October 29, 2019

WS6: Nationals 7, Astros 2

Nationals - 100 020 202 - 7  9  0
Astros    - 200 000 000 - 2  6  0
Stephen Strasburg came within two outs of the first World Series complete game in four years (8.1-5-2-2-7, 104) and Anthony Rendon went 3-for-4 and drove in five runs as the Nationals staved off elimination, defeating the Astros and the umpires, and setting up a deciding Game 7 tomorrow night.

For the first time in World Series history and, amazingly, for the first time in 1,420 best-of-seven postseason series in MLB, the NBA, and the NHL, the road team has won the first six games.

Game 6 was marred by a controversial call against Trea Turner and the Nationals in the top of the seventh. What was likely a botched ruling by plate umpire Sam Holbrook led to the ejection of Washington manager Dave Martinez and his team playing the remaining of the game under protest.

The outcome of the World Series could very well have been riding on Holbrook's questionable call. The Nats led 3-2 and had Yan Gomes on first base with no one out. Turner tapped a pitch from Brad Peacock to the left side of the infield grass. Peacock fielded the ball and threw to Yuri Gurriel at first. But the ball hit Turner in the right leg and rolled out into foul territory.

The runners advanced to second and third, but Holbrook called Turner out for interfering with Gurriel's attempts to catch the ball. At the time, talk on the Fox broadcast centered on which side of the foul line Turner should have been running. But when the ball arrived at first base, Turner was stepping on the middle of the bag, and during the ensuing delay, Ken Rosenthal claimed the runner has a right to the baseline with his last step. Plus, it was certainly questionable whether Gurriel could have reached far enough to his left to make the catch; he had not stretched out towards the incoming baseball and was at an awkward angle to lunge for the ball. He was more in position to field a throw from the catcher than from the pitcher or an infielder.

The baseball is the slight blur above the umpire's head/left shoulder.

Martinez and the Nationals were (naturally) livid at the call. The Astros made a pitching change, calling on Will Harris, and when the commercial break was over, two umpires had headsets on. The assumption was that the play was under review, but it was reported later on that the play was not reviewable. The Nationals were playing the game under protest and the umpires were letting "Chelsea" know that. At the same time, the umpires had "Chelsea" read them the rule in question via headphones. Now (presumably) with some additional clarity, the umpires upheld the out call.

During the lengthy delay, Turner could be heard telling the other umpires that "Joe Torre [MLB's Chief Baseball Officer] is sitting right there. ... He's right there, just ask him. Why is he hiding? ... He's sitting with his head down trying not to look up."

Trea Turner is my World Series MVP.

After the game, Torre jabbered away, making excuses for the delay before finally saying: "The violation was when he [Turner] kept Gurriel from being able to catch the ball. It's a judgment call. The right call." He repeated this to Rosenthal. A judgment call is not reviewable or a valid reason for a protest.

The call was made pursuant to Rule 5.09(a)(11):
A batter is out when: In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire's judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball.
Turner was called out solely because he allegedly interfered with Gurriel, but Turner had passed Gurriel by the time the ball arrived. That's why it hit Turner in the back of the right leg. And at the time it hit Turner, his foot was on the bag. Plus, it's questionable whether Gurriel, in his awkward stance, could have caught the ball. This rule is usually applied when the ball is hit a few feet in front of the plate and fielded by the catcher. The runner is directly in both the catcher's line of sight and in the ball's path to first. In this case, Peacock was on the other side of the infield. Turner's path was not blocking Peacock or Gurriel from each other.

Gurriel was almost facing the catcher and trying to catch the ball off to his left. It actually seems like Gurriel was placing himself in the best position not to catch the ball but to draw an interference call. If Gurriel had his right foot on the bag and his left foot facing Peacock, he would have been in a much better position to field the throw without having the runner involved.

There was a real sense that this judgment call could decide the winner of the World Series, if the Astros, down by only one run, were to rally. Rendon made that point moot by crushing a two-run homer to left after Adam Eaton fouled to third. Washington was now up 5-2. Between innings, Martinez argued with two umpires, including Holbrook. Martinez eventually (and rightly) lost his shit and after being ejected by Holbrook (who was also stunning bad behind the plate, from the first to the ninth), he exploded and was held back (barely) by coach Chip Hale.

