Tony La Russa and the Rockies' groundskeeper

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Despite clinching the division, Tony La Russa was angry about something over the weekend:

Dissatisfaction over a seeming discrepancy between the visitors bullpen mound and the Coors Field main mound caused Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to seek an umpires’ review of the two following Friday night’s loss and led to an animated exchange with the Rockies grounds crew Saturday . . .

. . . The umpiring crew measured the two mounds Saturday and found no discrepancy. The finding didn’t prevent La Russa and Duncan from a testy back-and-forth nearly four hours before first pitch with Rockies head groundskeeper Mark Razum.

This may seem like your standard “Tony La Russa being difficult” kind of story (why argue with the groundskeeper even after the umps made the measurements?), but I think there’s more going on here than meets the eye.

For one thing, the article notes that Chris Carpenter — who lodged the mound complaint — said that the problem wasn’t the height of the bullpen mound, but the slope. It’s possible for the bullpen mound to be regulation height yet still have the wrong slope due to the whole mound havng a greater diameter or something. I’ve seen umpires measure a mound’s height before — it’s a fairly simple operation involving a stick, a level and a tape measure — but I’ve never seen them measure the slope. It’s not clear from the article, but it doesn’t seem likely that they could have done it, let alone accurately, before Saturday’s game (UPDATE: OK, I may be wrong about this). La Russa is a lawyer by training. Though this often makes him a jerk, it also makes him the detail-oriented guy that he is, and I’m guessing he still wasn’t satisfied on Saturday, maybe for good reason.

The much more interesting thing about this comes via the Baseball Think Factory message boards. It’s no secret that long time Rocky Mountain News writer Tracy Ringolsby posts over there from time to time under the name “ballfan.”  Ringolsby knows Rockies’ baseball of course, and in response to the mound dispute, “ballfan” posted this yesterday:

Interesting tid bit is that Mark Razum, groundskeeper at Coors Field, was hired from Oakland, where he developed a friendship with former A’s manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. Now, here’s the real question. Could Duncan and La Russa be suspicious because of anything they might have been involved with in the past?
 

Nice catch, Tracy.  Could this be a situation in which La Russa and Duncan know damn well that Razum messes with the bullpen mounds based on personal history? If so, it might explain the argument on Saturday.

Astros advance to the World Series with 4-0 finale against Yankees

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The Astros punched their ticket to the World Series on Saturday, shutting out the Yankees 4-0 to take their first Game 7 victory at home. Charlie Morton was nearly untouchable on the mound, holding the Yankees to two hits, a walk and five strikeouts en route to his first career postseason win.

Morton and Sabathia carried their duel through three solid innings. Morton struck out three batters and allowed just one baserunner. Sabathia worked in and out of jams in the second and third innings, supplying and stranding two runners in scoring position.

Evan Gattis was the first to strike. In the fourth inning, he punched a 2-2 slider from Sabathia into the left field wall, where it registered a projected 405 feet and broke a homer-less streak of 115 at-bats by designated hitters in the 2017 postseason. The home run signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankees’ starter. He induced a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez, then walked Brian McCann on six pitches and allowed Josh Reddick his first base hit of the playoffs. That was enough for Joe Girardi, who pulled Sabathia for righty Tommy Kahnle and an inning-ending double play to close out the fourth.

Even with Sabathia gone, there was still some hope that the middle of the order could bail the Yankees out. Greg Bird led off the fifth with a first pitch double and Aaron Hicks took a four-pitch walk. A wild pitch from Morton allowed Bird to reach third base, but Alex Bregman and Brian McCann weren’t about to let the Yankees spoil their starter’s shutout. Todd Frazier bounced a ball toward third base, where Bregman grabbed and fired it to home plate, catching Bird just as McCann put his glove down.

The bottom of the inning wasn’t any easier for Sabathia’s successors. Jose Altuve went oppo-taco on a 1-1 changeup from Kahnle, postmarking it 364 feet into the right field stands. Kahnle labored through the next four at-bats, handing out a pair of singles to Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel before sending Gattis down swinging. The next at-bat was even more troublesome. McCann roped a two-out, two-RBI double to the warning track in right field, clearing the bases and boosting the Astros’ to a cushy 4-0 lead.

The excitement fizzled a little over the next few innings. Brett Gardner muscled a leadoff single off of Lance McCullers, but was later caught at second on a force play to end the sixth. McCullers didn’t let go of the ball again. He was lights-out through the end of the game, scattering a walk and six strikeouts over four innings and clinching the pennant with a 1-2-3 performance in the ninth.

Whatever confidence the Astros had coming off of their three-game sweep in the Division Series was tested and tested again in their pennant run. They battled through three tough losses in Games 3 through 5, staved off elimination with a gem from Justin Verlander in Game 6, and finally emerged victorious tonight. Three days from now, when they enter Dodger Stadium for Game 1 of the World Series, they’ll have the chance to do it all again.