Scenes from the Arizona Fall League

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What you’re looking at here is the typical crowd for an Arizona Fall League game. Of the people who are here, a lot of them are scouts and front-office types from various clubs. The actual paid crowd is usually around a hundred or so. The atmosphere in the ballpark is pretty much non-existent, although they still play music over the sound system between innings and stuff like that. Occasionally, after a really nice play, you might hear a smattering of hand-clapping, but that’s about it.

Yesterday, when I sat down with Dodgers prospect Corey Seager for a 10-minute interview at the far corner of the dugout during batting practice, at one point one of his teammates with the Glendale Desert Dogs, Cincinnati Reds first-base prospect and former Boise State basketball player Travis Mattair, came off the field and stood in front of Seager for a minute with a big grin on his face, trying to get his attention — basically, giving him grief for being such a big deal that he is asked for interviews. They still do stuff like that in the AFL, where there is so little media around that when someone does an interview, someone else makes a joke out of it. In big league clubhouses during the regular season, if a player sees another player giving an interview, usually that player is just happy it wasn’t HIM who was asked for an interview.

Batting practice is usually taken in complete silence at these games, at least until somebody shows up to play the music, so you can actually hear the banter between the players. Everything is kind of casual and relaxed.

At another point during BP yesterday, Dodgers catching prospect Chris O’Brien hit a wicked line drive to left that was headed straight at the groin of White Sox outfield prospect Jared Mitchell, who initially didn’t see it coming but when he finally did, was able to do some lightning-quick acrobatics to somehow completely avoid getting hit at all. The ball came within inches of causing a major injury, but it didn’t, and so everyone made a big joke about it.

“I’m comin’ after you!” O’Brien shouted, pointing his bat at Mitchell as he exited the cage and walked toward the dugout.

One of the weirdest things about the AFL is that while there are six teams, each of which has a handful of players from five different major league organizations, the only part of the uniform bearing the logo of one of those six teams — the Glendale Desert Dogs, the Surprise Saguaros, the Peoria Javelinas, the Mesa Solar Sox, the Salt River Rafters and the Scottsdale Scorpions — is the headgear, the caps and the batting helmets. From the neck down, each players wears the major league uniform of whatever organization he comes from. So at any given moment, you can have as many as 10 different big league uniforms on the field at once during an AFL game. Thankfully, there are no alternate jerseys. They stick to home whites and road grays here, because with so many uniforms running around, it’s confusing enough already.

Today at Camelback Ranch, Seager, who has been struggling with the bat since he got here, hit a beautiful, opposite-field home run, into the leftfield bullpen. Went down and got a low, outside pitch and just went with it. One Dodgers official who was seated near me, as the ball was sailing through the air, stood up and yelled, “Get up! Get up! Get the f–k up!!!” And the ball, as if on command, stayed up, just long enough to get up and over.

There were so few people in the stands today that as the game moved from the bottom of the eighth to the top of the ninth, even though I had moved back to the press box by then, I could hear the two base umpires talking to each other in the brief sliver of time before they started playing between-innings music. Couldn’t hear what they were saying, but could definitely hear their voices. And in the bottom of the ninth, when it appeared the Desert Dogs had won on a walk-off sacrifice fly but the run was waved off when the other team touched third base because the umpire agreed the runner had left early, I could hear the third-base coach arguing with the umpire.

When the Dogs finally did win in the 11th, I discovered that the celebration music they play — you know, like I Love L.A. when the Dodgers win at Dodger Stadium — is Who Let the Dogs Out? Stunningly, the “crowd” didn’t exactly break into any kind of dance in response. Most of these fans would have risked pulling something had they done so, or possibly falling and breaking a hip.

I love the AFL. I love the atmosphere, love the fact there are so many high-ranking baseball officials just sitting in the stands taking in the games. But mostly, I love it because it is a chance to see a bunch of guys who stand a really good chance of becoming major league players, certainly a better chance than the average minor leaguer, and you also know that a few of these guys probably will become stars.

You may have read yesterday that Seager and Dodgers pitching prospect Yimi Garcia have been named to Saturday’s AFL Fall Stars Game. It will be televised nationally on MLB Network, beginning at 5 p.m. West Coast time, if you’re interested. Keep in mind, this isn’t an All-Star Game, per se. A lot of players will appear in it who aren’t having especially good seasons in the AFL. It used to be called the Rising Stars Game, but they changed the name this year due to a sponsorship change. The players who get named to this thing are the most highly ranked prospects in the AFL, the players the fans want to see, not the players who are putting up the best stats. It’s a showcase league, and the Fall Stars Game is a showcase game, and rightfully so.

