Surprising Postseason Moves ; Gurley Suspension – NCAA At It Again

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Surprising Postseason Lineup Moves
Yasiel Puig is not the first high-profile player to get benched by his manager during the postseason. (Getty Images)
By Paul Casella
www.sportsonearth.com

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly turned some heads Tuesday when he decided to bench All-Star outfielder Yasiel Puig for his club’s win-or-go home Game 4 against the Cardinals.

Puig, who had struck out in eight of his last nine at-bats, gave way to Andre Ethier in Game 4 with the Dodgers trailing 2-1 in the best-of-five National League Division Series. Puig later entered the game as a pinch-runner in the top of the ninth inning, representing the potential tying run, but was stranded at second base as the Dodgers’ season came to a close.

Ethier went 0-for-2 with a pair of walks and one strikeout starting in Puig’s place.

Though Puig’s absence from the starting lineup came as a shock to some, it was far from the first time that a manager made a postseason shuffle in an attempt to spark his club. Here’s a look at some of the other intriguing lineup decisions throughout postseason history.

1947 World Series: Berra benched

This was less of a bizarre decision at the time, but in hindsight it raises a few eyebrows. After starting Games 1 and 2 of the ’47 World Series, future Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra gave way to catcher Sherm Lollar in Game 3 and Aaron Robinson in Game 5. Berra, in the midst of his first full season in the big leagues, had appeared in 83 games that year, while Lollar made just 11 appearances and Robinson made 82 while also being selected to the All-Star Game.

Berra responded to the move by hitting the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history in Game 3, though the Yankees lost 9-8. Berra did not appear at all in the Yankees’ Game 5 victory before returning to the starting lineup in right field for Games 6 and 7, with the Yankees ultimately winning the series.

1988 World Series: Gibson pinch-hits

One of the more shocking lineup moves in postseason history came during this Fall Classic. The surprise had nothing to do with that season’s NL MVP Kirk Gibson being left out of the lineup for Game 1 due to leg injuries, but instead the fact that he entered the game as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Gibson crushed his infamous walk-off homer then hobbled around the basepaths on his bad knees in his only appearance in the ’88 Fall Classic. The Dodgers went on to win the series in five games.

2006 ALDS: A-Rod bumped to eighth

Alex Rodriguez hit 35 homers in 2006, but Joe Torre decided to bump him to the No. 8 slot in the lineup after he went 1-for-11 with four strikeouts in the first three games of the series. (Oddly, Torre bumped him up to the cleanup spot for Game 3 after Rodriguez hit in the No. 6 spot for Games 1 and 2.)

Rodrgiuez went 0-for-3 and finished the game in the on-deck circle as the Yankees were eliminated with an 8-3 loss.

The 2006 ALDS also featured an interesting decision by the Tigers, one that ultimately paid off nicely. After batting leadoff the first two games, Curtis Granderson — despite going 4-for-9 with a triple, a home run and three RBIs out of the leadoff spot — was bumped down to hit ninth for Game 3. He went 1-for-3 with another home run, two runs scored and two RBIs. He also stole a base, becoming just the sixth No. 9 hitter in postseason history to homer and swipe a bag in the same game. The Tigers won that game, 6-0, and went on to close out the series the following day with another victory in Game 4.

Granderson moved back into the leadoff role for that game and remained there for the Tigers’ other 10 postseason games that year, with Detroit ultimately losing the World Series to the Cardinals in five games.

2012 ALDS: A-Rod benched this time

Six years after Torre benched Rodriguez in October, the Yankees’ current skipper Joe Girardi again made Rodriguez the center of a crucial postseason lineup shuffle. Girardi benched Rodriguez for Game 5 of the ALDS against the Orioles after the slugger went just 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts over the first four games.

After the Yankees defeated Baltimore in the do-or-die contest sans A-Rod, Rodriguez was back in the lineup for Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS before being benched again for Game 3 then used as a pinch-hitter in Game 4. (Rodriguez was 1-for-7 over the first two games of the ALCS.) The Yankees replaced him in Game 3 with Eric Chavez, who was 0-for-11 in the postseason up to that point and finished the postseason 0-for-16 with eight strikeouts.

2012 NLDS: Strasburg shut down

The Nationals made some waves when they decided to stick to their decision to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg and leave him off their postseason roster. Strasburg’s final start of the season came on Sept. 7 with the Nats choosing to limit his innings in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010. The Nationals went to a winner-take-all Game 5 before losing to the Cardinals.

2014 ALDS: Scioscia starts Hamilton

Angels manager Mike Scioscia elected to start Josh Hamilton in left field for all three games against the Royals, despite injuries limiting Hamilton to just one start after Sept. 4. He went 0-for-13 in the series as the Angels were swept by the Royals.

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Paul Casella is a Sports on Earth contributor and a reporter for MLB.com.

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Matt Brown
More from Matt
www.sportsonearth.com

 

Gurley’s Suspension Impact
Don’t worry, everyone — in case we forgot, the NCAA is still here to protect athletes from the evils of profiting off their own fame.

It had been far too long — more than 12 months! — since a Heisman candidate had been investigated for reportedly profiting off his own likeness, but here we are again. Where there was once Johnny Manziel, there is now Todd Gurley, star Georgia running back, Heisman frontrunner, apparent enemy of amateurism.

