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Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Bonus breakfast baseball

by Matt Smith

Several times over the course of a season, a game will go deep into extra innings and turn into a battle of the last man standing.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals produced such a marathon match on Wednesday night in only their third game of year.

If the contest is played in the evening Stateside, you’ll often find that the crowds thin out as the game heads beyond the tenth inning and the fans reluctantly decide that they have to head to bed to get up early the next morning.

Here in Britain, the morning has already arrived. Although the crowds in the ballpark diminish, fans in other parts of the world start to arrive virtually over the Internet. Little starts a week-day morning better than settling down with your cereal and cup of tea, logging on to MLB.com and finding out that there’s some live bonus breakfast baseball waiting to be watched.

It was Thursday morning for us in the U.K. as the D-Backs and Cards battled their way beyond the regulation nine innings. The Cardinals took a 9-8 lead in the top of the twelfth inning only for a sacrifice fly by Martin Prado to level the game once again in the bottom of the frame and move us on to the thirteenth.

In these situations, there’s always a sense that something is quickly running out. For the teams, it’s their pitching staffs that are being whittled down as the innings pile up and every available arm gets called into action. For fans in the U.K., it’s the relentless ticking of the clock on the wall and the hope that a dramatic end to the game will arrive before you have to head off to work.

On Thursday morning the climax came at approximately 8.15 a.m. when Cliff Pennington’s single into right-centre field brought home Jason Kubel for a hard-earned 10-9 walk-off win in sixteen innings.

It’s always tough to lose a game when you’ve put so much effort into it, but the Cardinals were down to their final available pitcher, Fernando Salas, and had it gone much further they would have needed to turn the ball over to a position player. That’s always fun for us fans, but not so much for the manager having to watch it from the dugout.

As it was, the game was brought to an end before a position player had to take to the mound and both managers headed to the clubhouse glad that their teams had an off-day on Thursday.

A fantasy failure

One of the benefits of fantasy baseball is that it gives you an emotional attachment to games played by teams other than those involving your chosen club. Even if it’s an early season game with little riding on it in the general scheme of things, the performances of player or two involved can grab your attention and give you a reason to watch intently.

The Tampa Bay Rays’ home-opener against the Baltimore Orioles last Tuesday was one such game for me. David Price was my third round selection in this year’s BaseballGB Fantasy League draft and he was on the mound for the Rays.

After giving up a two-run homer to Matt Wieters in the first inning, Price settled in nicely and pitched a solid if unspectacular six innings. It looked like I was in line for a bonus ‘Win’ as two Rays runs in the bottom of the sixth inning turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead and put Price in line to be the winning pitcher.

But then manager Joe Maddon relieved Price and brought in Jake McGee for the seventh inning. McGee is also on my fantasy team and that just seemed like it was tempting fate. Sure enough, despite throwing a fastball in the upper nineties, McGee was jumped on by the Orioles and gave up five runs, three coming on a home run by Chris Davis.

As I watched my fantasy team’s ERA balloon whilst Price’s pitching ‘W’ vanished into thin air, I suddenly remembered that the benefit of fantasy baseball making other games seem important can also be a curse.

And I cursed quite a lot when Davis was circling the bases.

Incurring injuries

One week into the season and some players are already heading onto the Disabled List.

The Reds’ Ryan Ludwick lasted less than three full innings on Opening Day. He made a head-first slide into third base in Cincinnati’s game against the LA Angels and separated his right shoulder, putting him out of action for a good proportion of the rest of the season.

Jake McGee’s meltdown in the aforementioned Orioles-Rays game was a shock I didn’t need, but the game produced a welcome surprise of sorts in the sight of the O’s Brian Roberts taking the field and going 2-for-4. The second baseman has endured a miserable run of injuries over the last three years with a catalogue of ailments restricting him to just 115 appearances over that period. His Opening Day start gave rise to hopes that he might have put the bad luck behind him, yet sadly those hopes were dashed a couple of days later. Roberts suffered a ruptured tendon in his right knee and will miss the next three to four weeks.

It looks like Roberts should be fine to come back healthy after that rest period and hopefully the same can be said for the Red Sox’s pitcher John Lackey. After missing all of the 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lackey was doing a decent job against the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday in his first game back when all of a sudden he grabbed hold of his right arm after letting go of a pitch in the fifth inning. It looked awful and everyone, Lackey included, probably thought the worst as soon as it happened. The initial diagnosis is that it’s a right biceps strain and not something structurally wrong with his repaired elbow, so it’s a case of crossing fingers that Lackey won’t have a long rehabilitation assignment to work through so soon after his last one.

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