Nationals

Column: Bad call, bad idea for one-game playoff

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Column: Bad call, bad idea for one-game playoff

There was something a bit artificial about it to begin with, and not just because the worst team in the National League playoffs became the first beneficiary of the expanded wild card.

The St. Louis Cardinals certainly celebrated as if it was real, even if they had to wait until they were off the field to go wild about their wild-card win. No sense antagonizing the fans in Atlanta any more, in case they still had a few more beer bottles in reserve.

Baseball is not supposed to be decided in one game. Never was, no matter how much extra money it brings Bud Selig and his owners.

That a 94-win season can end because of a few ill-timed errors is hard enough to digest for Atlanta fans who kept the faith through a long season. That a call an umpire had no business making thwarted a possible comeback will make the offseason seem even longer.

Actually, left field umpire Sam Holbrook may have done everybody but Braves fans a favor by raising his arm and calling an infield fly in the eighth inning Friday. His call highlighted the absurdity of a sudden-death playoff system thrown together quickly and without a great deal of careful thought.

The idea was sound, much like the original plan to add a wild-card team back in 1994. More teams in contention in August and September means more fans in the stands, which means more money to the owners.

The original wild card - instituted when baseball went to three divisions from two - has worked well, even if purists grumble that the best-of-five opening series should be best-of-seven. It has added excitement to baseball races, and given teams that might never beat a juggernaut in their division something to play for.

The expanded wild card is more of a gimmick that punishes the wild-card entry with the best record and makes the 162-game regular season even less meaningful. There's too much emphasis put on one game, too many chances that something weird - like a bizarre infield fly rule call - causes an entire season to suddenly go bad.

And let there be no mistake about it. The infield rule call was bizarre, beginning with the fact it was made in the outfield.

It might not have cost the Braves the game, but it surely cost them a chance to get back in the game. And while it may have been the technically correct call to make under the broad interpretation of the rule, it was the wrong call to make under the rule of common sense.

It was a call made by an umpire looking at the play from an angle he never sees during the regular season, when there are no outfield umps. The last time Holbrook was that far down the left- field line during the regular season, he probably was trying to get away from the bratwurst and hot dog racing between innings in Milwaukee.

It was also a judgment call, meaning no amount of instant replay could change it. Indeed, even after watching the video after the game, the umpires were unanimous in their opinion that the call was the right one.

Joe Torre, the former player and manager who now acts as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said he was sorry the controversy overshadowed the first game under the new format. But Torre said he found the game exciting, and liked the idea of the sudden- death playoff.

Not surprisingly, losing manager Fredi Gonzalez didn't quite agree.

``Maybe they need to tweak the rules a little bit as you go forward,'' Gonzalez said. ``But it was one game for both teams. So, that part was fair.''

The best tweak would be to expand the wild-card elimination to a best-of-three series, and play all games on the home field of the team with the best record. That would provide an incentive for having the best regular-season record of the two wild-card teams and eliminate a travel day that would push the postseason further into November.

That doesn't guarantee the best team will win, but playing a minimum of two games takes some of the randomness out of it. Teams will play looser, managers will be able to set up their pitching staffs better, and umpires will have a few more games to get used to making calls down the outfield lines.

More importantly, fans won't have to live with the idea of an entire season being wiped out by a fluke play or a bad call.

It's a simple fix that will make September more competitive, and October even more interesting.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

WASHINGTON -- Sunday afternoon’s discussions still revolved around Saturday night’s close, which Washington manager Davey Martinez referred to as a “fiasco” on Sunday.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon started a chaotic situation when he popped out of the dugout following Sean Doolittle’s first pitch in the ninth inning Saturday. Maddon contended Doolittle’s “toe-tap” was an illegal delivery, akin to when Chicago reliever Carl Edwards Jr. tried to add a pause in spring training, but was told the move was illegal.

