after the first three days of being available to help umpires on home-run calls. While video may have killed the radio star, it is not expected to kill off the men in blue. Commissioner Bud Selig has made it clear that replay will not extend beyond boundary calls on homers, but even in its limited form, replay is stirring debate around the major leagues. Everyone has an opinion; people either love it or hate it, with seemingly no one standing on middle ground.
Orioles manager Dave Trembley is a traditionalist who says he doesn't play golf and doesn't network-he just likes to think about baseball-so it's not surprising that he is anti-replay. "I don't like it," Trembley said. "The game is the game. Let the game be pure in what it is. But I guess if they can move into a new Yankee Stadium, they can have instant replay. The game is evolving, much to my chagrin."
Trembley worries that Major League Baseball may be rushing into replay without properly testing the system in which an umpiring supervisor will be monitoring video feeds of all games at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York. "They better be sure that they've got the kinks worked out," Trembley said. "Otherwise, they are going to set themselves up for some embarrassing situations that could possibly occur. And I don't think Major League Baseball, at this particular point in time, needs that." Trembley believes that problems with home runs could be rectified by adding an umpire down each foul line, as is done for the All-Star Game and all post-season games. He also does not like the idea of video being instituted during the course of the season. "I find it very strange that with 30 games to go in the season that they would start it now. I find that very peculiar," Trembley said. "If they wanted it so bad, what took them so long to get it going and why wait until this particular point in time?"
Red Sox manager Terry Francona thinks MLB would benefit by expanding its umpiring staff while also using video technology. He would like to see one umpire added to each crew who would be rotated to a position of monitoring the video feed every fifth game. "It would take 10 seconds for them to make a call," Francona said. "They would have the ability to look at a replay, just like everybody in the clubhouse does. It would be a great teaching tool for younger umpires that come in the league, give some umpires days off as they get into the grind. They can watch what we're watching. They put up with nine innings of us screaming. Maybe we're wrong. Maybe there are days we have a point."
Mariners manager Jim Riggleman echoes the sentiments of Selig and many others in the game when he says he hopes replay does expand beyond its current form. "I think the human element umpires bring to a game is great," Riggleman said. "It's appreciated by fans and players. It creates a lot of interest. You don't want to take the game out of the umpires' hands."
While the World Umpires Association agreed to replay, Rays rookie third baseman Evan Longoria has concerns that some of the arbiters aren't necessarily on board with the idea of video help. "I think it's a good thing because it's going to get some calls right that are going to change games," Longoria said. "But at the same time it's given the umpires something to gripe about, and it kind of puts a chip on their shoulders as far as we don't think they're doing as good of a job as they can."
Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth plays in a home stadium, PNC Park, where fans could routinely interfere with potential home runs. He believes most players are in favor of replay. "The way the ballparks are built today, with all the various features of the outfield walls and the fans being so close to the action, it is really becoming impossible for the umpires to always be able to clearly see what is a home run and what isn't," McLouth said. "Those guys have really been put in an unfair position. Replay is going to give the umpires the tool they need to make sure they get the call right. Ultimately, getting the call right is the most important thing and what everyone wants to see. Nobody ever wants a game decided on a wrong call."
The Mets lead the Phillies by one game in the National League East, and the two teams meet for the final time in the regular season in a three-game series beginning Friday at Shea Stadium. It should be an interesting series for reasons beyond the division race. There is bad blood brewing again between the two teams, who genuinely don't like each other, stemming from the Mets' behavior in an 8-7 loss to the Phillies in 13 innings last Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins had five hits in that game as the Phillies rallied from a 7-0 deficit to win. He suggested that a premature celebration by the Mets helped sparked the Phillies' comeback. "The other team gives you inspiration, let's put it that way," Rollins said. "And when you're able to take that and keep yourself motivated, it helps. If you were a player, you're looking over in that other dugout, you'll feel a certain type of way. You try to find something on any team, but especially these guys." Rollins was unhappy that Mets third baseman Fernando Tatis did a dance after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning.
Meanwhile, the Brewers hold a 5½-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL wild-card race. The two NL Central teams don't meet again this season, just as it seemed sparks were ready to fly between them. Brewers reliever Carlos Villanueva flexed and pointed to the Cardinals' dugout after getting outfielder Joe Mather to pop out to end the seventh inning, preserving a 3-1 lead on Wednesday at Busch Stadium. Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who was on deck at the time, started toward Villanueva before being restrained by the umpires. "I told him to shut up and go to the dugout because he didn't have to do that," Pujols said. "That's when he said something in Spanish that I don't want to say to you [reporters]. He could do whatever he wants by pointing to their dugout and getting fired up. But he pointed the wrong way, to our dugout. I don't like that and I had to stand up for my teammates."
The Cardinals then scored four runs in the eighth as they ralled for a 5-3 win. "I guess he did us a favor because he woke up a sleeping giant," Pujols said. "[The Brewers] are pretty good. I respect the way they play the game. You don't have to do a stupid thing like that to disrespect the game." Brewers manager Ned Yost was not happy with Villanueva's antics either. "We had a talk about it," Yost said. "Oh yeah, we definitely had a talk about it."