Georgia announced that it had indefinitely suspended Gurley on Thursday, “during an ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules.” According to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman and the Macon Telegraph’s Seth Emerson, Gurley is being investigated for allegedly receiving money for use of his likeness or his autograph, something that literally anyone who is not a college athlete is allowed to do because it is harmless and just about the last thing anyone should actually care about. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples further reported specifics, saying that Gurley was said to have been paid $400 to sign 80 items.

Would it be a poor decision for Gurley to knowingly break an NCAA rule that could get him into trouble? Of course. All blame for breaking a rule, however ridiculous, would go to Gurley. But it’s not worth caring that Gurley may have broken a rule that exists; we should care only that the rule is absurd and should have never existed in the first place.

Alas, what’s done is done… for now. Gurley is suspended indefinitely, because Georgia can’t risk playing someone who could be ruled to have been ineligible. That’s where Manziel was lucky, at least. The summer 2013 nonsense surrounding his autograph occurred before the season, and he ended up getting a half-game suspension after the NCAA couldn’t actually prove anything. For Gurley, it happens right in the middle of the season, at a time when he’s carrying a 4-1 Georgia team and sitting at the top of most Heisman projections.

For a non-Manziel comparison, star receiver A.J. Green was suspended for four games at Georgia in 2010 for selling his 2009 AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl jersey, even though selling jerseys is a favorite activity of universities everywhere. We have that example, but it’s impossible to predict how long this investigation will play out, and what will actually happen to Gurley if found guilty.

With his college future unclear for now, here are the biggest impacts from Thursday’s announcement:

Hung Out To Dry

1. The timing couldn’t be much worse for Georgia. All it has on Saturday is arguably the most important game left on the SEC East schedule, as it travels to Missouri for a meeting of what are probably the two best teams in the division. With its loss to South Carolina, Georgia has already dug itself a hole, and it now goes through a stretch where it doesn’t play another home game until Nov. 15 — which is also its toughest game of the season, against Auburn. Until then, it visits Missouri and Arkansas in back-to-back games, gets a week off, plays Florida in Jacksonville and then visits Kentucky. Every game is losable; every game is especially losable without the centerpiece of the team on the field.

2. Georgia sure could use the backfield depth it thought it had. The talk after Georgia’s 45-21 opening win over Clemson was about its astounding backfield depth. Not only did it have Gurley, but it also had Keith Marshall, who starred as Gurley’s freshman sidekick in 2012 before a torn ACL cost him most of 2013. Georgia also added a pair of impact freshman: Sony Michel, a versatile player who is an adept receiver, and Nick Chubb, a hard-running, hard-hitting young force. Now? Marshall has received only 12 carries as he deals with knee and ankle injuries, although he may be back relatively soon. Michel broke his shoulder against Tennessee and may not return until November. That leaves Chubb, a capable player but still just a freshman who’s played only a rotational role so far, as well as Brendan Douglas, who stepped up when Marshall was hurt last year but hasn’t been a factor yet this season. Running back depth was great insurance against Georgia’s middling passing game behind Hutson Mason. Putting Mason in position to succeed just got a lot tougher for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

3. The Heisman race becomes even more wide-open. It’s early October, and therefore the Heisman race is wide-open regardless of Gurley’s status. But his absence takes the player who tops most leaderboards out of the mix for now. Again, nothing is ever decided in October in this sport, but there is certainly a greater opportunity for Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott to gain more support, especially if the Bulldogs beat Auburn on Saturday. Beyond that, every other potential candidate gains some ground too — Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Everett Golson, Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Amari Cooper and so on.

4. The chances of the SEC West champion losing in the conference title game got slimmer. One way for the SEC to get left out of the playoff would be for the West to beat up on itself, then have whoever emerges surprisingly lose to a two- or three-loss East champion in Atlanta. While Georgia has glaring issues — unreliable passing game, painfully thin secondary — Gurley presented the East’s best chance at somehow taking down the West. Get a big game from him down the road from Athens in the Georgia Dome, and it’s not terribly hard to see Georgia pulling off a potential upset. Despite its Indiana loss, Missouri can still be a quality team, but Georgia is the most talented team in the East when it has Gurley.

5. This does nothing to hurt Todd Gurley’s pro career, fortunately. Gurley has proven enough as a college player. He’s been a terror for two and a half seasons now, a bulldozer powered by jet engines. He’s a 6-foot-1, 226-pound power back with explosive speed and the ability to beat defenses in both the return game and the passing game. There is nobody like him in college football right now, and he’s poised to go against the recent trend of running backs plummeting in the NFL draft because the position is largely unwanted. He defies those sorts of trends, and while character is closely scrutinized in the NFL draft process, this has nothing to do with character. It’s a nonsensical NCAA issue, one that is not an issue in the NFL. It won’t drop Gurley on draft boards, nor should it.

To be positive here, if the worst-case scenario plays out and Gurley is sidelined for the rest of the season, then he saves half a season of wear-and-tear in an offense that is heavily reliant on him. Georgia can’t depend on its passing game, and it has injuries behind Gurley at running back, so he would undoubtedly be getting 20-plus carriers per game through SEC play. With as many as nine games left, that’s around 180 fewer hits to take, and thus 180 fewer opportunities to get hurt and actually affect his NFL stock.

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Contact Matt at matt.brown5082@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @MattBrownCFB.

 

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