By HAL McCOY
For better or for worse, this is how baseball spring training works.
The visiting team takes a skeleton squad on the road while the home team has its full complement of players.
And that’s the way it was Friday afternoon when the Cincinnati Reds opened the 2017 exhibition season with a game in Scottsdale, Ariz. against the San Francisco Giants.
Not that scores and results mean much in these exercises, but there was a familiar pattern to this game. The Reds took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Relief pitcher Kevin Shackleford put two Giants on base with no outs and gave up a game-ending walk-off three-run home run to Chris Marrero with no outs for a 6-4 Giants win.
Where have we heard this scenario before?
THE REDS STARTED THREE regulars — outfielders Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler and second baseman Jose Peraza. The starting pitcher was Rookie Davis, who pitched in Class AA last season.
Manager Bryan Price threw the heavyweights at the Giants in the early going — 6-foot-5, 250-pound Davis, followed by 6-foot-5, 270-pound Sal Romano.
Romano, a Double-A pitcher last year, pitched two scoreless innings and struck out four while walking two, the most impressive performance for the day.
THE GIANTS FIELDED WHAT amounts to almost their Opening Day lineup, including pitcher Madison Bumgarner.
Bumgarner, 15-and-7 with a 2.74 earned run average last season, soaked up the sun for only one inning and the Reds scored two runs.
Outfielder Arismendy Alcantara, claimed off waivers from Oakland last season, doubled and with two outs first baseman Patrick Kivlehan, claimed off waivers last September from San Diego, produced a two-run single.
Hunter Pence singled home a run in the bottom of the first off Davis and the Reds retrieved that run in the top of the second on a triple by Tony Renda and a single by Peraza to make it 3-1.
Cincinnati’s Wandy Peralta gave up a run when the first two Giants ripped hits off him in the fifth to make it 3-2.
From there, as is usual in early spring games, the afternoon finished with a long assortment of Class AA and Class AAA prospects and wannabes.
THERE WERE NO INTENTIONAL walks issued — they don’t do intentional walks in meaningless spring exhibitions.
When the season begins, intentional walks will be no-pitch walks. Instead of throwing four wide pitches out of the strike zone, managers will merely issue a signal from the dugout for an intentional walk and the batter will trot to first base.
It is one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s attempts to speed up the game, which is two steps below ludicrous.
A study revealed that an intentional walk is issued once every three games. And how long does it take to throw four wide pitches? Two minute? So you save two minutes every three games?
REMEMBER THE 1972 WORLD Series? Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench had two strikes on him, but the Oakland Athletics acted as if they were going to intentionally walk him. Instead, relief pitcher Rollie Fingers threw a pitch down the middle and the stunned and shocked Bench took it for strike three — an infamous footnote to World Series history that will never happen again.
Fingers says he never mentions it when he sees Bench but Bench always brings it up and says, “That was the most embarrassing moment of my life.”
When Miguel Cabrera played for the Florida Marlins, he ripped a single on a misplaced ‘intentional walk’ pitch by Todd Williams of the Baltimore Orioles and drove in a go-ahead run.
On September 27, 1973, Phillies catcher and former Reds manager Bob Boone came up against the Pirates’ Chris Zachary in the 13th inning with one out and Greg Luzinski on second. Zachary tried to put Boone on, but Boone slapped the first pitch for a single, moving Luzinski to third. The Bull promptly scored on a wild pitch to give the Phils a 3–2 win.
Those will never happen again.
KANSAS CITY’S BRANDON Moss realizes the implication of taking something away that has been part of the game for 150 years.
“That’s the worst,” said Moss. “What if it’s Game 7 of the World Series, tie game in the bottom of the ninth? Someone hits a one-out triple, and Miguel Cabrera comes up to the plate. That pitcher should have to throw four pitches to Miguel Cabrera, whether they’re intentional balls or not. That’s a nerve-wracking situation, and now it’s gone.”
The traditionalists (and most major league players) wonder why a game designed to be played at a leisurely pace needs speeding up?
MANFRED AND THE OWNERS are concerned that baseball is not appealing to the millenniums, who would rather exercise their fingers on social media gadgets than pay attention to a live baseball game for three hours.
But veteran infield Jimmy Rollins of the Giants is perplexed.
“The beauty of our game has always been that there is no clock,” he said. “So now they want one. If you’re making the game an hour shorter, OK, you’re making an impact. Or even 30 minutes shorter? But five or eight minutes? Come on.”
AND FOR THE 2018 season Manfred wants to implement a 20-second clock on pitchers — a pitch must be thrown within 20 seconds of the pitcher getting the ball after his previous pitch.
Kansas City’s Moss had some pointed words about Manfred’s plans.
“I’m just very glad I will not be playing the game in 10 years. It won’t be recognizable. It’s going in a direction where it’s not the same game. Every year they keep trying to think of some stupid new rule. It’s getting old. Real oldAnd to that I raise an icy cold glass of Yuengling Lager.