Seager, for instance, entered today hitting .146. Garcia, by contrast, has been solid, giving up two runs on four hits in 7 2/3 innings over six appearances.

Seager has a chance to be a star player in a few years. Garcia probably will be added to the Dodgers 40-man roster this winter and could be on the big league club sometime in 2014. I was told a few days ago that he was close to major league-ready. So this Saturday is a good chance to get a good look at both of them.

On another note, just a heads-up, don’t forget that MLB Gold Glove awards will be announced this afternoon, in about two hours, in fact, on ESPN2.

Puig’s Path To Further Major League Success

scribewire_diaryTo say the least, Yasiel Puig was a welcome addition to the lineup and particularly at the plate this season. He hit .319 with 19 home runs and 42 RBI in 382 at-bats over 104 games. As is always the case in this humbling game, great starts only last so long in an environment where failing 70 percent of the time means you are very good. Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of his “slash line” (AVG/OBP/SLG) since his callup in early June:

June (.436/.467/.713) with 7 HR in 101 ABs
July (.287/.352/.436) with 3 HR in 94 ABs
August (.320/.405/.515) with 3 HR in 103 ABs
September (.214/.333/.452) with 6 HR in 70 ABs

After an incredibly hot month of June that saw the Cuban defector take the baseball world by storm, Puig slowed down considerably, hitting just .274 with 11 homers and 23 RBI in 263 at-bats after July 3. These would be considered terrific numbers for a 22-year-old rookie had he not already raised our level of expectation in his first 30 games. So we need to view his numbers with some perspective. But just for grins, let’s look at Puig from a 162-game perspective based on stats from the 104 games with which he tantalized us. I will preface by again reminding you Puig’s numbers were trending down a bit after Game 30, and his true 162-game pace would have been a little lower. However, for purposes of comparison, I’m just giving you the full season extrapolation of his numbers, and here they are:

NAME AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SF K/OUTS
Puig 595 103 190 33 3 30 65 17 56 151 .319 .391 .534 .925 5 37.3%

These are terrific numbers overall, but they show an obvious area of weakness. Only one player this season hit near 30 home runs (29) while driving in just 65 runs. That was Raul Ibanez of the Mariners, who had 454 at-bats in 126 games and struck out an almost-identical 37.2% of his outs batting mainly in the No. 5 slot. Of the top 100 major league players in RBI this season, the average RBI-to-home run ratio was 3.8. At 2.2 RBI to homers hit, Puig would have had the lowest ratio in the league, having barely made the top 100 in RBI over 162 games.

photo102813-2Puig batted second in 80 percent of his plate appearances, which is a factor. But in 99 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, he batted a meager .234. He had some pretty unproductive at-bats in general, striking out in 37.3 percent of his outs. The fact is, he wasn’t very clutch and he didn’t make enough contact to be used in a run-producing role. As far as his offense, this should be his focus in the spring. Puig has too much power to be wasted at the top of the order, but he didn’t prove himself to be worthy of a middle-of-the-lineup batter as the season moved along.

Having said that, Puig was also a more disciplined hitter than most give him credit for being. Despite his almost-insatiable desire to put the first pitch in play (and after all, he did hit .551 with nine home runs when he was able to do that), he has also shown better-than-expected knowledge of his strike zone, with 36 walks from July 1 to the end of the season. His plate discipline needs to get better as he gets older. For comparison, Pirates All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who hits for similar extra-base power to Puig’s, had a walk rate of 11 percent of his plate appearances. Puig had a walk rate of 8 percent, and while that doesn’t seem like a dramatic difference, when you’re talking about 600 plate appearances in a season, that is 18 more walks, which is substantial.

Puig was certainly the best rookie in the N.L. among everyday players. Guys strike out in the big leagues, and on average, rookies probably do it more often than veterans. Puig has a long career ahead of him, and he clearly has the tools to be one of the top five or 10 overall players in the game. For my money, however, the glaring issue with him, aside from him being overeager defensively and his defensive positioning, is his strikeouts as a percentage of his overall outs. If he can grind out more at-bats, turn some strikeouts into walks (he struck out 11 times in three-balls count this season) and make more contact with two strikes, this guy has the ability to be as good as anyone in baseball, maybe even this guy (Miguel Cabrera Career 162-Game Averages):

NAME AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SF K/OUTS
Cabrera 607 104 195 40 1 36 123 4 78 117 .321 .399 .568 .967 6 28.4%

- Phil Stone
phil.stone@dodgerscribe.com

A weird (and nuance-heavy) observation from Game 5

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The Cardinals probably weren’t going to win Game 5 of the World Series tonight regardless. Not with the way Jon Lester was pitching, er, dominating. And if David Ortiz weren’t 11-for-15 in the Series, Lester probably already would have the Most Valuable Player award locked up. But Lester’s performance notwithstanding, as a guy who loves to break a baseball game down to its barest essence, I’m going to tell you the exact moment when the Cardinals lost this game — and then, I’m going to take you even deeper into the world of minutiae to tell you about a strange phenomenon of which I have taken note that might explain why the American League tends to be so dominant over the National League in the World Series (even though the N.L. won the previous three in a row) and in regular-season interleague play.

