King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Playoffs: Did Piniella scuttle Game 1 for the Cubs? Beckett goes fast as Red Sox win. TBS goes slow as innings start. Rockies keep on rolling.

Published October 4, 2007 11:00AM (EDT)

An entire day, three whole playoff games, and not a single umpiring controversy? It's like a whole new era here.

The umps left people arguing over two calls in Monday's wild-card play-in game, including the one that decided the outcome, but they kept their 18 noses clean Monday as the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Chicago Cubs 3-1 and the Colorado Rockies beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 in the National League and the Boston Red Sox shut out the Los Angeles Angels 4-0 in the American League.

The two N.L. series resume Thursday, the Red Sox and Angels get a much-needed day off and the Cleveland Indians host the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the other A.L. series.

The talker Wednesday was a manager's decision. Lou Piniella of the Cubs yanked starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano after six innings and only 85 pitches with the score tied 1-1. Reliever Carlos Marmol came in and surrendered a home run to the first batter he saw, Mark Reynolds, and eventually gave up another run on a walk, a double and a sacrifice fly.

The Diamondbacks, behind starter Brandon Webb, had a 3-1 lead. Webb and relievers Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde made it stand up.

The radio chatter Thursday will be about how Piniella should have stuck with Zambrano, his ace, who appeared to be going strong.

Piniella explained afterward that he plans to bring Zambrano back to start Game 4 Sunday on three days' rest, so he wanted to limit his workload Wednesday so he'd be fresh. Piniella got six solid innings out of Zambrano, then turned the game over to Marmol, who has been just about unhittable all year.

There's a line of baseball thinking that says that in the playoffs you play to win today's game and you worry about tomorrow when it comes.

It's a compelling argument. A bird in the hand, essentially. Zambrano had it going on Wednesday. Piniella knew that. He didn't know that shutting his ace down at 85 pitches rather than 105 would ensure that Zambrano pitched well Sunday, and he didn't know that Marmol would pitch well. He was just betting that way.

Get the win that's available to you now. That's the argument that will carry the day because we now know the result, which was that Marmol gave up the runs that won the game for the Diamondbacks.

I'm not quite sure. I tend to favor the idea of being aggressive at playoff time, winning today's game today and not trying to get too cute with the planning for the future. The playoffs are so swift and unpredictable. The future might be a whole different animal by the time it gets here, even if it's tomorrow.

But I also like Piniella's answer in the postgame press conference. Someone asked him, "Lou, do you think you could be accused of looking ahead to Game 4?"

"I'm not accused of anything, sir," he interrupted. "I've got a good bullpen here, OK? I trust my bullpen. I'm bringing back a pitcher on three days' rest on Sunday, and I took a shot with my bullpen. It didn't work today. They've done it all year. I've got confidence in them."

Piniella's explanation for the Cubs' loss was a cover for his own move, of course, but it also shouldn't be ignored. "The reason we didn't win this game," he said, "we scored one run on four hits. You're not going to win on the road, you're not going to win anywhere getting four hits and scoring one run. Give their pitching credit. But that's probably the story of the ballgame."

It was. But it's not what Cubs fans want to talk about.

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Beckett makes quick work of the Angels [PERMALINK]

Josh Beckett was the clear star of the day, not just for shutting out the Angels on four hits, but for getting the job done in an unplayoff-like two hours, 27 minutes. Just what we all needed in the middle game of a triple-header. Josh Beckett, a nation of baseball fans already developing couch sores in inconvenient places thanks you. Or at least I do.

That speedy game left Ernie Johnson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Frank Thomas with about an hour to kill in the studio before the nightcap, which wasn't exactly the fastest hour in TV history, if you know what I mean. Except in my house, thanks to the DVR.

The baseball studio show is sort of searching for an identity. It lacks the personalities of Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith on TBS's NBA show, also hosted by Johnson, and while Ripken isn't bad, he doesn't have much to say that a lot of other people couldn't say. He made a good point Monday about how the baseline umpires are too close to the first- and third-base umps during the playoffs, but he didn't need to be Cal Ripken Jr. to make it.

After the games were all over Wednesday, the "guys upstairs," as Johnson refers to the behind-the-cameras types, tried to bring a little NBA spirit to the proceedings.

