October 31, 2021

RIP: Jerry Remy (1952-2021)

Jerry Remy, former Red Sox second baseman and longtime announcer, died this morning, at the age of 68.

Remy was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and took several leaves of absence from the broadcast booth over the subsequent years.  He also spoke honestly about suffering from depression following his initial diagnosis.

Remy's last appearance at Fenway Park was earlier this month, throwing out the first pitch (to his former teammate and booth partner, Dennis Eckersley) before the Wild Card Game.

Remy spent 43 of his 68 years in the Red Sox organization, first coming to Boston before the 1978 season. He played for seven seasons, briefly worked as a coach in the minors before joining NESN in 1988.

Even before he wore a Boston uniform, he was connected to the team, rooting for the Red Sox while growing up in Somerset, Massachusetts.

Remy was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2017. He is on an extremely short list of people (among them Ned Martin and Joe Castiglione) who could creditably be called "the voice of the Red Sox".

The Man With The Golden Arm

. . . And The Man With The Empty Head

October 30, 2021

Zack Greinke And Babe Ruth Are The Only Two Pitchers To Not Bat #9 In World Series Game

Atlanta has prevailed in two close games at home, 2-0 and 3-2, and could win the Piece of Metal™ with a victory in Game 5 on Sunday night.

The Astros' bats have gone ice cold in Georgia. On Friday night, they were no-hit for seven innings and finished the game with only two singles. Last night, they left 11 men on base and were 0-for-8 with runners at second and/or third.

Starting Pitchers Not Batting Ninth (Postseason)

Babe Ruth, Red Sox, 1918 World Series Game 4 vs Cubs (#6)
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs, 2015 NLDS Game 2 at Cardinals (#8)
Jason Hammel, Cubs, 2015 NLDS Game 4 vs Cardinals (#8)
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs, 2015 NLCS Game 3 vs Mets (#8)
Jason Hammel, Cubs, 2015 NLCS Game 4 vs Mets (#8)
Zack Greinke, Astros, 2021 World Series Game 4 at Atlanta (#8)

In 1918, Babe Ruth had batted sixth only once before – on May 6, the very first game in which he started at a position other than pitcher. It was the day the 23-year-old iconoclast began his transition into the most complete hitter the game has ever seen.

Ruth batted fourth in 74 of his 89 starts in 1918 (and third or fourth in 80 of 89 starts).

In fact, May 6 and September 9, 1918 were the only two starts Ruth batted sixth in his entire career.

October 27, 2021

Ratto: Manfred Reaches A New Low ("Does Anyone Vet The Words And Ideas That Ooze Out Of Your Face At All? Ever?")

Rob Manfred Reaches A New Low
Ray Ratto, Defector, October 27, 2021
Most corporate lawyers choose that path by believing they are the smartest person in the room. It is a short step from that to believing that everyone else in the room is spectacularly more stupid than you. But you haven't really made it in the profession until you've reached the state of legal nirvana that Rob Manfred has achieved—namely, when you don't care if YOU are the stupidest person in the room but nobody is there to either harm you or stop you from being so out loud where everyone can hear you.

Thus, when Manfred proffered a new and fascinating framework by which the Atlanta Braves as a company exist and operate—that they're racist, their fans are racists, and they should absolutely go where the money is even if it means working in the milieu they are given—he took his role to a new and exciting place. In other words, he moved his queen off the board, chucked it into the toilet, and declared checkmate. Well done, Rob.

He was asked before Game 1 of the World Series what he thought of the team's position toward the Braves' nickname, its imagery, and the tomahawk chop, and here's how managed to catch that hand grenade and hold it until it detonated . . .

So let's break this magnificent wickiup of slander, ignorance, and arrogance, starting with:

"We don't market our game on a nationwide basis." Well, yes you do, all the time, and we can prove it. The television deals are national, the World Series in particular is nationally televised, and the MLB Network is on all the time as a national entity. Nice try, Skippy, but this is just a clumsy lie.

"Ours is an everyday game." Yeah, and what's that got to do with anything? My grocery store is an everyday operation. The family dog is an everyday game too, otherwise it would be an ex-dog. What's your point?

"You've gotta sell tickets every single day to the fans in that market." Aha! Now we're getting to the crux of it. . . . Suburban Atlanta WANTS this even though it has been a source of consternation for decades. Suburban Atlanta NEEDS this because there are two racial stereotypes in play here, and the second is that fans won't come to games unless the racist memes are in full display. That is presumably why they moved the ballpark to Cobb County, right Robbo? Because the fans there are all racist? Does anyone vet the words and ideas that ooze out of your face at all? Ever? . . .

Some comments on this column (each paragraph is a different comment):

I have never seen someone so clearly unveiled as a desperate and morally corrupt idiot as Rob Manfred (and Alex Rodriguez, honestly) in that Netflix documentary Screwball.
everyone please watch it. also fuck Rob Manfred.

The primary role of a sports commissioner is to ensure that the obscenely wealthy men who employ you never look like the dumbest guy, or the biggest asshole, in the room. That's job one at all times. Unfortunately, basically all of them are in fact genuinely colossal assholes and many are deeply, deeply stupid. At any given time, at least one of them will be in the process of taking a giant shit on the floor in full view of the public. As the commissioner, your primary qualification for the job is being cynical enough to devour that pile of shit, insist in the press that it was chocolate ice cream, and ask for seconds.

This is just Manfred screaming the quiet part at the top of his lungs, but he's also not wrong. The thing you have to understand about the Braves that every local understands is that, even when they were playing downtown at the Ted, a Braves home game is the whitest place in the city at any given time. This is not true of the other Atlanta teams. . . . But the Braves, while having Atlanta across their chest, has never been marketed as Atlanta's team, but the Team of the South. Their blackout region is basically the Confederacy. And everybody in that stadium and the marketing department knows it.

