Oakland A’s minor league coach banned after ordering intentional balks to end game

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This is kind of nuts. A coach in the A’s system, who was acting as manager for the Stockton Ports in the class-A California League, has been banned from being in the Ports’ dugout for a year after ordering his pitchers to intentionally commit balks in an effort to end a game that had reached the 17th inning.

The pitchers were actually position players — each team had burned through its pen — and he ordered the balks in order to prevent injuries to his players:

[Todd] Steverson, Oakland’s roving hitting instructor, ordered Josh Whitaker, an outfielder and the second Ports’ position player to pitch that night, to commit balks to move Modesto runners into scoring position. Whitaker blatantly balked twice in the 17th, but the Nuts could not get the game-ending hit until the 18th, after another balk.

Steverson, who was filling in for the usual Ports manager who was on vacation, admitted the next day that he did it on purpose:

“We had a position player out there and I didn’t want to put another position player on the mound and get him hurt … I didn’t get any of my pitchers hurt and I didn’t get any position players hurt. So a game on June 23, 2012, well, these guys will be playing many more games more important than that.”

After that interview, the California League banned him for a year. Though, since managing or even coaching the Ports exclusively is not his job, is probably not the most arduous thing ever.

Still, that’s something else, no? I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a coach ordering that kind of thing. And I am divided in my thinking about this.

On the one hand I understand Steverson’s rationale. You don’t want prospects getting hurt in such a situation. But more compelling to me is the counter argument: these games count and are supposed to be competitive. If the California League or, for that matter, Major or Minor League Baseball wanted them to solely be about player development and/or preservation, they’d suspend games that go beyond a set number of innings like they do in spring training.

So ok, Steverson, I get it.  But if you didn’t want to wind up in a situation where position players could get hurt pitching, maybe you need to manage your bullpen better and make some reliever wear one rather than make a mockery of the competition, however mild a mockery it might be.

Sean Manaea thought he was throwing a one hitter

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Tossing a no-hitter doesn’t just require physical excellence; it’s a mental feat, too. Which is why it may have helped that Athletics hurler Sean Manaea didn’t realize his no-hitter was intact until the eighth inning of Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Red Sox.

While the first few innings passed uneventfully, Sandy Leon managed to reach base in the fifth inning after skying a ball to shallow center field. It wasn’t a clean hit, of course — shortstop Marcus Semien dropped the ball on the catch and was promptly charged with an error to preserve Manaea’s no-hit bid.

That was news to Manaea, who told reporters that he didn’t realize he still had a no-hitter going until he saw the scoreboard in the eighth inning. “Until the eighth, I thought it just like was a one-hitter,” he said. “I looked up in the eighth and saw there were still zeros and was like, whoa, weird.” The delay of that realization may have calmed his nerves as he continued to blank the best team in baseball, eventually capping his 108-pitch, 10-strikeout effort in the ninth.

A few fun facts about the feat:

  • Manaea’s no-hitter was the 12th of its kind in franchise history, dating back to Weldon Henley’s no-no against the St. Louis Browns in 1905.
  • The most recent pitcher to do so for the A’s was fellow left-hander Dallas Braden, who completed the club’s second-ever perfect game against the Rays in 2010. Surprisingly, Manaea managed to make even more efficient use of his pitch count than Braden did during his perfecto; he fired just 108 pitches against the Red Sox, a hair under the 109 pitches used by Braden against the Rays.
  • Manaea himself, however, is just the seventh Athletics pitcher (and third lefty) to toss a no-hitter. Legendary southpaw Vida Blue pitched two no-nos for the team, including a combined no-hitter that also featured Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers against the 1975 California Angels.
  • Until Saturday, the Red Sox had the second-longest streak without being no-hit in the majors, at 3,987 games… a record that was only eclipsed by the A’s own streak.
  • With a 17-2 record and .895 winning percentage, the Red Sox were the most successful team to be no-hit in major-league history. Prior to Saturday’s loss, they averaged 6.4 runs per game and had yet to be shut out by any team in 2018.
  • Since 1908, 46 no-hitters have been pitched against AL East teams: four against the Blue Jays, five against the Rays, eight against the Yankees, 13 against the Red Sox and 16 against the Orioles. Mariners lefty Chris Bosio was the last pitcher to no-hit the Red Sox, a feat he accomplished almost exactly 25 years ago on April 22, 1993.