First, tonight’s pivot point.

It came in that decisive top of the seventh, when the Red Sox scored twice to break a 1-1 tie. Specifically, it was Stephen Drew‘s plate appearance against the Mickey Mouse guy, what’s his name again … oh yeah, Adam Wainwright.

So as Drew steps to the plate with one out and a runner on first, he is 1-for-14 in the Series, with six strikeouts. His only hit, in fact, was that freak single in his first at-bat of Game 1, when he popped one straight up in the air, and it fell to the ground into the one-foot space between Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina as they both converged on it, then backed off at the same time, each apparently thinking the other would catch it.

This time, Wainwright quickly gets ahead of Drew 1-2. And then, for some odd reason — perhaps it was the fact Drew had taken him to the warning track in his previous at-bat, in the fifth inning — Wainwright decides to nibble. And you know what usually happens when you nibble against a struggling, light-hitting guy after getting ahead of him? You end up walking him, which is exactly what Wainwright did here, throwing three consecutive balls to Drew, the second of which was about a foot outside.

By now, you know the rest — David Ross (remember him, Dodgers fans?) hit a go-ahead double, Jacoby Ellsbury singled in another run later in the inning, and that was all she wrote on a night when the Cardinals offense was pretty much non-existent.

Those three pitches from an obviously tiring Wainwright to Drew were, in my opinion, the three pitches that decided this game. That’s my first point. Now, on to my second, bigger point.

To a large extent, the differences between the two leagues have been blurred over the years, due mostly to interleague play and due somewhat to the frequency with which players change teams and go back and forth from one league to the other. But still, for whatever reason, there seem to be subtle differences in the way players from the two leagues approach the game, ways that go beyond the fact the A.L. uses the designated hitter and the N.L. doesn’t. One way is that A.L. hitters, overall, seem to be much better at working counts, grinding out at-bats and driving the other team’s starting pitcher out of the game early. I watch World Series games with a keener eye than any other games. Part of that is because I am usually writing during Dodgers games, so I miss a lot, especially in the early innings.

But one thing I was sure I was noticing in World Series games, going back over the past couple of decades even, is that N.L. pitchers always seem to struggle to put away A.L. hitters, even after those pitchers get ahead in the count. So tonight, for Game 5, I wanted to put that to the test and see if I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. So I kept a running tally of a very specific type of pitch: PITCHES THROWN WITH TWO STRIKES ON THE BATTER THAT DIDN’T RESULT IN AN OUT. I’m talking about any pitch that either was a ball to extend the at-bat, was fouled off to extend the at-bat or on which the batter reached base.

Well, guess what, my theory held true. Granted it was one game, a small sample size. But tonight, the Cardinals threw 27 of those pitches. The Red Sox threw 13 of them. That’s a glaring difference. In fact, there were three innings, the first, seventh and ninth, in which the Cardinals threw FIVE of those pitches. The Red Sox didn’t throw more than three of them in any inning.

What this suggests to me is two things I have long suspected: one, that A.L. hitters are simply better than N.L. hitters at battling with two strikes; and two, that N.L. pitchers are way too attached to that old-school belief that if you get ahead of a hitter 0-2 with the first two pitches, you have to waste the third pitch to see if the hitter will chase something out of the zone. Personally, I have always found that kind of silly, especially in this era in which starters are rarely allowed to go beyond 100 pitches. It’s a wasted pitch. I mean, the hitter KNOWS IT’S COMING, so why would he swing at something he is about 90-percent certain is going to be out of the zone? OK, so you’re ahead 0-2, you throw the obligatory waste pitch, the hitter doesn’t bite, now it’s 1-2, and then let’s say you happen to miss with the next pitch. Now, after being 0-2, suddenly it’s 2-2.

Let’s break it down further: Of those 27 two-strike pitches the Cardinals threw tonight, 21 of them were thrown by Wainwright. That’s 21 pitches he threw with two strikes that didn’t produce an out. He threw a total of 107 pitches, so 19.6 percent of Wainwright’s pitches tonight were effectively wasted pitches, or at least unproductive ones. And given the fact he obviously didn’t have much left in his final inning, the seventh, all those wasted pitches proved to be a pretty big factor, IMHO.