Yep - this is the absolute truth. Braves games are shockingly, wildly white. As someone very smart once said, if you're doing something in Atlanta and there are no Black people, then you're doing something wrong.

There might be more complaints from Native Americans in the Atlanta area if Jackson hadn't forcibly marched most of them halfway across the continent to take their lands for white settlement. But I'm sure these things are in no way related. A fun reminder that the impacted tribes won at the Supreme Court and were still forcibly removed. "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." Then, in the 1890s, white politicians carved up "Indian Territory" for white settlement. Many settlers came from Texas and Arkansas and brought Jim Crow laws and the Klan with them, which set the stage for Tulsa a generation later.

and when Native Americans struck oil on the land given to them in Kansas/Oklahoma/etc., the "Bureau of Indian Affairs" appointed financial managers to them to manage the wealth derived from that oil. You'll never believe what happened next!

P.S. The "Just A Piece Of Metal" series is tied 1-1.

National Congress Of American Indians Responds to Manfred's Lies: Atlanta's Fan Rituals Are Offensive, Degrading, And Dehumanizing, And Have No Place In American Society

Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), responded on Wednesday to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lies and distortions concerning the Atlanta team's racist nickname and fan rituals.

Yesterday, Commissioner Manfred stated that the question of whether the "Braves" mascot and "tomahawk chop" fan ritual are offensive to Native people is only a local issue. He similarly asserted the league does "not market our game on a nationwide basis." Nothing could be further from the truth.

Major League Baseball is a global brand, it markets its World Series nationally and internationally, and the games played in Atlanta this weekend will be viewed by tens of millions of fans across the country and around the world. Meanwhile, the name "Braves," the tomahawk adorning the team's uniform, and the "tomahawk chop" that the team exhorts its fans to perform at home games are meant to depict and caricature not just one tribal community but all Native people, and that is certainly how baseball fans and Native people everywhere interpret them. 

Consequently, the league and team have an obligation to genuinely listen to Tribal Nations and leaders across the United States about how the team's mascot impacts them. NCAI, a consensus-based congress composed of hundreds of Tribal Nations from every region of this country, has made its categorical opposition to Native "themed" mascots abundantly clear to sports teams, schools, and the general public for more than five decades. In our discussions with the Atlanta Braves, we have repeatedly and unequivocally made our position clear – Native people are not mascots, and degrading rituals like the "tomahawk chop" that dehumanize and harm us have no place in American society. NCAI calls on the team to follow the example set by the Cleveland Guardians, and we call on Major League Baseball and the FOX Broadcasting Company to refrain from showing the "tomahawk chop" when it is performed during the nationally televised World Series games in Atlanta.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is the oldest, largest, and most representative national organization serving Tribal Nations and their citizens. One NCAI resolution states:

The use of "Native American" sports mascots, logos, or symbols perpetuates stereotypes of American Indians that are very harmful. The "warrior savage" myth . . . reinforces the racist view that Indians are uncivilized and uneducated and it has been used to justify policies of forced assimilation and destruction of Indian culture.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Defends Atlanta's Racist Tomahawk Chop (Calling It An Example Of Regional Diversity)

As the 2021 World Series got underway on Tuesday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said there has been no pressure from his office on the Atlanta team about changing its nickname or banning the Tomahawk Chop or the fans' chanting what is meant to be a Native American chant.

Manfred dismissed any concerns that the chopping and chanting is racist and offensive by noting that "there are all sorts of differences between the regions" and how teams are marketed to fans. (Red Sox fans sing 'Sweet Caroline' and fans in Atlanta mock the victims of a genocide that lasted hundreds of years. Each market has a different point of view. Some embrace analytics, some are mired in the 1830s.)

Manfred claimed the Atlanta team has "done a phenomenal job with the Native American community", though he did not mention anything that could be construed as evidence. He lied when he said the Native American community in the Atlanta area fully supports the chop.
It's important to understand that we have 30 markets in the country. Not all are the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community. The Native American community in that region is fully supportive of the Braves' program, including the chop. For me, that's kind of the end of the story. In that market, we're taking into account the Native American community. . . .

Atlanta, as I've said before, they've done a great job with the Native Americans. I think the Native American community is the most important group to decide whether it's appropriate or not and they have been unwaveringly supportive of the Braves. . . .

I don't know how every Native American group around the country feels. I am 100% certain that the Braves understand what the Native American community in their region believes and that they've acted in accordance with that understanding. . . .

We don't market our game on a nationwide basis. You got to sell tickets every single day to the fans in that market. And there are all sorts of differences between the regions in terms of how the teams are marketed. . . .

We always have tried to be apolitical. Obviously, there was a notable exception this year [with the All-Star Game being moved from Atlanta to Denver]. Our desire is to avoid another exception to that general rule. We have a fan base that's diverse, has different points of view, and we'd like to keep the focus on the field, on the game.

It's harder than it used be.
Where do you even start with this garbage?

This is Major League Baseball. This has always been Major League Baseball. The one thing MLB does a pretty decent job at is convincing modern fans that its decades of racism is in the past. But a stain that large and that dark is hard to keep covered. Therefore, we hear, on a regular basis, reports of older white guys casually say racist or homophobic or sexist things. Like Jim Kaat's on-air conversation with Buck Showalter during the ALDS - an 82-year-old white guy talking to a 65-year-old white guy - about having a roster full of talented players and making an analogy to a plantation owner and his field of slaves.

