Better late than never: MLB dodges another All-Star controversy
NEW YORK -- A farce was about to break out in the almost endless All-Star Game.
Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew and Mets third baseman David Wright weren't warming up in the bullpen just yet for their respective leagues. But the two multitalented All-Stars (but maybe not quite multitalented enough to be pitching in an All-Star Game) were perhaps only minutes away from having to scale the pitchers mound and turning the riveting, well-pitched game into a curiosity -- and yet another unwanted All-Star controversy.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is frequently called upon to explain why an exhibition game determines which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. So Selig certainly didn't want to have to answer to why an exhibition game with outfielder Drew and/or infielder Wright pitching determined which league got the advantage. But another scoreless inning or two, and that's exactly what would have happened.
Early Wednesday morning, not too long after the longest All-Star Game ever played mercifully and fortuitously ended with the usual result -- an American League victory, this one by a 4-3 score -- exactly four hours and 50 minutes after it started, All-Star managers Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle revealed that the idea of employing Drew and Wright to pitch was in their head.
And it was perilously close to happening.
Drew was going to get the call because he spent a lot of time "bugging'' Francona about pitching, Francona said of his own Red Sox right fielder. Also, it was Drew's game-tying two-run home run that led to the six extra innings and almost caused an early-morning disaster.
Wright was getting the assignment, Hurdle explained, because he was the last guy picked for the team -- never mind that the Mets icon's lone weakness in an otherwise stellar all-around game is that he occasionally spray throws from third.
Yes indeed, we were no more than an inning or two away from what would have been a travesty to dwarf the tied All-Star Game of 2002. That was the very game that led to Selig giving added import to the All-Star Game with the rule giving the game's winner the home field edge.
There's nothing wrong with the rule. It's better than the old way, where the home field was alternated year to year. But perhaps another modification or two is needed. Drew and Wright are excellent at what they do. But they are not pitchers. And if pitcher Drew and/or pitcher Wright determined home field in the World Series, well, that would have been just plain silly.
Selig's job description is to explain every little injustice, oversight and faux pas. And he nearly had a lot of explaining to do.
"I don't mind telling you I did a lot of pacing,'' Selig told a few writers standing around the elusive home plate after the game.
Selig used the word "great'' to describe the game, and it some ways it was -- though poor Dan Uggla might not agree (in an impossibly bad performance, he had three errors, three strikeouts and one GIDP). Selig smiled and winked his way through the brief chat. What Selig was feeling was relief, and not the sort of relief Drew and Wright would have brought.
All those scoreless frames produced anxiety in Selig, not to mention the managers. Francona said the nerves produced "acne on my forehead.'' He appeared not be kidding.
But what if ... what if this game lasted just an inning or two more?
"No sense playing a lot of "What ifs?'' Selig said afterward.
The "What ifs?'' are not pretty.. The "What ifs?'' would have led to more scrutiny, and perhaps some more rules changes. As Selig pointed out, he's already expanded the rosters to 32 players.
This was never supposed to be an issue again. But after 15 innings, the managers were simply about to be out of pitchers. The two pitchers in the game at that point, Scott Kazmir of the AL and Brad Lidge of the NL, were the last hurlers available. Hurdle had been handicapped from the start by having three pitchers who started as recently as Sunday, and one, Giants star Tim Lincecum, who suffered from dehydration earlier in the afternoon and had to go to the hospital. And while that was said to have nothing worse than flu-like symptoms, he was either asleep (like most of America) or watching the game from his hospital bed when the game finally ended.
Francona conceded that he didn't help himself when he maneuvered to bring Yankees icon Mariano Rivera into the game in the middle of the ninth inning, limiting the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez to just one out. So Francona's nice tip of the cap to the great Mariano nearly turned disastrous.
No matter what, Selig insisted, "The game would have been played to its conclusion.'' Another tie game was not an option, not with the game determining the home-field advantage.
But a farce to match the farce of 2002 was in the offing.