December 11, 2013
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Thursday, October 18, 2012
40 years ago today, one of the all-time great managerial stunts occurred. I’m sure it’s happened on other occasions, but this time it happened in a World Series, which helped make it so great. It’s possibly the most famous moment in the Hall of Fame career of A’s manager Dick Williams.
Oct. 18, 2012 was during Game Three of the World Series. The A’s had won the first two games, but Cincinnati was up 1-0 and threatening to break the game wide open in the top of the eighth. With one out, Cincinnati had runners on the corners with only one out, and NL MVP Johnny Bench at the plate. Yeah, that’s not much fun for Oakland.
With one strike on Bench, trailing Reds runner Bobby Tolan stole second. As Oakland reliever Rollie Fingers got ready to throw his next pitch, Dick Williams had a sudden inspiration. He told his coach that if this pitch was a strike, he was going to do something he’d once seen 1940s Cardinals manager Billy Southworth do when Williams was a kid growing up in the St. Louis area.
It was a strike—allowing Williams to spring into action. He walked out to the mound, visibly signaling to the wide-open first base. He made a big show of anger and dismay to Fingers. How could you pitch to the MVP with first base open? That was the clear visual message being sent to Fingers.
Except, of course, it wasn’t the message sent to Fingers. It was the message sent to everyone in the world except Fingers. It was most especially the message Williams wanted to send to Bench. Williams would give a very different message to Fingers.
When he got to the mound, Williams told Fingers and the catcher what he really had in mind. OK you guys, fake an intentional walk, and then throw a real pitch. There are two strikes and if you pull this off, we’ll fan the dangerous Bench and put ourselves one out from getting out of this jam. That said, Williams told Fingers to throw a breaking pitch—just in case Bench caught on.
Message sent, Williams stomped back to the dugout to see what would happen. Gene Tenace, the catcher, went back to the plate and stood up signaling for an intentional walk. Bench fatally relaxed at the plate. Fingers went into his wind up—and threw a breaking pitch that caught the unprepared Bench completely flat footed.
And all over America, people turned next to the person sitting next them and burst out laughing. Williams had pulled a fast one on Bench. Well, Bench always maintained that the pitch was just too good—and Williams later noted it was a beauty of a pitch Fingers threw. But Bench had also relaxed at the wrong time. At third base, Reds lead runner Joe Morgan shouted to him to look out or the set up before the pitch was thrown—but Bench wasn’t ready.
Williams had the moment, but the Reds had the game. It turns out they didn’t need an extra run, as they’d win, 1-0. But the moment people remember is Dick Williams out-foxing the star catcher, and that moment was 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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The Seattle Mariners weren't expected to be competitive this season, but they were expecting to have some high-points to build upon. One of main causes of pre-season excitement was the anticipation of Dustin Ackley first full-season in the majors, and the start of a new era of Mariners offense.
Fast forward six months, and there are questions about Ackley's future after he hit just .226/.294/.328 on the 2012 season as a part of a putrid offensive team performance.
The Seattle Mariners offense has been so bad for the past few seasons their management finally caved and agreed to move in the fences for next season.
The Mariners have been desperate to conjure up some offense in any way they can, to the point that they traded a young, team-controlled pitching prospect (the most valued commodity in baseball) for a catching prospect destined to become a lifetime DH. You can argue whether or not the Mariners knew something about Michael Pineda's arm that the Yankees didn't, but regardless, the pitching for hitting trade signified just how desperate the Mariners have become to find offense.
That desperation is only going to get stronger, as ace Felix Hernandez is joined in their starting rotation by a stable of young pitching prospects, led by Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. That group of pitching prospects is as good as any trio in one organization as there is in baseball right now, and the Mariners don't have to look too far into the future to see a day when they have a playoff-caliber starting rotation.
Now they have to figure out how to have a decent offense to support it.
It remains to be seen how the new fences will change the offensive strategy of the Mariners, but it won't be a cure-all for their offensive woes. There's no doubting the effect of Safeco Park on offensive production, and enough has been written about it that I don't need to touch on it here, but the fact remains that the Mariners offense hit just .247/.300/.403 on the road, meaning they just weren't that good no matter where they played.
The new dimensions could benefit Ackley as much as anybody, but his .658 OPS on the road signifies much larger problems with his offensive game.
There were those who doubted Ackley's bat when the Mariners selected him second overall in 2009, but one season is certainly not enough time for the Mariners to give up on him. When, in their desperate search for more offense, the Mariners look towards their farm system, however, they find Nick Franklin, a shortstop who has been playing more and more second base in each of his professional seasons.
Franklin is the closest thing the Mariners have to a major league-ready offensive contributor in their farm system. Drafted as a shortstop, Franklin played almost as much second base in 2012 and is playing there primarily in the Arizona Fall League. Most scouts don't believe in Franklin as a shortstop, and their shifting of him towards second base indicates that the Mariners don't either.
The problem is that Franklin will be ready for the majors before the Mariners are prepared to make a decision on Ackley's future. Franklin will begin the 2013 season in Triple-A, where he spent the second half of 2012. He struggled there slightly offensively, but should be fine there next season. If he remains healthy and hits the way he has in has throughout his minor league career, he should be ready for the majors by mid-season.