And MLB wonders why it can't attract an younger audience or fans of color? Maybe it's time to introduce Scooter 2.0.

Manfred is a horrible commissioner. His actions since taking office display both a dislike of baseball and a desire to destroy it. In his fake crusade to cut the time of games, he got rid of the four-pitch intentional walk (which saves a team about five seconds per game on average), instituted a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers (hampering managerial strategy), and began extra-innings with a runner on second base (altering the structural foundation of the game after 150 years). Future gimmicks may include making the bases bigger and the ability for batters to "steal" first base. (I'm not kidding.) Now Manfred can add "blatantly endorsing racism" to his resume.

Also in 2017, Manfred said his office was considering implementing guidelines against fans using racial slurs in ball parks. I don't recall anything coming of that statement. We see now where Manfred stands about racist behaviour in Atlanta. He supports it.

Rob Manfred most likely does not consider himself a racist. However, he is a racist based on his statements and actions regarding the Chop and the chanting. An anti-racist person (and a non-coward) would immediately denounce those actions and take steps to prevent them from occurring in future games. 

And the Commissioner doesn't believe MLB markets itself on a nationwide basis? What the fuck is he talking about? The two leagues are called American and National, for god's sake. Its championship is called the World Series, although that has always been a misnomer and an great example of early-ish American exceptionalism.

Manfred claimed the Atlanta team has consulted with Native American leaders in Georgia, who feel the team's nickname is a source of pride. Manfred said that is the difference between Atlanta's situation and Cleveland's. However, the tribe to which Manfred alluded is a business partner and has been a corporate sponsor of the team for several years. The team has used the tribe as a public relations shield.

Craig Calcaterra's Cup of Coffee newsletter on Tuesday included information about this tribe that Manfred is using to spin or obfuscate the issue. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a federally-recognized tribe located in western North Carolina. They are descendants of the Cherokee who resisted relocation after the 1830 Indian Removal Act.
[Over] the past two years . . . the club has begun to use that relationship as a means of deflecting criticism for their use of Native iconography and for its encouragement of fans to do the Tomahawk Chop. They have a whole page devoted to that on their website, in fact, on which they tout how, "[o]ver the last year and a half, [they have] developed a cultural working relationship with them that has resulted in meaningful action." It should be noted that that year and a half time frame lines up exactly with the heat the Braves got in the 2019 postseason when they were criticized by Cardinals pitcher, and Native American, Ryan Helsley. That's no accident. The club reached out to the Eastern Band of Cherokee in a cynical and transparent effort at an image makeover.

That "working relationship" between the tribe and the club is close to invisible to casual fans, however, as there is almost zero in the way of apparent changes in how the team presents itself or its brand. But it has allowed useful idiots like Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports (and a big Braves fan) to carry water for the club [tweet] . . .

If you start talking about the Tomahawk Chop on Twitter you'll come across a lot of people shooting you that link or citing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as a get-out-of-racism free card like Sallee does here. There's only one problem with that: not even the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are OK with the Tomahawk Chop!

This is from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in October 2019, right after the Ryan Helsley stuff hit big:
Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed told the AJC that if the Braves consult with him, he'll say that he has no problem with the team name — which honors the warrior spirit — but it's time to hang up the tomahawk chop.

"That's just so stereotypical, like old-school Hollywood," Chief Sneed said. "Come on, guys. It's 2020. Let's move on. Find something else."
It's worth noting that the Eastern Band is alone as far as I can tell in being OK with the team's nickname, which every other Native tribe or advocacy group I've seen weigh in on it opposes it.

(Bolding is my emphasis.)

As Calcaterra points out, when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which the team has been using as a type of 'some-of-my-best-friends-are-black' excuse, "are telling you that your racist war-whooping is beyond the pale, you probably need to rethink things".

In July 2020, it was reported that the Atlanta team was discussing the continued use of the Chop. This has apparently been a common way for the team to escape any periodic heat it gets about its public racism. The team has been "taking a hard look" at its offensive practices even since they began, more than 30 years ago.

During the 1991 World Series, CBS's Pat O'Brien stated:

The protests that continue here in Atlanta and across the country regarding the chopping, the chanting, and the war paint that have become such a big part of the whole Atlanta Braves scene, you'll see during the game that these protests have done little, if anything, to put a stop to this. But what the American Indian movement has done is to raise consciousness and put this issue on the agenda of the Braves and Major League Baseball, both of whom have pledged to give this matter a hard look after the World Series.

But as long as the Commissioner of Baseball supports the racist trifecta of the nickname, the chopping, and the chanting, Atlanta's ownership has no reason to truly rethink or take a hard look at anything.

October 26, 2021

World Series Begins Tonight (Does Anyone Care Besides Fans of The Two Teams?)

The 117th World Series begins tonight in Houston between Atlanta (88-73) and the Astros (95-67).

The Astros (95-67) finished atop the American League West for the fourth time in the last five seasons. They defeated the White Sox in the ALCS (6-1, 9-4, 6-12, 10-1) and the Red Sox in the ALCS (5-4, 9-5, 3-12, 9-2, 9-1, 5-0).

Astros manager Dusty Baker is the ninth manager to win a pennant in both the National and American leagues (having won the NL flag with the 2002 Giants). Baker's 19-year gap between World Series appearances is the second-longest in MLB history, behind the 22-year gap for Bucky Harris (1925 Senators and 1947 Yankees).

Atlanta (88-73) won the National League East for the fourth consecutive season, although they did not have a winning percentage over .500 until August 6, the latest date in history for a World Series participant. Atlanta beat the Brewers in the NLDS (1-2, 3-0, 3-0, 5-4) and the Dodgers in the NLCS (3-2, 5-4, 5-6, 9-2, 2-11, 4-2).

