A.J. Burnett pitches Pirates past Reds to take lead in NL Wild Card

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Pirates starter A.J. Burnett, who earlier today told the media he is still considering retiring after the 2013 season, turned in a gem against the division and Wild Card rival Reds. The Reds went ahead early on a Ryan Ludwick RBI single in the first inning and a Zack Cozart solo home run in the second. Pirates catcher Russell Martin launched a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom half of the second to knot the game at two apiece. In the sixth, the Pirates scored twice on a Marlon Byrd sacrifice fly and an opposite-field RBI single by Pedro Alvarez against lefty reliever Zach Duke.

Burnett settled down after the first two innings, holding the Reds scoreless in five consecutive innings. After completing the seventh, he had allowed just the two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out twelve. The outing marks Burnett’s season-high in strikeouts and the most he has logged in a game since August 27 against the Rangers when he was with the Yankees.

Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson teamed up for a scoreless eighth inning, with Wilson inducing a crucial inning-ending double play against Joey Votto. Jason Grilli made his first ninth-inning appearance since July 22, before he landed on the disabled list with a strained right flexor tendon. Ludwick led off with a single, but he was erased when Jay Bruce bounced into a 4-6-3 double play. Grilli got Cozart grounded out to shortstop to end the game, his 31st save of the season and his first July 21.

With the Cardinals defeating the Brewers, the Pirates remain two games back in the NL Central while the Reds drop to three games out. In the NL Wild Card, the Pirates take a one-game lead over the Reds for the first NL Wild Card slot. Though both teams are a sustained Nationals hot streak away from qualifying for both spots, the winner of the first Wild Card slot gets home field advantage in the one-game playoff.

Astros defend barring reporter from clubhouse

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As we wrote about this morning, last night the Houston Astros, at the request of Justin Verlander, barred Detroit Free Press reporter Anthony Fenech from the clubhouse during Verlander’s media availability following the Tigers-Astros game. After Verlander was done talking to the press in the scrum setting — and after a call was placed to Major League Baseball about the matter — Fenech was allowed in.

As we noted, this was done in violation of agreements to which Major League Baseball, the Houston Astros and the Baseball Writers Association of America are parties. The agreements are meant to ensure full access to BBWAA-accredited reporters as long as they have not violated the terms of their credentials.  In no case do the clubs — and certainly not the players — have the right to bar access to BBWAA-accredited reporters. Indeed, the whole point of the BBWAA is to ensure such access and to ensure that teams cannot bar them simply because they are unhappy with their coverage or what have you.

This morning Verlander tweeted, obliquely, about “unethical behavior” on the part of Fenech that led to his request to the Astros to bar him. As we noted at the time, such an allegation — however interesting it might be — is of no consequence to the admission or barring of a reporter. If Fenech has acted unethically it’s a matter between him and his employer and, potentially, between him and the BBWAA. At the very least, if Verlander has a specific concern, it would be incumbent upon him or the Astros to take the matter up with either the Free Press or the BBWAA.

In light of all of this, it’s hard to make a case for Verlander’s request and the Astros’ honoring it. A few moments ago, however, the Astros released as statement on the matter which, basically, says, “so what?”

Which is to say, the Astros have made a decades-long agreement between the BBWAA and MLB regarding reporter access optional, because a player does not like a reporter who is covering him.  Someone without the power to alter the BBWAA-MLB relationship has just done so unilaterally. And they have done so in such a way that any player, should they decide they don’t like a reporter, will now presumably rely on it as precedent. Finally, it should be noted that in issuing this statement, the Astros have given at least some tacit credence to Verlander’s thus far unsubstantiated and unspecified allegations of unethical behavior on the part of Fenech, which seems less-than-ideal at best.

It’s your move, Major League Baseball and BBWAA. Whatcha gonna do about it?