The game continued. Strasburg retired the Astros in order in the seventh on 11 pitches and he retired the Astros' 2-3-4 hitters 1-2-3 on only 5 pitches in the 8th. Jose Altuve grounded to third on a 1-1 pitch, Michael Brantly grounded to second on the first pitch, and Alex Bregman popped to third on the first pitch. The Nationals tacked on two more runs in the ninth, thanks to Rendon's two-run double. Since 1920 (when RBIs became an official stat), Rendon is the third player with 5+ RBIs in a World Series game with his team facing elimination, joining Danny Bautista of the Diamondbacks (2001, Game 6 against the Yankees, 5 RBIs) and Addison Russell of the Cubs (2016, Game 6 against Cleveland, 6 RBIs).

Strasburg got the first man in the bottom of the ninth on two pitches and was pulled before he had a chance to record the first World Series complete game since Johnny Cueto of the Royals in 2015 (Game 2). Sean Doolittle gave up a two-out double to Carlos Correa that hit the very top of the left field wall before Robinson Chirinos popped to second to end the game.

During the final two innings, Fox broadcaster John Smoltz attempted to lessen the umpiring controversy by saying the interference call was not the third out of the inning, so the Nationals were still batting and they scored some runs, so everything is cool." In the top of the ninth, as Turner batted, Smoltz again offered MLB and the umpires cover, insisting: "Nothing cost anybody anything." In other words, the umpires can make mistakes and misinterpretations as long as it doesn't affect the outcome of the game." Which is HORSESHIT. (I'd rather listen to McCarver than Smoltz because McCarver's pathetic attempts at clever wordplay were somewhat amusing. Smoltz is only annoying.)

When you're knowledge of the strike zone allows you to lay off a pitch outside the strike zone and the umpire calls you out, ending your chance to bring in the tying run from third, that has cost you something. When you throw a nasty inside pitch that freezes the batter for strike three, stranding two runners on base in a tie game, and the umpire calls it ball 2, that has cost you something. When the opposing pitcher makes a poor throw to first and the first baseman is out of position to field it and the umpire penalizes you for their mistakes by calling interference, that has cost you something. And when you watch a World Series game and hope to be entertained, and maybe even enlightened by the announcers, and Fox inflicts Joe Buck and John Smoltz on you, that has cost you something. (Your sanity, most likely.)

And speaking of HORSESHIT umpiring, the plate umpire blew the call on the first batter of the game for the third consecutive game ... in the World Series. When MLB assigns its umpires to the most important games of the year, they're not assigning the best. They're assigning umpires that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems to the games.

Turner began Game 6 with a slow grounder to third. Alex Bregman made a great bare-handed play and first base umpire Jim Wolf called Turner out. But Turner looked safe even in real time - and he was safe on replay, too! - and the call was corrected. Rendon grounded a slider through a big hole in the infield to the opposite field (right-center) for a single and the Nats led 1-0. Justin Verlander (5-5-3-3-3, 93) gave up only 12 first-inning runs in 34 starts during the season, but he's allowed 10 first-inning runs in his six postseason starts.

The Astros answered in the bottom half. George Springer hit Strasburg's first pitch off the wall in left for a double. Strasburg's second pitch was wild, and Springer took third. Jose Altuve hit a sac fly to left and Springer scored. After Holbrook called Michael Brantley out on strikes on Ball 3 (Pitch #5), Bregman homered to center.

After a long fly out ended the inning, the Astros led 2-1. It turned out that Strasburg was tipping his pitches. Jonathan Tosches, the Nationals' manager for advanced scouting, saw something in Strasburg's delivery (a flaw he had fell victim to earlier in the season) and passed the word along. Strasburg adjusted and retired the next eight batters in a row.

Verlander walked two Nats with two outs in the third, but Juan Soto grounded out to second. Strasburg also issued two walks with two outs, in the fourth, after walking only two batters in his previous 31 postseason innings this month. He fanned Carlos Correa to end the threat.