This is Atlanta's first World Series since 1999; the team has not won a World Series game since 1996. The Astros have played in two of the last four World Series, winning in 2017 and losing in 2019.

MLB.com polled its reporters and analysts for some predictions:

Astros:   52 votes (68.4%)
Atlanta:  24 votes

Sixty of the 76 voters (78.9%) think the series will go at least six games.

Astros  in 7 games:   6
Astros  in 6 games:  32
Astros  in 5 games:  13
Astros  in 4 games:   1

Atlanta in 7 games:   7
Atlanta in 6 games:  15
Atlanta in 5 games:   1
Atlanta in 4 games:   1

I am in no way cheering for either team, but I would like Atlanta to lose.

October 23, 2021

Atlanta Team Will Have Anti-Vaccine/Anti-Mask Country Star Sing National Anthem Before NLCS Game 6

The Atlanta major league baseball team has hired anti-vaccine and anti-mask country singer Travis Tritt to sing the national anthem before tonight's NLCS Game 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Tritt has proudly refused to perform in any venue with safety protocols against the coronavirus such as masks, proof of vaccination, or negative coronavirus tests. Earlier this month, he cancelled concerts in Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, and Kentucky because of the venues' public health requirements.
This is trying to divide people. This is trying to shame people. This is trying to basically discriminate against people they don't feel are clean enough to be a part of enjoying a concert like that.
Tritt described himself as "a huge defender of basic human rights and liberty for all". He believes he is standing up against "the squelching" of freedom. He even quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in his August press release.

Fox's Tucker Carlson called Tritt "a credit to country music" and praised him for being "willing to lose money" based on his beliefs. However, Carlson is not willing to lose even one penny by leaving Fox  (and his multi-million dollar contract) for having far stricter vaccine requirements than the less restrictive government mandates he condemns nightly on his show.

Numerous hypocritical Fox hosts, including Carlson, have praised other people for quitting their jobs rather than submit to the "tyranny" of these "Jim Crow" vaccine mandate while refusing to quit their own jobs. They have also repeatedly lied on air that Fox has no vaccine mandate. But the the Fox mandate memos have been published online (the network even has a vaccine passport program).

The state of Georgia requires all children to receive multiple vaccinations "to protect them from any of 16 serious diseases" before attending school. Neither Tritt nor Carlson nor any other anti-vaxxer seems to be frothing at the mouth about all of that "tyranny", however.

The Atlanta baseball team's willingness to give its seal of approval to someone with anti-science and pro-death beliefs seems at odd with the fact that they were one of the first major league teams to open free vaccination clinics in its stadium. They also have first-hand knowledge of the devastating impact of COVID-19. First baseman Freddie Freeman contracted the virus last summer and suffered so badly he said he prayed to God, "please don't take me".

The Atlanta team supports the racist actions of its fans. While the team stopped handing out free foam tomahawks before games, it has remained utterly silent about the anti-Indigenous racism seen and heard in its stadium during each game. (Actually, that's not true. They encouraged fans to chop and chant in April 2021.) 

Sheryl Ring points out that the chop is often "used by racists to denigrate Indigenous people outside of the sports context".
That the Tomahawk Chop is racist is a fact. Indigenous people overwhelmingly consider it a slur, and we are obligated to defer to their judgment because this is an issue about them. . . .

There will be those of you who consider this "cancel culture" or "wokeness" or the like. That's interesting, however, seeing as I get more death and rape threats from posting about the tomahawk chop than I have from all of my other articles and posts combined, and that's saying something seeing as I'm a trans woman with a public platform. But frankly, Indigenous people have been protesting against the tomahawk chop for its entire existence. . . .

You don't honor a culture by donning a caricature of their identity like a costume for a few hours. But then, no racist ever believed themselves to be anything but beneficent anyway.
Ring also blasts MLB (my emphasis):
[L]et's be honest: it's the year 2021. Anyone who is doing or defending the tomahawk chop knows what profoundly harmful effects it has on Native and Indigenous people and wants to either perpetuate those harms or simply doesn't care. It's that apathy which is always, as writer J.M. Dilliard notes, the greater evil. . . .

It is absolutely galling that Major League Baseball will on the one hand remove the All-Star Game from Atlanta because of Georgia's new voter suppression law, and then on the other hand ignore that same team urging its fans to engage in racist cosplay. MLB could ban the chant tomorrow.
On Thursday, two days ago, all 30 major league baseball teams tweeted their support for Spirit Day, which raises awareness of the many bullying-related suicides of LGBTQ+ children. Here is the tweet from the Red Sox:
Two teams, Atlanta and Texas, deliberately removed any reference to LGBTQ+ persons before posting their tweets. Texas did not even include the link to the GLAAD Spirit Day website. 

Judging by the similarity of the team's tweets, each club was given a template and guidelines on what to say. But Atlanta and Texas chose instead to cater to their homophobic and hate-filled fans, not wanting to annoy or provoke them, rather than make a small performative gesture of tolerance to another group of human beings.

October 22, 2021

ALCS 6: Astros 5, Red Sox 0

Red Sox - 000 000 000 - 0  2  0
Astros - 100 001 03x - 5 10 0

On Monday, the Red Sox set a major league record by getting 10+ hits in their sixth consecutive postseason game. Then, as suddenly as flicking off a light switch, their bats went ice cold. They managed 10 hits total in their next three games, losing all three games.

Boston's season came to an end on Friday night, as the Astros pitcher Luis Garcia (5.2-1-0-1-7, 76) held the Red Sox without a hit for 5.2 innings. Houston won ALCS Game 6 by a score of 5-0, clinching the American League pennant. On Tuesday, they will play in their third World Series in the last five seasons.