Anyway, I hope I didn’t bore you with all this nuance and minutiae. But I am absolutely convinced this is one of those things that still set these two leagues apart, and it seems to have been a big difference so far in a World Series that the Cardinals now are going to need a miracle to win.

The continuing baseball education of Corey Seager

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Corey Seager is tired. Admittedly so. This is all new for a 19-year-old kid, who just a year and a half ago was still playing the oh-so-short high-school season, and even in this day of year-round travel ball, there is nothing that compares to this. Seager, a shortstop and one of the Dodgers’ top prospects, has been playing baseball nonstop since the beginning of spring training, which was followed immediately by his first full season as a professional, which he split between each level of A-ball. The team he finished with, advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, reached the California League playoffs, pushing Seager’s season a week into September. After that, Seager got what he said was about a week off before he reported to Camelback Ranch, where he worked out with a host of other Dodgers minor leaguers — as well as some rehabbing big leaguers like, at various times, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier — while awaiting the start of the Arizona Fall League season.

That season is about half over now, which means Seager still has another two and a half weeks of baseball left before he returns home to North Carolina to spend the winter working out with his two older brothers, Kyle Seager, the starting third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, and Justin Seager, a first baseman who was drafted in June by the Mariners and just finished his first season in Rookie ball.

“It’s a little bit of a grind,” Seager conceded, but he isn’t complaining. Not many players get a prestigious AFL assignment at 19, but Seager is special. He was a first-round pick (18th overall) by the Dodgers, the only one of those in his family. And if his offensive numbers have been in steady decline since his midseason promotion to the Cal League from low Single-A Great Lakes, well, no one in the organization really cares about that. Not at this stage of Seager’s development, anyway.

Teams do pay attention to their top prospects’ performances, especially in the latter stages of their development as they begin to gauge their readiness for the big leagues. But Seager, whom the Dodgers signed out of high school last year to a $2.35 million bonus, isn’t there yet. The priority with players like him is to make sure they are properly challenged at every step, and that is one reason Seager has progressed so quickly in a little more than a year from Rookie ball to A-ball to advanced A-ball. Not quite as quickly as the guy who was drafted with the pick right behind him. That would be Michael Wacha, who will start Game 6 of the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night at Fenway Park. But Wacha was drafted out of college, and thus is on a faster track.

It is somewhat noteworthy that Seager got off to such a fast start, hitting .309 with a .383 on-base percentage in the Pioneer League last year and then coming back in 2013 to hit an identical .309, this time with 18 doubles, 12 homers and 57 RBI, at Great Lakes before his promotion. Those were all positives signs, of course. But it was after his promotion, when he began to struggle for the first time in his life, when Dodgers officials were able to get a more definitive read on the type of player they had.

Seager had 16 hits in 100 at-bats for Rancho, and he struck out 31 times.

Although it was a jump of just one level, Seager said what he found in the Cal League was a much more sophisticated style of pitching, one that was geared toward exploiting a hitter’s weaknesses. A hundred at-bats, 27 games, isn’t a great deal of time for a hitter to adjust to that, although Seager said he felt more comfortable toward the end of the season, a claim supported by the fact he went 4-for-12 in the Quakes’ first-round playoff loss to Inland Empire. Baseball, you have probably heard a thousand or so times, is a game of adjustments. Pitchers almost always adjust before hitters do, and Seager was still in that process of adjusting, really, for the first time in his professional career, when the minor league season ended.

Fast-forward, then, to the AFL. Predictably, given that this is the highest level of pitching he ever has faced, those offensive struggles have continued. He entered today’s game against Surprise hitting .162, with 12 strikeouts in 37 ABs. And in his first two at-bats today, he struck out quickly, on three pitches the first time and four the next. But really, that is what the AFL is for. It’s a showcase league for some of the top prospects in the game, but it’s also a place where hitters, especially young hitters, come to struggle. More than anything, it’s a test, and even if a guy struggles all the way to the end, it doesn’t mean he failed that test. For Seager, it just means he gained six weeks of invaluable experience facing a level of competition that, when he presumably begins next season back at Rancho, most of his teammates won’t have seen.

Seager is one of the youngest players in the AFL this fall, and although by all accounts he is a mature 19, well, 19 is still 19. He is living with some of his older fellow Dodgers farmhands here, and he said he also is helped by the comfort and familiarity of having his Cal League hitting coach, Johnny Washington, filling the same role with Seager’s AFL team, the Glendale Desert Dogs.

Seager’s trek through the minors has been a growing process off the field as well. The low minor leagues are the great equalizer, and even if you got a huge signing bonus, you show up at the ballpark every day in the same proverbial boat with all your teammates, and Seager says he hasn’t been treated any differently along the way than anybody else — at least not in a way that is discernible to him. Obviously, the Dodgers are going to take special care with a guy they invested that much money in, but Seager still lived the low-minors life with everybody else, the long bus rides, the cheap motels, even living with host families last summer in Ogden and this year while in Great Lakes before finally getting his own apartment in Rancho.

For now, the Dodgers can be patient with Seager, but perhaps only to a point. Hanley Ramirez is a potential free agent after next season, and theoretically, Seager could be ready to take over by opening day 2015, but that would seem unlikely for a guy who still would be a few weeks shy of 21 at that point. The last thing you want to do with a prospect as prized as this one is stick him into the everyday lineup at a time when he isn’t ready, because history is rife with promising players who have been so adversely affected by that they never really recovered from it.

For his part, Seager said he has no time frame in mind for how quickly he wants to get there.

“One of the best things my brother told me was just to treat every stop like your own major leagues, and just kind of be in the moment, that way you’re not always looking up at all the levels you still have to go through,” he said. “It’s hard to do sometimes, but it was great advice.”

It would seem especially hard to do in the AFL, where games usually take place on weekday afternoons in front of crowds that tend to be in the 150 range and sometimes the only noise you hear is the plate umpire calling balls and strikes. But most of the major league players who passed through this league at one point or another on their way up the minor league ladder will tell you that the experience they got here was huge. And Seager is young enough that he may be back here next fall.

Before next fall, though, will come next spring, when a well-rested and more experienced Seager will come to spring training ready to take the next step, wherever he is asked to take it.

It may be a few years yet before the bright lights of the big leagues shine on him. But the organizational spotlight of the Dodgers already is trained firmly on Seager. He will be watched closely every step of the way, his progress monitored to the minutest detail. De Jon Watson, the Dodgers assistant general manager for player development, attends virtually every Desert Dogs game, watching intently from the stands, and various other Dodgers front-office types are in and out on a regular basis. Some minor league players are just that, minor league players. Others are major league prospects. But some, undeniably, are the future, and Seager is one of those. He is coming, sooner or later.

And if he happens to struggle through an AFL season at a point in the year when his body is running on fumes, well, that is nothing more than a speed bump along the way.

Submit your questions now for upcoming audio Q&A

We’re adding a new feature to the blog, in which Phil Stone and I answer your questions in audio-podcast form. Not sure exactly when yet, but we’re taking questions now. On any subject. Nothing is off-limits. Email your questions to Phil at phil.stone@dodgerscribe.com, and if we like them, we’ll use them. Will alert you both here and on Twitter when we are about to post the podcast.

When we awoke the next morning, the call was still correct

In case you missed it, this is video of the Boston Red Sox getting completely hosed in Game 3 of the World Series, a game that was made all the more important by the fact that the two teams had split the first two games at Fenway Park. However, this video, on which you can hear the voices of NBC’s Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek and longtime Reds radio voice Marty Brennaman, isn’t from last night. It’s from Oct. 14, 1975. Because the Red Sox didn’t get hosed last night. More on that below the video.

For those of you not old enough to remember, what ended up happening here as a result of Ed Armbrister NOT getting called for interference with Carlton Fisk fielding his bunt was that the Reds had runners on second and third with nobody out in the 10th inning, and Joe Morgan eventually drove in the winning run with a walkoff single, giving the Reds a 2-1 lead in a Series they went on to win in seven games.

OK, about last night.

Jim Joyce‘s obstruction call on Will Middlebrooks, which allowed Allen Craig to score the winning run and give the St. Louis Cardinals a two-games-to-one-lead, was a tough way for the Red Sox to lose a World Series game. But it was absolutely, positively the right call. Judging by the TV sound bytes I saw from the Red Sox clubhouse after the game and the reaction of Red Sox Nation on Twitter, no one in New England was willing to accept this reality in the first couple of hours after the game, and I’m sure many of those folks still aren’t. But I’m guessing there are a few who have viewed the replay enough now, with their emotions removed from the equation, to see that this clearly was obstruction.

