- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

Baseball probably isn't going to finish the season if all this strike talk is any indication so why should it finish the All-Star Game? Declaring the Midsummer "Classic" a draw after 11 innings because both teams are bereft of pitchers tells you all you need to know about the former national pastime. Nobody has the commitment anymore to get anything done.

By all rights, baseball should be basking in the glory of one of its most entertaining All-Star Games ever. Tuesday night's affair had almost everything you could ask for home runs, lead changes, defensive derring-do. The game was such a gas that no one minded when it continued well past midnight. But because Joe Torre and Bob Brenly decided to manage according to a prearranged script instead of responding to what was going on the field they were left with empty bullpens and no one to hand the ball to.

And so we have American League 7, National League 7, the second tie in All-Star history but the first that's the result of human error as opposed to Mother Nature's wiles. I mean, couldn't it at least have been decided on penalty kicks? Why end it this way, with the players trudging off the field to the boos of the Milwaukee crowd?

Once again, baseball has stiffed the fan. And don't tell me, like Bud Selig tried to, that it couldn't be helped, that no one planned for the game to go on so long. Sorry, but that's what managers are supposed to do plan. And one of the things they're supposed to plan for is the possibility of extra innings. Since there have been five All-Star Games longer than 11 innings and none of the previous ones ended in a tie because the teams ran out of pitchers we can only conclude that Torre and Brenly were derelict in their duty. Maybe they were too busy chatting with the Fox TV crew to notice that the score had tightened up in the late innings and that they might have to use their staffs a little differently.

Mariano Rivera, a former middle reliever, couldn't have pitched a second inning (as he sometimes does)? John Smoltz, a former starter, couldn't have pitched two? Give me a break. They had Monday off. They had yesterday off. Send 'em back out there to pitch the 10th, then go to your last pitcher.

But Torre and Brenly were mostly concerned with giving everybody a chance to play. Completing the game, it seems, was much lower on their to-do list. So the AL used nine pitchers and the NL used 10, and the managers made sure none of them tore his rotator cuff. Fourteen of the 19 pitchers pitched an inning or less and none pitched more than two.

Compare this to the '30s, when Lefty Gomez had a six-inning stint for the American League and Mel Harder once went five. Heck, as recently as '67, Catfish Hunter threw the last five innings for the AL in a 15-inning game because the team had no one else. There was a game to be played, and they played it. They didn't worry about whether the A's might have to push Catfish's next start back a few days.

Of course, times were different then. There was a real blood feud between the leagues. They certainly didn't look on the All-Star Game as a mere "exhibition" as Torre, of all people, described it. I say "of all people" because Joe should know better; he was a product of the '60s and '70s and played in that '67 marathon. The All-Star Game might not count in the standings, but the fans hold it very dear. And to liken it to some split-squad game in Tampa in the middle of March

A lot of it comes down to coddling starting pitchers. Their inning totals have been decreasing steadily for years. Do you realize it's been over two decades since a starter threw 300 innings in the regular season (Steve Carlton, 304 in 1980)? Last year Roger Clemens won the American League Cy Young Award without pitching a single complete game. It's getting ridiculous, it really is. Half the pitchers act like they're a fastball away from Tommy John surgery. And then they duck out of the All-Star Game like Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson did this week to "rest up" for the second half.

Anyway, this attitude has spilled over to the Midsummer "Classic." In days of yore, starting pitchers would go three innings; now they go two (though Johnson went one a couple of years ago). As a result, teams have to use more pitchers and risk running short of them if the game goes into extras.

Just as big a problem, though, is overstocking the All-Star staffs with relievers, many of whom are comfortable pitching only one inning. It gives managers too little flexibility if the game runs long. Eleven of the 19 pitchers Tuesday night were relievers thanks to Pedro, Randy and Tom Glavine turning down invites and you saw the result. Or rather, the lack of one.

So what happened in the All-Star Game wasn't just a freak occurrence. It came about because of a lack of foresight. If you're going to pack your staff with closers and are determined to get everybody in the game here's how you should set up your pitching:

•Pitch your starter two innings.

•Work in most of your relievers next (holding back one closer to get the final outs).

•Save your other starters for late in the game, in case it goes into extras and you need guys to pitch more than one inning.

See how easy it is? There's no need to expand the pitching staffs (as was suggested after the game). Just use your head. But that's asking too much of baseball these troubled days.


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