Yordan Alvarez was named the MVP of the ALCS. He hit .522 and had an OPS of 1.408 OPS. Alvarez  went 4-for-4 on Friday; he doubled in the Astros' first run in the opening inning, doubled in the fourth, tripled and scored the Astros' second run in the sixth, and singled and scored the Astros' third run  in the eighth (coming home on Kyle Tucker's three-run homer). 

In the final three games of the series, Alvarez went 9-for-13, collecting one fewer hit than the entire Red Sox team. In Game 5, Alvarez became the first left-handed hitter in more than six seasons to knock three hits off Chris Sale. 

In the eighth inning of Game 4, the score was tied 2-2 and the Red Sox led the series two games to one. After that, everything fell apart for the Red Sox (starting with a blown inning-ending strike 3 call by umpire Laz Diaz), Houston outscored Boston 22-1.

This was the first time ever that the Red Sox were shut out on two or fewer hits by the Astros.

Despite the agonizing finish, the 2021 Red Sox must be regarded as a success. No one thought this team would (or could) end up only two wins away from the World Series.

The Red Sox caught a break at the start of Game 6, when Kyle Schwarber swung and missed a cutter from Luis Garcia, but was able to get to first when the ball eluded the catcher. Schwarber got to third but Xander Bogaerts could not bring him home, grounding out to third.

The Astros, on the other hand, took full advantage of their good fortune in the bottom of the first. Nathan Eovaldi had two outs after only three pitches. Alex Bregman singled and Alvarez drove the ball to deep right-center. Kiké Hernández attempted a basket catch of sorts on the warning track, but the ball hit the bottom of his glove near his wrist and fell for what was ruled a double. Bregman scored.

Garcia walked Alex Verdugo in the second, but other than that, he was dealing. After that walk, he retired 13 batters in a row, using a devastating cutter that numerous Red Sox batters could not lay off of. Christian Arroyo saw five balls outside the strike zone in the second inning and he swung at three of them, eventually popping to second. Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez had zero luck hitting the cutter in the fourth. Arroyo and Hunter Renfroe both chased pitches they could not do anything with, let alone reach, and whiffed in the fifth.

Hernández broke up Garcia's no-hit bid (and ended his night) with a triple off the wall in left-center. Unfortunately, it came with with two outs. Phil Maton retired Rafael Devers on one pitch, a pop-up to shortstop. (As Hernández stepped in, Boston had been 3-for-its-last-46 (.065).)

Hernández became the second player in Red Sox history to break up a postseason no-hitter in the sixth inning or later with a triple. Tris Speaker did it against the New York Giants, on October 8, 1912, with  one out in the sixth inning of World Series Game 1.

And right after that, Alvarez led off the home sixth with a triple of his own, off Josh Taylor, to right field, a no man's land devoid of Red Sox fielders, and into the corner. He scored, of course, though the Red Sox nearly pulled off a triple play. Tanner Houck came in and hit Correa. Tucker lined hard to first. Schwarber gloved the ball on a short hop, but Correa couldn't see that and thought he caught it on the fly. He got back to first, the umpire signaled fair ball (as opposed to an out), and he came off the bag , knowing he had to run to second. Schwarber tagged him, stepped on the base a split-second later, and fired home. Alvarez slid in ahead of Christian Vázquez's tag.

After Garcia's low pitch count (13-18-10 11-10-14), the Red Sox made Kendall Graveman work a bit in the seventh. Bogaerts struck out on seven pitches and Martinez drew a seven-pitch walk. Verdugo singled on a 1-0 pitch, sending Martinez to third. Travis Shaw pinch-hit for Arroyo. He swung through a too-high fastball and watched three balls up and away. He took a called strike on the outside edge. Graveman made a throw to first before striking out Shaw with a 96 mph fastball. Verdugo was off on the pitch and was thrown out at second.

That double play, which ended the inning with a man on third in a 2-0 game, and left the Red Sox only six outs in the game, felt like the death knell. Graveman gives up a lot of ground balls, but Verdugo is not very fast, Maldonado has a good arm, Shaw is far from guaranteed to make contact, and there is a runner on third base. It took a perfect throw from Maldonado to get him, but that's exactly what happened.

The Red Sox ended the season 0-for-their-last-17 with runners at second and/or third.

The Astros scored three runs in the eighth, effectively nailing the Red Sox's coffin shut. Tucker lifted a pitch from Adam Ottavino to left-center, where it found a landing place in the first or second row of seats just to the left of the point where the outfield gets a bit deeper.

The Red Sox went meekly in the ninth. Facing Ryan Pressly, Hernández flied to center, Devers struck out, and Bogarts flied to left.

Nathan Eovaldi / Luis Garcia

"Don't Let Us Win Friday Night!"

The 2021 Red Sox will play another win-or-go-home game, tonight in Houston. 

The Red Sox faced the possible end of their season back on October 5, in the American League Wild Card game against the Yankees. They responded to that challenge with a convincing 6-2 victory. They were expected to serve as roadkill for the Rays, but that never came close to happening.

And now they must win tonight for the opportunity to play another do-or-die game on Saturday night. It's rough and mean . . .

As Chad Jennings (The Athletic) writes: "This is not the first time we've prematurely written the 2021 Red Sox obituary."
"This is our story," J.D. Martinez said. "We've been written off all year. Nobody, I don't think anyone in [the press box] either, thought we were going to be here. . . . [W]e know what we're capable of . . . We split [the first two games in Houston]. We won two in a row, they won two in a row, you know? So, it's very possible.
Xander Bogaerts: "We can still get hot. I mean, we've done it before."

