And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Athletics 12, Rangers 5: Oakland shocks the world. No one on the planet had them pegged as a playoff team and, as recently as a week ago, no one figured they had a chance in hell at the division crown. Well, that’s what you get for pegging and figuring. As for the Rangers … just, dude, the Rangers. Losers of seven of nine down the stretch. They looked positively shell-shocked in this game. I know there is no correlation between how a season ends and how a team does in the playoffs but, man, this was ugly city.

Yankees 14, Red Sox 2:  God job, Boston. Good effort. Unless, rather than just a totally listless and mailed-in performance, your rolling over like this was really a calculated thing in which you served up you revenge to Baltimore for beating you to close out 2011’s collapse.

Rays 4, Orioles 1: Evan Longoria loves game 162. Three homers here to follow up last year’s heroics. As for Baltimore, it was remarkable that they made it all the way to the last day of the season with a shot at the division. There is no shame in taking the wild card. Now, on to face a Rangers team that looks like it’s suffering from PTSD.

Tigers 1, Royals 0: Miguel Cabrera: .330, 44, 139. Triple Crown. And the Tigers: the best rested of all of the AL playoff teams despite the fact that they have the worst record of them all. Viva divisions.

Nationals 5, Phillies 1: The Nats clinch home field throughout the playoffs. Teddy wins. What a festive day. Even better? Pouty Phillies! Jimmy Rollins:

“With us healthy, they’re a second-place team”

And if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.

White Sox 9, Indians 0: Dan Johnson: all he does is hit home runs in game 162. Really, that’s all he’s done for two years now. Three bombs last night. His first three of the year.

Braves 4, Pirates 0: Let the record reflect that Chipper Jones ended his career (regular season version) with a pinch hit single to right. Let it also reflect that Ben Sheets ended his with a scoreless inning. Beyond that the Braves emptied the pen and won their 20th of 30 to close out the season.

Mariners 12, Angels 0: Casper Wells drives in five. Every Mariner batter in the starting lineup scored at least one run.

Cubs 5, Astros 4: Because of course the Astros had to lose their 107th and final game — and their final NL game — in a walkoff loss. I guess some folks may look to the fact that Houston started respectably and ended winning 15 of 30 to say “hey, it’s not so bad,” but c’mon guys, it’s bad. Here’s hoping Bo Porter and a move to the AL give everyone a new beginning down there.

Mets 4, Marlins 2: It’s all over now everyone. The pain will stop until next spring. Ike Davis hit his 32nd homer.

Cardinals 1, Reds 0: Homer Bailey, alas, was unable to pull off the old Johnny Vander Meer. Matt Carpenter singled in a run and Shelby Miller tossed six shutout innings against a mostly resting Reds roster.

Dodgers 5, Giants 1: Clayton Kershaw finishes with the ERA crown. That’s something. He also finished a lone strikeout behind R.A. Dickey for the second jewel of the pitcher’s Triple Crown. Maybe next year he’ll learn how to win, however, and regain his Cy Young form.

Blue Jays 2, Twins 1: Next year will be the fist season since 1988 without Omar Vizquel in the major leagues. That is all.

Rockies 2, Diamondbacks 1: An NL West crown is followed by a .500 season. And before the NL West crown season, they were just putrid. The Arizona Diamondbacks are like a box of chocolates.

Padres 7, Brewers 6: This was the last game to end last night. And with it the 2012 major league regular season.

And, as it always does, its end makes me sad. I love the playoffs, of course, but they’re not the regular season.  Baseball to me has always been best as a constant, low-leverage thing where no one game matters too terribly much and, if we don’t like it, another game will come along the next day. It’s beautiful background music as we go about our lives from April through September.  The playoffs are …  something else.

Thanks for stopping by every morning during the long slow walk.

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.