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Fernando Martinez and the Astros show why the World Baseball Classic still has so far to go

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Fernando Martinez stands as one of several players in the mix to make the Houston Astros’ outfield. But he has more up against him in that quest than just competition from Rick Ankiel, Justin Maxwell, J.D. Martinez and Brandon Barnes. He has up against him his participation in the World Baseball Classic, where he will play for Spain.

His general manager, Jeff Luhnow, admitted as much. From Brian McTaggart’s story at Astros.com:

“The big challenge is … a guy like Fernando Martinez, who’s trying to make our club, [being] gone for an extended period of time. I think that potentially hurts him, even if he does well in the Classic,” Luhnow said. “It hurts him because he’s not there with our coaches, being seen firsthand. It makes it a little bit more difficult. The fact he’s playing for Spain means he’s not going to be gone the whole month. Nothing against Spain, but they’re not likely to make it past the first round.”

I understand that we’re supposed to be all-in on the World Baseball Classic and that players who don’t take it seriously have the wrong attitude and are otherwise “idle heroes,”** but I’m sorry: if a general manager for a baseball team is saying that participating in it is going to have negative implications for you, you should not be playing in the WBC. If I’m Martinez’s agent I have him call the Spanish manager, say “smell you later,” and make sure my client’s butt is in Osceola County Stadium from the first day of Spring Training until the team breaks camp so as to give him the best chance to win a job.

As for what this says about the Classic itself, yes, I acknowledge that Martinez is a borderline major leaguer at best, and I acknowledge that Morosi’s point yesterday was that the big stars should be participating, not the Fernando Martinez’s of the world. But this little example is still telling with respect to the WBC’s true place in the baseball hierarchy and still explains why many big stars, quite understandably, choose not to participate.

For one thing, for Spain anyway, Fernando Martinez is a big star. He’s the best they can do in their outfield. And if the WBC is to become what Morosi and everyone who rah-rahs it wants it to be, every team has to put its best possible lineup out there. Watching all the American, Japanese, Korean, Cuban and Dominican superstars trounce the relatively empty rosters of other teams — which is what will happen if Jeff Luhnow’s sentiments are shared by GMs of other players like Martinez — will not turn this into the World Cup Part Deux, which is the ultimate aim Morosi and those who think like him about the WBC want it to be. It will keep it as a curious exhibition, best ignored until the late rounds at the most.

But more broadly, this little episode reveals that the teams and executives don’t value the WBC anywhere close to how they value the MLB season, even if they’re strongly encouraged to say they do by Major League Baseball and strongly wished to by WBC backers like Morosi. That has direct consequences for guys like Martinez, but you can’t tell me that superstars aren’t impacted by this too. They want to win in the MLB season and they want to be on the same page as their manager, their coaches and, yes, their front office.  No, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper won’t lose their jobs if they don’t play for Team USA, but it’s bleedin’ obvious that they have greater priorities and, if forced to be truthful, Jerry Dipoto and Mike Rizzo would prefer them to be in camp all spring rather than playing in the WBC.

It is not a lack of patriotism or a poor attitude that keeps all the superstars from playing in the WBC. It is the disconnect — the tremendous, tremendous gulf between the importance of the MLB season and the importance of the WBC — that keeps all the superstars from participating. And, contrary to what Morosi and other say, this gulf cannot be crossed merely by putting a nation’s colors on the uniform and simply asserting that it matters for flag and country.

**An earlier version of this post characterized Jon Paul Morosi’s criticism of players who do not participate in the WBC as one based on the players’ lack of patriotism. My reason for saying so was that it was my view, based on the entirety of his column, that he was, in fact, questioning players’ patriotism even if he did not intend to.  

In the past few hours Morosi and I have had an offline discussion in which he explained what he was getting at with yesterday’s column. Rather than lack of patriotism, he explained, he was criticizing the attitude of players who have an “insufficient perspective and awareness” of their obligations and the importance of the WBC.  While Morosi and I still likely disagree about all of this, I appreciate that questioning the patriotism of others is a serious charge and that, whatever my takeaway from Morosi’s column was, it was not his intention to do such a thing.

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 26: Cleveland Indians player celebrate clinching the Central Division Championship after defeating the Detroit Tigers 7-4 at Comerica Park on September 26, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Marlins 7, Mets 3: Giancarlo Stanton exhorting his teammates to “play the game like Jose would play the game.” The club kneeling in prayer beforehand. Dee Gordon’s right-handed hitting tribute and dramatic home run. A team which had every reason to be lost in a fog playing dominant baseball. Leaving their caps on the mound after the game. It was moving and sad but simultaneously triumphant and uplifting. A reminder of how beloved a teammate and person Jose Fernandez was to those who knew him. A reminder that people play this game and their personal bonds are tighter than we usually acknowledge.

