Overcoming Torre is Team USA’s biggest win yet

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Four sacrifice bunt attempts in one game.

I’d be pretty disgusted if it were the Marlins trying such a thing to beat the Mets in mid-August. But, no, that’s what Team USA did on Sunday on its way to topping Canada 9-4.

Technically, it will go into the books at three sacrifice bunt attempts, since Shane Victorino merely fouled back his one attempt before later striking out in the seventh. The first two were successful, the second especially so. The first, coming in the second, was put down by Adam Jones with two on and none out. No runs followed, though. Ben Zobrist’s bunt in the fourth resulted in a Taylor Green error, scoring a run and opening the door for a two-run inning.

The last bunt was a huge flop, with Zobrist popping one up for the first out in the eighth. Fortunately, Jones bailed the team out afterwards, delivering a two-run double to put Team USA on top for good.

So, yes, everything worked out in the end. Even though Joe Torre’s team tried to give away four outs. Even though Giancarlo Stanton, the country’s (and maybe the world’s) best power hitter, sat out in favor of Shane Victorino. Even though Torre was more worried about making sure everyone got into the game than trying to win it.

And that last part may be the biggest problem of all. Joe Torre works for Major League Baseball. He made commitments to teams in return for acquiring the services of players. While the managers of Japan and the Dominican Republic are doing the best they can, within the WBC’s pitcher usage rules, to win their games, Torre is going above and beyond; making sure everyone gets a turn, not using a reliever after he’s already warmed up once and not letting any of his true relievers pitch more than an inning.

Of course, Torre isn’t exactly a tactical genius even when he doesn’t have to deal with such limitations. Witness today’s eighth-inning gem to intentionally walk light-hitting left-hander Pete Orr in a 5-4 game to load the bases for a left-handed-hitting pinch-hitter. Given that it meant a walk could force in a run, I doubt it improved the U.S.’s chances of staying ahead in the eighth. What it definitely did do is guarantee that Joey Votto would bat in the ninth, with Justin Morneau due up fourth, something that might have made a big difference had the U.S. offense not finally found itself and, absent any sac bunt attempts, piled on four runs in the top of the inning.

At age 73, this is probably Torre’s last time in a dugout. He was pretty close to a Hall of Famer as a player and he’s certainly going in as a manager after all of his success with the Yankees. And deservedly so. It’d be a nice victory lap for him if Team USA could somehow win the World Baseball Classic in its third try. Torre, though, needs to back off a bit, because he’s really hurting the cause right now.

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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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.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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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.