Red Sox play spoiler; Yankees, Orioles tied again

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Boston’s two remaining stars did their thing Tuesday, and the AL East is again all knotted at the top.

With the Orioles having already topped the Rays 9-2, the Red Sox got a game-winning single from Jacoby Ellsbury in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees 4-3.

Ellsbury ended up 4-for-5 on his 29th birthday, and Dustin Pedroia went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI for Boston.

The Yankees managed to work seven walks against Red Sox starter Jon Lester, but they settled for three runs, even though they had two on with none out in the first, third and sixth innings.

The game got freaky in the bottom of the seventh. Ryan Kalish started the frame with an ugly popup bunt single that fell in over the head of the pitcher but in front of Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Pedro Ciriaco then tried to sacrifice him along, only to reach first when catcher Russell Martin mishandled the bunt a foot in front of home plate (it almost certainly would have rolled foul given the backspin on the ball).

Mike Aviles then became the third straight Red Sox hitter to attempt a bunt, only to miss on two stabs. He struck out swinging. That was it for Hiroki Kuroda. Boone Logan came in and induced a grounder to the right side from Ellsbury, but he didn’t bother covering first because he thought Cano would play it, not the first baseman. He was wrong, and the Red Sox had the bases loaded with one out. Logan was pulled, but Joba Chamberlain came in from there and retired Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia to preserve a 3-3 tie.

The Yankees were stifled by the Red Sox pen from there. They finished with just six hits on the night, compared to 12 for Boston. David Robertson took his seventh loss when he gave up Ellsbury’s hit in the ninth.

Baltimore’s win was much easier than Boston’s. The Orioles scored off all five Rays pitchers on the night and handed rookie Matt Moore his 10th loss. J.J. Hardy was the star, going 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBI. Still, it may have been a costly loss for Baltimore, as starter Jason Hammel reinjured his knee in the fourth inning, forcing him to leave the game.

Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.

MLB umpires will wear white wristbands to protest “escalating verbal attacks”

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The World Umpires Association is dissatisfied with the punishment meted out to Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler following his lengthy criticism of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday. Kinsler’s comments were sparked by a confrontation on Monday night, when the infielder was ejected after arguing balls and strikes with Hernandez in the fifth inning.

“It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does,” Kinsler told reporters. “Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore. No one in this game wants you behind the plate any more, none of the players.”

Kinsler was fined an undisclosed amount for the remarks, but did not receive a suspension. Hernandez, meanwhile, returned to cover second base the next day and appeared to resolve the conflict with a brief conversation and a handshake.

Whether or not the comments speak to underlying truths about Major League Baseball’s flawed umpiring system, they clearly got under the skin of the World Umpires Association. The union released a statement Saturday condemning Major League Baseball for choosing to overlook the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue:

This week, a player publicly and harshly impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez – a veteran umpire who has dedicated his career to baseball and the community. The verbal attack on Angel denigrated the entire MLB umpiring staff and is unacceptable.

The Office of the Commissioner has failed to address this and other escalating attacks on umpires. The player who denigrated Hernandez publicly said he thought he would be suspended. Instead got far more lenient treatment – a fine. He shrugged that off and told reporters he has ‘no regrets’ about his offensive statements calling for an end to Hernandez’s career.

The Office of the Commissioner’s lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It’s ‘open season’ on umpires, and that’s bad for the game.

We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day. But the Office of the Commissioner must protect our integrity when we are unfairly attacked simply for doing our jobs.

Starting Saturday, umpires will don white wristbands in protest of the Commissioner’s lack of support, and will continue to do so until their concerns are addressed.

Kinsler’s comments may have been in poor taste, but given the established in-game ramifications for challenging an umpire’s decisions, it’s difficult to tell where the union wants MLB to start drawing the line. If players already face ejections for questioning the parameters of a strike zone (often immediate ones, without any room for a productive or non-confrontational discussion), it seems unfair to hit them with suspensions for venting their frustrations after the game. Until Major League Baseball finds a way to start automating calls, however, the “human element” of the game will continue to pose problems for players and umpires alike.