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Along with most rational and reasonable fans, I would expect
that rookie ballplayers, fresh off their recall from the minor leagues, will
run hard and play hard at all times in order to make a good impression. With
that in mind, it is with some sadness that I feel motivated to discuss Fernando
Martinez’ decision not to run out a
pop-up on Wednesday night. As Washington’s Wil
Nieves dropped the ball, Martinez
remained near home plate and nearly 90 feet away from first base, when he
should have been crossing the bag.
How can this possibly happen, especially in what was only
the second game of Martinez’
major league career? Believe it or not, there is an explanation. Martinez , the
No. 1 prospect in the Mets’ farm system, has obviously been watching too many major
league highlights from his Triple-A perch with the Buffalo Bisons. For the last
two and a half seasons, the major league Mets have made a painful habit of not running out pop-ups, not running hard on drives to the
outfield wall, not understanding that
you don’t make the third out at third base, and not sliding on close plays at second base or home plate. The Mets
epitomize all that is wrong with the sorry start of baserunning in today’s
game, where the notion of running hard three to four times a game has
mindlessly become optional for too
many contemporary players. (Since when is it so strenuous for major league
athletes to run hard a few times a game?) The Mets have set a terrible example
for fans and young ballplayers, an example that top prospects like Martinez have become all
too obliged to follow.
Frankly, the Mets’ baserunning problems have become so
embarrassing that the situation has reached a boiling point. It’s time for
manager Jerry Manuel to take off the kid gloves and adopt a zero tolerance
policy toward lackadaisical baserunning. He needs to say something to this
effect to his ballplayers, veterans and rookies alike: if you don’t run hard, you will sit the bench the following day. If the
problem persists and you again don’t run hard, you will ride the pines for two
days. And so on and so forth. At this point, the threat of the bench is
perhaps the only way to get through to the Mets’ thick-headed players.
Unfortunately, the Mets have been so thick-headed when it
comes to baserunning that if Manuel adopts such a policy, he will probably run
out of players within a week…
Two years ago, Colorado’s
Clint Hurdle and Arizona’s
Bob Melvin were on top of the world, both men leading their teams to the 2007
National League Championship Series. Both are out of jobs now, after Hurdle was
fired on Friday in what may be the least surprising ousting of a manager in
major league history. The Rockies have played brutal, uninspiring ball all season
for Hurdle, a veteran of seven seasons as Colorado’s skipper. Hurdle has displayed
some unusual tendencies, like often playing for one run during the early
innings of games at the Coors Field hitter’s haven. He has also failed to
motivate his players to play hard, always an indictment of a manager. Of
course, Hurdle has also had to play shorthanded. His best player, Matt
Holliday, is now in Oakland.
His best pitcher, Jeff Francis, is out for the season after surgery. His best
reliever, Brian Fuentes, is now an Angel.
While some observers could build a reasonable case that
Hurdle deserved longer rope from the Rockies,
there is no reasonable case for the hiring of Jim Tracy, the team’s bench
has failed badly in not one, but two managerial stops: first with the Dodgers
and then with the Pirates. Most successful managers possess either a fieriness
that helps them motivate or a strategic acumen that gives them an in-game
appears to have neither of those qualities…
More names continue to be added to the list of participants for
the first Hall of Fame Classic. Former Yankee Kevin Maas, a one-year wonder in
the Bronx, is the latest retired player to commit to the June 21st old-timers game here in Cooperstown. He will
join other ex-Yankees Phil Niekro, Jim Kaat, Dennis Rasmussen, and Lee Smith,
who all made prior commitments to the game. There have been rumors that two
other former Yankees, Mike Pagliarulo and Chad Curtis, will play in the Hall of
Fame Classic, but neither has been formally announced.
Several retired Red Sox will also play at Doubleday Field,
including Steve “Psycho” Lyons, Joe Lahoud, Ferguson Jenkins, Bill “Spaceman”
Lee, and Mike Timlin. Thus far, only two ex-Mets have signed up for the game:
George Foster, better known for his hitting exploits in Cincinnati, and Jeff Kent, who retired after the 2008 season.
Where does one begin in handing out bouquets to the National League champion Rockies? Incredibly, the Rockies have become the first team since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds to win their first seven games of the postseason. Given that those Reds featured the Hall of Fame likes of Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan and would-be Hall of Famer Pete Rose and won the LCS and the World Series with those seven games, the Rockies have taken their place next to some of baseball’s immortals.
The Rockies have played well in all facets in winning 21 of their last 22, but two areas have stood out in my eyes: their remarkable ability to hit with runners in scoring position their sensational defensive play. The third and fourth games of the series exemplified Colorado’s clutch hitting, as the Rockies twice mounted game-winning rallies with two outs. Defensively, the Rockies have shown almost no weakness, whether it comes to surehandedness, range, and athleticism. Other than Matt Holliday, who is a bit clunky in left field, the Rockies have no below-average defenders who play regularly. They also have several terrific fielders, including the rangy and power-armed Troy Tulowitzki, the fleet Willy Taveras (who is reminding me more and more of Garry Maddox), and the ever-reliable Todd Helton at first base.
As well as the Rockies played in sweeping the National League Championship Series, that’s how badly–and stupidly–the Diamondbacks performed throughout the four games. The D-Backs committed a host of baserunning errors, from Miguel Montero making the final out of Game One at second base to Justin Upton’s forearm shiver of Kaz Matsui to Chris Young being picked off at the start of Game Four. Then there was Stephen Drew stepping off the base when he wasn’t sure if he had been called out and Eric “Captain America” Byrnes foolishly diving into first base, the latter bringing a fitting end to a series filled with mental mistakes and an inability to hit in the clutch. Putting aside Game One, the D-Backs lost the final three games by a total of six runs, giving Arizona fans plenty of “what-if” ammunition for the long winter ahead. If the D-backs had hit just a little bit better with runners in scoring position or run the bases appreciably better, then this series would be moving on to Game Five.
Fortunately for the Diamondbacks, they are a young team loaded with talented players and have every right to expect to contend in the NL West for the foreseeable future. If Drew, Young, and Upton fulfill even 75 per cent of their perceived potential, they will be playing in plenty of All-Star games over the next decade. Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, and the injured Carlos Quentin (remember him) also have chances to be very good players, giving the D-Backs a terrific core of everyday players. Then it’s just a matter of finding two young starters to supplement Brandon Webb in the rotation and adding one more bigtime arm to a bullpen that already features closer Jose Valverde and the Other Tony Pena. That could spell some long-term trouble for the Dodgers, Giants, and even the Rockies in what remains a balanced NL West.