The Tuesday Takeaway
Sometime yesterday, Joe Torre sent a memo to all 30 teams to clear up the mounting confusion over Rule 7.13, otherwise known as the ban on catchers blocking the plate and on runners bowling them over. A key point of the letter was to eliminate, or at least mitigate, the possibility that runners who looked dead to rights coming down the line could be deemed safe on a technicality. The wording of Rule 7.13 wasn’t changed, but no longer would the replay crew in New York side with a manager who argued that his runner, a good distance away from the plate when the ball arrived, had his path to the dish impeded by the catcher.
The change in interpretation was made effective immediately. Its consequences were evident just a few hours later.
The Yankees and Rays were tied, 3-3, in the bottom of the fifth inning, which began hit-by-pitch, single, single, single off Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer. That sequence put runners at first and second for Jacoby Ellsbury, who made it four straight singles by slapping one to left. Third-base coach Rob Thomson waved around Stephen Drew, the runner previously on second, setting up what was likely to be a close play at the plate.
With the tweak applied to Rule 7.13 earlier in the day, just how close would make all the difference.
Left fielder Matt Joyce fired home in time to get Drew on what Thomson admitted after the game was “a bad send.” Likely so, considering that there were no outs at the time, but without the aggressive decision, we wouldn’t have our first barometer on the revised application of the catcher blocking rule.
Whatever you think of Thomson’s send, one aspect of the play is indisputable: Ryan Hanigan was in Drew’s path to the plate before the ball was in his possession.
Now, the question is, by how much did the ball beat Drew? The answer
is about five feet. Drew had already begun his slide when the ball, which he could not see until it passed him, settled into Hanigan’s glove. He slid to the inside of the plate, attempting to nick it with his right hand before Hanigan could apply the tag. No luck there, as home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza made the easy call: “out.”
As has happened so many times on plays like this one this year, Joe Girardi came out to ask Carapazza to call the control center, several miles south of Yankee Stadium, for a closer look. Less than two minutes later, the replay crew came back with a verdict much different from the ones it has returned on virtually every comparable play in 2014: The call was confirmed.
So when it comes to the new question of “how far is too far?” regarding runners’ distance from the dish, the first answer we have is the gap between Drew and Hanigan in the screenshot above. The replay crew’s judgment appears accurate here, in that Drew would likely have been out even if his path to the plate had been clear. Just how much closer he would have needed to be for the crew to feel differently remains an open question.
If you listened to the audio in the clip embedded above—and if you didn’t, you can find the pertinent portion at the 1:23 mark—you would have heard the Rays' broadcast team suggesting that Drew was within his rights to run over Hanigan in an effort to jar the ball loose. Speaking with reporters after the game, Girardi echoed that sentiment, albeit with the caveat, “almost.”
That situation, of course, is exactly what Rule 7.13 was designed to prevent. In the afore-linked ESPN article summarizing Torre’s memo, Jayson Stark quoted Girardi’s predecessor in the Bronx: “Managers should continue to instruct their runners to slide into home plate.” In other words, had Drew plowed into Hanigan and ended up safe, that ruling could have been reversed on further review.
While the league has closed one gap in the still-developing rule, the change leaves us with a new question that will take time to answer. Torre crafted the memo to avoid controversial decisions in stretch-run and postseason games involving plays on which calling a runner safe at home would defy logic. Despite those good intentions, we’ve already learned that the possibility lingers that fans’ views of a critical play at the plate won’t match that of the umpires in New York.
As for the Yankees and the Rays, the fifth inning ended when Derek Jeter lined into a double play, and the score stayed the same as it was when Drew was called out: Tampa Bay 4, New York 3.
Quick Hits from Tuesday
The Angels have played three games in three cities over the past three days. They’ve won each of them. And each time, they’ve done it with the benefit of a six-plus-run inning.
Tuesday’s series opener at Globe Life Park began with a Kole Calhoun home run, his 15th of the year. But Colby Lewis settled down quickly, and with Hector Santiago also pitching well, it was a tidy 2-1 contest when the eighth inning began.
