Umpires Get Call Right at Plate on CC Sabathia Tag Out of Nelson Cruz

As much as we rip on umpires for getting calls wrong (and insist upon instant replay), they actually do a good job. When you consider how fast the game is played and how difficult it is to get in the right positions to make calls, they get it right more often than not. The problem is when they get things wrong, we know about it because we have HD cameras and instant replay from every angle, making missed calls inexcusable. Well, because we’ve pointed out all the mistakes the umpires have made in the playoffs, I’d like to point out a call they got right.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, CC Sabathia launched a pitched over Jorge Posada’s glove. Nelson Cruz, the runner at third, decided to bolt him to try and score on the wild pitch. Posada got a great bounce off the brick wall, relayed to Sabathia who tagged Cruz out. Cruz appeared to beat the throw (and he did), but replays showed Sabathia tagged him out high before Cruz’s foot touched the plate (as you can see in the picture above).

The play didn’t seem to matter for most of the game because Texas had a three-run home run from Josh Hamilton earlier in the inning and got a two-run double from Michael Young in the 4th to lead 5-0. Once the Yankees took the lead scoring five runs in the 8th, they sure could have used that run. Good call by the umps on the play.

MLB League Championship Series Preview

The dust from the MLB Division Series has settled and four very good teams are left standing.  Playoff baseball is all about match-ups.  Of course, there is the pitcher against the opposing pitcher; there is the pitcher against the opposing lineup where history and pitcher/hitter handedness come into play; and there is pitcher/hitter against the playing environment, the ballparks.  There is also manager against manager, but for the sake of this article, we’re looking at the players and what goes down on the field.

Today, as we prepare for another round of what figures to be very exciting MLB action, we will look at some of the potential match-ups in store.

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Baserunning, Ian Kinsler Carry Rangers to Game 5 ALDS Win

We’ve already addressed the awesomeness that is Cliff Lee for the Rangers. He pitched Game 1 and Game 5 of the ALDS and beat the Rays both times, allowing only two runs over 16 innings. What also should be addressed is that Ian Kinsler hit three home runs in the series, including a big two-run bomb off Rafael Soriano in the 9th to give Lee a much bigger margin for error. Kinsler went 8-for-18 with five runs scored and six RBIs in the five-game series. He hit three long balls and would have had a strong case for ALDS MVP if they gave out such an award.

What also must be added is the way the Rangers beat the Rays in Game 5. As LBS contributor Alan Hull and I discussed, baserunning was a deciding factor in the game. Shortstop Elvis Andrus scored the first run of the game going from second to home on a simple ground ball to first, all because Carlos Pena and David Price took their sweet time on the putout. Andrus should have been held at third, and he wouldn’t have scored after Vladimir Guerrero flied out to end the inning. That’s one run given away by the Rays, but they weren’t done, and credit must be given to Andrus for the aggressive running.

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Cliff Lee Is Becoming Automatic in Playoffs

As soon as the Texas Rangers acquired Cliff Lee before the trade deadline, I was groaning because I knew it meant the Angels were done in the AL West race. The southpaw has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since winning the Cy Young Award in 2008 with the Indians, and he’s become one of the postseason starting pitchers we’ve seen.

Lee beat the Rays for the second time in the series, allowing just six hits and one run while striking out 11 in a complete game win. For the ALDS, he pitched 16 innings allowing just 11 hits, two runs, no walks and posting 21 strikeouts. The big stat that was being trumpeted for the series was that only seven times in postseason history has a pitcher gone 7 innings with double-digit strikeouts and no walks, and four of those games have now been accomplished by Cliff.

How about another feather in Phifer’s cap? He is one of only five pitchers in history to go at least 6-0 in his first seven career postseason starts. Here’s that exclusive list:

    > El Duque 6-0 1.24 ERA
    > Cliff Lee 6-0 1.44 ERA
    > Bob Gibson 6-0 1.71 ERA
    > Lefty Gomez 6-0 2.86 ERA
    > Jack Morris 6-0 3.21 ERA

Things will get more difficult for Lee in the next round against the Yankees, but as long as he keeps on throwing strikes with a fastball around 93 and constant movement, and as long as Captain Hook shows up like it did on Tuesday night, he’ll keep on rolling. For now, he’s starting to place himself in the class with the likes of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, and Dave Stewart with his clutch pitching. He is awesome.

