Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mercy Rule Fridays

Teams finished with a flourish while punching their ticket to the second round of Round Robin play in the WBC. Yesterday's results include:
  • A seven-inning mercy-rule no-hitter by Shairon Martis in the eliminated portion of Pool C (the ones in Puerto Rico), Nederlands over Panama, 10-0. I'm sure someone out there will blame Mariano Rivera for this. A walk and an error keeps this from being a perfect game, but Martis doesn't get all the credit: he didn't register a single strikeout, so he needed a little help from his friends to get every single one of those outs. I guess you need to do that in order to register a no-no in only 65 pitches.
  • Team USA giving South Africa the sort of treatment Schillinger gave Toby in the first season of OZ (or, you could argue to extend the metaphor, the type of treatment the U.S. often gives Africa as a whole). That's 17-0 in five innings, for those of you scoring at home. A-Rod and Jeter each got three hits, both were outperformed by Ken Griffey Jr, who went 4-4 with two homers and seven RBI. Roger Clemens threw 58 easy pitches before being removed, with 6 Ks.
  • Puerto Rico flambasted Cuba, 12-2, for the 8th-inning mercy rule. Now, here's how you know you're a baseball junkie: you haven't slept terribly much over the last few days, and you had a long day of work on Friday. Flipping around the channels, you see "baseball" on at 2:00 AM on ESPN2. It's 1:00AM, but you start saying to yourself maybe. Then you're watching the pre-game and it's PR-Cuba, and you think to yourself, "I'll just catch an inning to see that second baseman everyone's so excited about." Next thing you know, your favorite Yankee of the early 90's Bernie Williams, blasts a big home run against the Cubans, to put PR up, 2-0. And eventually, you realize that you're waking up and falling asleep in small slices, to the point where the fourth inning features a strobe effect. At one point, you think you're going insane because you doze off and wake up four times, and each time a different guy is on the mound for Cuba (or is he?) and each time, it still says fourth inning on the screen. Finally, you go to sleep, disgusted at yourself for being a lightweight who'll only stay up until 4:00AM to watch baseball.
  • And the one non-mercy-rule game of the day, the Boys from Down Under gave Team DR a harder than expected time, ultimately losing 6-4. For the Dominicans, the keyword of this matchup was "heat" as Oriole pitcher Daniel Cabrera and Twins phenom Francisco Liriano took the mound for Team DR. Things got exciting toward the end of the game, when Duaner Sanchez opened the door for the Australians, before former Yank farmhand Damaso Marte went out there and shut the door, again. It was not a must-win for DR--the team was advancing to the second round any which way you cut it.
So the Caribbean powers--Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Venezuela--move on to Round Robin in Puerto Rico; while the Asian clubs from Pool A--Japan and Korea--move on to face the North American powers, the U.S. and Mexico. Many would say that this is the way this tourney should have been from the beginning--naming the top 8 baseball countries in the World, there would have been some dickering about Mexico vs. Canada or Taiwan vs. Korea among who belonged in that elite company. For some, that bit of argument--as well as the cases presented by baseball-playing countries like Australia, Panama, and the Netherlands and its former colonies--wasn't worth putting up with teams like South Africa, China, and Italia-America (er, I mean, Italy) in the first round. Personally, I think South Africa nearly sinking Canada justified the entire first round's existence. What do you think?


Guilty pleasure watching Team Cuba. On the one hand, I had to watch, because of the lure of seeing ballplayers that we are usually banned from seeing play--such as Yulieski Gurriel, the second baseman I mentioned earlier. On the other hand, I understand the pain of protesters against Fidel Castro's government, who initially supported the ban on Cuba's national team in the Classic. Indeed, I wouldn't have been that broken up had their plan, of allowing Cuban ex-pats and folks of Cuban heritage to form their own Team Free Cuba--even though this would have been the diplomatic equivalent of a slap on the face, followed by urinating all over them while they're trying to pick themselves off the floor. So I was happy to see that protesters got to say their piece on TV, by bringing "Down with Fidel" posters into Hiram Bithorn stadium, for a game that was carried live in Cuba.

A few days ago, I read someone over on Baseball Primer get all upset at Dan LeBatard, for what they considered inconsistent views on Barry Bonds and Cuba. The idea was that LeBatard didn't care about the rules when it came to Barry, but was a stickler for them when it came to Cuba--only because his relatives had been mistreated by Castro.

OK: Castro has been known to jail and murder people for dissenting against his government. And for owning books. And for being gay.

But Barry Bonds is a worse guy than Castro (mass murderer and tyrant), that's for sure. No two ways about it: Barry likely perjured himself in front of a Grand Jury, and he might have cheated on his taxes. Oh, and he almost certainly took illegal drugs to improve his athletic performance.

I'm wondering why everyone isn't more worked up about the taxes. Barry Bonds is in the category of people I'd term "absurdly wealthy." He can't pay taxes on money he gets from card shows? He's possibly robbing money from our service men and women in Iraq and from schoolchildren in the Bay Area! If it's true, I hope they throw the book at him.

But the last "crime" sure doesn't come to the standard of the first two. But it's the one everyone--Fay Vincent, the press, Congress--is talking about. Ugh.

Look, I'm someone who actually has reason to be angry at Barry Bonds. Back in 2002, I believed his steroid denials, and went on the record with it, on the very first baseball article I had published online, I put these words in Barry's mouth:

Barry Bonds, one of the suspended players, objects to the new policy.

"First they said that baseball had been diluted by too much expansion, bad pitchers, small ballparks. Then they said I must have cheated, but I didn't take steroids and my bat wasn't corked. Now it's that my genes are too good.

"I broke the stupid record. Get over it."

Oops. My bad. Barry made a fool of me, and that makes him a certified Lying Bastard, and takes him off my Christmas-card list. But I still can't get too worked up over the "crime" of juicing, particularly before MLB bothered to ban the practice. Go figure. And if that makes me one of those "dangerous" moral relativists, so be it.

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