“Lets go live”: MLB Network live cut-ins breathe life into the grand old game

By Morris Phillips

MINNEAPOLIS — A three-minute drama in two parts–there for all who squared up with their local cable outfit to see–played out Thursday night starring Tampa Bay’s Jake Bauers and Minnesota’s Brian Dozier.

With a very opinionated, supporting role played by MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds.

Bauers, a rookie just six weeks into his big league career, doubled leading off the fourth inning. Pitcher Kyle Gibson, a big guy of whom more has always been expected, and in the midst of his most impressive start of 2018, wasn’t in the mood to concede anything. So after his change of pace, first pitch offering to cleanup hitter Wilson Ramos landed in the dirt, Gibson set his sights on garnering the 13th successful pickoff of his big league career.

With Bauers off to an aggressive lead, and his eyes focused on Gibson, the baserunner had a lapse, looking toward home plate. At that exact moment, Gibson spun and threw to second baseman Dozier, deftly sneaking in for the catch and tag. The bang bang play, according to second base umpire James Hoye, saw Bauers get his hand on the bag a fraction of a second ahead of Dozier’s tag.

The Twins and Dozier felt differently, and they took their alloted time to consider issuing a challenge.

Back at the MLB Network studios in Seacaucus, New Jersey it was a good time for a live cut-in on the Rays and Twins, two AL squads with almost no significant relationship to the 2018 postseason. While the Rays have surged of late to become just the seventh American League team currently with a winning record, the Twins have lived below .500 in the AL Central, a division that already seems ceded to the first-place Indians.

But on Thursdays, with a limited schedule and games spread across day and night time frames, the Rays and Twins garnered some attention, and the pickoff drama played out live on the MLB Network.

“You cannot do that!” Reynolds said repeatedly, as he instructed his production crew to freeze the replay at the point Bauers’ attention lapsed. Reynolds didn’t ease up on the rookie regarding the call to the point it felt like the retired second baseman was lobbying for Bauers to be out just based on his attention lapse, regardless of what went down with the tag.

Of course, Reynolds is in the studio, and talking, when it may have been more beneficial at that moment to listen to Rays announcers Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson. But that’s live television, full of bluster and entertainment, but maybe a little short on accuracy. Need more concise info? In this case, Bauers, speaking 48 hours later, provided just that.

“When I get my lead off second, I like to look at whoever is holding me on,” Bauers recounted. “In this case, it was Dozier, the second baseman. I was looking at him, seeing how far I could get off. Right when I panned from him to go back to Gibson, he broke in and picked off on me. I thought I was dead to rights out there. But I think I was so late getting back, that he kind of tagged early, and I snuck my hand in.”

Regardless of the truth, it looked bad for Bauers. He knew it, and so did Dozier. But ultimately, no challenge was issued.

“It was a bad feed, as far as blurriness,” Dozier admitted. “That’s why we didn’t challenge it. On one of the angles you can see he was probably out, but not enough to overturn it. When I tagged him, he was still about a foot away from the bag.”

As Reynolds continued to scold the rookie, the live shot showed Bauers smiling at Dozier. Reynolds quickly assumed Bauers’ smile to be an admission of guilt. Well, Reynolds got that right.

“I was smiling because I knew I was caught,” Bauers said. “I knew it was a good pick play. Obviously, I’m not used to being held that close at second. I don’t know if that’s just something that he does because he likes to do it, or that they’re having him do it.”

Dozier, given the same 48 hours as Bauers to reflect, explained that Bauers’ aggressive lead was immediately noticeable. Seeing that, Dozier signaled to Gibson that it was time for the pitcher to display his acumen for picking off runners.

And how did Dozier interpret Bauers’ smile and small talk?

“I think he knew he was out. That’s probably the ‘I know I’m out’ feeling,’ but let’s just hope they don’t have enough evidence to overturn it,” Dozier said.

Meanwhile, Reynolds remained out of the information loop.

“He’s still standing at second base!” Reynolds said incredulously as play continued without Bauers being penalized, or Reynolds knowing that no formal challenge was issued.

Oh, the powerlessness of live television.

