Don’t blame Albert Pujols; baseball’s best player over the last decade went 2-for-4 and hit his 30th homer Wednesday, yet the Angels lost their third straight to the A’s by a 4-1 score.
Pujols’ homer was his 30th of the season. He’s reached that mark all 12 seasons of his career, tying him with Jimmie Foxx for the third longest streak of all time. Only Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, who both recorded 13 straight 30-homer seasons, had longer streaks.
Pujols also tied Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 28th place on the all-time home run list at 475. Pujols was nicknamed “El Hombre” in St. Louis as a reference to “The Man” that preceded him as the Cardinals’ brightest star.
Still, for all the great company that Pujols is keeping, he’d surely rather be in Oakland’s place in the standings right now. A.J. Griffin shut out the Angels for eight innings tonight before Pujols homered to open the bottom of the ninth in a 4-0 game. The A’s held on from there to open up a 5 1/2-game lead over the Angels in the AL West, and they’ll go for a four-game sweep in Anaheim on Thursday.
At 82-60 with 20 games remaining, the A’s are three games behind the Rangers’ for the AL’s best record and the West lead. They are, however, in a commanding position in the wild card. They’re two games ahead of both the Orioles and Yankees, five games ahead of the Rays and seven games ahead of the Tigers. Two of those teams (or the aforementioned Angels) would have to pass them to deny the A’s a wild card spot.
As for the Angels, things look very dim now. Even if they salvage Wednesday’s game, they’d still be 4 1/2 back of the A’s, and with the other teams in the mix, they’d have a difficult path even if the A’s collapsed.
Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.
While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.
Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”
He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”
Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.
According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”
Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.