A longtime National League scout watched the Padres recently, and as he spoke over the phone with admiration about the way they play, you could almost imagine those scenes from the movie "Miracle" when Kurt Russell, as hockey coach Herb Brooks, was shouting at the 1980 U.S. Hockey team, "Play your game! ... Play your game! ... Play your game!"
"They have one really good hitter [Adrian Gonzalez] and everybody else tries to move runners," said the scout. "They're not a dynamic team. I don't know how much talent they really have. But they have their style and they stick to it, and nobody is caught up in ego and trying to do too much. They don't have the best players, but they might play the best, because they're just really consistent in their approach."
They won again on Friday, beating the Giants and increasing their lead to 3.5 games, and it was a baserunning play by Gonzalez that put them in position to do it: He stayed in a rundown long enough for Ryan Ludwick to reach third base, at a time when the score was tied at 2, and then Ludwick scored on a ground ball. Nothing flashy. Nothing explosive. Just executing one play at a time, with the functional offense backed by good defense and strong pitching.
"They've become my favorite team to watch," said the scout. "It's a treat. I think anybody who underestimates them in the playoffs is going to be in trouble, because they have a strong sense of who they are and what roles they should play. They are the most ego-less team I can remember in a pennant race."
They were booed in San Francisco, Chris Jenkins writes -- a sign of respect, of course. Jonathan Sanchez, who made a really silly prediction the other day, was the losing pitcher -- predictably, writes Henry Schulman.
The Giants added Jose Guillen in a trade; within this piece, Aubrey Huff endorsed the deal. Giants exec Bill Neukom is an animal, says Barry Zito. Aaron Rowand's starts are going to continue to dwindle with the addition of Guillen, writes Andrew Baggarly.
The Rockies are barely hanging on, and Troy Tulowitzki got a really, really big hit for them on Friday. Jim Tracy figures that the Rockies need to win 31 of their remaining 48 games to make the playoffs, Jim Armstrong writes.
It should have been a really good day for the Red Sox, after they got word of Dustin Pedroia's impending return -- he'll be back on Tuesday -- and after they hammered Texas starter Tommy Hunter and reliever Scott Feldman early on Friday night. Sitting in a hotel in Springfield, Mass., I watched a lot of the game, and in the first half inning after the Red Sox took an 8-2 lead, Josh Beckett came out throwing a bunch of off-speed stuff, nibbling around the strike zone; he immediately went deep into the ball-strike count. It just seemed odd -- maybe Beckett was just pitching that way because he saw how the ball was just jumping out of the park in the 100 degree heat -- and you had a feeling then that Beckett, and Boston's lead, wasn't going to hold up.
And sure enough, the Red Sox, with an opportunity to gain ground on the sputtering Rays, wound up blowing that six-run lead, just a day after blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning, in Toronto. Beckett told reporters he struggled with his fastball command.
The Yankees and the Rays both lost, but because days are coming off the calendar and Boston missed an opportunity to gain ground, the Red Sox are the clear losers of the day. The Orioles are playing well and in perfect position to do some spoiling, and they shut out Tampa Bay, Jeff Zrebiec writes.
Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte has had a setback in his injury rehab, Ben Shpigel writes. The Rays expect both Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann to be ready to come off the disabled list. Rocco Baldelli was promoted to Triple-A.
How Tim Hudson won, from Lee Singer of ESPN Stats & Information:
A) He pitched to contact: Hudson registered only two swings and misses on Friday, tying a season low. True to form, he recorded 13 ground-ball outs, padding his league-leading 65.3 ground-ball percentage, according to FanGraphs.
B) He defeated the disciplined: Dodgers hitters swung at only one of Hudson's 36 pitches out of the strike zone (2.8 percent), good for Hudson's lowest chase percentage of the season.
C) He came back in the count: With the Dodgers' patient approach, Hudson often found himself behind to hitters. He had a first-pitch strike percentage of only 41 (MLB average is 58) and the Dodgers swung only 27 percent of the time early in the count (MLB average is 37 percent). However, when he fell behind he was able to bounce back as hitters finished only 1-for-10 when they were ahead (MLB average is .339).
Meanwhile, Jason LaRue wound up on the disabled list because of a concussion, and within the same piece, Chris Carpenter mused about the brawl with the Reds, expressing regrets. Brandon Phillips is going to appeal his fine.
There is no timetable for Justin Morneau in his comeback, and GM Bill Smith wants to slow down the expectations, out of necessity. It does the Twins no good to have Morneau come back if he's not right. A Minnesota reliever will miss the next four weeks.
Dings and dents
3. An Oakland bonus baby will have Tommy John surgery.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Pirates are sitting down with the agents for their No. 1 draft pick, Jameson Taillon. Another good reason for a negotiated slotting system is that a lot more of the drafted players would actually have a chance to play in the year they were picked. Because the teams want to honor the commissioner's slot recommendations -- or at least wait until as late as possible before ignoring them -- there is a long and arduous dance of negotiations that goes on all summer, with so many resolutions not coming until just before the signing deadline. If the system was more effective, then No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper would have signed in June and he would have been in the outfield of the short season Vermont Lake Monsters the past two months, learning his craft. But because of the way this negotiating game plays out, neither side really shows its hand until the deadline -- which, this year, is at midnight on Aug. 16 -- and so Harper has lost a summer of development. Not good for the team, not good for the player. There has to be a better way.
2. Buck Showalter met with the folks from Sarasota about renovations to the Orioles' spring training complex.
3. The Orioles have kicked around the idea of going with a six-man rotation in September.
5. There is a whole lot of speculation about the Braves perhaps working out a deal for Chone Figgins, and it's hard to figure what the rationale for Atlanta would be. Figgins is owed almost $30 million on his deal after this season and the Braves would have to get extraordinary salary relief in order to make something happen, but beyond that, Atlanta, in the big picture, has Chipper Jones locked into a $14 million salary for 2011 and 2012 as its third baseman, and second baseman Martin Prado is one of the best hitters in the NL. So unless the Mariners were willing to eat, say, $18 million to $20 million still owed to Figgins and Atlanta turned him into a super utility player, how would this make sense for the Braves, in the big picture? They wouldn't have a place to play Figgins in the infield next season. It makes more sense for them to trade for a cheaper veteran, like Geoff Blum, to help the team's depth.
And beyond all that, a trade of Figgins less than a season into a four-year deal would require an awful lot of humility for the Mariners, who would be acknowledging that they completely missed in their evaluation of a player who they saw regularly, as a division rival. Jack Zduriencik would effectively be telling ownership, Sorry, but I need you to eat tens of millions of dollars because I was wrong. There aren't many GMs who would give up on a player so quickly under these circumstances. The safer play for the Mariners would be to wait and see if the change in manager will impact Figgins' performance. Figgins got hits in the first nine games of this month.
1. The Rangers' victory came on the first night that Chuck Greenberg was installed in the box next to the Texas dugout, and it was a great day all the way around for him. This is a new era for the Rangers, writes Jeff Wilson. The Rangers rolled back the cost of beer, and Jennifer Floyd Engel liked that a lot.
3. The Pirates' losing streak has reached five.
4. Josh Johnson had a tough night, Clark Spencer writes.
7. The other team did more little things right than the Athletics, writes Susan Slusser.
8. The Angels got shut down, Mike DiGiovanna writes.
9. The D-backs dropped the first game of their series in Washington.