Behind Bats of Moss, Cespedes, Athletics Spoil Twins Home Opener

By Matthew Harrington

For the Oakland Athletics, Monday afternoon’s 8-3 pasting of the Minnesota Twins offered a reversal of fates for the green and gold. After setting an MLB record for first-day futility with their tenth-straight Opening Day loss last Monday, the A’s (4-3) played spoiler to the Twin City faithful excited to take in their home team for the first time in 2014.

Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss knocked in a pair of runs each, Derek Norris connected on his first homer of the season and Scott Kazmir (2-0, 2.03 ERA) fired six innings of three-run ball to pick up his second win on the season.

The A’s opened the scoring in the top of the second after Moss walked to lead off then scored on a Cespedes double to left field. Alberto Callaspo, getting the start at designated hitter Monday, singled softly to right to advance Cespedes to third. Right fielder Josh Reddick plated Cespedes on a base hit, his first RBI of the season.

Minnesota (3-4) cut the lead by one in the bottom half of the inning off Kazmir when former Oakland backstop Kurt Suzuki singled sharply to left with one out. Center fielder Aaron Hicks doubled to his counterpart to push Suzuki across the plate.

After losing track of the count on a 2-2 pitch with one down in the top of the third, A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie tried taking a base-on-balls one pitch too early. After already removing his equipment to jog to first, Lowrie was informed of his mistake and returned to the plate for the full-count delivery. Lowrie launched the 3-2 Correia change up down the right field line for what appeared to be a homerun to the naked eye. The ruling on the field, upheld after a lengthy video review, confirmed the ball had gone just foul. After being denied the long ball, Lowrie settled for a walk on the next pitch.

Third baseman Josh Donaldson, flip-flopping with Lowrie in the batting order to bat third for the first time this season, doubled on a fly ball to right to put runners at second and third. Moss followed him up by wrapping a one-out single for a 4-1 A’s advantage. After Yoenis Cespedes popped out to Aaron Hicks, Callaspo doubled in Moss to cap the three-run inning.

Minnesota completed its scoring for the day in the bottom half of the inning. After Trevor Plouffe singled to open the frame then league RBI leader Chris Colabello took a four-pitch walk. Kazmir induced a line-drive out off the bat of Josmil Pinto, advancing Plouffe to third on the play. Jason Kubel ripped a run-scoring double to right field, then Suzuki bounced into an RBI groundout to plate Colabello cutting Oakland’s edge to 5-3 after three innings.

With two down in the sixth Norris launched the first pitch he saw from Correia to deep center field for his first home run of the season, a solo blast that chased the Twins starter and put the A’s ahead 6-1.

Despite entering the season with the expectation that Norris would sit against right-handed pitching in favor of the left-handed hitting John Jaso, Norris now has hits in 5-of-9 at-bats against righties this season. He also handled same-handed pitchers with ease in Spring Training to a .354 batting average.

The A’s added a pair in the seventh inning after Twins reliever Samuel Deduno balked home Nick Punto from third with an out before Cespedes’ sacrifice fly brought Josh Donaldson around from third. Despite the blip, Deduno pitched well in relief of Correia (0-1, 6.17 ERA). After the Twins started got knocked out of the game on Norris’ homer, Deduno pitched the final 3 1/3 innings allowing two earned runs.

A’s lefty Scott Kazmir followed up his no-run debut by rattling off six innings of six-hit baseball. He allowed three runs, all earned, and struck out five batters while yielding four walks. Fernando Abad and Dan Otero pitched scoreless innings apiece before Ryan Cook sealed the win by shutting the Twins down in the ninth.

Cook missed the A’s first six games with a strained shoulder forcing him to the disabled list for the season’s first week. Though he didn’t allow a run Monday, Cook opened his 2014 campaign with a somewhat shaky start. He got shortstop Pedro Florimon to strike out on a pitch in the dirt, then issued back-to-back walks to Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer. After a visit from pitching coach Curt Young, Cook retired Plouffe on a popout then finished Colabello off with a punch-out to seal the win.

The A’s will take their first scheduled off-day Tuesday although they have already had two games postponed due to weather-related circumstances. On Wednesday, Jesse Chavez will look to build on his six-inning, one-run performance that yielded a no decision Thursday evening. The A’s ultimately walked off in the 12th inning on Coco Crisp’s first-ever walk-off home run. Chavez will be countered by righty Phil Hughes. The White Sox roughed Hughes up in his first start of 2014, scoring four runs including a pair of long balls over five innings.