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Lou Piniella’s advice for Tampa Bay Lightning


A thing I would not know if I did not get copied on emails from a company that broadcasts NHL games: the Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team in hockey his year and stand a decent chance at breaking the Detroit Red Wings’ all-time record for wins in a season. That’s pretty neat.

A thing the Tampa Bay Lightning has to worry about as a result of how they’e doing: balancing that shot at history with the need to rest guys for what, especially in the NHL, is a grueling playoff format.

A person who knows about what that entails: Lou Piniella, who lives in Tampa but one time managed a Seattle Mariners team that had a shot at similar regular season glory. That 2001 M’s squad tied the single-season win record at 116 (the 1906 Cubs won that many in fewer games) but famously flamed out in the ALCS to the Yankees. Fairly or not, history has treated that team as a disappointment because, in sports, we have come to consider anything less than a championship as failure.

Piniella talked about that team and the balancing of the regular season win record vs. postseason strategy. He tells the Tampa Bay Times that, yep, it was a choice to try for 117:

“Remember, it was 9/11 that year, we had about a two-week break. So, we had to make a tough decision. Do we go for the record or rest our team entirely?” he said. “We had a big enough lead. We decided to take a shot at it while still being able to rest our pitching as well as we could. We had a Hall of Fame GM in Pat Gillick. We talked all the time about it. And we talked to the players. We had a clubhouse meeting. The players wanted to go for it.

“As it was, we lost to Texas in the final game of the season. We would have won 117 but came out at 116. I don’t regret it at all.”

He doesn’t regret it because, as he explained, the Mariners’ loss in the ALCS was not a function of regular season fatigue. It was a function of the Yankees having better pitching, exacerbated by the fact that the M’s inferior pitching staff was stretched to the limit in an unexpectedly tough ALDS series against the Indians. That’s true. I’ll add that my memory of that series involved the M’s, who had played in good luck all year, simply having their luck run out. They were down early often, didn’t hit with runners in scoring position and generally got outplayed. In other words: the Yankees, even if they were underdogs in the series, were a fantastic team and the defending champs, anything can happen in a short series, stuff, in fact, happened, and that was that.

Piniella says in the article that a regular season wins record is “a double-edged sword.” Based on why the M’s lost to the Yankees, I don’t think he really means that it’s a bad thing for one’s competitive prospects in the postseason. I think it has more to do with over 17 years of talk about the disappointment of 2001. Which is to say it’s a double-edged sword with respect to one’s legacy, not one’s team in the moment. At least that’s how I’m reading it.

So, go ahead and shoot for 63 wins, Lightning. Just make sure you have whoever your equivalent of Jamie Moyer is fully rested before the Stanley Cup Final begins.

Straight-away center field will be 385 feet at London Stadium

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Marley Rivera of ESPN has a story about some of the on-field and in-game entertainment, as well as some aspects of the field conditions, for this weekend’s London Series.

The fun stuff: a mascot race, not unlike the Sausage Race at Miller Park or the President’s race at Nationals Park. The mascots for London: Winston Churchill, Freddie Mercury, Henry VIII and the Loch Ness Monster. I suppose that’s OK but, frankly, I’d go with Roger Bannister, Shakespeare, Charles Darwin and Guy Fawkes. Of course no one asks me these things.

There will also be a “Beat the Streak”-style race which had better use the theme to “Chariots of Fire” or else what the heck are we even doing here.

They’ve also taught ushers and various volunteers who will be on-site to sing “Take me out to the ballgame,” which is a pretty good idea given how important that is to baseball. As a cultural exchange, I think some major league team should start using “Vindaloo” by Fat Les during the seventh inning stretch here. It’s a banger. It also seems to capture England a bit more accurately than, say, “Downton Abbey” or “The Crown.”

That’s all good fun I suppose. But here’s some stuff that actually affects the game:

The end result will have some interesting dimensions. The field will be 330 feet down each foul line, and it will have a distance of 385 feet to center field, which will feature a 16-foot wall. Cook also said it would have an expanded, “Oakland-like” foul territory, referencing the Athletics’ Oakland Coliseum expanse.

Those dimensions are unavoidable given that the square peg that is a baseball field is being shoved into the round hole that is a soccer stadium. As Murray Cook, MLB’s senior field coordinator tells Rivera, that sort of thing, while perhaps less than ideal, is at least in keeping with baseball’s strong tradition of irregular field conditions. It will, however, be one of the shortest dead center distances in baseball history.

Oh, and then there’s this:

Protective netting was also an important issue addressed when building the ballpark, with Cook stressing that his team has implemented netting that “is the largest you’ll ever see in any major league ballpark.”

[Craig makes a mental note to bookmark this for the next time MLB says it won’t mandate extended netting in the U.S. because doing so is too difficult]