Late in the Cubs-Diamondbacks game some clown behind home plate had commenced flashing an orange light as Arizona reliever Jose Valverde made a couple of pitches. The umpires had told him to knock it off. Showing the clip of the incident for the second time, the "guys upstairs" superimposed Thomas' face on the light.

It was a little sad. Remember in "Annie Hall" when Alvy tried to re-create the funny chaos of the earlier lobster scene with Annie, but with a different date, who just looked uncomfortable? It was like that.

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TBS commits a cardinal sin [PERMALINK]

In the top of the third inning of the Angels-Red Sox game, TBS missed the entire first batter.

Fox sometimes commits the sin of coming back late for the first pitch, so you miss the windup, but I can't remember it ever missing the whole swing, never mind the swing and the entire play.

Mike Napoli of the Angels hit a hot smash and Boston third baseman Mike Lowell made a diving stop and threw him out. When TBS got back from the commercial, Napoli was already jogging back to the dugout. Inexcusable.

You could explain it away as a first-day mistake, but then that begs the argument that a network shouldn't be broadcasting the playoffs without having broadcast regular-season games. Work out the kinks in April and May, people. This might be spring training for TBS, but for the fans, it's the playoffs, and we expect playoff performances all around.

In the bottom of the third, TBS came back not from a commercial but from a Bon Jovi bumper, and a full-screen graphic of a baseball with the TBS logo on it gave way just in time to show Dustin Pedroia of the Sox connecting with the first pitch.

So maybe it wasn't a mistake? Maybe it's by design? Maybe TBS thinks the first pitch of an inning isn't as important as all those other pitches?

By the top of the fourth, TBS had improved. The network managed to move the erectile dysfunction ad just in time to catch Beckett's first pitch to Orlando Cabrera, not just the result.

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This isn't going to turn out well [PERMALINK]

The wonderfully deadpan and to-the-point stylings of Steve Stone, after David Ortiz of the Red Sox hit a home run off John Lackey of the Angels on a slow curve:

"When you throw an off-speed pitch and the hitter doesn't move his hands, you've got some big problems."

Can't you just picture yourself as Lackey, or Stone, or any other pitcher, having flipped that change up there? While it's still on the way, you note with interest that the hulking slugger at the bat has not flinched. It must seem like it takes an hour for the ball to get to the plate, and for that entire hour, you know it's going to get crushed.

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Analysis: Pitch 4 was the turning point [PERMALINK]

Just a little thing, and maybe it's just poor memory, but I don't think I've ever seen an inning like the one Jeff Francis of Colorado had in the first Wednesday in Philadelphia. He started by throwing three straight balls, then he struck out the side on nine pitches.

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There oughta be a rule [PERMALINK]

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle let starting pitcher Jeff Francis bat for himself in the top of the seventh inning, then sent him out to warm up for the bottom half. But before the first pitch, he went out and replaced him with LaTroy Hawkins.

TBS announcer Don Orsillo speculated that Hawkins hadn't been ready and Hurdle had wanted to give him a chance to finish getting warm, but after the game Hurdle explained the move, in somewhat cryptic terms, as kind of a last-minute decision.

"I got some very good advice from a manager that has done this way more than I have," Hurdle said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "He said, 'You get a gut feeling in this thing, kid, roll with it.' I had a couple of different gut feelings today and we went. Sometimes they work, and sometimes it's indigestion."

Well, whatever, but he shouldn't have been allowed to do it. He should have been hit with at least a five-yard delay-of-game penalty.

A new relief pitcher who comes into the game has to face a batter before he can be replaced. That should apply to a pitcher at the start of an inning. If he takes the mound and warms up, that should be the equivalent of a new pitcher being announced. He should have to face a batter.

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There oughta be a ... wait, isn't there a rule? [PERMALINK]

It looked for a moment like Rockies closer Manny Corpas had a drinking problem, in the Ted Striker sense. A TBS camera caught him warming up in the bullpen prior to entering the game in the ninth inning. He picked up a cup of something liquid, appeared to be lifting it to his lips, and then dumped it on the front of his shirt.

A few minutes later, as he was preparing to throw the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth, he rubbed his right hand, his pitching hand, on the dirt, then rubbed the front of his shirt with the same hand, then rubbed the hand in the dirt again. Then he grabbed the ball.

So he now had a mix of dirt and water both on his hand and on the front of his jersey. How is this even remotely legal? And does it explain the Rockies' fondness for their black tops?

Previous column: Playoff preview

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  • By King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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