And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

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Tigers 7, Athletics 6: Torii Hunter walks off the Tigers who came back from a 6-1 deficit. A 6-3 deficit in the ninth. All while losing Miguel Cabrera mid-game. Now, starting pitching, please stop requiring Tigers bats to bail you out all the time.

Orioles 3, Red Sox 2: Baltimore avoids the sweep and pulls to within three and a half of the wild card. Chris Tillman with his 15th win. Out of context quote from Buck Showalter after the game: “September’s an eternity.” Going down to the art house tonight to see some experimental French film in which people struggle with the meaninglessness of existence and the knowledge of their own mortality. It features Buck Showalter uttering that line at the end of scene breaks. He’s in black and white. Everyone else is in color. He’s also wearing sad clown makeup. You have to see the whole thing to understand.

Mariners 3, Astros 2: Talk about struggling with the meaninglessness of existence. That’s the very essence of an August 29th Mariners-Astros game, yes? Maybe there’s hope for Seattle in this existential struggle now that their six-game skid is over. Franklin Guitierrez had three hits including a two-run homer. Afterward Eric Wedge wondered what might have been had Gutierrez been around all year. This is the story of Gutierrez’s entire career, of course. Which means that Wedge here is essentially — and futilely — bargaining with the very idea of inevitability. I think that one opens tomorrow, though, so I have to go to the theater again rather than catch it as a twin bill with Showalter’s thing.

Braves 3, Indians 1: The sweep. Kris Medlen tossed seven shutout innings. I feel like every good pitching performance for the past week has been “seven shutout innings for ____.” Which, fine, I like good pitching. I just need someone to mix in an eight shutout innings or a three-inning, eight run meltdown complete with a manager having an outburst to the press afterward. Brian McCann hit a three-run homer. Justin Upton left the game after being hit on the hand. Good thing his brother plays on the same team and can provide a compatible donor hand if necessary.

Brewers 4, Pirates 0: Yovani Gallardo had [all together now] seven shutout innings. Seven shutout innings is the new black.

Angels 2, Rays 0: Oh, look: Jason Vargas had seven shutout innings. See what I mean? Tampa Bay has lost four of five, and the Angels have won five of six. Problem is the team losing these games is in the wild card race.

Mets 11, Phillies 3: Carlos Torres takes Matt Harvey’s slot in the rotation and does just fine. Ethan Matin takes his usual slot and gets hammered. Daniel Murphy had four hits. Anthony Recker hit a two-run homer.

Nationals 9, Marlins 0: Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond each had three-run homers and Gio Gonzalez tossed seven shutout innings. Eight of nine wins for the Nats, who are now six and a half back of the second wild card. It’s still a tough task — even if the Reds go .500 the rest of the way and the Dbacks fall off the map Washington has to go 22-7 — but this is a nice little surge.

Royals 3, Twins 1: Five in a row for the Royals who have been so very hot and cold this season. That puts them six back of the A’s. Problem is, there are three teams ahead of the Royals who are also chasing Oakland.

Rob Manfred is prepared to implement a pitch clock unilaterally for 2018

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Rob Manfred has long been on record wanting to speed up the pace of play in baseball and, to that end, last year proposed a 20-second pitch clock. Pursuant to baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, he could not implement that unilaterally last year. However if, one year after a proposed rules change, no agreement can be reached with the union, he has the power to impose the originally-proposed change unilaterally.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says today that he is prepared to do just that — imposing that pitch clock and a rule limiting mound visits — for the 2018 season. He further says that the players might very well allow him to do that, despite the fact that they and Manfred are currently negotiating an agreed set of rule changes.

Why? Because, Rosenthal says, if they step aside and let Manfred do it by himself and the rules changes prove unpopular, he’ll take the blame for it:

If enough players oppose the changes, they could absolve themselves of responsibility and allow Manfred to force the issue by introducing the two key elements of MLB’s plan: a 20-second pitch clock and reduction in mound visits. The onus then would be on Manfred to deal with any public fallout and unintended consequences the new rules might trigger.

