Orioles win in 12, Yankees prevail in 14 versus A’s

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With the Orioles already having dispatched the Red Sox in 12, the AL East appeared on the verge of being knotted at the top again. However, the Yankees overcame a 9-5 deficit in the 13th and beat the A’s 10-9 in 14 innings Saturday.

Baltimore improved to 4-0 in extra-inning games at Fenway Park this year by beating the Red Sox 9-6. Jim Thome’s ground-rule double broke the tie in the 12th, and the Orioles were able to add on from there. Incredibly, the Red Sox are 0-7 in extra-inning games at home this season.

The A’s got homers from Jonny Gomes, Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Carter to take a commanding 9-5 lead on the Yankees in the top of the 13th. However, the Yankees came right back afterwards, loading the bases with none out and getting a game-tying two-run homer from Raul Ibanez with one out.

The Bombers went on to win it in 14 after another wild sequence. Alex Rodriguez appeared to hit a game-winning single with one out and the lead runner on second, but pinch-runner Melky Mesa, making his major league debut, missed third base on the turn and had to go back to the bag.

That loaded the bases for Robinson Cano. Cano hit a comebacker to Tyson Ross that bounced out of and back into the pitcher’s glove, leading to an awkward but successful throw home for the force. Catcher Derek Norris could have chanced turning it into an inning-ending double play since Cano hardly busted it out of the box, but he decided not to risk throwing it into the runner and giving the Yankees a win that way. Eduardo Nunez then came up and his a spinning grounder to first that Brandon Moss failed to glove, ending the game. It was ruled an error on Moss, though it was hardly an easy play with the way the ball was moving.

The game featured a controversial call in the bottom of the first. Travis Blackley picked  Rodriguez off first, but second base umpire Larry Vanover decided to call it a balk only after watching the play unfold and seeing A-Rod tagged out. The implication being that Vanover would have let it go had A-Rod made it back safely. Whether it was a balk or not (and that really could have gone either way), that’s not the way the game is supposed to be umpired and Vanover should get a talking to over it. The Yankees went on to score two runs after the play, contributing to an early exit for Blackley.

Helped out by that play, the Yankees really should have won in regulation. That they didn’t was due in part to a lack of effort. Cano initially gave up on a Moss grounder into the hole in the seventh because he thought first baseman Nick Swisher would grab it. When Swisher’s dive came up short, Cano made his own half-hearted dive and missed the ball, giving Moss a single. He later came around to score the tying run. Also, in the bottom of the seventh, Swisher opened the frame with a popup to shallow right. Disappointed, he didn’t run out of the box, and he ended up on first instead of second when the ball fell in. The Yankees failed to score in the inning, even though Swisher advanced to third with one out because of a HBP and a sac bunt.

The Yankees again almost won it in the 12th, but Ibanez was thrown out at the plate on a grounder to second.

Ibanez turned a single into a double with some great hustle in the frame, which is perhaps why he wasn’t removed for a pinch-runner after reaching. He then went to third on a wild pitch, forcing the A’s to pull the infield in. Unfortunately, Russell Martin’s grounder was hit right to second baseman Cliff Pennington, who threw home. Ibanez tried to bowl Norris over, and when that didn’t quite work, he gave up a little push to finish knocking him to the ground. Norris held on, though, and the A’s got out of the inning.

With the win, the Yankees maintained a one-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East. The A’s are three games up on the second wild card, pending the Angels’ result tonight.

Agent: Nick Senzel’s reassigment ‘egregious case of service time manipulation’

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Reds prospect Nick Senzel is ready for the majors. Although he battled injuries, the 23-year-old performed well with Triple-A Louisville last season, batting .310/.378/.509 with 20 extra-base hits, 25 RBI, 23 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. Senzel has also performed well this spring, batting .308 across 39 at-bats.

The Reds, however, announced on Friday that Senzel was among a handful of players reassigned to minor league camp. Senzel was drafted as a third baseman, began playing second base last year, and had been playing in center field during spring training. The common thought is that the Reds, who have built a competitive roster, will keep Senzel at Triple-A to begin the season and call him up right after the club secures an extra year of contractual control.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Senzel’s agent Joel Wolfe calls Senzel’s reassignment an “egregious case of service time manipulation.” The full quote:

I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career, but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service time manipulation.

We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.

Nick Senzel is not a young prospect. He’s a major league-ready impact-type player. He has done everything they’ve asked this spring, including working hard to become a major league center fielder.

Nick takes pride in wearing the Reds uniform. He appreciates how much support he’s received from Reds fans. He’s going to go to Triple-A and prove every day he belongs in MLB.

We have covered the service time manipulation issue pretty extensively here, so Wolfe’s statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to an injury, the Blue Jays were going to undeservingly stuff Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — baseball’s No. 1 prospect — at Triple-A for the first two weeks or so of the season. The White Sox were going to do the same with Eloy Jiménez before using their leverage to nudge him into inking an extension. The Braves toyed with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s playing time last year. Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed respective grievances against the Cubs and Phillies for service time manipulation several years ago.

Team executives don’t outright admit to gaming a prospect’s service time to gain that extra year of control because that’s how one loses a grievance. They dance around the topic by making a nebulous claim, typically about the player’s defense needing to be worked on at Triple-A. That’s what the Cubs said about Bryant, and it’s what the Jays said about Guerrero. It’s a subjective enough evaluation that it can’t be falsified. It’s why the grievances that have been filed over this have fizzled out and it’s why more and more teams have brazenly joined the service time manipulation bandwagon.

Senzel’s case is, admittedly, a bit more murky. Though he performed well this spring, Scott Schebler has outperformed him, batting .379 with five extra-base hits and 11 walks in roughly 40 trips to the plate. The starting spot in right field is taken by Yasiel Puig and left field is taken by Jesse Winker. Schebler has ostensibly earned the starting job in center. I can’t imagine Wolfe having a compelling case if he were to file a grievance on Senzel’s behalf.

That being said, it is important that agents (and the MLBPA) speak out about this when they can. Senzel’s case may not be open-and-shut, but bringing service time manipulation into the public consciousness will have a lasting impact ahead of the December 2021 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Holding team executives publicly accountable may make them less willing to manipulate their players’ service time going forward, as it may sour what could otherwise be a terrific relationship between team and player. Service time manipulation is an important piece of the labor puzzle and those on the players’ side have to seize whatever they can to potentially gain leverage. Awareness leads to solidarity.