Puerto Rico starter Nelson Figueroa was in top form in an elimination game tonight against the United States. The well-traveled right-hander tossed six shut-out innings, holding the opposition to four base runners on two hits, one walk, and one error. He was staked to an early 1-0 lead when Mike Aviles hit a two-out RBI single to right in the top of the first, setting the tone.
U.S. starter Ryan Vogelsong was otherwise solid through five and two-third innings, allowing one runner on a walk in the sixth before being taken out in favor of reliever Vinnie Pestano. It was not Pestano’s night. He immediately surrendered a single to Aviles, then walked Alex Rios to load the bases. No matter what he did, he could not find the strike zone. He walked Carlos Rivera to force in a run, bolstering Puerto Rico’s lead to 2-0. Andy Gonzalez put the exclamation point on the offensive surge with a two-out, two-run double to left, chasing Pestano in the process. Jeremy Affeldt came in to get the final out of the inning, but it was too late.
With Figueroa out of the game in the bottom of the seventh, the U.S. finally got on the board against reliever Giovanni Soto. Joe Mauer tripled with one out and was promptly plated on a Giancarlo Stanton single to left. Adam Jones struck out looking — on a questionable judgment by home plate umpire Mark Wegner, it should be noted — representing the tying run with runners on first and second and two outs to end the threat.
The U.S. wouldn’t go down without a fight. Against Jose De La Torre, the U.S. strung together three consecutive hits — two singles and a double — to bring the score to 4-2. Xavier Cedeno came in to relieve De La Torre and walked Joe Mauer before being quickly lifted. The right-handed Fernando Cabrera came on for the favorable platoon match-up against Stanton and got him to pop up, preventing any runner advancement. However, he then walked Zobrist to force in a run and bring the game to 4-3. Puerto Rico brought in its fourth pitcher of the inning, lefty J.C. Romero. Romero got Eric Hosmer to ground out, squelching the threat at long last.
Romero came back out for the ninth, striking out Adam Jones and Shane Victorino, and getting Jimmy Rollins to fly out to center field to seal the 4-3 victory for Puerto Rico.
With the loss, the U.S. is eliminated from the Classic. The win keeps Puerto Rico’s hopes alive as they will play the Dominican Republic at 1 PM EST tomorrow for the right to play the Netherlands in the semifinals at AT&T Park in San Francisco on March 18.
Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.
The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?
Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.
The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.
I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.
ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.
MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.
Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.
Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: