Thursday, July 17, 2008

Did MLB put a hit on Scott Kazmir?

As I was reading this story by virtuoso AP scribe Ronald Blum about the potential David Wright-J.D. Drew pitching matchup that wasn’t part of Tuesday's All-Star Game -- one of the contingencies dreamed up by two desperate managers with hopes of maintaining the integrity of a (mostly) pointless exhibition -- I was struck by this innocuous line:

By the 13th inning, MLB dispatched senior vice president Joe Garagiola Jr. to remind the managers that the game would be played until there was a winner.

Remember that in the 12th inning of the game, Terry Francona burned his last ├Čacceptable├« pitcher, George Sherrill, to strike out Adrian Gonzalez. The National League was in slightly better shape, with Carlos Marmol to replace Aaron Cook, do-not-use Brandon Webb and Lidge to blow the game. But consider the predicament of Francona (I know Joe Buck and Tim McCarver discussed it ad nauseam, bear with me) in being forced to use a competitor's asset for a game of indeterminate -- though clearly terminating -- amount of time.

Ostensibly, what the MLB decree meant to Terry Francona was one of three options:

• Use George Sherrill for as long as necessary. As it worked out, Sherrill’s 2 1/3-inning appearance was his longest since a July 2004 game against Boston. Wonder how the Orioles will feel if their closer breaks down because a division-rival manager had to run Sherill until he dropped in an exhibition game. By the way, the Orioles ain't gettin' s*** out of this All-Star business. For them, they never count.

• Use Kazmir, Francona's final pitching option. Francona did so, no doubt to the annoyance of Rays management. If Kazmir comes down with a recurrence of his elbow trouble, you can bet the Rays will lobby MLB for teams to have the right to hold back players from All-Star games, perhaps some other prohibitions on player usage. It would have been interesting to see how far Francona would have run with Kazmir. As it was, he got to put 17 pitches of game wear, plus a substantial number of warm-up tosses, on the arm of the most important player on his closest pursuer. There’s no question that’s a tactical advantage. Even something as small as the Rays pushing a Kazmir start back a day because of fatigue is advantage Tito, advantage Red Sox. That's one less day the Rays can use him, even if just hypothetically.

• Use a position player to pitch. Francona would have used his own position player, J.D. Drew, to pitch, had it come to that. Had Drew been injured, the uproar out of Boston would have been furious. The fact that Drew is on Francona’s club, not somebody else's, would make Francona appear honorable. That would combine with the afore-mentioned MLB decree to absolve Francona of the blame, leaving MLB to face the cold, bleating wrath of Red Sox Nation. This doesn't even begin to discuss the potential eruption from Flushing if David Wright had pitched and gotten hurt.

The bottom line is that by forcing the managers to put players in compromising situations (aside: ha!), MLB risked injury to some of its biggest stars and introduced potential ethical quandaries. The corporation should have more sense than that. MLB should have realized it is a strong enough institution to call an All-Star Game a draw and shift focus to what will be a fascinating trade deadline and some shapely division races.

So people think your All-Star Game is a joke. Guess what? It is.

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