Verlander dodged a bullet in the fifth after giving up a leadoff single to Howie Kendrick and a one-out walk to Ryan Zimmerman. Victor Robles went down swinging and Brantley made a nice catch after running over to the side wall near the left field corner and gloving Gomes's fly. But Verlander could not escape shrapnel in the fifth, when Adam Eaton and Soto both went deep. Soto's dong landed several rows up in the second deck in right-center and gave Washington a 3-2 lead.
Juan Soto has five homers this postseason.
They've come against...
Justin Verlander (tonight): 413 feet.
Gerrit Cole (twice): 383 and 417 feet.
Clayton Kershaw: 449 feet.
Hyun-Jin Ryu: 408 feet.
Again, the Astros stormed back. Josh Reddick singled with one out and Springer (after getting screwed over by Holbrook on two inside pitches (#1 and #3) and falling behind 1-2) doubled on what was actually a 4-1 pitch.

But Strasburg got Altuve to wave at an 0-2 pitch in the dirt (which tossed a wrench into Fox's over-the-top Altuve Adoration) and Asdrubal Cabrera made a nice back-handed pick of Brantley's grounder at second and threw him out.

Here are a few more of Sam Holbrook's worst calls of the night, in addition to the two blown calls above. Keep in mind this is someone MLB believed deserved a plate assignment in Game 6 of the World Series.

Josh Reddick, 3rd inning, Pitch #2 is Ball 1:

Yordan Alvarez, 4th inning, Pitch #1 is Ball 1:

Asdrubal Cabrera, 6th inning, Pitch #3 is Strike 1:

Victor Robles, 6th inning (two batters later), Pitch #6 is Strike 3:

Robinson Chirinos, 9th inning, Pitch #3 is Ball 2:

MLB wants us to believe there is NO ONE outside of the major leagues capable of doing a better job calling pitches to left-handed batters than Sam Holbrook:

Stephen Strasburg / Justin Verlander

Richard Justice, mlb.com:
[F]orget that [Verlander's] World Series numbers aren't dazzling (0-5, 5.73 ERA in six starts). ... [G]iven that pitcher wins are partly a function of time and place, that's more a trivia answer than anything else.
That's interesting. ... The "trivia answer" factor didn't enter into the equation last postseason (and earlier) when so many sportswriters were gleefully shitting on David Price.

Verlander has allowed four earned runs in three of his last four postseason starts. Strasburg has a 1.34 career postseason ERA.

Max Scherzer received a cortisone injection on Sunday and is penciled in for a possible Game 7 tomorrow night. The Nats' back-up plan is Aníbal Sánchez, on regular rest.

Washington catcher Kurt Suzuki missed Games 4 and 5 with an injury to his right hip flexor, but he believes will be in tonight's lineup. ... [Update: He's not.]


Jere said...

"That's interesting. ... The "trivia answer" factor didn't enter into the equation last postseason (and earlier) when so many sportswriters were gleefully shitting on David Price."

They also refused to acknowledge Price's pennant-winning Game 7 ALCS performance in 2008 when he was a pre-rookie (against the Red Sox, so you know at least the *Boston* media knew this event occurred), but, hey, it wasn't a "win" so they could still skew it to say he was "winless."

Jake of All Trades said...

In the Fox postgame show when they discussed the interference call, Arod said MLB needs to clarify how batters should run up the first base line without interfering because it’s been confusing for a long time. Made me laugh wondering if he was thinking about the slap play from 2004...

allan said...

Major League Baseball Umpires Association @MLBUA:
"The Correct Call;
The runner is only allowed to EXIT the lane to touch 1st base. Turner was NOT IN THE LANE when he stepped towards first BASE and interfered with Guriel so he was NOT afforded the protection the lane provides."

Eno Sarris, The Athletic:
"Wait, what? How is Turner supposed to touch the bag (which is in fair territory) while running in the marked base path (which is in foul territory)? He’s supposed to run in that lane in foul territory and then dive towards fair territory with his last step? Is that what baseball wants?"