It was a meeting for the ages. The man whose personality and autocratic style has loomed large over baseball like a...like a large, loomy thing. Oh, and Bud Selig was there as well. :-)
Glad I went. Left the house a little earlier than usual, and Chris was soon entering finely-honed sarcasm mode, claiming every slow-moving snowbird on the road was a Bud Selig fan on the way to the signing. [Chris has been particularly turned off to the whole autograph thing, since her Schmuckfest experiences]
We got there, parked, went in and grabbed our queue number. Yes, it was just like the post office, albeit there, you don't get employees wandering around with sample trays of caramel frappaccinos. We get #45, and decided we should probably buy a copy of the book, having forgotten the baseballs, bats, gloves, stack of baseball cards, etc. Briefly contemplate getting Bud to sign an empty caramel frappaccino cup, but thought better of it.
To his credit, Bud was chatting away in a friendly manner with everyone who got his autograph, happily answering questions. We were only allowed up one at a time, with the rest of the queue kept at a safe - for Bud - distance. Finally, the moment of truth: I passed him the book, and as he reached for the pen, I said, "So, can I ask why it took Major League baseball so long to address the issue of steroids?"
A silence descended - understandably, given that the previous book-buyer had tossed up powderpuff questions, such as who were the best players Selig had seen in his career. But he hadn't become Commissioner for nothing, and he soon regrouped. "That's a fair question..." he responded - obviously a time-buying response, but a decent one.
Finally, he replied: "We've been trying to do something since 1998, but it all had to be negotiated with the Players Union." He pointed out the gradual toughening-up of the policy, and said, "They basically fought us tooth and nail over the issue. But we've got the positive tests down to just 1% last year." Much as I was tempted to ask a follow-up question, I suspected his minders would reach nervously for their stunguns if I did so: Chris, instead, followed up with a brief chat about the Schmuckfest, before we departed, signed volume in hand.
But on the whole, I was fairly impressed by Bud. He could have ducked the question entirely - it was, I admit, a cheap ambush - and while I don't excuse MLB entirely [they loved the McGwire/Sosa fiasco as much as anyone, and presumably knew a lot more about what was fuelling it], it's a reasonable point that the players' union was as much to blame, if not more so. In the end, it comes down to personal responsibility: what you put in your body is your own choice.
Plenty of action on the park to catch up on, with the pitching finally outperforming the hitting, restricting the opposition to just four runs in 26 innings. Nippert made a good case for his spot in the rotation with five innings of one-hit ball against San Diego, albeit admittedly facing the B-squad. He allowed two walks and struck out six.
Daigle threw a perfect sixth, before Doyle allowed two walks and two hits, while retiring two batters: he took the loss, before Glant came in to polish off the seventh and pitch the eighth too. We outhit the Padres 6-4, but only managed one walk, against ten K's. D'Antona and Jackson had two apiece, and DH Neb Brown had the only RBI of the day with a single, as we went down 2-1.
In Friday's other game, El Duque was in better form, pitching six innings of one-run ball, with five hits and two walks. He also had a walk, a hit, a two-out RBI - and even attempted to steal a base. Though I imagine the effect was like watching your drunken uncle hitting on Keira Knightley: while you certainly have to admire the effort involved, it's really more in hope than any actual expectation of success. I really don't think many forty-something pitchers will be terrorising the basepaths this year...
After his six innings, there wasn't really an awful lot left for anyone else to do. But Bajenaru and Grimsley did their part, pitching perfectly through the next two frames. Koplove allowed a lead-off homer in the ninth, but then retired the next three, to seal a 6-2 victory. Byrnes was the offensive powerhouse, going two-for-four with a three-run homer off former D'back, Jason Bulger. [Thank you, Jason!] Estrada also had a pair of hits.
Hudson was the offensive hero of today's game, going 3-for-3, ending up a triple short of the cycle and driving in two runs. Shawn Green and Davanon also had two hits apiece, while Tracy drove in two runs without actually getting a hit. Only one slightly worrying note, again K's heavily outnumbered walks, 9-2 in this case.
With Halsey packing his bags, Kevin Jarvis was squeezed into a spot start, and delivered admirably, with four-innings of two hit ball, with no walks and three K's. And things got better thereafter: Valverde allowed a hit but fanned two, before Grimsley, Vizcaino and Lyon produced back-to-back-to-back perfect innings. Greg Aquino did allow two base-runners in the nint, but with a 6-0 lead, we'll let him off with a light tap on the wrist, providing he doesn't do it again.
As Otacon noted, of particular interest was seeing Jackson batting in the five hole - ahead of Shawn Green. The shape of things to come? Melvin was unwilling to commit further: "At least going in, there may be some matchups depending on bullpens and how many lefties and so forth, but right now, I'm comfortable with hitting him in the five hole." It certainly might help to break up the parade of lefties in the top half of the lineup.
The D'backs announced the #1-4 for the rotation: no real surprises, unless you're Russ Ortiz, in which case you might be a bit peeved to be behind both Hernandez and Batista. Said pitching coach Bryan Price, "He doesn't have to carry our staff. He doesn't have to come in here and be 'the man.' He needs to be a contributor." Just hopefully not for the opposition.
Melvin's opinion is, "We still feel like we have some depth, and if we need to replace guys we have some guys." However, they're different guys from yesterday, with Halsey being traded to the A's for Juan "Promise" Cruz. Cruz has always been a hot prospect, but has been unable to convert that into consistently solid numbers at the major-league level in Chicago, Atlanta or Oakland. He can start or relieve, but Byrnes says the pen is his most likely destination, at least initially.
The knock-on effects of the trade are obvious. Vargas now seems to have a clear run at the #5 spot, though Nippert still has a slim chance, especially after his good performance today. And the bullpen now looks likely to be Valverde, Mulholland Lyon, Vizcaino, Grimsley, Cruz, and one of Bajenaru, Daigle or Aquino - probably in that order. However, Melvin says, "We have to look and see where [the move] affects the rest of the group that we're going to put together." So this might not be the end of the trades: Koyie Hill and Luis Terrero are still wearing "?" as a number...
Something a little different here tomorrow, I think. Tune in to see what. :-) And a last warning to fantasy league players, that we'll be going "ready" at noon. Arizona time. That should be fun: draft report to follow on Tuesday.