Let me join the chorus of those who hate to see such a big game on such a big stage end in such a bizarre way. You never want to see a World Series game decided on a controversial call by an umpire, or by the umpiring crew. It’s not the way such things should be determined. But the nature of the game is such that, on occasion, this is going to happen, and when it does, you just hope the umpires get that call right. And this time, they did.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m rooting for the Cardinals in this Series. As I told you before, I ALWAYS root for the National League team in the World Series. The reason for this is that, well, there is no reason, I just do. Always have, since I was a little kid. Can’t explain it to myself, much less to you. It’s the same reason I like peanuts and cashews but hate pecans and walnuts. Or that I like fish, chicken and beef but can’t stand pork. There is no reason for it. It just is.

But the fact I’m rooting for the Cardinals has nothing to do with the fact this call was correct. I knew instantly that the bad call in the first inning of Game 1 that went in the Cardinals’ favor was wrong, and when it was overturned, I was glad they got it right, even though it wound up costing the Cardinals three runs in that inning and they wound up losing a lopsided game.

But I want to address a few of the arguments I heard for why the game shouldn’t have ended this way.

First, here are the two applicable rules, Rule 2.00 and Rule 7.06

Rule 2.00.

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the “act of fielding” the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.

Rule 7.06.

When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal “Obstruction.”

(a) If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out.

Rule 7.06(a) Comment: When a play is being made on an obstructed runner, the umpire shall signal obstruction in the same manner that he calls “Time,” with both hands overhead. The ball is immediately dead when this signal is given; however, should a thrown ball be in flight before the obstruction is called by the umpire, the runners are to be awarded such bases on wild throws as they would have been awarded had not obstruction occurred. On a play where a runner was trapped between second and third and obstructed by the third baseman going into third base while the throw is in flight from the shortstop, if such throw goes into the dugout the obstructed runner is to be awarded home base. Any other runners on base in this situation would also be awarded two bases from the base they last legally touched before obstruction was called.

Now, one argument against the call that I heard — and dare I say the most ridiculous one — was that yeah, if you go by the letter of the law, it’s the right call, but the umpires shouldn’t let a World Series game end like that. Ummmm, OK, so what should they have done? NOT go by the letter of the law? What is this, Little League, where we want everybody to feel good afterward? No, this is the WORLD SERIES. Look, if Craig doesn’t trip over Middlebrooks, that play at the plate isn’t even close. He scores, game over. Can you imagine, then, the outcry if the umpires HADN’T called interference?

Another argument: Craig was out of the baseline. No, he wasn’t. If you go to this link, you can see umpires Joyce, Dana DeMuth and crew chief John Hirschbeck, along with their supervisor, Joe Torre, in the postgame interview room. If you don’t want to sit through the entire eight-minute video, though, here are the money quotes on the subject of whether Craig was out of the baseline.

Q. I’m just curious, is there any responsibility of the runner to make sure he’s in the baseline? Did you guys check for that? Often a runner comes around third and circles around the third base coach’s box. It seems like Craig was clearly on the inside part of third more toward shortstop. Is it the responsibility of the runner to make sure he’s inside the baseline?

JIM JOYCE: He was right on the baseline. He was right on the chalk. And so that never played into any decision, at all, because he was ‑‑ he had slid, stood up, and he was literally right on the chalk.

JOHN HIRSCHBECK: Don’t forget, the runner establishes his own baseline. If he’s on second on a base hit and rounds third wide, that baseline is from where he is, way outside the line, back to third and to home plate, it’s almost a triangle. So the runner establishes his own baseline.

I heard the argument that Middlebrooks clearly didn’t intend to obstruct Craig. But it doesn’t matter. The rule says nothing about intent. It’s the first statement made by Hirschbeck on the video I linked to above, before the umps even took any questions, when he said, “It does not have to be intent. There does not have to be intent.”

And finally, I heard the argument that the call was correct according to the rule, but it’s a stupid rule. OK, fine, but what are you going to do, change the rule in the middle of Game 3 of the World Series, just because the rule is a bad one? I’m pretty sure they can’t do that.

Now that we have settled that, I also would like to point out that …

If Red Sox manager John Farrell had done the wise thing and intentionally walked Jon Jay to load the bases, thus setting up a double play and a force at every base and bringing up light-hitting Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, the Red Sox still might have lost, but they wouldn’t have lost this way. In fact, the insanity that ensued when the Cardinals were awarded the winning run probably saved Farrell from a barrage of second-guessing along the lines of what Don Mattingly dealt with in each of the two rounds his Dodgers played in these playoffs, and …

If Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia doesn’t make that questionable throw to third base in the first place, or if he does make the throw and makes it accurately, or if Middlebrooks leaves the bag in an effort to catch the ball and stop it from sailing up the third-base line, the Red Sox still might have lost, but they wouldn’t have lost this way. Either Craig would have been out at third, sending the game to extra innings, or Craig would have been safe at third and the game would have continued with runners on the corners and two outs in the ninth.