Lewis was still on the mound, but interim manager Tim Bogar fetched him quickly after Collin Cowgill led off with an infield single. Cowgill stole second on reliever Michael Kirkman’s watch, but Kirkman evened out his night by striking out Calhoun. Bogar turned to Roman Mendez, a right-hander, with Mike Trout due up. Unlike Kirkman, Mendez would not do his job.
Trout tripled home Cowgill. The next batter, Albert Pujols, hit into a fielder’s choice that resulted in Trout being retired at home. But after a Howie Kendrick single and a David Freese walk, the bases were loaded with two away. Erick Aybar’s ensuing ground-rule double off Robbie Ross scored a pair. Bogar elected to walk Chris Iannetta intentionally, which left Ross with nowhere to put pinch-hitter Gordon Beckham, who walked, too, scoring Freese and reloading the bases. Up for the second time in the inning, Cowgill tripled, clearing the bags.
Add all that up and you get seven runs, which in turn gives the Halos their second streak of six-plus-run innings in franchise history:
The Angels have had a 6-run inning in 3+ straight games only once before in franchise history – July 27-29, 2007 (3 straight).
— Mike DiGiovanna (@MikeDiGiovanna) September 10, 2014
Since the Rangers only countered with a pair in the last of the eighth, it also gave the Angels a 9-3 victory. The A’s snapped out of their funk with an 11-2 romp over the White Sox, but the Halos’ magic number in the West ticked down to 11.
While the Athletics found a ledge on which to halt their plunge down the standings, the Brewers are still in free-fall. You might struggle to imagine a more frustrating bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth than Ron Roenicke’s bunch suffered on Tuesday night.
In a 3-3 game in the bottom of the eighth, the Brewers loaded the bases with nobody out. Khris Davis singled, Lyle Overbay walked, and Jean Segura—attempting to give the Marlins an out in exchange for two men in scoring position—wound up safe at first on an error by pitcher Bryan Morris.
For all the flaws in his setup-man résumé, Morris excels at one thing: getting ground balls. He took the hill on Tuesday with a 59 percent worm-killer clip on the season. That skill came in handy against pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks, who hit into a fielder’s choice out at the plate, and Carlos Gomez, who did the same. Now, all Morris needed was an out of any kind to strand all three runners, and while Scooter Gennett hit the ball in the air, it landed harmlessly in Giancarlo Stanton’s glove.
The closer was just fine at first, getting Christian Yelich to ground out and Donovan Solano to pop out to the catcher, but with two outs, misery set in. Stanton walked and stole second. He would’ve been just as well off at first, because Casey McGehee clobbered a hanging breaking ball out to left-center field:
The Brewers brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the last of the ninth, but Steve Cishek did not allow a run, and the final score was 6-3. It was Milwaukee’s 13th loss in 14 games.
With it, Mike Redmond’s club kept quietly sneaking up on Ron Roenicke’s. The Marlins are now just two games behind the Brewers, which means that they’re only 3 1/2 shy of the Pirates for the second wild card. Finishing the climb might be a tall order for the Fish, especially considering that they have eight games left against the first-place Nationals, but that they’ve stayed on the brink of contention for this long is notable, no matter where they end up.
Speaking of the Nationals: If there was any lingering doubt that they’d win the East before this week’s three-game showdown with the Braves, there shouldn’t be any more.
Despite Freddie Freeman’s best efforts, the Braves found themselves in an early 4-0 hole on Tuesday—as the Nats batted around in the first inning at Ervin Santana’s expense—and never emerged from it. Adam LaRoche delivered his second RBI single in as many innings to make it 5-0 in the second, and after Atlanta scored twice in the third, a run-scoring double by Jayson Werth made it 6-2.
The Braves would halve that deficit on a two-run shot by Justin Upton, but they got no closer than 6-4, and they’re now nine games out in the East. Washington’s magic number is down to 10 with 19 games on the schedule. Barring a historic collapse, there’s little left to see here.