True enough. They have beaten the Astros in two straight games within the last week. Why not again?

It all comes down to this: the Red Sox have to hit. To have any kind of chance of winning tonight (and Saturday), it's essential that the bats find at least some of the success they showed in Games 2 and 3. If not, if they squander the scoring opportunities as they have in the last two games, they will be Texas Toast. None of this is insightful.

Also: Boston's pitching — starters and bullpen — are rested and lined up, waiting for the call.

Astros starter Luis Garcia is a complete wild card. He faced only eight batters in Game 2, giving up five runs, four of them coming on a mega-quadrangular by Rafael Devers. Jennings notes Garcia "could be unhittable, or he could be out after a couple of batters".

That's how it goes.

It's harder than it looks . . .

October 20, 2021

ALCS 5: Astros 9, Red Sox 1

Astros  - 010 005 102 - 9 11  0
Red Sox - 000 000 100 - 1 3 2

It's shocking and humbling and frustrating how quickly a team's fortunes can change in baseball.

On Tuesday night, the Red Sox began ALCS Game 4 having hit seven home runs, including three grand slams, in the previous two games. By outscoring the Astros 21-8 (with a team OPS of 1.022), they led the series 2-1. 

Less than 25 hours later (24:34, to be exact), the Red Sox are in serious danger of having their season come screeching to a halt in Houston on Friday night. Their offense has suddenly deserted them and their bullpen has sprung several leaks. They lost 9-2 on Tuesday and 9-1 on Wednesday, as the Astros have taken full advantage of the slightest mistake or blown call. 

Houston leads the series 3-2 with Game 6 on Friday night and Game 7 (if necessary) on Saturday. In postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format that have been tied 2-2, the team winning Game 5 on the road has won the series 18 of 23 times (78%).

These past two games are the first time in the 110 years of playing in Fenway Park that the Red Sox have allowed nine runs and been held to five or fewer hits in consecutive games. Boston had five hits on Tuesday and they managed only three today.

In Games 2 and 3, the Red Sox hit .301 (22-for-73). In the last two games, they have batted .131 (8-for-61).

The Red Sox managed five baserunners in this game. They had eight baserunners in just the second inning of Game 3.

Framber Valdez retired the first 12 batters with ease, thoroughly dominating the Red Sox for eight innings (8-3-1-1-5, 93). It was a stunning reversal of how Houston's starters have fared in the first four games. After Valdez got a double play to end the seventh inning, here were the Astros' starters' stats:

Games 1-4:   6.2 IP  14 H  16 R  11 BB  5 K  46 BF  191 pitches
Valdez (G5): 7.0 IP   3 H   1 R   1 BB  5 K  24 BF   79 pitches

Boston had little, if any, patience at the plate. However, with Valdez throwing strikes pretty much non-stop, they had little choice. Valdez went to only two three-ball counts: his first batter of the game and his 22nd (the third batter in the seventh). He threw either no balls or one ball to 19 of 27 batters (70%).

As Kyle Schwarber batted with two outs in the sixth, Valdez had thrown only 19 pitches to the previous eight Red Sox batters. If you tossed out Christian Arroyo's strikeout to start the inning, it was 15 pitches to seven batters. 

Valdez became the third pitcher in Astros postseason history to throw 8+ innings and allow one run in a road game. Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan both did it at Shea Stadium in back-to-back games of the 1986 NLCS. Valdez is also the first Astros pitcher ever to throw 8+ innings and allow one run (or no runs) against the Red Sox (home or road, regular season or playoffs).

Chris Sale seemed equal to the task for five innings. He had given up an opposite field solo home run to Yordan Alvarez leading off the second, but had come back in the fourth and struck out Carlos Correa and Ken Tucker to strand runners at first and third. The fastball on which Tucker fanned was clocked at 98.5 mph, the fastest pitch Sale had thrown since August 12, 2018.

As far as runs allowed, he was nearly matching Valdez, but his teammates were not helping him out. As mentioned, Valdez was perfect through four. Alex Verdugo smoked a line drive down the left field line that landed foul by (at most) three inches. He ended up grounding meekly to first. After Sale escaped that fourth-inning jam, the top of the Boston lineup was retired as if they were sleepwalking, three routine ground balls hit right at the third, first, and second basemen.

Sale needed only eight pitches in the fifth and seemed to buy himself another inning of work. In the bottom half, Rafael Devers hit a hard ground ball into right field for a single. Valdez's next pitch hit J.D. Martinez in the left leg. With two men on and no outs in a 1-0 game, FanGraphs gave the Red Sox a 55.9% chance of winning the game. But Hunter Renfroe (1-for-12 in the series with seven strikeouts) grounded into a double play on a 2-0 count. Verdugo ended the inning with a grounder to first. Boston's chances were down to 35.1%.
Jose Altuve led off the sixth with a walk. Sale had thrown a low slider for a strike on 1-1, but plate umpire Dan Iassonga blew the call and said it was a ball. This missed call was not on par with Game 3's ninth inning error by Laz Díaz, but the difference between 1-2 and 2-1 is not insignificant. Who knows what would have happened if Sale had been ahead in the count? That speculation does not, however, excuse what followed.

Michael Brantley grounded to third. Devers came in on the grass and fired to first. His throw had Brantley beat by at least two steps, but the ball handcuffed Schwarber and he dropped it. Alex Bregman tapped back to the mound for an out and the runners moved up. Alvarez went the other way again, this time for a double off the wall, making the score 3-0. The deficit felt like 15-0.