I’m not sure, based on the story itself, if that’s just Rosenthal’s speculation or if it’s actually a potential union strategy to do nothing and let Manfred own the rules changes. If it’s the latter, though, it’s a monumentally stupid strategy. For a few reasons.

The first and biggest reason is that it is not a union’s job to play public relations games. It’s a union’s job to make workplace conditions as good as possible for its membership via bargaining. Rob Manfred is required to engage with the union on these rules changes for a limited time and is doing so, apparently in good faith. The union, while not possessing great leverage here, has at least some ability to put its two cents in on a rule that impacts all of its members and could, conceivably, make the rules a bit better for them. Barring that, they could at least attempt to obtain some sort of concession in another area in order to get their agreement to the rule. Blowing the chance to have input on work rules because of a chance to win a public relations fight is an abdication of responsibility for a labor union.

Second: there is not going to be any sort of public relations win for the union regardless of what happens. Indeed, to even think there could be one is to ignore what has happened with every rules change in baseball history and how they have played with the public.

No matter how much some people complain about a change in baseball — and some people love to complain — most folks eventually get used them. The DH rule just celebrated its 50th anniversary. People moan, but it’s just part of life. Same with interleague play and divisional realignment and expanded playoffs and no-pitch intentional walks and the takeout slide rules and everything else. The complaints about such things are loud, but they’re not deeply felt or widely felt by any but a handful of self-proclaimed traditionalists. The game chugs on and most people get used to it without there ever being the kind of P.R. fallout that puts egg on the league’s face or which puts the players in some better light. If the pitch clock rule is imposed, people will complain a lot and lot of ink will be spilled about it, but it won’t do anything to substantially harm the league let alone help the players.

That speaks to a larger historical lesson about public relations and players, of course: they’re almost always going to be seen as the bad guys by fans, no matter what they do.

Owners abused their power for a century and fans didn’t care. Starting in the 1960s, when the players finally began to effectively assert their leverage, the players were cast as greedy mercenaries. An owner gives out a foolishly large contract and the player is blamed for taking it. The owners band together in an illegal scheme to harm the players’ interest and the owner who orchestrated it is inducted into the Hall of Fame. The DH rule gets imposed and players who excel as designated hitters are viewed poorly by the writers and the public when it comes time to consider their Hall of Fame case. A new rule gets implemented to deal with slides and it’s not “The Rob Manfred slide rule” it’s “The Chase Utley Rule.” The players are the visible ones. They bear the brunt of just about anything that happens.

Which is to say, if the pitch clock creates some weird situations or controversies, the players involved in those situations and controversies are going to be the ones to take the blame. Just imagine a Dodgers-Giants game that turns on some weirdness involving Madison Bumgarner taking too long to deliver a pitch to Yasiel Puig, forcing in the walkoff run. Imagine that both Bumgarner and Puig saying the other was to blame. Imagine that the umpires messed up the application of the rule. You think Rob Manfred is going to catch hell for it as opposed to the players and the umpires involved? Hell no. Giants fans will yell that Puig did something that should’ve caused the clock to be reset. Dodgers fans will blame Bumgarner for taking too long. It’ll dominate the news for a couple of days but it won’t be the league and its owners taking crap for it.

Against that backdrop, why in the heck would the union try to win some P.R. battle? Screw the P.R. battle. Union leadership — including Tony Clark and the player reps — should negotiate for the best rules possible for the players they represent and let the public relations chips fall where they may.

Will they do that? Based on how the last few management-labor battles have gone, I don’t have a lot of confidence. In recent years the union has seemed far more focused on relatively short term and picayune concerns while trying not to look like the bad guys to fans. Meanwhile, the meat and potatoes labor issues which sometimes require a union to take unpopular stances in the long term, big picture interests of the players have been dominated by the owners. Ask the free agents who can’t find a team because the luxury tax is far lower, compared to revenues, now than it was 15 years ago and is serving as a defacto salary cap. Ask the guys who are being lowballed because of the qualifying offer.

It appears as though we’ll have a pitch clock in 2018 one way or another. The players need to decide pretty quickly if they’re going to have some say in that process or if they’re going to allow themselves to be marginalized in the management of the game even more than they already have been.