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October 8, 2010

On the Beat

Trying to Taint a Gem

by John Perrotto

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Few would dispute that Roy Halladay pitched one of the greatest games in baseball history on Wednesday night. Orlando Cabrera would be one of a handful of dissenters, though.

Halladay pitched the second no-hitter in post-season history in leading the Phillies to a 4-0 victory over the Reds in Game One of their National League Division Series. Halladay came within a walk of his second perfect game this season, and the only ball that came close to being a hit came when reliever Travis Wood, of all people, hit a liner that right fielder Jayson Werth needed to make a sliding catch on.

The Reds led the NL in scoring with 4.88 runs per game this season and Halladay, who broke into the major leagues with the Blue Jays in 1998, had waited 12 years to make his post-season mark. Add it all up and it was certainly a feat for the ages.

Yet Cabrera, the Reds' shortstop, didn't think Halladay's gem was legitimate. Cabrera believed home plate umpire John Hirschbeck gave Halladay plenty of help with a generous strike zone.

"It was a bad combination with John back there," Cabrera said. "He gave him every single pitch. A guy like Halladay feeds off that. It makes it nearly impossible with a guy like that. He can hit every single corner, and he was low in the zone. He and the umpire threw a no-hitter. Another umpire and another zone, he wouldn't have been able to throw a game like that. Basically, he was getting every pitch. We had no chance."

However, a look at how pitchers performed in games Hirschbeck worked behind the plate during the season suggests that it's likely just sour grapes on Cabrera's part.

Pitchers had a 2.27 strikeout/walk ratio in Hirschbeck's 29 games as the home plate umpire, which ranked 32nd among the 75 umpires who worked at least 16 games behind the plate. That certainly wasn't out of line. Neither was the 4.25 ERA compiled in Hirschbeck's plate games, which stood 53rd of 75.

In case you're wondering, Brian Runge had the highest strikeout/walk ratio at 2.90 and Jerry Crawford had the lowest at 1.55. Pitchers compiled the best ERA, a 3.16 mark, when James Hoye put the mask on and the worst, 4.95, when Todd Tichenor had possession of the whisk broom.

Halladay and the Phillies scoffed at the idea that Hirschbeck offered a generous strike zone.

"I thought it was good," Halladay said. "That's something I don't concern myself with. There are pitches you get and don't get. I felt it was a pretty fair zone."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel felt nothing should detract from Halladay making history on a level that only one pitcher has achieved, that being Don Larsen who pitched a perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.

"When you're up there hitting, you have your own opinion," Manuel said. "When I stop and think about the game that Roy pitched, his command was so good. The big thing about it is he didn't get balls in the middle of the plate. When Roy gives up a lot of hits, it's not like he's wild. It's because he's throwing balls good. He's throwing in a good part of the plate and guys are getting good swings. He likes to get ahead. (Wednesday) he was getting ahead, but he was getting ahead with outstanding quality pitches. He pitched a tremendous game."

Reds right fielder Jay Bruce wasn't about to join his teammate in the cheapened no-hitter camp.

"He pitched one of the best games of his life and he did something really, really special," Bruce said. "I'm not taking anything away from Roy, because he's probably the best pitcher in the game, has the best stuff."

---

Rocco Baldelli was the surprise choice to be the Rays' designed hitter on Wednesday in their Game One loss to the Rangers in their American League Division Series. It could turn out to be his last game, though, as he was removed from the active roster before Game Two on Thursday because of leg fatigue.

Baldelli's career has been curtailed for the last five years because of a disorder that causes his muscles to fatigue. It caused him to retire after spending last season with the Red Sox. The Rays hired him as a special assistant to their baseball operations department in March, but when he began feeling physically stronger he decided to resume his career in August.

Baldelli wasn't ready to commit to retirement Thursday, saying he wanted to discuss it with his family, though he did say it s a possibility. Meanwhile, Baldelli came to the realization this season that he would like to stay in the game even if he is no longer able to play. In his role with the Rays, he had a chance to do some instructing in the minor leagues and also some video scouting in advance of the amateur draft.

"Not being able to play baseball (on a regular basis) is one of the toughest things I've had to deal with for probably the last five years of my life," Baldelli said. "It's what I love to and it's a difficult thing to deal with. But knowing I have some other things I can do at the field that someone is getting something out of it, maybe if I'm there and even able to help any of the young guys then it's worth it to me. What I did was great and I had a lot of fun."

Rays vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Baldelli has a standing offer to work in the organization if he is forced to retire again.

"He made a great impact on our minor league system this year," Friedman said. "The players speak extremely well of him. And to have someone like him who's done it so recently and to be able to talk to these guys from firsthand experience is extremely valuable. In the draft process, he was also surprisingly insightful, had had very good questions and thoughts and added a lot to our process."

---

The Braves' rallying point throughout the regular season was to get retiring manager Bobby Cox to the postseason in his final season after a four-year absence. They did that by winning the NL wild card on the last day of the season. Now, the Braves want to get Cox a second World Series title to go with the won he won in 1995.

Cox, though, says the Braves should have a better reason to want to win a ring.

"I know the players say they want to win it for me and that's nice," Cox said. "Really, it's probably the right thing to say when they get asked by the media. But the heck with me, I want them to win it for themselves."

While Cox would like to win it all, he is happy to get back to the postseason for the 16th time in his 29-year career. If the Braves bow out in the NLDS to the Giants, he says he can still walk away feeling good.

"I'd say this is sweeter than some of the years we've made it," Cox said. "We won 91 games and that's a lot. Our ballclub, I can't say enough about it, because we've had two different teams with all the injuries. They've hung in there though and they've clutched up many, many times. I'm proud to manage these guys."

---

Back in February, the Mariners were the trendy pick by many in the national media to win the AL West, with some pundits going as far as predicting them to win the World Series. October is here and the Mariners are nowhere near the postseason after staggering through a 61-101 season that left them with the second-worst record in the major leagues behind the Pirates at 57-105.

"What we have to do is continue to build," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We've done a lot of positive things in terms of acquiring talent and building the minor league system. If you look underneath the surface, there are some nice things going on."

The Mariners, though, are caught in between being a young and veteran team at the major league level. Many of the young players made only limited progress this season, including catcher Adam Moore, first baseman Justin Smoak, left fielder Michael Saunders, and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez.

Meanwhile, the Mariners are looking for a manager after firing Don Wakamatsu in August. Four bench coaches are believed to be on the list of candidates: the Padres' Ted Simmons, the Royals' John Gibbons, the Red Sox' DeMarlo Hale, and the White Sox' Joey Cora.

---

MLB Rumors & Rumblings: If the Red Sox fail to re-sign catcher Victor Martinez, they will re-sign captain Jason Varitek to serve as a mentor to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who would become the starter. … The Nationals would like to re-sign right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, even though he missed the entire season while recovering from shoulder surgery. … The Mets will interview White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn for their GM job. … Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor has interviewed for the Blue Jays' manager's job along with Toronto coaches Nick Leyva and Brian Butterfield. … Brewers bench coach Willie Randolph and hitting coach Dale Sveum have been told they will not be candidates to be the next manager. … Juan Samuel, who served as an interim manager for the Orioles this season, is expected to interview for the Pirates' manager's job, following former Indians manager Eric Wedge and recently fired Diamondbacks third-base coach Bo Porter. Samuel is also on the lists of the Brewers and Blue Jays.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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