That ended Sale's day and Ryan Brasier came in. He struck out Correa for the first out, but then let the game get out of hand. Tucker beat out an infield hit, Yuri Gurriel doubled into the right-field corner (4-0), and Jose Siri blooped a hit to short right (6-0). The Red Sox's victory chances had fallen to 3.6%.

Alvarez had three hits against Sale, something no left-handed batter had done against the Boston lefty since . . . David Ortiz, on July 30, 2015, when Sale was the White Sox lefty.

Christian Vázquez doubled to the left field corner with one down in the home sixth. Valdez stranded SNCV there, needing only four pitches to retire Kiké Hernández on a fly to right and Schwarber on a grounder to shortstop.

Altuve singled off Hansel Robles to start the seventh, took second on the pitcher's throwing error on a pickoff attempt, and scored on Brantley's single to center. Robles did get a double play, though, and Darwinzon Hernandez got the third out.

Devers homered down the right field line with one out in the seventh. J.D. Martinez walked, but any faint ray of hope was snuffed out when Renfroe hit into another double play, which led to some justified booing. (Renfroe is 1-for-14; his hit came in the third inning of Game 1. He walked twice in each of Games 3 and 4.)

Hirokazu Sawamura came into the eighth with a runner on first and one out. He allowed a single and a walk, loading the bases, all while working at a glacial pace. Somehow he stranded the three runners when Altuve flied to left. It suddenly felt like anything was possible.

(Ha ha ha. Just kidding. I have no real idea why I was still watching at this point. . . . A few innings earlier (and a few runs earlier), I figured if the Red Sox were to come back, I'd certainly want to see it. But in the eighth . . . just a completist mentality, I guess. Which I also had (more than ever in my life, I'd say) in 2004 Game 3. Maybe there will be a connection across the years (he said, grasping at any available straw, no matter how thin and reedy).)

Martín Pérez was sent to pitch the ninth. He allowed a leadoff, first-pitch single (hey, it's kind of his thing) and walked two (one was intentional). Later in the inning, with two outs, Gurriel singled in two runs.

Valdez put the Red Sox down in order in the eighth and Ryan Stanek did the same in the ninth.

And so to bed Houston . . .

Framber Valdez / Chris Sale

Chris Sale will be making his first postseason appearance at Fenway since Game 1 of the 2018 World Series.
Ian Browne and Brian McTaggart, mlb.com:
Sale will be out to avenge one of the worst stretches of his career at a time his team needs him most. Over his two starts in this postseason, Sale has recorded a total of just 11 outs, giving up nine hits and six runs. He also took an early knockout in Game 162, coming out after recording just seven outs at Washington. However, Sale seems determined to get back on track and has been working tirelessly on ironing out his mechanics.
[M]y delivery. Getting comfortable with it, being able to repeat it a lot. I think that's where
a lot of my inconsistencies have come, not being able to repeat that. A lot of dry throws, a lot of heavy bullpen sessions, stuff like that. The more repetition I can get, the better off I'm going to be. . . .

This is crunch time. This isn't, "Let's work back from Tommy John and try to find some stuff." We need it now. Look where we're at. . . . I got to do my job.

The winner of today's game will advance to the World Series by winning one of two possible games in Houston.

And . . .

Happy Winning-The-2004-Pennant Day!!

The Ultimate "How It Started . . . How It's Going":

Plate Umpire Laz Díaz Missed At Least 23 Calls, Including One That Should Have Ended The T9 With A 2-2 Tie; No Surprise That One Of MLB's Worst Umpires (For More Than A Decade) Turns In The Most Incompetent Ball-Strike Performance Of The 2021 Postseason

I'd call Laz Díaz's performance in ALCS Game 4 a pile of hot garbage, but I have a healthy respect for trash. Passan did not tweet out a final number of blown calls, but ESPN's Joon Lee reported:
Diaz ended the evening with 23 missed ball-strike calls, according to ESPN Stats & Information . . . Diaz's night behind the plate marked the most missed ball-strike calls of any umpire this postseason.
Díaz has been one of the worst umpires in MLB for far too long. On my scorecard of the game, I circled the pitches which Diaz called contrary to what Gameday's strike zone showed. I counted 19 missed calls by Díaz, 10 against the Red Sox (six of which came in the first three innings) and 9 against the Astros.

I have seen dozens of comments online pointing out that the breakdown of missed calls was more or less even (12 on balls thrown by Red Sox pitchers and 11 on balls thrown by the Astros) and saying, yes, Díaz is certainly incompetent, but he was the same amount of incompetent for each team.

That is almost certainly not true. You would have to look at when each blown call was made, what inning, what the count was, what the game situation was, etc., and try to quantify how much the call hurt one team and helped the other. Here are two blown calls, one for each team:
1) A blown call on a 1-0 count with no outs and no one on base in the third inning of a 5-0 game

2) A blown call on a 3-2 pitch with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth of a 4-4 tie
Blown calls are 1-1, so no team got screwed more than the other, right?

Of Díaz's 23 blown calls, none was as important to the outcome of the game as this one:
Díaz's wrong call was especially noteworthy (and newsworthy) because his personal strike zone had been extremely wide for the entire game, for both teams. To suddenly not call a strike on an actual strike after calling strikes on pitches well off the plate all goddamn night makes this particular blown call truly horrible. (I'd call it a fireable offense, but MLB umpires never get fired for gross incompetence.)

