Subject: Tough Break for the Phils
They were the scrappy overachievers that managed to outduel the big money Mets late in the season for the second year in a row to represent the underdog league against the perennial AL home field advantage of the defending World Series champions Evil Empire Too.
Now they'll just be the BASS-bowls who ruined the greatest sports story in the history of baseball.
Except "BASS-bowl" was a seven letter curse word, which I think you're going to be seeing used quite a bit here over the next few days.
And I gott say, speaking as an adopted son of the city of Philadelphia, they're OK with that. If anything, this city would absolutely relish the role of the bass-bowl that craps all over America' favorite sports story.
And here at the Twins Geek Observatory, we're OK with that, too. This playoff run has given me a chance to reconnect with my second favorite baseball team, and the first team I ever had season tickets for. I'm going to document some of that reconnection over the next few days, as finish each story off with the "Top 7 Reasons to Root for the Philly".
First, Game One Notes....
The Seventh Inning Balk
There was a lot of talk, a little debate, and quite bit of disgust about the lack of a balk call in the seventh inning. I'll set it up: down 3-2, the Rays got their leadoff batter, Carlos Pena, on base because Ryan Howard bobbled an easy grounder to first base.
On the next pitch, Pena tried to steal second. Left-handed pitcher Cole Hamels was looking right at him, so he threw the ball to first base. Howard moved towards the throw, cut it off, threw to second, and Pena was barely tagged out at second base.
And the Rays dugout howled.
In their opinion, Hamels had essentially changed his mind in mid-motion, and that's supposed to be balk. But the key is those first three words, because the rule is more than a little nebulous:
Rule 801.1 (c) At any time during the pitcher’s preliminary movements and until his natural pitching motion commits him to the pitch, he may throw to any base provided he steps directly toward such base before making the throw
There isn't any doubt that Hamels did step - kinda - toward first base. Of course, he also stepped - kinda - towards home. Had his natural pitching motion committed him to the pitch? Was his step towards first base 'direct' enough? Those are all pretty subjective calls, and they're made in an instant, and they need to be made by a first base umpire who might very well be caught by surprise by the entire series of events.
This much is clear - if Pena would've broke towards second even a split second later, Hamels would have either delivered the pitch home or been called for a balk. And even with the possible balk, Pena would likely have been out at second had Howard not moved towards the pick off throw. It was that close.
Hamels had pitched through seven innings, giving up two runs and providing the Phils all the help they could really expect. But he had also only thrown 100 pitches, leaving open the possibility that he could at least start the eighth inning. He didn't get that chance as manager Charlie Manual replaced him with Ryan Madson to start the eighth.
For some, this might be an obvious move, since there seems to be sort of an unwritten rule that starting pitchers shouldn't throw much more than 100 pitches in a game. But it's worth noting that Manual has not been afraid to stretch Hamels' pitch counts this year. He's thrown at least 110 pitches eleven times this year, and had thrown 120 pitches or more twice. And he's been reasonably effective, though he's been more susceptible to giving up home runs as his arm tired.
With it being a one-run ball game, that last fact probably played into the decision to pull him, but faith in Ryan Madson probably played into the decision too. Madson certainly deserves that faith. He's been used in high leverage situations in the bullpen all year, earning a Win Probability Added score of 1.23 this year. For some context, that's actually higher than Pat Neshek earned in the same role with the Twins when we were raving about him in 2007.
Note to Fox: when your own announcers start mocking the accuracy of your ball/strike display, it might time to tweak it. Or retire it.
The problem seems to be that it marks where the ball was caught, but not where it crossed the plate. Fox does a nice job of tracking the flight of the ball, so you can often see how it curves or dips after it makes its way through the strike zone. But the Fox Track only seems to note where it was caught.
Which is why during the last series the announcers noted that it seemed like they never saw it show a strike. And they were right.
Reasons to Root for the Phils - #7
The Phillies have had the second greatest logo in the history of major professional sports.
What's cool about the 'P'? The middle is a baseball. And yes, I didn't notice that until I moved to Philadelphia (by which time it was no longer the logo they used). And yes, I didn't notice that the best major professional logo was both an "m" and a "b" and a ball and glove until about the same time.
 - Thanks Bill Simmons