I remember watching some Reds-Pirates and Braves-Pirates games on TV in the mid-80s and seeing a guy named Sam Khalifa play shortstop for Pittsburgh. I don’t recall anything notable. I just remember the name and some announcer noting that the American-born Khalifa was (my memory had it) of Libyan or Egyptian or Tunisian extraction. Or something like that. I had completely forgotten about him until this morning.
Why this morning? Because this morning I read Paul Brownfield’s engrossing story about Khalifa in the New York Times, and I now know everything I’d want to know. And so much of it is sad: in 1989 Khalifa had reached a crossroads in his baseball career and left his minor league team. Five months later his father — an idiosyncratic and divisive Muslim leader in Tucson — was brutally murdered. Khalifa never played ball again. He now drives a taxi in Tucson. The story is about Khalifa, his father and the trial of the man accused of his murder.
It’s a slow news day. Take some time to read this fascinating story.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.