Look, the Red Sox may still win this Series. If they win Game 4, it’s a best-of-three, with two of the three at Fenway. But if Boston loses this Series, we may never hear the end of it. Despite the fact the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, Red Sox Nation may start whining about that ridiculous Curse of the Bambino again. And the heartache and heartbreak of being a Red Sox fan. And all those New England literary types may start to write 300-page tomes about the bitter disappointment of another promising October that slipped from the grasp of their heroes, just like Mookie Wilson‘s ground ball slipped through the legs of Bill Buckner.

Well, they can bring the Curse out of mothballs if they wish. But whatever happens the rest of the way in what is shaping up to be a classic World Series, the Red Sox didn’t lose Game 3 because of any black magic. They lost because of a freak play, an obscure rule and a correct call by Joyce and the entire crew, whose job it is to know the rule book so thoroughly that even when something this rare comes up, they are able to react to it instinctively and decisively and render a correct call within a split second.

It was a World Series moment that will be debated for years, maybe even decades to come. But in the end, there is no debate. The umpires got it right. The Cardinals won. And the Red Sox, righteously indignant though they and their fans may be, lost, fair and square, according to the rules of baseball.

And they better get over it, because Game 4 is a few hours away.

Tim Wallach about to walk out the door?

A certain tweet sent out earlier tonight by Grantland’s Jonah Keri makes it sound as if Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach could be closing in on the Detroit Tigers’ managerial vacancy, this just a couple of days after the Dodgers announced they plan to bring him back in 2014.

Here’s the tweet from Keri:

“@jonahkeri: Now for something completely different — an actual source-based rumor. Hearing talks escalating for Tim Wallach re: Tigers manager job.”

The Tigers job came open right after they lost to Boston in the American League Championship Series, when Jim Leyland announced his retirement.

The word “escalating” certainly makes it sound as if this has a strong chance of happening. We’ll continue to monitor, so stay tuned.

Five Dodgers among Gold Glove finalists, and other stuff

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I’m at an Arizona Fall League game for the third day in a row. I really don’t have any pressing need to be here today, other than that it’s a pleasant place to work and I do need to work. Oh, and that they have nachos. With jalapenos.

So they announced the finalists for this year’s Gold Glove awards, and honestly, in almost two decades of covering Major League Baseball, I can’t remember this ever happening before. In the past, it was always just, here are this year’s Gold Glove winners. Finalists? Who needs finalists? It’s a little like when we beat reporters tell you that a guy who just had surgery and is going to miss two to three months played long-toss today from a distance of 75 feet. You really don’t care, you just want to be woken up when the guy is ready to play. Well, honestly, I’m finding it tough to care that Gold Glove “finalists” have been announced, just wake me up when we know who the Gold Glove winners are.

But I realize you may be very different from me, so on the off chance that you DO care, there are five Dodgers players among the finalists for National League Gold Gloves. They are Zack Greinke for pitcher, A.J. Ellis for catcher, Adrian Gonzalez for first base, Mark Ellis for second base and Juan Uribe for third base.

Handicapping the field, I would think Greinke has a pretty good shot. A.J. probably has no shot because Yadier Molina is one of the other finalists, he has won it for the past five years, and the general trend with the Gold Glove is that once you start winning them, you keep winning them until you either retire, move to the other league or your body breaks down to the point that you embarrass yourself with your attempts to play your position defensively.

None of these things has happened to Molina. Adrian has a really good shot because he is a three-time Gold Glove winner who just finished his first full year back in the N.L., and last year’s winner, Washington’s Adam LaRoche, isn’t among this year’s finalists. That would seem to contradict what I just said regarding any chance A.J. has of wresting it from Molina, but I’d still be shocked if Molina didn’t win it.

The other Ellis may be a long shot, as last year’s winner at second base, Darwin Barney of the Cubs, also is a finalist. As for Uribe, he might have a real shot, and I have to say I would really like to see this guy win it. You simply can’t quantify how much he helped the Dodgers with his defense at third this year, how many runs he saved, how many doubles he took away, etc. But suffice to say, when you watch Uribe play on a daily basis, you come to understand just what an outstanding third baseman he is, and it’s not even his natural position — he came up as a shortstop and still has played 535 MORE games in his career at SS than at 3B. Oh, and last year’s winner, San Diego’s Chase Headley, isn’t a finalist.

By the way, also among the finalists are four players the Dodgers have either traded away or lost to free agency, including Tampa Bay’s James Loney (1B), Texas’ Adrian Beltre (3B), Boston’s Shane Victorino (RF) and Russell Martin (C).

