- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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The Mariners made an odd move Sunday for a team two games out of first place and with a one-game lead in the wild-card race.
The day after Gil Meche won his 14th game, second-best on the team, Seattle optioned him to Triple-A Tacoma, called up injured minor-league pitcher Rett Johnson to replace him, immediately placed Johnson on the disabled list and then called up 40-year-old catcher Pat Borders to replace Johnson.
It wasn't a demotion for Meche. He'll be recalled this week in time for his next scheduled start Thursday. He never even left the team, flying with his teammates when they traveled to Tampa Bay after Sunday's game.
Actually, it wasn't that odd a move. The Mariners simply were expanding their postseason roster options by adding a player to their disabled list. Other contenders do pretty much the same thing; the Mariners just were more blatant about it than others.
How did the Meche move increase the Mariners options? Glad you asked.
The eligibility requirements for the postseason are as simple and clear as the requirements for receiving a Biggie-Size meal at Wendy's. To be eligible for the postseason, players must be on the roster Aug. 31. Unless they're not, in which case they can still be on the postseason roster
As most people learned while Francisco Rodriguez was making opponents look like Timmy Lupus last October, there is a loophole allowing teams to replace a player on the disabled list with another player, even if the other player was called up after Sept. 1. Teams have been exploiting the clause to varying degrees for years. But like Pete Rose's hair, the situation has gotten worse in recent years, with teams monkeying with the loophole so much you could fit George Steinbrenner's ego through it.
Consider K-Rod, who made his major-league debut last Sept. 18 but was able to take the roster spot of Steve Green. He was so new to the team that his teammates admitted they didn't even remember if he had been with them in spring training. And who was Steve Green? A pitcher who was on Anaheim's disabled list the entire 2002 season, who hadn't pitched in the majors since April of 2001 and whose big-league career consists of one game.
Rodriguez went 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 11 games and 18 2/3 innings, becoming the youngest pitcher to ever win a World Series game while winning more postseason games in a month than Sandy Koufax did in his career. Most of his success was due to a slider so filthy that former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart would have declared it as pornography. Part of it, however, also was due to opposing batters' unfamiliarity with him because only three teams had ever faced him in the majors.
It's safe to say the Angels would not have won the World Series without K-Rod. They may not have even made it past the Yankees in the Division Series. Not that I feel sorry for the Yankees, who, of course, use the system to their own advantage as well.
That's the problem, though. The whole point of the Aug. 31 rule is to preserve the integrity of the roster and prevent teams from slipping in players at the last minute -- but the loophole allows them to do exactly that. And with so many teams doing it, teams that don't are operating at a disadvantage, forcing everyone to make moves such as the Mariners did. Seattle will use Johnson's DL status to put Meche on the roster and be able to keep Borders as a third catcher.
If you go to the Hall of Fame, you'll find a copy of the original rules drawn up for the World Series. Among them is the requirement that players must be on the big-league roster on Sept. 1 to be eligible for the World Series. Even a century ago, before the World Series included second-place teams, 8:30 p.m. starts or Rally Monkeys, baseball executives recognized the integrity of the postseason rosters.
Enough is enough. After this October, baseball needs to close the loophole tighter than Dmitri Young in Ichiro's pants and return to the spirit of the roster requirements. Change it so that you can replace a player who gets hurt in September, but not someone who was on the disabled list before then.
Rodriguez was an exciting story last year, but let's keep future Mr. October candidates to players who don't need to exchange introductions underneath the pileup at the pitchers mound.
Boxscore line of the week
Philadelphia reliever Turk Wendell put up this puzzling line last Wednesday against the Expos:
.1 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
How did he do it? Wendell came in and retired one batter to end the seventh inning, then hit the first two batters, Jose Vidro and Vladimir Guerrero, he faced in the eighth inning to earn an ejection. Both runners came around to score.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Anaheim has a chance to become the second team to go from World Series champion to last place the next season. Unlike the 1997-98 Marlins, Anaheim didn't hold a fire sale sale, it mostly just got hurt. Of the nine Angels in the starting lineup when they won Game 7 last year, four are on the disabled list (Troy Glaus, Darin Erstad, David Eckstein and Brad Fullmer). ... In the past three weeks, Barry Bonds has visited his father's hospital bed, hit a walkoff home run in the 10th inning against the best team in baseball, hit another two nights later, buried his father, homered again, been hospitalized with exhaustion, and returned to hit a two-run ninth inning single. He has six home runs in his past 11 games. ... The Mariners have used just five starting pitchers the entire season. The last team to go an entire season with only five pitchers? The 1966 Dodgers (Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Claude Osteen, Don Sutton and -- give yourself a Jackie Robinson rookie card if you knew this final name -- Joe Moeller). The Giants and Diamondbacks each used six starters last year. ... Ichiro and Hideki Matsui are tied for the American League lead in grand slams (two). ... One reason the Expos will have a hard time winning the wild-card race: They have a 25-45 record on the road, and they play only six more games in Montreal, plus six in Puerto Rico. ... One reason the Mariners won't miss Jeff (It Must Be Someone Else's Fault Because I'm Perfect) Nelson nearly as much as he thinks they do: Rafael Soriano. The kid has a 0.98 ERA and 39 strikeouts and just one walk since the All-Star break. ... It took 25 years, 1,290 innings, 1,244 games and nine transactions, but Jesse Orosco is finally back with the team that originally signed him -- the Twins. He's older than his manager, Ron Gardenhire. ... The Tigers are the second team to lose 100 games before the end of August, joining, you guessed it -- the 1962 Mets (it's three teams if you count the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, which we're reluctant to do). ... The Devil Rays have two former high school teammates (Travis Lee and Jared Sandberg of Olympia, Washington's Capital high school) playing the corners.
"He'll probably be effective because those guys haven't seen a 68-mile fastball since Little League.''
-- Paul Azinger on Phil Michelson's attempt to pitch for the Tigers' Triple-A Toledo farm team. Lefty's attempt failed when the Tigers decided not even they are bad enough for him.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.