Obstruction

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

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Angels 4, Athletics 3: The Angels take a two-game lead in the west, winning this on a sac fly in the tenth. The play of the game, however, came in the ninth when Erik Aybar chopped one down the first base line. Pitcher Dan Otero and first baseman Brandon Moss converged on the ball and all three of them, more or less, were in the same place at the same time. Otero had the ball and tagged Aybar, but the umpire awarded Aybar first base, claiming Moss obstructed Aybar. Which seems odd as it appears as though Aybar went out of the baseline — way onto the infield grass, actually — in an effort to avoid being tagged and was never really near Moss. I guess the idea is that Aybar could’ve ran where Moss was, as opposed to the infield grass, if he wasn’t there. The A’s are protesting, but I doubt it has a chance given that this is technically a judgment call. Watch the play and judge for yourself:

Reds 7, Cubs 2: The Reds stole six bases, all in the first four innings, and built up an early 6-0 lead on the power of those steals, six hits and four walks. Dylan Axelrod pitched five scoreless innings, striking out eight.

Tigers 3, Yankees 2: Alex Avila knocked a walkoff RBI single with two outs to win it. The Tigers dodged a bullet in the top of the ninth when Brian McCann almost hit a homer but it hooked foul. Phil Coke then pumped fastballs by him to strike him out. Kyle Lobstein held the Yankees in check a day after David Price was beaten up like crazy. Because baseball makes sense like that.

Giants 4, Rockies 1: Yusmeiro Petit set a record: by retiring his first eight batters here he completed a string in which he had retired 46 straight batters. A record most of us didn’t see coming because six of Petit’s eight appearances in that stretch were relief appearances, but just because you didn’t toss a perfect game and then some doesn’t make it any less of a record. Overall Petit allowed one run on four hits in six innings, striking out nine.

Orioles 5, Rays 4: The O’s take three of four from the Rays and now have a seven-game lead in the East with 30 to play. J.J. Hardy put them ahead with a seventh-inning single and Steve Pearce hit a homer.

Braves 6, Mets 1: Mike Minor with a Baseball Bugs night: he hit an RBI single, doubled and scored and pitched seven innings of shutout ball before leaving in the eighth after surrendering just one run.

Indians 3, White Sox 2: Michael Bourn had three hits, two of them triples, and Carlos Carrasco allowed one run over six and two-thirds. The Tribe now heads to Kansas City for a big weekend series with the Royals. They’re four back in the wild card and five and a half back in the Central. This may be their last best chance to firmly insert themselves into the playoff picture.

Twins 11, Royals 5: Minnesota scored six times in the tenth inning, beating up Bruce Chen, who gave up five hits and walked two. Jordan Schafer — who I had no idea had wound up in Minnesota — drove in four for the Twins.

Astros 4, Rangers 2: Jason Castro hit a grand slam in the fifth to account for all of Houston’s runs. How do you account for runs anyway? Is it a LIFO or FIFO thing? That’s basically the extent of my accounting knowledge, by the way. Like, if I was asked to infiltrate a devious accountant’s cell and they held me at gunpoint, suspecting that I was a spy, my only material would be some LIFO/FIFO comment. After that, I’d probably be found floating in the Danube or something. Tough world out there.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]