Adam Wainwright follows the rules and pays the price

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MINNEAPOLIS — Baseball has so many crazy unwritten rules that it’s really almost impossible to keep up. For instance, if you ask Hall of Famer Joe Morgan about a moment in baseball he really regrets, he will likely talk about the time he swung for the fences on a 3-0 pitch against an aging Jim Palmer with a seven-run lead. That’s not something you or I would have likely noticed, but the way Morgan sees it that just wasn’t respectful to a great pitcher. After the game, he apologized to Palmer, who Morgan says both understood and accepted the apology.

Here’s another one: One time, the legendary Stan Musial was picked off second base. Later he went over to the second baseman who tagged him out and said: “Don’t ever embarrass me like that again.”

And one more: Pete Rose had a 44-game hitting streak ended in a 16-4 loss against Atlanta. After the game, he ripped the Braves pitchers — particularly closer Gene Garber — for not throwing him fastballs. I’ve been stunned how many people I’ve talked to in baseball who think Rose actually had a point.

Yes, there are unwritten rules.

And so, when St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright threw a 91-mph fastball over the plate against Derek Jeter to lead off the All-Star Game Tuesday night in Minnesota, and Jeter cranked that pitch to right field, I immediately texted a friend: “He totally grooved that pitch.” Well, it seemed obvious. He was utterly following the unwritten rules of the game.

[ MORE: Wainwright admits grooving pitch to Derek Jeter ]

What was the point of this night, anyway? It was to celebrate the legend of Derek Jeter. It was respectful and joyous and over the top. Before the first pitch, the National League catcher and umpire backed away from home plate to give him the full stage. Cheers rained down, and he waved his helmet uncomfortably, and it lasted for a long time. Later, Jeter had another moment when he came off the field.

So what was Wainwright going to do for this game? Throw the curveball that embarrassed Carlos Beltran? No, he was going to throw a fastball over the plate. Now, before going any further into this, we should define what a major league “grooved fastball” really is. A grooved fastball is not a batting practice fastball. It’s not anything improper. It’s a style of pitching, something pitchers will do sometimes when they have a lead, something pitchers will do when they are trying to conserve pitches, something pitchers will often do when facing hitters at the bottom of the lineup. Pitchers know: It’s not that easy for someone to hit a 91-mph fastball.

All Wainwright was doing there, in my opinion, was pitching Jeter exactly as he should considering the moment and the game. Let’s face it: He wasn’t going to try and trick Jeter. He wasn’t going to try and break him down and strike him out. This was Derek Jeter’s last All-Star Game, and Wainwright (like any other pitcher, I suspect) was going to throw a 90-or-so mph fastball over the plate and see if Jeter could hit it.* On this night, it turns out, he could hit it for a double.

*It is worth noting that afterward Jeter called it a “98-mph two-seamer that stayed on really good.” It was actually a 91-mph four-seamer that stayed up. It’s always fun to see the way hitters describe the pitches they hit.

[ MORE: Watch Derek Jeter’s pregame speech to the AL All-Stars ]

As it turned out, Wainwright didn’t have it Tuesday night. He gave up a triple to Mike Trout — Jeter came around to score — and a home run to Miguel Cabrera. That was a three-run American League inning. The American League won the game by two runs, 5-3.

Anyway, that double was a cool moment for Jeter, for the fans, for baseball. He scorched a major league fastball to right, ran it out; hey, it’s the bleeping All-Star Game and that’s what this is supposed to be about.

Only two things happened that kind of created a minor mess.

One of those things happened Tuesday, shortly after the Jeter hit. Wainwright admitted he grooved the fastball. Wainwright’s a good guy, a stand-up guy, a thoughtful and fun guy –and it’s clear that he simply did not see how his comments would come out. “I was going to give him a couple of pipe shots,” he said, referring to pitches down-the-pipe. “I just thought he deserved it. I didn’t know he was going to hit a double or I would have changed my mind.”

Wainwright was doing what Wainwright does, just talking from gut, having a little fun, being self-deprecating. But this quote was about to go into the Twitterverse, and it was not going to look good there. Stripped of the context, the history, the way baseball turned the game into a Derek Jeter Love Fest, it sounded like Wainwright was saying that he purposely laid down. I don’t think he did that at all. He threw a fastball over the plate and challenged Jeter to hit it.

Worse for Wainwright, though, in short form it also sounded like he was disrespecting Jeter, suggesting that Jeter is some kind of charity case whose greatness has earned him the right to have fastballs grooved to him in the All-Star Game. Again, I feel sure this wasn’t at all what Wainwright intended to say. But he said the words.

[ MORE: Derek Jeter’s final All-Star game ends in fourth inning ]

After that, he went on FOX to try and salvage something by backtracking and, unfortunately, by bashing social media. I felt terrible for him, but he knows as well as anyone that this is the world we live in. If you say what people see as the wrong thing at the wrong time, the backlash is fierce and it’s immediate. Wainwright knew that before Tuesday night.

The second thing that messed things up, though, actually happened a dozen years ago. That was the All-Star Game tie. It was such an embarrassment for the game that Bud Selig and company decided they had to do something drastic, something to make the All-Star Game count — “This Time It Counts” was even their slogan — and so they decided to give the league that won the All-Star Game home-field advantage in the World Series.

On the surface, this wasn’t such a bad idea — after all, before the change home-field advantage was simply alternated — one year the American League would get it, the next year the National League would get it – and that’s obviously ridiculous. So, sure, tying it to the All-Star Game was random but no more random than the previous system.

Only, that’s wrong. It IS more random. The All-Star Game doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares who wins. Nobody plays to win. Nobody manages to win. Starting pitchers go one inning. The best players sit. Every team sends at least one player. You don’t have to say anything other than this: Derek Jeter started in the All-Star Game even though he has an anemic .322 slugging percentage this year. That’s because the All-Star Game is not a game. It’s a show, it’s a celebration, it’s for fun.

By throwing in this ridiculous home-field advantage twist, the game now is less fun. Adam Wainwright throws fastballs to Derek Jeter because it’s his last All-Star Game. Now, Game 7 of the World Series will be in Oakland or Detroit or Anaheim or Baltimore or Toronto or, dare I say it, Kansas City? How is that good for the game in any way? It would actually make MORE sense to have the game somewhere because it’s an even-numbered year.

Wainwright may have sparked the pipe-shot mess with what he said after he pitched. But he was just doing what baseball players have been doing forever — treating the great older players with respect they have earned. Bud Selig and the people of baseball caused the mess by attaching too much meaning to a game that doesn’t count, shouldn’t count and never will count.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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We’re getting closer to having no games that matter. As it stands after yesterday’s action:

  • The Cubs’ magic number to clinch the NL Central is 1;
  • The Twins’ magic number to clinch the Wild Card is 2;
  • The Red Sox’ magic number to clinch the AL East is 3;
  • The Rockies’ magic number to clinch the Wild Card is 5;
  • The Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the top seed in the NL is 2; and
  • The Indians magic number to clinch the top seed in the AL is 5.

What I’m saying is, feel free to make plans next Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Anyway: Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 11, Royals 3: All Rise. Aaron Judge hit his 49th and 50th homers of the season, tying and then breaking Mark McGwire’s single season rookie home run record. Which, now that I write that out I realize is redundant because anything a rookie does is, by definition, a single season event. Anyway: even if the games don’t matter a ton in the next few days, we can get a head start on what will likely be a very exhaustion “Judge vs. Altuve” MVP debate. And yes, let’s keep it to those parameters, because it really pisses off the Jose Ramirez and Mike Trout fans and they’re adorable.

Braves 9, Mets 2; Mets 3, Braves 2: A late September game between the Mets and the Braves is already an exercise in existential dread. A doubleheader between them seems like cruel and unusual punishment. The game story should be written by Franz Kafka with illustrations by Junji Ito. As it was, in the first game Braves starter Lucas Sims had a nice outing, pitching into the seventh and allowing only two runs. There’s some hope for 2018. In the nightcap, Seth Lugo pitched two-hit ball over six innings and Travis d'Arnaud hit the Mets’ 219th homer of the season, setting a club record. Sadly, the Big Apple in the outfield couldn’t get it up for the occasion. Look, no one was excited about this series, but you have a job to do Apple.

Nationals 3, Phillies 1Michael Taylor hit a two-run homer and Jayson Werth knocked in the other Nats run on a fielder’s choice. Starter A.J. Cole allowed one run while pitching into the sixth inning. The Nats only question for the next week is when Bryce Harper will be activated.

Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 4: Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three, snapping the Sox’ six-game winning streak. The loss is OK — Boston is gonna win the division — but some bad news came in the form of Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts each living with injuries. Nunez aggravated his right knee injury that has caused him to miss time and Betts had pain in his left wrist. Neither seem super serious but there will be updates today.

Astros 11, Rangers 2: This is that series that the Rangers didn’t want to move to Houston in exchange for playing last month’s series against the Astros in Arlington in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Paid attendance was over 30,000 but there were nowhere near as many butts in the seats. Oh well. Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBI. Joey Gallo hit a homer. The next batter up was Carlos Gomez, who was brushed back by a Colin McHugh pitch which McHugh said wasn’t intentional but probably was. Benches cleared but nothing came of it. Later Jose Altuve was hit and came out of the game but he seems to have nothing more than a bruised forearm.

White Sox 4, Angels 2: James Shields allowed two runs over seven innings. Nicky Delmonico drove in two. Those were his first RBI in over a week, so you might say Delmonico was in . . . rare form.

Cubs 10, Cardinals 2: Addison Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning. He also dived into the stands at one point and spilled a Cardinals fan’s nachos. He came out a couple of innings later and delivered a fresh plate of nachos to the guy. That’s pretty dang cool. Jon Lester allowed five hits and one run over six innings. Yadi Molina came out of the game after taking a ball off the mask and he’s in concussion protocol. St. Louis was eliminated from the NL Central and made up no ground on the Rockies for the Wild Card. Things are just about over for the Cardinals.

Marlins 5, Rockies 4: The Rockies really don’t seem eager to win that second Wild Card. They probably will, but dudes, you gotta beat a bad Marlins team, especially on a night one of your rivals for the spot loses. Miguel Rojas had a career-high four RBI for Miami. The Marlins had a 4-0 and a 5-1 lead and the Rockies clawed back, threatening in the ninth as well, but couldn’t close the deal.

Giants 9, Diamondbacks 2: Nick Hundley hit a three-run homer and drove in four overall while Johnny Cueto allowed two runs over six innings. Arizona was probably hung over after Sunday’s clinching celebration, so whatever.

Mariners 7, Athletics 1Mitch Haniger homered twice and drove in three, Mike Zunino hit a three-run homer and Yonder Alonso went deep as well. Felix Hernandez won his first game in months, allowing one run over six innings. The A’s seven-game winning streak comes to an end.

Dodgers 9, Padres 3: The Dodgers win their 100th game of the year. It’s the first time they won 100 since 1974. They won the pennant that year with 102 wins but lost the World Series to a 90-win Oakland A’s team. Stuff happens. Here Yu Darvish happened, allowing one run on two hits over seven innings and striking out nine. Logan Forsythe hit a three-run double, homered and drove in four overall. Austin Barnes hit a three-run blast.

The Cubs will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday

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The Cubs soundly defeated the Cardinals on Monday night, 10-2, sending their magic number down to one. They will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday with another win against the Cardinals. Alternatively, if they lose, they can still clinch if the Brewers also lose on Tuesday.

The Cubs, of course, won the Central last year en route to winning their first World Series since 1908. It wasn’t nearly as easy this year as the club was below .500 entering June and was exactly at .500 entering July. A 16-8 July, 17-12 August, and 15-8 September have helped put the Cubs back in position to return to the postseason.

Not to be forgotten, the Cardinals were eliminated from NL Central contention with Monday’s loss. Now they have their sights set on the second NL Wild Card slot and currently trail the Rockies in that race.

The matchups for Tuesday’s action: