So what happened to Cliff Lee?

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I know the NFL likes to play up that “any given Sunday” crap, but baseball is really the sport where anything can happen.

To wit: Cliff Lee getting torched by a team that wasn’t supposed to have any offense. A team that was supposed to be so dominated by Lee that people actually suggested saving Lincecum to pitch another day rather than waste him on a lost cause. Yeah, well, people who say stuff like that don’t really understand baseball all that much.  Even Cy Young winners and latter-day Sandy Koufaxes get lit up a few times over the course of 30 or 40 starts in a season. It’s just how the game rolls.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying to figure out what went wrong.  And it did go wrong. Lee gave up seven runs — not all earned, of course — in  f our and two-thirds. If you look at the box score you wonder how that could be, what with him striking out seven and walking only one.  I didn’t catch any of Lee’s postgame quotes, but the answer, I’m thinking, had to do with his curveball. The thing looked like an eephus pitch at times, arcing over the lefthanded batter’s box and never presenting much of a threat.  It seemed to me that batters were waiting for the heater, and when it came, they deposited it someplace useful. Which just goes to show you how fine a line it is between dominance and humbling mortality in this game, even for the best.

But let’s not overreact. I’m sure that many of the same people who assumed that Lee was a stone cold lock for Game 1 will now be saying how terrible this is for the Rangers in this series and maybe even for Lee on the free agent market.  Ignore that stuff too.  The Rangers only needed one win from Cliff Lee in the ALCS and survived a disastrous Game 1 there as well. As long as they don’t get a second disastrous game — C.J. Wilson, it’s time to pick up your teammate — they’ll be fine.

And this winter, when Cliff Lee signs a nine-figure deal, this will be all but forgotten.

Martin Maldonado and Willson Contreras say they’re willing to pay fines rather than follow new mound visit rule

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On Monday, Major League Baseball announced some changes aimed at improving the game’s pace of play, something that has been a pet cause for commissioner Rob Manfred. Among the changes was a limit on mound visits whether from managers and coaches, the catcher, or other defenders. Each team will have six non-pitching change mound visits per game and one additional visit each inning in extra innings. Craig wrote more in depth on the changes here if you happened to miss it.

Angels catcher Martin Maldonado says he is going to do what’s necessary to stay on the same page with his pitchers. Via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, Maldonado said, “If the game is on the line, I’m going to go out there. If we’re at six [visits], and it’s going to be the seventh, I’m going to go out there, even if I have to pay a fine. I’m there for the pitchers.”

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said as much on Tuesday. Per Josh Frydman of WGN News, Contreras said, “What about if you have a tight game and you have to go out there? They can’t say anything about that, that’s my team and we just care about wins. If they’re going to fine me about number seven mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Exhibition games haven’t even started yet, but two notable backstops — the lesser-known Maldonado won a Gold Glove last year — are clearly not happy with the rule change. As Craig alluded to in his article yesterday, arguments between catchers and umpires (and, subsequently, managers and umpires) are probably going to become more frequent, which would likely end up nullifying any pace of play improvements.

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Update (4:43 PM ET): In response to this, Manfred said that if a catcher or coach made a seventh mound visit, there would have to be a pitching change (via Fletcher). However, chief baseball officer Joe Torre said (via SB Nation’s Eric Stephen) that the seventh visit cannot trigger a pitching change. The umpire would simply have to prevent the seventh mound visit.