Indians left-hander Cliff Lee is the favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award. In addition to a league-leading 6.7 SNLVAR, he has a 19-2 record, and history suggests that the league leader in wins usually captures the Cy Young. After beating the Tigers on Tuesday for his 19th win, Lee said he was not thinking about the Cy Young. "No. That's something people vote on. But I wish they could vote right now," Lee said with a laugh.
Lee is just the eighth pitcher since 1920 to win 19 of his first 21 decisions in a season. Roger Clemens was 20-1 for the 2001 Yankees while six others started off 19-2-Greg Maddux for the 1995 Braves, Ron Guidry for the 1978 Yankees, Gaylord Perry for the 1966 Giants, Whitey Ford for the 1961 Yankees, Preacher Roe for the 1951 Dodgers, and Lefty Grove for the 1931 Athletics. "When you talk about what Cliff's doing this year, it's his consistency that is as impressive as anything," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "It's fun to play behind him," Indians infielder Jamey Carroll said. "The way he takes the mound sets the tone for the game. It gets you fired up."
Lee can become the Indians' first 20-game winner since Perry went 21-13 in 1974 when he faces the White Sox on Monday night at Progressive Field. "I don't look at my record or ERA, all I concentrate on is putting up as many zeroes as I can," Lee said. "I'm not looking at that start as being any different than any of my other starts."
Meanwhile, there is an outside chance that two pitchers who were on the same team in the same season could both win Cy Youngs. Brewers left-hander CC Sabathia is being mentioned as a candidate in the National League, as he is 8-0 with a 1.59 ERA in 10 starts since being acquired from the Indians in a July 7 trade. Sabathia, last year's AL Cy Young winner, already ranks 24th in the NL with 3.7 SNLVAR. "CC's going to get his reward in terms of a paycheck," Yost said, referring to Sabathia's impending free agency. "People are going to be tripping over themselves to get to this guy."
What if one of the most downtrodden franchises in professional sports suddenly put a first-place team on the field? Unfortunately for the Rays, it hasn't meant much in the Tampa Bay area. The Rays are leading the AL East by 4½ games over the Red Sox and have the AL's best record at 83-51, but that still didn't entice people to turn out to Tropicana Field this week when the Blue Jays visited for a three-game series. Attendance was 13,478 on Tuesday, 12,678 on Wednesday, and 14,039 on Thursday. Wednesday's crowd was the smallest among 15 major league games that night. Things have been a little better this weekend as attendance was 21,439 on Friday night and 34,805 on Saturday afternoon for games with the Orioles, although Saturday's attendance was given a boost by a post-game We the Kings concert.
The Rays are on pace to become the first division champion to draw less than 1.7 million fans in a season since the 2000 Athletics. While interest in the Rays seems to be at all-time high, people still aren't coming to Tropicana Field, which is located in St. Petersburg and is considered a fairly long drive for fans on the Tampa side of the bay. "To me, it's about how disheartening it is for everybody in the organization-the players, the coaches, and front office-to not see the excitement funnel its way into Tropicana Field," Rays president Matt Silverman told the St. Petersburg Times. "The TV ratings are high, and that's a great sign, but it hasn't translated to the number of people at Tropicana Field. It really takes the wind out of our sails We've poured our hearts and souls into making this a great draw, and a great fan experience. And to come home after a great road trip and have the smallest crowds in Major League Baseball was discouraging. We're proud of what we have done to turn the organization around. We've done everything we could to make it a compelling experience at Tropicana Field."
AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Angels are looking for middle infield help with shortstop Maicer Izturis out for the season and second baseman Howie Kendrick on the disabled list, and among their trade targets are the Blue Jays' David Eckstein, John McDonald, and Marco Scutaro, the Orioles' Juan Castro, and the Indians' Jamey Carroll. The Red Sox, Dodgers, and Rays also reportedly have interest in Eckstein. The Yankees are expected to not only pursue Sabathia as a free agent in the offseason, but to make a pitch for Blue Jays right-hander A.J. Burnett as well. Tigers reliever Todd Jones is expected to retire at the end of the season. Royals catcher Miguel Olivo does not plan to exercise his mutual option for 2009 and will instead become a free agent. The Orioles are expected to pick up the 2009 option on Trembley's contract before the end of the season.
NL Rumors and Rumblings: Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel will become a free agent at the end of the season, and has said he would be interested in playing in Japan next year if no major league club gives him an opportunity to be a starter. The Rockies will take a look at reliever Oscar Villarreal, who was released by the Astros last month, as part of their September call-ups. The Cubs plan to add a number of reinforcements for September once Triple-A Iowa finishes play in the Pacific Coast League playoffs, including right-handers Angel Guzman, Kevin Hart, and Michael Wuertz, catcher Koyie Hill, first baseman Micah Hoffpauir, and outfielder Felix Pie.
Interesting facts as the 22nd week of the regular season comes to a close: