Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Star Treatment

Let me set the scene for you in case you didn’t get to see the game last night. It is the bottom of the 8th, and the Orioles lead the Yankees, 6-1. Daniel Cabrera is cruising through the game, and Bobby Abreu is at the plate. Abreu lines to right field, bouncing to Nick Markakis as he launches a rocket to Juan Castro covering second base. Castro tags Abreu out as he attempts to slide into seond, but is called safe. It was a close play, I will admit that much. However, the umpire was in perfect position to see the Orioles shortstop apply the tag to Abreu’s back. Nevertheless, I take a deep breath and await the next pitch, this time to Alex Rodriguez.

“Plunk.” Rodriguez is hit in the shoulder and takes a long walk around the backstop, milking his time for all it’s worth. At first I wondered whether it was retaliation, but for what? Either way I expected nothing more than a bench warning. I watch Daniel Cabrera suddenly stare open-mouthed at the umpire behind home plate- he has been tossed from the game. He raises his arms in genuine disbelief as Dave Trembley comes out on the obligatory argument.

Cabrera is known as one of the wildest pitchers in the major leagues. He regularly ranks among the top of the majors in walks and hit batters as Joe Angel indicated, and had made close to 100 pitches in the game by this point. If you don’t expect Cabrera to make a bad pitch, then you don’t know your pitchers. And clearly they must, as the strike zone seems to shrink when the umpire sees Cabrera step up to the mound. There was no warning, not hesitation, no angry rant before tossing Cabrera from the game. The moment A-Rod was plunked, Cabrera was gone.

And for what? Retaliation? So what if Rodriguez had fired a home run at this previous at bat? The Orioles were leading by 5 runs; there was no sense in making things interesting by adding another batter. Did the umpire think that Cabrera was trying to send the Yankees a message? Look, if A-Rod can put up with divorce, Madonna, and the crippling paralysis he endures every October, he can certainly handle a wild pitch. Moreover, this is not Trembley’s style. He wants to win- he would never risk a game by hitting batters. I have seen the O’s get banged up by wild or vindictive pitchers and managers, but I have never once seen Trembley go after them in response. He believes in the purity of the game. He would gladly take his bases and not give them back to the opposition.

It is no secret that the calls get fewer and farther between when you are playing the Yankees. It is what we in Maryland experience whenever the Terps travel to Cameron Indoor, or when the Patriots visit the Ravens (I still get chills from last year’s stolen win).

What followed this travesty in judgment? Jim Johnson was forced in early without having warmed up, and quickly loaded the bases and allowed two more runs to score, aided in no small part by Adam Jones’ fielding mistake. A bad call or a rash decision can have a tremendous impact on a baseball game. The down time allowed between plays allows tension and distraction to sink in; it is incredibly difficult to keep your focus through the long pauses between pitches. Sure enough, in the 9th inning Sherrill continued the team’s implosion, allowing a walk, single, and double, struck out A-Rod, allowed a two-run single before striking out the last two batters to end the game.

Not only was Cabrera forced to exit a game he could have completed, he was charged with two more runs to ruin one of his only strong performances of the last two months. The Orioles were compelled to use up their two best relievers in Johnson and George Sherrill in a game that should have been over at that point.

After Cabrera was ejected I sat down to start writing this post and I heard something on the radio behind me. “…and it doesn’t look like the Orioles will get the call.” Don’t hold your breath.

(AP Photo)

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