A quick sampling of Díaz's career:
July 1, 2011: "Pedroia's at-bat in the seventh is worth noting. He took a 2-1 pitch . . . that was low and away. It was in the exact same place as balls 1 and 2, but home plate umpire Laz Diaz called it strike two. Diaz and Pedroia exchanged several words as [Pedroia] got ready for the next pitch. Pedroia drilled it . . . down the right field line. While sprinting to first base, Pedroia turned around and yelled back at Diaz. Once he was at first, he yelled again at the home plate ump. I'm not sure I have seen a batter continue an argument with the HP ump while running out a hit. . . . And two pitches later, after sliding across the plate on Adrian Gonzalez's double, Pedroia got up and stomped his foot on home plate, to emphasize that he had scored, as Diaz presumably stared daggers at him."

April 15, 2012: "Also, Laz Diaz is just fucking awful, if it wasn't already clear."

April 30, 2012: Better Know An Umpire: Laz Diaz

May 18, 2012: Laz Diaz Blows An Obvious Call, Ejects Bob Melvin In More Time Than It Would Have Taken To Look At A Replay

May 31, 2012: Another Day, Another Umpire On A Power Trip (Diaz "wouldn't let me throw the ball back to the pitcher. He told me I had to earn the privilege. . . . [A]t the end of the game . . . I'm like, can I throw the ball back now? He's still like no. . . . I'm not letting you throw a ball back.")

April 16, 2013: "Home plate Laz Diaz showed why he is one of the worst umpires in major league baseball. In the first two innings, his pathetic attempts to correctly call balls and strikes were essentially a coin flip. High pitches out of the zone were called strikes, and then pitches that came in lower than those were called balls. He judged numerous pitches well outside the zone as strikes. Is Diaz Exhibit A in the fans' demand for robot umps? I don't know (he might be), but he is mentioned prominently in the brief."

May 6, 2014: Terrible Umpire Laz Diaz Taunts Shawn Kelley Into Getting Ejected

May 6, 2014: Umpire Laz Diaz acts like a child leading up to ejection

November 5, 2018: The Worst Called Strike of the Second Half [It's by Diaz]

May 31, 2019: "Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn't hold back in his criticism of plate umpire Laz Diaz after what he thought was a missed strike-three call in the 10th inning . . ."

October 24, 2020: "Laz Diaz was ranked 68th out of 89 umpires. In 2019, Diaz was tied for 85th (which was dead last) in correct call percentage. That was who MLB decided should call balls and strikes in Game 1 of the World Series. The worst ball-and-strike-calling umpire in the major leagues."

June 4, 2021: "Some umpires are worse than others . . . Last night it was Laz Diaz in the Cubs-Giants game who missed so many calls the outline of the strike zone was closer to a Rorschach test than a box."
Despite showing a clear inability to do his job to even an average level of competency, which has been proven time and time again, year after year after year, MLB has regularly given Díaz assignments to work the sport's most important games:
World Series (2007, 2017, 2020)
League Championship Series (2009, 2015, 2016, 2021)
Division Series (2002, 2006, 2007, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2020)
Wild Card Game (2020, 2021)
All-Star Games (2000, 2010)
World Baseball Classic (2009)
Jeff Passan, ESPN: How The 268th Pitch Became The Defining Moment Of ALCS Game 4
In an alternate universe, or at least one that follows the rulebook strike zone, the pitch was a strike, a strike would have ended the ninth inning and allowed the Boston Red Sox, owners of two walk-off hits this postseason, the opportunity to mint a third. In the real world, where the rulebook strike zone is a castle in the sky, the pitch was a ball, a ball that kept Jason Castro at the plate, a ball that preceded the 269th pitch of the night, which he fouled off, and the 270th, which he whacked for a go-ahead single that opened the floodgates of the Houston Astros' 9-2 victory at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. . . .

A pitch that Eovaldi was so certain was a strike he skipped off the mound, maybe believing he had done his job and maybe trying to cajole the home-plate umpire, Laz Diaz, into punching out Castro, because he, like everyone, knew pitch No. 268 was on the edge of the strike zone, which isn't really a zone inasmuch as it is a concept subject to the execution of the man enforcing it. . . .

"If it's a strike," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said, "it changes the whole thing, right?"

Well, yeah. . . .
Diaz called an objectively questionable zone -- strikes for balls, balls for strikes, two pitches in almost identical locations with one a ball and the other a strike . . . 
Cora was working three levels with his postgame approach. First: He knows Diaz, has known him since he played at the University of Miami and Diaz umpired his games. Next: He doesn't want to get fined for criticizing the umpires, because he is smart and likes money. Most of all: Blaming the umpires -- blaming one pitch -- is a losing mentality. . . .
On the Fox broadcast's pitch tracker, the landing spot of the ball was colored in -- meaning it was a strike. On MLB's website, the pitch landed on the edge of the zone -- a strike. Neither of those matters. The only computer that mattered was Diaz's brain -- and it processed the pitch as a ball.

Edward Sutelan, The Sporting News:

There's missing a strike here and there, and then there's having a total off night behind home plate. . . .

Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz missed [23] calls in the matchup . . . the most of any umpire in the postseason. . . .

Not all of them came in inconsequential moments, either. One was a borderline pitch by Red Sox pitcher Nathan Eovaldi in the top of the ninth: a curveball that hit the top of the zone against Astros catcher Jason Castro. The pitch looked like it might have hit the zone for strike three, which would have ended the inning. . . .

That wasn't the only call that fired up the Boston side. Earlier in the game, another pitch on J.D. Martinez was called a strike when it would have been a walk to put runners on first and second with only one away. This one, however, was less close, according to Baseball Savant.
In the third inning, Díaz called J.D. Martinez out on strikes (pitch #7). Martinez should have walked, giving Boston runners at first and second and only one out. Díaz's blown call gave Boston a runner on second with two outs. Alex Cora was livid.