That’s also the case in the AL East, where the Orioles now own the largest lead in baseball: 10 games. They kept it there last night on the strength of two homers by Alejandro De Aza, his first taters in a Baltimore uniform since coming over from Chicago at the end of August.
Batting second behind Nick Markakis, who walked to open the game, De Aza made it 2-0 Baltimore before Red Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo could find his bearings. Two innings later, De Aza turned in the opener of a back-to-back set. Adam Jones chipped in the other:
The home team got a homer of its own off the bat of rookie Xander Bogaerts, but that was Boston’s only tally of the night. Chris Tillman needed 108 pitches to complete five innings, but Evan Meek bridged the gap to the late-inning crew, which nailed down the 4-1 victory at Fenway Park.
While the Orioles won with yardwork, the Astros did it with glovework. Specifically, that of shortstop Jonathan Villar, who made both Defensive Plays of the Day. First came this sixth-inning gem in the 5.5 hole, made more impressive by the fact that the runner was the speedy Austin Jackson:
Then, in the eighth, Michael Saunders became the victim of Villar’s range and Jon Singleton’s picking prowess at first base:
Those were two of the 11 ground-ball outs recorded by Houston starter Collin McHugh, whose breakout campaign continued last night with eight innings of two-hit, one-run ball. McHugh fanned four without walking a batter, but he did serve up a game-tying solo shot to Logan Morrison in the eighth.
No worries, though: Villar had his back again. The shortstop’s RBI single past a diving Robinson Cano was the game-winner in the 2-1 decision, which left the Mariners back on the outside looking into the junior circuit playoff picture. They’re a half-game back of the Central-division runner-up …
… which is less clear now than ever, because the Royals and Tigers are now deadlocked. Backed by homers from Rajai Davis and J.D. Martinez, Max Scherzer outdueled Jason Vargas. When Detroit closer Joe Nathan got the ball in the ninth, he was working with a 4-2 lead.
A couple of infield singles by the Royals jeopardized that advantage with Alex Gordon coming up. Pinch-runner Terrance Gore replaced Omar Infante at first base, so a burner now represented the tying run.
With some other hitters, manager Ned Yost might have elected to sacrifice bunt, but Gordon, a dark-horse MVP candidate, jumped ahead in the count, 2-0, and got the chance to swing away. Nathan battled back, though, and his payoff pitch was a slider that Gordon foul-tipped for strike three.
At this moment, Yost chose to insert Jarrod Dyson as a pinch-runner at second base, supplanting Norichika Aoki. Since Dyson’s run was irrelevant, there was only one obvious motive behind the decision: the threat of a double-steal. Now, Nathan was tasked with holding two of the fastest runners on the Royals roster in another strikeout situation. Unfortunately for the Royals, Dyson got a little jumpy, and Nathan alertly made him pay:
Then he struck out Salvador Perez to slam the door, setting up today’s rubber match as a battle for first-place bragging rights that could last until the sides meet again at Kauffman Stadium a week from Friday.
Yusmeiro Petit loves seeing the Diamondbacks on his docket, especially in September.
Last year, he came within an out of a perfect game. This year, he was perfect until Ender Inciarte splashed the bid away:
But Petit recovered quickly from Inciarte’s blast. He was on a mission to throw as many strikes as he could, and one loud swing wasn’t going to deter him.
Petit wasn’t just around the strike zone in the series opener at AT&T Park, he was almost constantly inside it. Twenty-six of the 29 Diamondbacks he faced saw a first-pitch strike. None of them saw a three-ball count.
By the end of the night, a four-hitter in which the other three knocks were all singles, Petit had logged six fewer whiffs than balls. The Snakes swung and missed 10 times, and they only watched 16 pitches that didn’t satisfy plate umpire Jim Wolf, whose zone was a tad generous below the knees but hardly egregious on the whole.
