First Pitch: Wednesday, September 7

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First Pitch: Wednesday, September 7

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome to First Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapupof Tuesday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES: On Monday, the Red Sox were worried that Josh Beckett's season might be over. On Tuesday, they discovered his ankle injury shouldn't be a long-term concern and that he'll probably be back in the rotation soon.

On Monday, their recently sputtering offense completely shut down in a 1-0, 11-inning loss to the Blue Jays. On Tuesday, it roared back to life with a 20-hit attack in a 14-0 romp at Toronto.

(Both stories csnne.com.)

So things are a little brighter on this wet morning in Red Sox Nation; historic outbursts have a way of making the grayest days seem, well, not so bad. (ESPN Boston) But Tony Massarotti warns us that if Beckett's ankle is any kind of a problem, all postseason bets are off. (boston.com)

NO WORRIES HERE: At least Jon Lester is healthy. And dominant. (csnne.com)

NINE TO GO: Bill Chuck's Nation STATion looks at nine things to watch for in the season's final weeks. (csnne.com)

RAIN MEN: When it gets to this point in the season, MLB -- and not the individual teams -- decides whether or not to postpone games because of rain. (The fear is that teams will attempt to use postponements as a way to manipulate the schedule in their favor.) And thus the Yankees and Orioles waited nearly four hours, through monsoon-like conditions, to start their game last night, with the first pitch coming at 11:08 p.m. But the Yanks were happy when it was over, both because of a 5-3 win that enabled them to maintain their 2 12-game lead over the Red Sox (New York Daily News) and because they avoided a doubleheader today. (New York Post) "We want to play because the last thing we want is anotherdoubleheader," Yankee manager Joe Girardi said at 4 p.m., and 10 hours later he hadn't changed his tune. "Doubleheaders are hard on you, and now that's it'sover I'm glad it's done," said Girardi after the 2:15 a.m. ending.

The Yanks, to their credit, offered free tickets for a game next year to anyone holding tickets last night. (New York Daily News) But Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post spoke for all of us when he railed against the absurdity of it all.

LET'S NOT GO OVERBOARD, SHALL WE? Vaccaro also rained a little on the Jesus Montero parade.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: You generally don't consider Yankee fans to be rebels, but one of them is fighting to bring down Moammar Gadhafi. (thepostgame.com)

AROUND THE A.L. EAST: Apparently, news of the injuries to Josh Beckett and Erik Bedard brought great joy to the Rays -- who still think they can catch the Red Sox for the wild card -- but an 8-0 loss to the Rangers sent them crashing back to Earth (St. Petersburg Times) . . . The only question remaining in Baltimore is whether or not the Orioles can avoid a 100-loss season. (Baltimore Sun)

HOW CAN THIS BE? Anyone who's watched C.J. Wilson against the Red Sox will be astounded to learn that last night's blanking of the Rays was his first shutout of the season. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

GIANT DISAPPOINTMENT: San Francisco's reign as World Series champion is coming to an end with a whimper, not a bang, because of injuries and a punchless offense. (si.com) Cbssports.com's Scott Miller thinks it's amazing the Giants were in first place as long as they were with a hitting attack this bad.

WE'LL TAKE EXCITEMENT WHERE WE CAN GET IT: In the absence of any real pennant races, the eyes of the baseball world were focused on Steven Strasberg's return last night. He did well, too. (ESPN)

HELL, NO, I WON'T GO: What's holding up the sale of the Astros to Jim Crane? Apparently, Crane won't agree to move the team to the American League. (Fox Sports Houston)

OLD FRIENDS: Mike Cameron's moment of glory didn't last long. His ninth-inning double tied the Marlins' game against the Mets, but then he had to leave in the 11th because of a tight hamstring and Florida lost in 12 (Miami Herald) . . . David Murphy continued his hot hitting with a 4-for-4 performance in the Rangers' win over the Rays (ESPN Dallas) . . . This is a recording. Victor Martinez had three hits. This is a recording (Rotoworld) . . . Gil Velazquez, who had cups of coffee with the Red Sox in 2008 and '09 (and was actually on the Sox' playoff roster for their '08 ALDS meeting with the Angels), is back in the bigs with those same Angels (Los Angeles Times) . . . Jason Rice, traded by the Red Sox to the A's for Conor Jackson, was claimed on waivers by the Indians. (oakland.athletics.mlb.com)

AND FINALLY . . . You'd think Barry Bonds attempting to convince people he's a nice guy is the ultimate fantasy, but he's going to have his own reality show on the CW Network in which he'll attempt to do just that. (network.yardbarker.com)

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.