Sunday, March 12, 2006

World Baseball Sunday

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid. That's how the Dominican Republic played against Puerto Rico in their Round 2 opener.

Bad defense (catcher Juan Brito failing to tag Jose Cruz Jr. after Cruz Jr. failed to tag the plate in the 7th). Boneheaded baserunning (Moises Alou getting tagged out trying to stretch a single into a double, down 7-1 in the bottom of the same inning). Bad, bad, horrible in-game managing.

Pop quiz: 2nd and 3rd, 2 outs, down 7-1 in the 7th inning. Do you go down with Juan Brito, your hitless catcher (.561 OPS in MLB, .258 BA, .342 SLG in nine years in the minors)? On a team with Ronnie Belliard, Placido Polanco, and Willie Mo Pena, and two other catchers on the roster? As they said in Boogie Nights, "Ya think so, doctor?"

Manny Acta, the Dominican Manager, thinks otherwise. Swing away, Juan, and hope for the best!

How 'bout this: in the 6th, game tied at 1, Carlos Beltran, Javy Lopez, and Jose Cruz, Jr. coming up. Lopez bats righty. Beltran and Cruz switch-hit, but both are better against lefties than righties over the last three years--Cruz more than 100 points of OPS better.

Who does Acta bring in? Damaso Marte. Lefty Damaso Marte. Marte doesn't retire any of those three batters, and all of them score.

I've heard that Acta's the best guy out there without a managing job. I've heard his name attached to a few managing rumors. Maybe he just had a bad game, but he showed us nothing in this game.

If it weren't for the utterly boneheaded way the Dominicans played tonight, this would be an all-time great day of baseball viewing for me. Starting in the early afternoon, with me catching the tail end of Cuba/Venezuela (nice performance by Cuba, in victory); continuing with USA/Japan in Anaheim (missed the first inning because my cable system insisted that "Tennis" was what was showing on ESPN2); then DR/PR, and (as I write) Mexico/Korea on the tube. I doubt I'll see this to the end, but I'll go as long as I can, and still make my dental appointment in the morning.

Team USA's victory against Japan was marred by controversy, and to be quite honest, the Japanese got hosed by bad umpiring. Japanese second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka was on third base with one out in the 8th inning. Batter lofts a soft, short fly ball to the spaghetti-noodle arm of Randy Winn in left, and Winn throws wide of the bag as the speedy Nishioka comes in to score easily. The U.S. appeals at third, the catcher throwing to Derek Jeter for a tag, and second base ump Brian Knight called safe at third.

Buck Martinez--not my favorite manager, by any means--came out to argue that Knight should not have made the call, that it was the home plate umpire's call to make. Former major league ump Bob Davidson overrode the call, and called Nishioka out.

Bad call, the replay showed.

Not to slag the umps, because when I first saw the play it looked like Nishioka left early. It looks to me like this is the result of Nishioka's baserunning technique. Normally, when you see the tag-up play in the majors, the runner backs up to the bag, and rests his back foot on the edge that faces home plate, like a pitcher against the pitching rubber. Once the ball is caught, the runner--who has been standing still for at least a beat--pushes powerfully off that back leg and tears ass toward the plate.

Nishioka (it looked to me, if you saw it differently, please feel free to comment) seemed to start straddling the bag and run across it on his first step, putting his body in motion just before Winn made the catch, but with his lead foot still on the bag as the ball dropped into Winn's glove. It seems like a great way to handle that play, a half-step running start prior to leaving the bag probably makes a big difference.

Except, it also makes it harder for the ump to make the call. Davidson likely only saw that Nishioka's body was in motion prior to the catch, without actually seeing whether his foot was on the bag or not. I felt badly enough for Japanese manager Sadaharu Oh that it dimmed my joy at seeing Alex Rodriguez collect the big walk-off hit in the ninth inning.

