The theme of the day-after appears to be a reappraisal of the "This Time it Counts!" ethos mixed with various suggestions for more rule changes. Jeff Passan, for example, contends that some kind of pitching minimums be set, with someone being required to go three innings, and another two pitchers required to go two. While the angst (although some of it's been mostly good-natured fun at Selig's expense) there's something silly about all this as well. Pretty much anytime you have a game go past the twelfth inning, whether its in a high school game or in the Major Leagues, you've entered a sub-optimal situation. It's just an inherent risk in the nature of the sport, and while it might be covered over with an absurd amount of spare arms -- expect a expanded roster and a mandated fifteen or sixteen pitchers next season -- at a certain point, the beauty of baseball is that there's no sure way of knowing when the game would have ended. Let's say that Francona and Hurdle kept a few guys in longer in key spots and had two extra pitchers each. Well, two innings later, we would have had the exact same situation.
Passan's column -- and I should say I like his work -- was also typical in that the claim that the game was like a Little League contest made an appearance in the piece. Perhaps I'm simply a contrarian, but I actually like this aspect of the game. Moreover, the mass substitutions and effort to have everyone appear is consistent with the structure of the rules, which require that every team be represented. If we're going to jerrymander the roster so that George Sherrill and Christian Guzman make the team, then those players should play, maximizing whatever benefit that provides to placating the fans of the game. As a Royals fan, I've had plenty of time to ponder the moral contours of this rule, considering that the boys in blue have been responsible for some of the worst All-Stars of all-time in the last decade, and have also gone numerous years without changing the game in any meaningful way. Before last night's game a Royal had not appeared in the Midsummer Classic since 2005, and the last Royal to get a hit in the game was... Bo Jackson.
Joe Sheehan, who has sunk into high sentimentality mode this week because the game was at Yankee Stadium and is thus sorely missed, takes the other position, that the game needs to feature longer appearances by the game's starters. Perhaps, although it's a not infrequent occurrence for the real star, or at least the better player, to actually be the reserve. The more you break it down, I'm not sure there's a right or wrong attitude towards the playing everyone concept. In matters of taste, there can be no dispute.
Where these two issues come together of course is in the fact that Joakim Soria would not have appeared in the game at all had it not reached the eleventh inning. For all the bickering about how Francona ran out of pitchers, he did manage to have everything covered with no complaints through thirteen innings, which is no mean feat. As for Soria, his 1.2 innings of high-leverage performance was the most relevant performance since the mid-90s (there's a handful of good performances by Monty, Cone and Rosado to choose from) and easily the most important. The trouble Soria faced in the twelfth wasn't entirely his fault; walking Ludwick was bad but not terrible, until the bunt was botched and two men were on with no out. After a second bunt and an IBB, Soria's strikeout of Dan Uggla (a vintage Soria sequence) with the bases loaded and one out was one of the key moments of the game, although very little was made of it at the time. Although for the first four hours of the game it looked like our boy wasn't going to appear, he ended up doing us proud. As the first worthy Royal All-Star since vintage Mike Sweeney, I think we can all be happy with how it turned out.
Soria's inning points to another frustrating sub-plot to the latter stages of the game: the incessant and almost entirely unfruitful small ball. Five hours later, after all the bunts and steals (and a few huge caught stealings) three of the game's seven runs came on home runs with another coming on a double. The whole exercise was reminiscent of the low-run-environment paradox: gambits like these hold scoring down, creating games that actually are low-scoring, making them somewhat defensible. Coupled with a consistent lack of patience -- some unspoken agreement by both teams not to stress anyone? -- by the hitters on both teams, it wasn't a surprise that the game was so low-scoring.
Insomuchas anything matters, it is a good thing that the better league won. It's unbelievably stupid that the result was relevant in anyway, but in a universe in which it was, it's preferable that the stupid method nevertheless produces a good result. Bud Selig has not shown himself to be especially intellectually supple when it comes to questioning himself or shifting course (other than telling players testing results will be confidential) during his tenure. Fortunately, there is a solution here -- if I may participate with my own rule change suggestion -- let his other pet project, interleague play, determine the winner of home field advantage and let the All-Star game just be what it always was.
As for the prediction contest, well, that worked out great, didn't it? I guess anyone who had Tim Lincecum ended up winning, although as he wasn't even in the ballpark, it's hard to really consider him an eligible person. I'll look at the submissions later today and think about it some more. I don't want to deny someone their glorious RR T-Shirt on a technicality.