The umpires told him, and Doolittle, the delivery was legal. Chicago filed a protest with the league. After consulting with Major League Baseball and MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, Joe Torre, the Cubs dropped their protest Sunday morning.

A point of differentiation is whether the pitcher is taking a second step. Umpires previously determined Edwards was taking a second step. They determined Doolittle was not. This is a judgment call for the umpires and is not reviewable.

Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) states in part: “The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).”

The league, according to Maddon, said there is a difference between Edwards placing his full foot on the ground and Doolittle grazing the mound with a cleat when he delivered. Maddon continued to not agree with the interpretation.

“We went through the whole process,” Maddon said. “Our guys in the office spoke to MLB and I talked to Mr. Torre. The whole thing I wanted to really get done was protect Carl. I really didn’t anticipate a whole lot to be done with it. Even though I still don’t agree with the conclusion, because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it. But the point was, I would not be a good parent if I had not spoken up for my guy. And that’s what I was doing last night and, again, it’s just to eliminate any gray area there just for future because it’s going to happen again down the road somewhere and you’re just trying to delineate what is right and what is wrong. In my mind, it wasn’t a judgment call, I thought it was black-and-white. It wasn’t gray.”

Maddon said multiple times that Doolittle tapped with his toe in addition to grazing the mound, both of which, he contended, were not legal or different than Edwards' attempt at deception.

The congenial Doolittle was steamed postgame Saturday and remained irritated Sunday. Saturday, he took multiple shots at Maddon during his postgame commentary. He also taunted the idea when throwing warmup pitches while Maddon argued with umpires by making exaggerated kicks with his leg and multiple stops with his foot. Doolittle switched to a delivery without any stops -- one he often uses -- after the protest as a way to show Maddon he didn’t need the tweak to be successful.

“In that moment, he's not trying to do anything other than rattle me and it was kind of tired,” Doolittle said Saturday. “I don't know. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game and stuff like that. He put his stamp on it for sure.

"I actually have to thank him. After they came out the second, the [Kyle] Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to [Kris] Bryant and those were probably the best ones I've thrown in a while. I don't do the tap when there's somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I've had a lot of traffic recently, so I've had practice doing it, so it wasn't like a huge adjustment to me. I don't know. In a way, I kind of need to thank him."

Asked Sunday if Doolittle’s comments were relayed to him, Maddon smiled and said yes.

“Listen, I have no issue with that whatsoever,” Maddon said. “We’re all emotional. I’ve said a lot of things I didn’t want to say years ago -- even in this ballpark. I think if he understood the entire context, he might have had a different opinion. Even if he was the manager himself -- if he was me -- or if he was being protected by his manager under similar circumstances, I think his stance may be different.”

No one -- the league, Maddon or Doolittle -- changed their perspective a day later.

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues shutout Sharks 5-0 to win Game 5

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues shutout Sharks 5-0 to win Game 5

The St. Louis Blues won a decisive Game 5 against the San Jose Sharks 5-0, pushing the Sharks to the brink of elimination.

The Blues are now one win away from their first Stanley Cup Final since the 1969-70 season, where they lost to the Boston Bruins in a sweep.

St. Louis started the scoring early when Oskar Sundqvist netted his second goal of the series in the first five minutes of the game. 

Jaden Schwartz then tallied his first goal of the game off a juicy rebound in front of Martin Jones to start the scoring in the second period. It was Schwartz's 10th goal of the playoffs, which tied him for third all-time in Blues history for goals in the postseason.

Vladimir Tarasenko added to the Blues lead off a penalty shot. He's the first player in Blues franchise history to score a penalty shot goal in the playoffs.

Schwartz then added two more goals in the third period for a hat-trick. The first came on a 5-on-3 power play advantage off a scramble in front of the net, and the second came from a backdoor one-timer pass from Tarasenko.

Schwartz now has 12 goals these playoffs, and it's his second hat-trick of the playoffs.

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington recorded 21 saves for a shutout, and he's the first rookie goalie to accomplish that feat for the Blues.

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