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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: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 27: Manager Mike Scioscia #14 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim talks with umpires Adam Hamari and Dan Bellino as he protests Raul Mondesi's #27 of the Kansas City Royals two-run bunt single in the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Hi folks. Sorry about being gone for a few days. I was in New York, a place for which the phrase “nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” was invented. It was nice to visit. I don’t want to live there. It’s like the people who say that know me.

Anyway, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 4, Indians 1: In nine of yesterday’s 15 games the losing team scored one run. Just warning you now, that’s gonna make for a lot of “[pitcher] tossed [X] [Y]-hit innings, allowing only [Z] runs . . .” summaries, with X being a number 6 or greater, Y being a number 6 or lower and Z being a value of 1 or 0. There could be a hit caveats addressed via “scattering” subroutine, but we’ll deal with that on a case-by-case basis. I realize that’s a lot of info you don’t need, but as I’ve been trying to automate “And That Happened” so it will live on forever, even past my death, these are the sorts of challenges I deal with. Anyway, Stephen Strasburg is the first to be plugged into this equation, having allowed zero runs on three hits over seven innings against the Tribe. He picked up his 14th win.

Marlins 11, Phillies 1: Here it was Adam Conley, tossing shutout ball into the seventh while scattering eight hits. He obviously had offensive help too, with Giancarlo Stanton providing enough for them to win the game with a first inning two-run homer followed by a lot of piling on. This from a team that was in an offensive drought just a couple of days ago.

Padres 8, Blue Jays 4Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots. The Padres have tied an NL record for consecutive games in which someone hit a homer. Because, of course, when you think “Padres” you think “power-hitting accomplishments.”

Tigers 4, Red Sox 3: I watched part of this game at a bar in LaGuardia waiting to fly home yesterday. Living in non-MLB cities for one’s entire adult life makes one forget that there are places where you don’t have to specifically ask for them to turn on a baseball game on the bar TV. Seriously, Columbus, Ohio sports bars will put on televised sports talk shows in which someone may mention college football in passing before showing the ballgame. All the better considering that the sound is off. And there’s nothing better than going into a bar in October and seeing five TVs with the random second-tier Thursday night Big West game and one with the frickin’ World Series on it. Anyway: Michael Fulmer pitched well until he ran out of gas on a hot afternoon, allowing the Sox to tie it late, but Miguel Cabrera saved the day with a ninth inning homer.

Rays 3, Dodgers 1: Matt Moore allowed one run in six and two-thirds but it was unearned thanks to it coming on a throwing error during a stolen base attempt. That error was by the catcher, Luke Maile, but he atoned with an RBI double in the fourth. Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer just before that.

Reds 2, Giants 1: Dan Straily outdueled Madison Bumgarner, allowing one run in seven and two-thirds to MadBum’s two — one earned — in eight. Jay Bruce‘s seventh inning homer broke the 1-1 tie in the seventh.

Rockies 3, Orioles 1: Jon Gray with one run over seven, allowing five hits. A pair of sixth inning homers from Nick Hundly and David Dahl were all the offense he needed.

Pirates 10, Mariners 1: Gerrit Cole pitched a three-hit, one run Maddux, needing only 94 pitches to do it. Andrew McCutchen and Jung Ho Kang each drove in four runs. It was pretty close until the seventh, but by then Cole could just throw it down the middle and dare the M’s to hit something. They didn’t.

Cardinals 5, Mets 4: Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong each hit RBI doubles in the ninth to rally the Cards from a run down. The Mets had their own rally in the seventh inning, scoring three to take the lead, capped by a Yoenis Cespedes homer off Adam Wainwright, but it was all for naught. This was Jeurys Familia‘s first blown save in almost a year. His streak began on July 30, 2015. Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact.

Cubs 8, White Sox 1: Another game that was close until late, at which point the Cubs broke out the boomsticks, getting homers from Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Addison Russell, whose bomb was a grand slam. Aroldis Chapman made his Cubs debut in a non-save situation. He struck out two of the three batters he faced and hit 103 on the gun. If the past few days have shown us anything it’s that Chapman tends to do best when he lets his pitching do the talking

Athletics 6, Rangers 4: Khris Davis homered twice, because that’s what Khris Davis does. This was his fifth multi-homer game this year. He has ten in his two full + two partial seasons. Both he and Coco Crisp hit two-run homers off of Matt Bush in the eighth. I guess if you’re Bush you can always say that whatever happened on the baseball field isn’t the worst thing to ever happen to you, but still, bad day for him.

Diamondbacks 8, Brewers 1: Yasmany Tomas had two homers and drove in five while Archie Bradley allowed one run over seven innings. The Brewers committed five errors, three by right fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis and two by shortstop Jonathan Villar. I’m sure that made Craig Counsell super happy.

Braves 9, Twins 7: Freddie Freeman homered, doubled and drove in five in a game in which he reached base five times. After the game Major League Baseball’s scheduler was put on trail in front of an international tribunal at The Hague for putting this series on the calendar.

Astros 4, Yankees 1: Lance McCullers allowed one run over six and struck out ten. Colby Rasmus hit a two-run homer in the Astros’ three-run third. The homer broke an 0-for-29 skid for Rasmus. Or briefly interrupted a 1-for__ skid if he goes on another slump. Baseball is weird like that. It never ends and it allows you to frame anything in almost any way.

Royals 7, Angels 5: The Angels took a lead into the bottom of the seventh, but Kansas City scored six runs in the seventh and eighth. It wasn’t the longball, though: Raul Mondesi hit two infield singles in those innings which plated three thanks to throwing errors and the inherit chaos of speed. The first one was a bunt single and it was Mondesi’s first big league hit. It occasioned an over six minute replay delay, however, as Mike Scioscia thought Modesi ran out of the baseline and interfered with the throw to first. When he lost the replay he protested the game. Afterward he said “I would not have protested if I was not 100 percent correct on this.” Guess we’ll see.

Cardinals snap Familia’s saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4

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NEW YORK — Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia‘s streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn’t blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker’s comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia’s franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save.

Including a split of Tuesday’s doubleheader, St. Louis took two of three from the Mets in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. It was only the second time in the past decade that the Cardinals have won a road series against the Mets.

Logan Verrett pitched seven efficient innings and slumping Neil Walker went 3 for 3 with a base on balls for the third-place Mets, who have alternated wins and losses in their last 13 games. They dropped 5 1/2 games behind NL East-leading Washington.

New York did manage to keep Gyorko and the rest of St. Louis’ hitters in the ballpark after the Cardinals had homered in 17 consecutive games – their longest streak since a club-record run of 19 games in 2006.

Gyorko went deep in both ends of Tuesday’s doubleheader, giving him seven homers in nine games.

Matt Holliday hit a two-run double off Verrett with two outs in the third, and Matt Adams followed with an RBI double that made it 3-1.

Wainwright, who entered 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in July, nursed that lead until the seventh – repeatedly pitching out of trouble. He nearly did so again after striking out Curtis Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera with runners at the corners.

But then Travis d'Arnaud scored on a wild pitch and Cespedes socked a two-run homer off the facing of the second deck in left-center on the 117th and final pitch from the 34-year-old Wainwright.