One decision that didn't get a lot of press, but was mentioned by Bill Madden last week, is that MLB tried to get the Major League Umps to work these games. However, given some hard-nosed (some would say hard-headed) negotiation by the Big League umps, and the time pressure that there was to put these games in place, minor league umpires were signed up to work the WBC. I don't know that it would have made a difference, but if the Japanese wind up missing the semi-finals, it'd be nice to be able to say that the very best umpires available made the call.


Terminator IV: The Barry Bonds Edition: Speaking of Madden, here's what former commissioner Bowie Kuhn had to say to him about Barry Bonds's place in the record books:
"I certainly believe the commissioner has the power to invalidate records," Kuhn said by phone from his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. "In my view, it's inherent in the 'best interests of the game' clause. I think if a player was found to have cheated his way to a record, that record could be and probably should be invalidated."
The question here isn't whether the Commissioner has the power to invalidate records, but rather, whether the Commissioner has the power to go back in time. Records are just documentation of what happened in the games. You can try to erase Bonds's name from the record books, but you can't change what happened in those games where Bonds hit homers. You can't change the 2002 NLCS or NLDS.

Unless Bud Selig finds out how to change the past, he should leave the record book alone. What happened, happened. The best you can do is make people understand why it happened.

I wish that there could be an amnesty on the steroids issue: no consequences so long as players come clean about what they were doing over the past 20 years (an arbitrary time frame). Then we could actually figure out what the heck was going on, and what the effects were on the game.

Sure, it's a pie-in-the-sky idea. Players would never risk prosecution by the authorities to tell the truth. But wouldn't it be nice if it could happen? To have actual knowledge of the truth, rather than doubts and questions overshadowing a whole era?

Sulu! What Has Happened To You? I know Bartolo Colon's heavy, but man, I gasped when I saw him on the mound in the Quisqueya/Boricua battle. The reigning AL Cy Young winner is simply rotund, Rick Reuschel-sized. Looks like Babar. And yeah, I say that knowing I'm not quite a matchstick myself.

It's amazing to see someone so corpulent do so well at such a high level, but you'd have to wonder if Colon would have been better-equipped to pitch in the playoffs last year if he put any effort at all into staying in shape. For any of you who forgot, Colon had to leave Game 5 of the ALDS against the Yanks, after one inning, and then was unable to answer the bell in the ALCS, which the Angels lost to the White Sox in five games.

Again, You Use That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means:In the PR/DR game, one of the color guys--I think Orestes Destrade, but you can never tell--described the "hitting zone" where you want to hit a baseball, saying "It's an imaginary zone..."

Imaginary means it doesn't exist in reality, just in the mind. No matter what you say about the strike zone, or any place within it, it exist in the physical world. Bat actually meets ball in reality. I heard that, and I started wondering if someone had slipped me some crazy pills.

The World Has Gotten Too Complicated: Damaso Marte comes into DR/PR in the sixth, and play is stopped because he had on the wrong Dominican Republic lid--blue bill instead of red bill. Manny Acta was probably so concerned about the rule requiring that a team's uniforms be, well, uniform, that he forgot that Marte was lefthanded, facing three guys that mash lefties. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

This just made me nostalgic for the days when teams had two uniforms--road and away--and one cap they wore all year. Yeah, I know how important it is to squeeze the WBC for every cent possible with the merchandizing, but did D.R. really need two caps for a tourney that is, at best, eight games long? Nonetheless, the Team DR unis for the Classic do look good, beating the "Dominicano Soy" ("I am Dominican!) unis Licey wore in the Caribbean World Series.

A Total Ellipse of the Heart: After praising DR's getup, I have to admit that Team USA's lids are a complete tragedy. The "U.S." logo, in front of a star, looks like an abstract painting, and I don't mean that in a good way...The matchup I'm currently watching, Mexico-Korea, sounds like a great restaurant concept. I'm sure I'd much rather have a Taco Deop Bap than a Caesar Salad Burrito, by Taco Bell...Kind of ironic that the vaguely racist "Samurod" ads--video game ads featuring a fat guy who claims to play for Osaka in the Japanese League--are running during the WBC...Did I miss anything, watching baseball rather than the Sopranos tonight? On second thought, don't answer that.

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