Monday, October 15, 2012

In Baseball Everything Evens Out

Let's start with an amazing statistic. In Game 3 of the Yankees' ALDS series with Baltimore Raul Ibanez became the first player to hit two home runs from the ninth inning on in a postseason game. That's not the amazing statistic. The blasts ended the Orioles' streak of 16 consecutive extra inning wins. That's not the amazing statistic either. Even more remarkable was that this year the Baltimore Orioles were the first team to go an entire season without suffering a loss on a walk off play since 1900! Wow!

But in the ALCS something new is happening. The Yankees, who have ended benefiting from memorable and unbelievably bad calls by umpires, are now getting the short end of the stick.

Against Baltimore in 1996 Derek Jeter hit a long flyball that should have been caught at the right field fence by Tony Tarasco. As we all know, a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out and caught it instead. In 1999 Chuck Knoblauch did not tag Jose Offerman. Umpire Tim Tschida, however, ruled that he had, and on deck hitter Nomar Garciaparra did not get a chance to hit.  Three years ago, Minnesota's Joe Mauer hit a ball down the left field line that Melky Cabrera failed to catch. It landed several inches inside the foul line and bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. Except that umpire Phil Cuzzi, who had a very good view of the play, called it a foul ball. 

Now the tables have turned. The bad calls are going against the Yanks and - no surprise here - Joe Giradi is now in favour of video replays after controversial calls. In Game 1 of the ALCS, Tiger starter Doug Fisher was clearly struggling. He had narrowly extricated himself from a bases loaded jam in the first,.

In the second inning, again with the bases loaded, Robinson Cano hit a tough grounder to short. Jhonny Peralta fielded it and threw to first. His throw reached Prince Fielder just after Cano's foot touched the bag. It was a surprising missed call because umpires look for the runner's foot and listen for the smack of the ball hitting the first baseman's glove. (You can't look at two things at the same time.) If they hear the smack before they see the foot hit the bag, the batter-runner is out. But Rob Drake called Cano out and Fister settled down. The Tigers went on to win. The Yankees, Raul Ibanez aside, don't need the umps wiping out any of the rare hits they get. 

Of course lightning struck again on Sunday night when Nick Swisher made a great throw to Cano, who clearly tagged Omar Infante out. But umpire Jeff Nelson, who was in good position to make the call, blew it. The Bombers (do they need a new name this October?) ended up down by three instead of the less than awesome Tiger bullpen needing to protect a one run lead. So now, with calls going against the Yankees, will the league change its mind about video replays?

I will admit that, as a former umpire, I would prefer to have the umps' decisions stand. But, what if a call is clearly wrong? It happens. An ump, even a great one, does simply blow it once in a while. Instead of the officials running off the field or looking at monitors under a blanket to review calls how about this? Simply have a league official in the press box call down to the crew chief after seeing a replay that showed a call to have been obviously incorrect. The call can be reversed, no argument, no ejections, the game proceeds as it should have. Enough said.

What up with Robinson Cano setting a record with 26 consecutive hitless at bats in a series? Shut the front door! A-Rod sure, or Granderson maybe, but Cano? Such a sweet swing. Such talent. Say it ain't so. Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long, who got a lot off creds for making an even better hitter out of Granderson after he came to New York, is having to answer lots of questions now. Can you imagine what hot water he'd be in right now if the boss (Steinbrenner) were still alive? Yikes!

I was a good hitter when I played baseball. (People call it hardball in Canada. Of course a lot of Canadian also say back catcher, as if there's a  front catcher.) I was not a great hitter. Though I once taught at a Blue Jays instructional camp (for teenagers, not minor leaguers) I don't claim to be an expert on hitting.

But what is with so many struggling Yankees letting nice first pitches go by and getting behind on the count? The Yankees like to work the count, put pressure on the pitcher, force up his pitch count, and get lots of walks. But it ain't working. Opposing pitchers know A-Rod and other Yankees will let the first pitch go by and they're grooving them right down the middle. Granderson, however, is swinging at first pitches.  They are all inside and low- and he is missing them badly.

Suddenly, several of the  Yankee hitters - definitely Cano- simply cannot judge whether pitches are fastballs, changes or sliders. When they guess, they seem always to be wrong. They look awful. It's as if every pitcher they face is Sandy Koufax. It's painful for a Yankee fan to watch.

I am absolutely amazed that Detroit is using Justin Verlander against New York in Game Three. Why not save him for the World Series? They sure don't need an ace to get out the 2012 postseason Yankees. Heck, Yankee fans would just as soon the Tigers started Kate Upton, Verlander's girlfriend. Whether Verlander has reached first base with her you can be guaranteed the Yankees wouldn't. At least she'd be fun to watch.

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