Photo Credit: J. Meric/Getty Images

Madison Bumgarner Comes Up Huge for Giants in Game 4

When it came to experience, Game 4 between the Giants and Braves in the NLDS was a mismatch. Derek Lowe was making his 8th playoff appearance and had thrown over 80 career postseason innings, including a strong start in Game 1. Madison Bumgarner is a 21-year-old rookie who got called up late in June by the Giants after making only 18 starts this season. Yet the youngster hung tough with the veteran in a huge playoff game.

Lowe actually took a no-hitter into the 6th inning and left with the lead despite dropping f-bombs on his way out. After the bullpen surrendered the next two runs giving the Giants the lead, Bumgarner was in position to get the win because he was the pitcher of record. The Giants’ bullpen closed it out over the final three innings giving the rookie the victory, but he did plenty to earn it.

Bumgarner was facing a good lineup and only gave up one extra base hit the entire game, a Brian McCann tie-breaking home run in the 6th. His final line was two runs and six hits over six innings with only one walk and five strikeouts.

To give you an idea of how impressive his performance was, at 21 years and 71 days old, Bumgarner was the youngest pitcher to start a postseason game since Bret Saberhagen in 1984. The rookie definitely earned himself a spot in the NLCS rotation with that start, and he and Jonathan Sanchez are proving San Francisco is much more than just Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Additionally, anyone who argued the Giants made the wrong move leaving the veteran Barry Zito off the NLDS roster was proven wrong, at least for now. Rookies often make a name for themselves in the postseason, and Madison Bumgarner is doing just that.

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Derek Lowe Drops F-Bomb After Walking Last Batter

Derek Lowe pitched an admirable Game 4 for the Braves in the NLDS against the Giants. Coming back on short rest, the veteran went six and a third innings of two-hit ball, leaving with a 2-1 lead. Manager Bobby Cox came out for a visit after two men reached in the 7th, but Lowe pleaded his case to stay in the game and got to face another batter. He walked Pat Burrell to load the bases and Cox came out with the official hook. Lowe was every bit as pissed as you could imagine, dropping a visible and audible f-bomb:

The Giants scored two runs the rest of the inning to take the lead and both were charged to Lowe (though one was unearned). Atlanta could only manage two runs in the game and lost 3-2, dropping the series. It’s unfortunate they couldn’t extend it to a Game 5 because that would have been a fun contest to watch. Every single game in the series was low-scoring, and they were all decided by just one run. Thanks to my man Lon Buckler for sharing the tip.

Cole Hamels Can Make or Break World Series Title for Phillies

Lost in the busy NFL Sunday (to everyone except Phillies and Reds fans) was how well Cole Hamels pitched for the Phillies giving them the NLDS sweep. The 26-year-old southpaw was sensational throwing a complete game shutout against the National League’s most potent offense during the regular season. Because of the team’s additions of Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, Hamels has slipped into the number three starter role and seems to be more of the forgotten man on the staff. Not anymore.

Hamels was in top form retiring the Reds on nine strikeouts, nine groundouts, and nine fly outs in a 2-0 win. He allowed just five hits throwing 119 pitches, 82 of which were strikes. Even when it appeared as if he might get into trouble late in the game, Hamels got the ground ball double-play when it was needed.

As hard as I was on Cole Hamels last year — he self-admittedly came into the season unprepared — it can’t be forgotten how good he can be and how clutch he was in 2008. When they won the World Series, Colbert was simply sensational going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts, all wins by the Phillies. There’s a reason his success got to his head that off-season, and it’s because he garnered fame for stepping up and pitching like a stud.

Phillies fans are enthralled by the H20 combination on the pitching staff — Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt — that makes them the World Series favorite. We’ve already seen Hamels pitch the team to a title in 2008, and now they also have Roy Halladay who threw a no-hitter in his post-season debut. If Hamels continues to show what he did Sunday night and pitches back to 2008 form, this team will be awfully difficult to beat. He may very well pitch them to their second World Series title in three years.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images