Pirates opt to retain GM Neal Huntington

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The Pirates’ season has derailed, but the engineer will be returning. Pirates president Frank Coonelly released a statement Wednesday saying that GM Neal Huntington would be back in 2013.

Manager Clint Hurdle and assistant GMs Kyle Stark and Greg Smith are also expected back.

“As soon as we finish this season as well as we possibly can, we will turn our full and total attention to evaluating why were unable to finish the job and what we must do differently to take the next step to becoming a championship team,” Coonelly’s statement read. “There will unquestionably be changes made to the way in which we operate as a result of this thorough critical self-evaluation, but we will not be making personnel changes at the very top of our baseball operations department. Neal, Kyle, Greg and Clint are dedicated and intelligent baseball men in whom I have great confidence.”

If the Pirates’ season had unfolded differently and the team had achieved its current 76-78 record through more typical means, Huntington probably wouldn’t have been on the hot seat in the first place. That several of the most important players on the roster (Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, James McDonald, Starling Marte) have had such encouraging seasons is really the most important thing here. The only real key disappointment is Jose Tabata, and he has played better since returning from the minors. Retaining Huntington is certainly the right move. The Pirates’ probably haven’t been in this good of shape in 20 years.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.