Diamondbacks 14, Nationals 4: One of many routs last night. Here. Cubs over Pirates. Reds over Cardinals. Clinton over Trump. It’s almost as if one side showed up prepared and ready to play and the other side was clearly overmatched and out of their depth. At least the baseball teams get to do this 161 other times rather than have it be a mere three games. Oh well. Here Yasmany Tomas drove in five with a three-run homer and an RBI double. Jean Segura homered twice, driving in three. If the loss wasn’t bad enough, losing Wilson Ramos to a knee injury is something that could severely impact the Nationals’ prospects in the playoffs. Just as disastrous night all around.

Cubs 12, Pirates 2: Chicago picks up its 100th win of the year thanks in large part to a huge night from Javier Baez who drove in six with a grand slam and a two-run single. Meanwhile Kyle Hendricks continued to make his Cy Young case, scattering seven hits across six scoreless innings while watching his ERA sink to 1.99 and picking up his 16th win.

Yankees 7, Blue Jays 5: Maturity abounds as Luis Severino hit Josh Donaldson, the Jays throw at Chase Headley in retaliation and then the Yankees throw at Justin Smoak in retaliation for the retaliation. Based on the video and the game situation it did not appear as if Dondaldson was hit intentionally, but big macho baseball men gotta be big macho baseball men. After Headley was hit the Yankees had to put their big macho baseball men pants on too, apparently. They’re lucky no one was hurt. Luis Severino and J.A. Happ will almost certainly face fines or suspensions. As for the game, Mark Teixeira hit a tying homer in the ninth inning, flipping his bat and then jawing from his dugout, yelling “blown save!” to Jason Grilli. Aaron Hicks subsequently hit a two-run homer and the Yankees’ four-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth was too much for the Jays to overcome.

Indians 7, Tigers 4: The Indians clinch the AL Central, but it wasn’t all champagne and Budweiser, as ace Corey Kluber had to leave the game with groin tightness. Assuming he’s given an off day for what would’ve been his final start he’ll get a good week and a half or so of rest if he needs it before the ALDS starts. Coco Crisp and Roberto Perez homered for the Indians, and Jason Kipnis doubled in a run. The Tigers are now two games back of the idle Orioles in the Wild Card.

Brewers 8, Rangers 3Jonathan Villar homered twice and had a career-high five RBI as the Brewers put the Rangers a game back in the loss column of the Red Sox for home field advantage in the playoffs.

White Sox 7, Rays 1Justin Morneau and Carlos Sanchez each hit a two-run homer and James Shields won his first game in two months. He’s 4-11 since coming over from San Diego.

Mariners 4, Astros 3: Robinson Cano homered in the top of the 11th to give the M’s the win. He hit a homer in the third inning too. The victory moves Seattle into a tie with Detroit, two games behind Baltimore for the second AL Wild Card. Houston has droppd four of five,and is now three and a half games back in the race.

Reds 15, Cardinals 2: Cincinnati jumped out to a 10-0 lead by the top of the fourth. Four homers from the Reds, two from Adam Duvall, who was 4-for-6 with five RBI on the night. The Cards are one game out of Wild Card position behind the Giants now.

Angels 2, Athletics 1: The clubs exchanged solo shots — Mike Trout for the Angels, Steven Vogt for the A’s — but the tie was broken by Albert Pujols‘ run-scoring groundout in the eighth.

Marlins defeat the Mets, then pay their respects to Jose Fernandez on the pitcher’s mound

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Miami Marlins players all wearing jerseys bearing the number 16 and name Fernandez honor the late Jose Fernandez before the game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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The Marlins were somehow able to muster up the strength not only to play Monday night’s game against the Mets, but also win it convincingly one day after losing Jose Fernandez in a tragic boating accident. The Marlins and Mets helped pay tribute to Fernandez prior to the start of the game as outlined here.

When the game started, the Marlins came out of the gate with a bang. Dee Gordon homered in his first at-bat, then the club hung a four-spot in the second inning. They tacked on two more in the third inning to chase starter Bartolo Colon and take a commanding 7-0 lead. The Mets chipped away for two runs in the fifth on an Asdrubal Cabrera two-run homer and tacked on one more in the eighth, but ultimately fell short by a 7-3 margin.

Gordon finished 4-for-5 with the homer and two RBI. Justin Bour went 3-for-3 with a single, double, triple, and a walk along with an RBI and two runs scored.

A.J. Ramos, who closed out the win, placed the ball on the pitcher’s mound for Fernandez. The Marlins huddled around the mound and said a prayer. The players huddled closer to the rubber on the mound, then left their hats behind as they retreated to the clubhouse as fans at Marlins Park chanted, “Jose, Jose, Jose.”

In a post-game interview, Gordon called his first-inning home run “the best moment of my life,” as NBC 6 Sports reports.