Phillies survive ninth-inning balk by Brad Lidge, win in extras

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Funny that I mentioned Jerry Hairston Jr. again before this entry, because he figured quite prominently in one of the key plays of last night’s eventual 3-2 loss to the Phillies in 12 innings.

Pinch-hitter Matt Stairs led off the ninth with a single and was quickly replaced by the aforementioned Hairston. David Eckstein followed with a sacrifice bunt and Miguel Tejada grounded out to third base for the first two outs of the inning. With first base open, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel then wisely chose to intentionally walk Adrian Gonzalez, however Lidge subsequently hit Ryan Ludwick to load the bases. Then, inexplicably, with Lidge ahead 2-2 on Chase Headley, Lidge balked to force in Hairston from third base, tying the game at 2-2 and ultimately sending the game into extra innings. I have to be honest, sometimes I see balks called and I can’t see a darn thing. This one was pretty blatantly obvious.

There was nothing doing on either side until the top of the 12th inning. Jimmy Rollins led off the inning with a double off Ernesto Frieri and came around to score on a single by Placido Polanco. It was actually a very strong throw by center fielder Luis Durango, but as you’ll see on the picture to your right, it took a fantastic slide by Rollins to beat it out.

Chad Durbin retired the Padres 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 12th to end this one. The thrilling win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Phillies and pulled them to within two games of the reeling Braves in the National League East. Fortunately for the Padres, the Giants also lost Friday, so they stay six games in front in the National League West.

Unfortunately, I didn’t even touch on the excellent outings by Roy Oswalt and Mat Latos, but this one had the legitimate feel of a playoff game. I wouldn’t mind if these two teams met up again in October.   

Pirates looking for outside outfield help

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Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Pirates GM Neal Huntington is looking for outside outfield help in the wake of Starling Marte‘s 80-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. With Marte out of the picture, the club moved Andrew McCutchen back to center field and have played Adam Frazier, John Jaso, and Jose Osuna in right field. But, as Brink points out, Osuna and Jaso — neither an outfielder by trade — misplayed balls over the weekend against the Yankees.

Among available free agents, the pickings are slim. There’s Coco Crisp, Jeff Francoeur, Cole Gillespie, Kelly Johnson, and Nolan Reimold (who is currently in independent baseball). The Pirates may have to find themselves a trade partner. They could also try to talk Angel Pagan back into action, as the veteran outfielder recently said he’s taking the year off. The Pirates could also look at Leonys Martin, who was recently designated for assignment by the Mariners.

Matt Barnes ejected after throwing at Manny Machado’s head

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On Friday, tension between the Orioles and Red Sox rose when Manny Machado spiked Dustin Pedroia sliding into second base. Although the umpires found no fault with Machado’s slide, third base coach Brian Butterfield was later ejected, still feeling like Machado wronged the Red Sox. Pedroia exited the game and was not in the lineup on Saturday or Sunday. He’ll undergo an MRI for his left knee and ankle in Boston on Monday.

For what it’s worth, Pedroia didn’t seem to feel any bitterness towards Machado for his slide. As MLB.com’s Jeff Seidel reported, Pedroia said, “I don’t even know what the rule is. I’ve turned the best double play in the Major Leagues for 11 years. I don’t need a … rule. The rule’s irrelevant. The rule’s for people with bad footwork.”

Tempers flared between the Red Sox and Orioles again on Sunday. In the bottom of the eighth inning with a runner on first base and one out with the Red Sox leading 6-0, reliever Matt Barnes threw a first-pitch fastball up-and-in to Machado. The ball actually hit Machado’s bat, so it counted as a foul ball. Home plate umpire Andy Fletcher ejected Barnes and the Red Sox brought in Joe Kelly. Machado doubled on the first pitch Kelly threw to put the Orioles on the board, but the Orioles ultimately lost 6-2.

MASN’s broadcast later showed Pedroia talking to Machado, seemingly clarifying that Barnes acted of his own volition without encouragement from Pedroia. “You know that,” Pedroia appeared to say. “It wasn’t me. It’s them.”

Update: Pedroia even apologized to Machado and the Orioles, per Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal.

Commissioner Rob Manfred will likely look into Sunday’s incident. He could fine and/or suspend Barnes.

The Orioles and Red Sox meet again in Boston for a four-game series May 1-4. It will be interesting to see if the tension still remains then.