Ryan Dempster hits Alex Rodriguez with a fastball, umpire ejects Joe Girardi

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After the Red Sox took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, third baseman Alex Rodriguez led off the top of the second inning for the Yankees. Sox starter Ryan Dempster’s first pitch to Rodriguez was a fastball that went behind him towards his legs. Dempster’s next two pitches were waist-high inside, and on the fourth pitch Dempster plunked Rodriguez in the shoulder with a fastball. A very pleased Red Sox crowd became raucous, cheering in support of their pitcher. The benches cleared, but no punches were thrown.

Home plate umpire Brian O’Nora immediately issued warnings to both dugouts. An irate Joe Girardi stormed out of the Yankees dugout pleading for Dempster to be ejected. Instead, Girardi was tossed and the game resumed with Dempster allowed to continue his outing despite the rather obvious intent of his previous four pitches. Yankees starter CC Sabathia did not retaliate on behalf of Rodriguez.

On Friday, Red Sox starter John Lackey told the media that he thinks A-Rod shouldn’t be playing baseball. Girardi fired back, telling Lackey that if he doesn’t like A-Rod’s right to play while he appeals his 211-game suspension, he should help negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.

Personal battles aside, this is an important game for both teams. At the moment, the 73-52 Red Sox have a tenuous 1.5-game lead over the second-place Rays in the AL East while the 63-59 Yankees are just 6.5 games out of the second Wild Card in the American League.

Update: Here’s a .gif of the first and fourth pitches of the at-bat, courtesy @Triples_Alley.

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.