Angels protest Astros’ illegal switch, win game anyway

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Here’s a new one: with the Angels batting with two on and two out in the seventh inning Thursday, the Astros went to bring in left-hander Wesley Wright to face left-hander J.B. Shuck. The Angels promptly countered with right-handed hitting Luis Jimenez.

And then the Astros suddenly countered with right-hander Hector Ambriz.

If that sounds unusual, well, it is. If it sounds illegal, well, it’s that, too. Except Astros rookie manager Bo Porter didn’t know it. And it seems Fieldin Culbreth’s umpiring crew didn’t know it either, even with Angels manager Mike Scioscia loudly pointing it out several times before play finally resumed several minutes later.

Make no mistake, Wright was in the game. He threw several warmup pitches before Porter went out to bring in Ambriz instead. That, of course, isn’t allowed, according to Rule 3.05. Barring an injury, any pitcher that enters a game has to face at least one batter. It’s a fairly well known rule, one that would surely be exploited frequently if it didn’t exist.

The Angels, down 5-3 at the time, immediately protested the game. It’s a protest that might have actually been upheld by the league, given that it the mistake was entirely an umpire’s error, with no judgment call being involved. Except now we’ll never find out. While Ambriz was able to escape the jam in the seventh after the illegal switch, the Angels came back and scored three runs in the eighth and won the game 6-5, essentially rendering the protest null and void.

In one way, that’s probably for the best; the Astros didn’t deserve to benefit from their illegal move. Still, it is rather too bad we didn’t see MLB’s first successful protest since 1986. Had the protest been upheld, the game would have restarted from the moment the illegal move was made, with Wright back on the mound and the Angels trailing in the top of the seventh inning.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.