Joe Maddon gets steamed, gets ejected

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Maddon Hernandez Pena arguing.jpgIn hindsight, the biggest shocker of the whole ninth inning exchange between Carlos Pena, Joe Maddon and home plate umpire Angel Hernandez in last night’s Rays-Jays game was that Kevin Gregg threw a strike. But we’ll cover Gregg’s nightmare night later this morning.  For now, let’s talk about the rhubarb.

In case you missed it, Carlos Pena had a 2-2 count on him and called for time just as Gregg was going into his windup.* Hernandez didn’t grant it, Gregg pitched, and Pena — out of his stance and bat at his side — half-heartedly offered at what came in for strike three. The whole sequence can be seen here.

*Note: the MLB.com video starts a couple of seconds too late to tell for sure, but it’s not at all clear that Pena was calling for time before Gregg actually went into motion. He certainly had his hand up as Gregg was winding up, but we can’t tell if he had been calling time before that. If anyone out there was watching the game live and can weigh in on this, please do so in the comments.

Joe Maddon was clearly perturbed that Hernandez chose that moment — one out in the
ninth inning as the Rays are mounting a rally — to enforce baseball’s
new get-tough policy on speeding up the game. He gave Hernandez an earful over it and then walked down the line to give crew chief Joe West an earful as well, telling him “This is your [bleeping] fault!” no doubt referring to West’s crusade to speed up games via any and all methods short of calling a reasonable strike zone.

I understand Maddon’s frustration.  I think umps should be more stingy about allowing timeouts — and if Pena really wasn’t calling for it before Gregg was in his windup, forget it — but the ninth inning of a tense game is not the time to start denying guys time.  Consistency is key, and based on what all the parties to the dustup were saying after the game, Hernandez’s time-out policy was not consistent.

Just another item on the agenda for baseball’s umpire czar Mike Port, I suppose.  Between West’s and Bob Davidson’s antics last week, Bill Hohn’s on Monday and this business last week, Port has been a pretty busy guy lately.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).