On another note, while there has been precious little information trickling out on the Dodgers’ search for a new bench coach to replace Trey Hillman, good friend Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA.com has this excellent story today looking at Manny Acta, who may or may not be a leading candidate for the job but who would seem to be an almost-perfect fit for it.

On a somber note, we are saddened to learn of the passing of NBA legend and former Lakers coach Bill Sharman, who actually played six seasons in the Brooklyn Dodgers minor league system from 1950-55. According to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, he did receive a big league callup in 1951 — although according to baseball-reference.com, he never actually appeared in a big league game — and was on the bench when the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson hit his famous home run off Ralph Branca to win a best-of-three tiebreaker series, putting the Giants in the World Series and ending the Dodgers’ season.

Finally, just one random thought after watching the first two games of the World Series. They talk about how important it is to have homefield advantage in a best-of-seven series, and it is. Home teams have won EVERY Game 7 of a World Series since 1979, when the Pirates won it in Baltimore — that’s nine consecutive Game-7 wins by the home teams — and since the League Championship Series expanded to a best-of-seven format in 1985, home teams have won 10 out of 15 of those Game 7s. However, having homefield advantage comes with its own pressure, especially early in a series. Having a potential Game 7 at home means you also have the first two games at home, and really, you need to win both of them. You BETTER win both of them. And the Red Sox didn’t. Granted, it’s better to split those two games than to lose both of them — something no home team in a World Series has done since the Braves in 1999 — but by not winning both of them, the Red Sox now are faced with what has been reduced to a best-of-five series, with the first three of those games in hostile territory. It doesn’t mean the Cardinals are going to win the Series, and the past two teams to split the first two games at home, the 2009 Yankees and 2011 Cardinals, both held on to win anyway.

Like I said, just a thought. And this is still shaping up to be a GREAT World Series. I can’t wait for Game 3.

A lot of sound and fury signifying, apparently, nothing

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Spoke with Stan Kasten earlier tonight on the subject of Don Mattingly. All he would tell me was the same thing he is saying to all the other media outlets, that he fully expects Mattingly to be back managing the Dodgers in 2014 — meaning that he has no plans to fire him — and there are multiple media reports out there now in which Mattingly’s agent, Ray Schulte, says his client will honor his contract, which calls for him to manage the team next season after his 2014 option vested when the Dodgers won the National League Division Series.

So we can only conclude from all of this that Donnie will be back. Kasten wouldn’t touch the issue of whether he is open to negotiating an extension for Mattingly, which would give Mattingly job security beyond the end of the current season, something he hasn’t enjoyed since 2012. But apparently, whether Kasten is or he isn’t, Mattingly is coming back — despite his bizarrely timed commments on Monday in which he said he didn’t want to manage a second consecutive season as a “lame duck.”

Mattingly made some valid points amid those comments. But he still picked a strange time in which to make them. How strange? Well, a lot was made of the fact that Kasten wasn’t present for that press conference, in which only Mattingly and Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti appeared. But when you consider what that press conference was expected to be — nothing more than the usual, end-of-season postmortem to allow the media to write their season wrap-up stories and look ahead to ways the front office might attempt to upgrade the team over the winter — there was no reason FOR Kasten to be there. It’s not like Kasten or Colletti had any idea Mattingly was going to say what he said. My understanding, from speaking with various sources this week, was that NOBODY in the organization knew Mattingly was going to say those things in that setting. Not Colletti, not the public-relations staff and certainly not the media who attended.

So for all the flurry of media coverage over the past three days on this issue, the Dodgers are right back where they started, with Mattingly coming back along with all but one of his coaches. The only thing that has changed is that bench coach Trey Hillman has been either fired or reassigned to an as-yet-undefined role within the organization, the choice between those things being his after he explores other possible big league coaching opportunities. The Dodgers will bring in what they deem to be a stronger bench coach, an obvious reaction to some of Mattingly’s high-profile strategic hiccups down the stretch and in the playoffs.

There might still be a contract extension, and there might not be. My money is on “no,” at least not right now. While Mattingly complained on Monday that after three years, the front office ought to have a pretty good idea of whether he can manage or not, those strategic hiccups had to leave at least a sliver of doubt in their minds. But if the Dodgers get off to a fast start in 2014 — and really, there is no reason why they shouldn’t, assuming they can stay relatively healthy — Mattingly might get his extension early in the season.

Correction to earlier post on Guerrero’s contract

Turns out Alexander Guerrero CAN be optioned without his consent in THE FIRST YEAR OF THE DEAL ONLY. This obviously makes a lot more sense than if he couldn’t be optioned AT ALL without his consent. My apologies for the mix-up.