Franklin should offer more power than Ackley, but it was Ackley's hitting acumen that got him drafted in the first place. Ackley has acclimated himself nicely to second base, but he's no gold-glover there and could find a new home in the field. No matter how much Ackley struggles, it's hard to envision a scenario in which the Mariners are ready to give up on him by the 2013 all-star break. Come July, the Mariners are going to have to find a way to get both Franklin and Ackley in their major league lineup.
The obvious answer is to leave Franklin at shortstop for the time being. He'd certainly be an offensive upgrade over the defense-only Brendan Ryan, who literally didn't hit his weight this season, but the Mariners have built their current roster around pitching and defense, and this could constitute a major philosophical change.
Which may not be the worst thing. But it's not a long-term answer.
Franklin may be able to handle shortstop for the second half of the 2013 season, and if the Mariners are out of contention, then they might as well make the defensive sacrifice in order to get both him and Ackley major league at-bats. But ideally, Franklin and Ackley both become productive major league hitters, right? Then what?
One of them will almost certainly have to play in the outfield. Ackley has played first base, but no matter how he progresses, he's almost certain to be an offensive black hole compared to other first basemen. Even as a corner outfielder, Ackley will have below-average power and will have to be a .330 hitter to be better than league average. Additionally, his weak throwing arm would limit him to left field.
The Mariners haven't had to cross this bridge yet, but it's coming. Franklin should be the Mariners shortstop by the end of the season, but defensively, he's not their long-term solution at the position. His bat should have enough power in it, however, that the power-hungry Mariners will need to get him in their lineup one way or another.
Ideally for the Mariners, Ackley begins to hit as expected and gives the Mariners a problem like this to deal with. Otherwise, the answer could be painfully simple.
Cardinals 3, Giants 1: Thanks to the 2008 World Series, the regular rules with respect to rain delays are out the window in the postseason, leading to days like we had yesterday, with a rain delay that lasted 20 minutes longer than the actual total game time. Oh, well, given how many ducks the Giants left on the pond yesterday, it was somehow appropriate that it was so soggy. If you can't score more than one run on nine hits and five walks, you don't deserve to win anyway.
Yankees vs. Tigers: POSTPONED: One really has to question A-Rod's value as a player and commitment to the team if he wasn't willing to change the weather yesterday so they could get this game in.
When it rains, it pours. Both League Championship Series games encountered rain delays, and the Yankees-Tigers contest became the first postponed game of the 2012 postseason. As I was having flashbacks to those grueling bygone days of 9:30 start times and oh-dark-thirty bedtimes (also known as "last week"), I am not going to complain. Maybe the Yankees shouldn't, either. The last time a rain postponement interrupted an LCS that featured a three-games-to-none lead was in 2004 ...
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Giants 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 Cardinals 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 X 3 (Cardinals lead series 2-1) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Giants 7 12 30 29 21 19 33 7 7 Cardinals 12 10 31 7 5 5 16 2 X WPS Base: 252.2 Best Plays: 46.1 Last Play: 1.1 Grand Total: 299.4
The early innings, and parts of the middle frames, show how a low-scoring game can get a strong WPS Index. It's by players getting aboard and raising the chance of scoring, even when they don't come home. The little back-and-forth action within an inning, if the game's fairly close, means as much to the excitement of a game as the larger ebb and flow of runs. A dry middle stretch for the Cardinals, along with the bats not returning after the long rain delay, balanced the more electric parts, and the game came out almost exactly average.
Bruce Bochy made a couple counter-sabermetric plays that could well have cost his Giants. In the top of the fourth, with one out and runners at the corners, he had Matt Cain bunting, even with two strikes, only to move the runner at first base up to second. Cain eventually did succeed, but the inning died with the next batter.
This move is highly dubious with even the average pitcher's bat, and Cain's has been better than average. He showed this with a single in the sixth off the last pitch opposing starter Kyle Lohse would throw. Bochy followed the old book rather than the new Book, to his regret.
Three innings later, with a Cardinal on second and one out, Bochy had Cain walk Daniel Descalso intentionally to get to Pete Kozma, with Shane Robinson following him. Presumably, this was done to get past the lefty Descalso in favor of two righties, and for a shot at the double play. Considering the late inning, it might have been wiser to start playing bullpen match-ups instead.
It didn't fully blow up in Bochy's face, but Kozma did get a single, and Robinson's grounder did score an insurance run. This may be a move that looks bad only because it didn't work, but it struck me at the time as odd.
Marco Scutaro started at second after the hard take-out by Matt Holliday in Game Two and showed no ill effects, playing the whole way and going 2-for-5. And in the fifth inning, he slid wide of second to try to disrupt Kozma's turning of a double play. Scutaro probably didn't register the slightest irony. The unwritten rules of baseball are strange and subtle things.
It's hard to have a fully integrated appreciation of a game split into two widely separated parts, but the big early chunk was pretty fun, and at least they got it finished at a decent hour. That's good enough for me.