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ON LOWENFISH'S LAW, WILD CARDS & OTHER BASEBALL THOUGHTS

ON LOWENFISH’S LAW, WILD CARDS AND OTHER BASEBALL THOUGHTS

On the night of Yom Kippur Friday September 17 the Yankees proved true yet again an adage that I call Lowenfish’s Law: “No four-run lead is ever safe in baseball until the last out is recorded.” The Orioles new closer Koji Uehara was one strike and one decent plate umpire’s call away from saving a nail-biting 3-1 victory but umpire Ted Barrett did not give him the call. The Orioles were on the top of the step of the dugout ready to embrace Uehara and Kevin Millwood would have “improved” to 4-15 (he has really pitched well recently after a horrendous mid-season stretch). But Alex Rodriguez hit the next pitch deep into the left field stands and when the Rays lost in the 9th inning at almost the same moment the Yankees were back in first place.

As a non-observant but spiritual Jew I decided to fast this year but I couldn’t stay away from baseball watching and the internet on Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement. Sure hope I didn’t influence badly the outcome of the game, Uehara’s second blown save to the Yankees in less than 10 days. With injuries to Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira (Swisher often out of lineup, Teixeira staying in despite what is recorded as a broken little toe), the Yankees have not been scoring many runs and Derek Jeter’s slump continues. But Jorge Posada, another one of the Core Four with the Yankees since their pennant run resumed in 1996, set the table with a single in the Friday ninth after a 11-pitch AB. His HR off Dan Wheeler won the one game the Yankees won in Tampa on Sept. 14.

Oh the twists of pennant race baseball! It doesn’t have the same drama of the pre-wild card era but the baseball of late September heading into the playoffs is as dramatic and spine-tingling as it comes. And improbable heroes are what make late season-baseball special.

If the Orioles had held on to their 3-1 lead on Sept 17, the insurance run provided by Robert Andino with his first home run of the year would have been a key part of the win. Andino put up good offensive numbers at Triple A Norfolk, Virginia this year though his errors as a shortstop were alarming and IMO his only chance at sticking in the big leagues is his ability to provide some offense and decent enough defense at all the infield positions.

The Angels’ game-winning HR against the Rays on Yom Kippur night came off the bat of Brandon Wood, the onetime can’t miss prospect who was hitting .157 at the time and certainly has suspect rather than prospect written all over him now. Too bad for Rays reliever Dan Wheeler that he also gave up the Wood HR.

THOUGHTS ON WILD CARDS AND OTHER BASEBALL CHANGES
I was not the biggest fan of the Wild Card in baseball because of the loss of the dramatic last day pennant-deciding games. Winner Take All! If there had been a wild card in 1951, New York Giants announcer Russ Hodges might well have screamed after Bobby Thomson’s home run, “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant [repeat two more times] . . . and the Dodgers win the wild card.”

Yet there are now almost double the number of major league teams compared to 1951 – 30 versus 16 – so more teams eligible for post-season play makes sense so long as they don’t dilute it with further wild cards, an idea that has been broached. If television wanted it, it might well have occurred already, perish the thought

I am glad there are trial balloons being sent out from Commissioner Bud Selig’s Recommendations Committee concerning shortening the season. Selig does not want baseball played in November so the 2011 season will begin at the end of March with the World Series slated to end by October. Whether Mother Nature will cooperate and keep winter short to avoid snow and ice in northern cities is anybody’s guess of course.

Committee member and Angels manager Mike Scioscia suggests a 158-game season and a seven-game first round playoff. Why as many as 158? Why not go back to 154, the hallowed number that stood the test of time for nearly 60 years from 1903-1960? With the symmetry of two eight-team major leagues shattered irrevocably, I’d even be in favor of 150 games or fewer. Only then would I favor adding two more games to the first playoff rounds.

I am open to the suggestion that a wild card should only get one home game in the first round putting a premium on winning the division. Yet because there are such wild discrepancies in the schedule, winning the division isn’t as clearcut as it used to be. I would favor instead seeding the playoff contenders and doing away with the rule that you cannot play someone in your own division in the first round. This seems to me the best solution.

While we are talking about changes, another new rule should be reducing the number of September eligible players. With callups from the minor leagues, some teams are playing with almost an entire 40-man roster in September while others have added hardly any players. Where is the hallowed sense of “competitive balance” in this situation? Announce a 25-man active squad early on the morning of every game in the last month of the season.

And, finally, what’s with the interminable wait on confirming a player’s suspension? The most egregious example was the Nationals’ Nyjer Morgan being hit with 7 and 8 game suspension for raucous actions on the field and throwing a baseball into the stands. Yet he played many games before there was a disciplinary hearing. He has the right to appeal but the decision shouldn’t be dragged out as long as it was. However, in a sport where the All-Star Game determines home field advantage in the World Series, youneverknow, youneverknow.

One closing thought on the challenges and excitement of the post-season from someone who has been there many times and has yet to win the final game but has come close at least two times: “You can’t talk about it. You have to live it. . . . You talk about it if you’re not living it right.” Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker.

Happy autumn to you all and see you before the end of the regular season! Ciao for now! Remember – Take it easy but take it!
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