Petit used only 84 pitches to secure the complete game 5-1 victory. He joined Bill Swift and Don Robinson as the only pitchers in San Francisco Giants history to notch 27 outs while kicking and dealing fewer than 90 times.
Miley’s erratic control in the early innings gave Petit a quick 1-0 lead, as his battery-mate, Andrew Susac, walked with the bases loaded in the first. Pablo Sandoval worked a bases-loaded walk in the next frame, his second base on balls in as many innings, to make it 3-0.
Amid all the walking, Joe Panik did a whole lot of hitting. The second baseman set a career high by going 5-for-5, though all of the hits were singles. It’s tempting to say that Panik did the bulk of the work in support of Petit, but he didn’t drive in or score any runs, making the St. John’s product the 15th big leaguer since at least 1914 to go 5-for-5 with no other counting stats to show for the effort.
Nine of the previous 14 such outings came in losses. Petit’s efficient brilliance in the 5-1 win ensured that the rookie’s career night would not be bittersweet.
Like Petit, Trevor Bauer only gave up four hits on Tuesday, and while the right-hander didn’t go the distance, he got through eight innings. Under most circumstances, that would be wonderful news for the Indians, who scored twice in the second to give their starter some breathing room.
Unfortunately, Bauer allowed those four hits in rapid succession with two away in the fourth inning. Joe Mauer doubled. Kennys Vargas doubled. Trevor Plouffe singled. And Oswaldo Arcia capped the rally with an opposite-field home run.
Four runs later, Bauer has a loss and this historical footnote in return for the rest of his excellent night: According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, he’s only the fifth starter in the last century to permit as many runs as hits (min. four of each) without issuing more than one walk or serving up more than one homer in an outing that spanned at least eight innings. The last to do it before him was Justin Thompson on May 12, 1998.
What to Watch on Wednesday
When Stephen Strasburg last squared off with the Braves, the date was August 8th and Atlanta slugged four home runs. Gopher ball woes have plagued the Nationals ace from time to time this year, but in the five starts since that clunker at Turner Field, Strasburg has given up four big flies combined. That still leaves him with a worrisome 22 in 189 innings of work, a whopping 17 of them on his high-velocity fastball, but things appear to be trending in the right direction for the San Diego State product, who’ll try to avenge that August defeat this afternoon. Rookie second baseman Tommy La Stella, who cranked his first major-league homer that day, hasn’t gone yard or notched a multi-hit effort since. The 25-year-old will try to snap out of his funk in support of Aaron Harang, behind whom the Braves are 1-9 dating back to the All-Star break (4:05 p.m. ET).
The Royals and Tigers wrap up their penultimate head-to-head series tonight with James Shields toeing the rubber for the visitors and Rick Porcello on the bump for the home team. Shields hasn’t quite lived up to his Big Game James moniker this season, with a 5.49 ERA in three starts versus the Royals’ division rivals, while Porcello has logged at least seven innings without permitting more than two runs in each of his dates with Kansas City. On the flip side, Porcello has been tagged for at least 10 hits and exactly six runs in each of his past two starts, a rut that’s shot his ERA up from 3.06 to 3.30. There’s no velocity dip at play here—in fact, Porcello’s fastball averaged a season-high 93.2 mph in his most recent outing—so it stands to reason that he’ll bounce back in the finale at Comerica Park (7:08 p.m. ET).
Fresh up from Triple-A Oklahoma City, Astros right-hander Nick Tropeano makes his major-league debut this evening in a starting assignment against the Mariners. A fifth-round pick out of Stony Brook University in 2011, Tropeano compiled a 3.03 ERA over 23 games (20 starts) in the Pacific Coast League, racking up a 120-to-33 K:BB ratio along the way. The 24-year-old profiles as a back-end starter, according to Jeff Moore’s recent Minor League Update writeup, and today, the Long Island native will do his best to play spoiler at Safeco Field. Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon is set to counter with Hisashi Iwakuma (10:10 p.m. ET).