Foul ball? Johan Santana caught a break in his no-hit bid

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Let’s be clear about something at the outset: this is not the bizarro Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce play. This is not an egregiously bad call that should have anyone renting one’s garments nor gnashing one’s teeth. But it is inescapable: Johan Santana caught a lucky break on a missed call in the sixth inning of last night’s no hitter that, if called correctly, would have ended it right there.

For those who missed it, in the top of the sixth, Carlos Beltran hit a would-be double down the third base line. Umpire Adrian Johnson called the ball foul. Beltran continued the at-bat and eventually grounded out.  Video of it can be seen here. Here’s a closeup GIF of the play. Worth noting: (a) the ball kicks up chalk; and (b) even though that is not the key inquiry of fair/foul — where it crossed the bag is — there is no way in the physics of this Earth that the ball could have crossed the bag in foul territory and then landed where it did, with its trajectory.  It was clearly a fair ball. UPDATE: Sorry: The ball was a line drive, not a grounder so it didn’t matter where it crossed the bag. Hitting the chalk is what mattered. Either way: fair ball.

That said, let’s take the play in its entirety and realize something: it was a fast-moving, bang-bang play in real time, the likes of which are called several times a week.  It was not rank incompetence that caused Johnson to miss that call. It was simply one of those calls that happen when you rely on humans to make them. I am not going to pile on Johnson for the call because it was a hard one that I bet even the best human umpires would miss fairly often.

Likewise, I am not going to say that Santana’s no-hitter was “tainted” or otherwise illegitimate. There have been 275 no-hitters thrown in major league history, and I guarantee you that a healthy number of them have had calls such as this one to aid them.  It’s just that now we have high-def television and unlimited replays to show us when they are bad. Within the context of history, there is no reason to believe that Santana got any more assistance in his accomplishment than any other number of pitchers got in any other number of no hitters. At least until someone can provide me with high-def video of Johnny Vander Meer’s games or whatever.

But facts are facts: Beltran’s foul ball really was a hit. If we had replay or tennis-style robots for fair-foul calls, it would have been ruled as such.  And even if I am not inclined to take a thing away from Santana’s accomplishment because it occurred in the game as it is currently constructed, baseball can do better with these things. And because we as fans all have the ability to see when such calls are missed as soon as they are, baseball should try to do better with these things.

Julio Urias to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery

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The news has gone from bad to worse for Dodgers’ left-hander Julio Urias, who is scheduled for anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder next Tuesday and expected to be sidelined through the middle of the 2018 season. His MRI came back negative on Wednesday, giving the Dodgers some hope that the 20-year-old’s bout of shoulder inflammation wasn’t masking any structural damage, but the pain lingered several days later and prompted further concern from the club. The procedure will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

Urias was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City in late May and placed on the disabled list with left shoulder discomfort several weeks into his assignment. At the major league level, he owned a 5.40 ERA, 5.4 BB/9 and 4.2 SO/9 through 23 1/3 innings, going 0-2 in five starts with Los Angeles. He made a brief rebound in Triple-A, posting three wins and striking out 17 of 67 batters in 17 1/3 innings before landing on the DL.

It’s a tough blow for the southpaw, who had yet to hit his stride in the majors before getting sidelined with shoulder issues. The Dodgers were especially mindful of this outcome for Urias, and had taken preventative measures to protect his arm by establishing a strict innings limit last season. According to club president Andrew Friedman, there’s a small silver lining here: while Urias’ injury will keep him out of work for at least 12 months, he doesn’t appear to have sustained any damage to his labrum or rotator cuff, and could be facing a much more streamlined recovery process as a result. Whether he’ll be able to rebound once he takes the mound again remains to be seen.

Tigers release Francisco Rodriguez

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Tigers’ right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez was released on Friday, per a team announcement. The club recalled fellow right-hander Bruce Rondon from Triple-A Toledo in a corresponding move.

The former closer got the boot after losing his closing role in early May, giving left-hander Justin Wilson a chance to impress at the back end of the bullpen. It’s been a rough year for Rodriguez, who manufactured six blown saves and a 7.82 ERA, 3.9 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 over 25 1/3 innings for the Tigers. The final straw, it seemed, came with Robinson Cano‘s grand slam in the seventh inning of the Tigers’ 6-9 loss to the Mariners on Thursday.

While the demotion to a clean-up role and an apparent lack of communication caused Rodriguez considerable frustration, he’s two years removed from his last dominant performance as a major league closer and has shown few signs of returning to form. His recent slump doesn’t diminish the impressive totals he’s racked up over his 16-year career — 437 saves and six All-Star nominations among them — but if he can’t break out of it soon, he may not receive the kind of high leverage role he’s seeking with another big league team, either.