Bonds trial update: Agent Novitzky takes center stage

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The government’s first witness against Barry Bonds was called yesterday: agent Jeff Novitzky, the man who made the BALCO case. And the Brian McNamee case. And the Kirk Radomski case. And who has spearheaded  just about every other investigation into athletes and performance enhancing drugs, from Bonds to Lance Armstrong (case still building).

It was Novitzky who spent a year literally sifting through the trash outside the BALCO labs, looking for evidence of steroid distribution after he received a tip that bad stuff was going down there.  He’s a highly controversial figure who has been accused by some of having a vendetta against Barry Bonds, though that has always seemed like a stretch to me. More likely, it seems, is that he is a careerist who at times has gone too far in order to bring home cases that are less valuable to the protection of the public welfare than they are salacious and attention-grabbing.  His greatest trespass in my mind was his illegal-seizure of baseball’s 2004 drug testing results and subsequent creation of that list of 104 names, some of which have been leaked. He was smacked down by the courts for that.

His testimony yesterday is similar to the testimony he has given in multiple other BALCO cases, all of which have resulted in convictions. He explained how he got on BALCO’s trail, how he came to learn of its clients, including Bonds, and how when the government subpoenaed Bonds and other athletes, there was never an intention to go after them, just BALCO.

Novitzky was cross-examined sharply by Bonds’ lawyers — with many of the questions seemingly designed to discredit other witnesses against Bonds as opposed to attacking Novitzky head-on — but reports from the courtroom suggest that he maintained his cool and made a point to look at the jury when he spoke, not at the lawyer questioning him, which is a small but quite effective touch when a witness is trying to explain technical or scientific evidence. Law enforcement officers tend to do this well.

How effective his testimony was is open for debate. Gwen Knapp, who is in the courtroom live-tweeting the trial for the San Francisco Chronicle suggested that the facts weren’t being strung together very well and that the government, via Novitzky’s testimony, wasn’t explaining its case particularly effectively. The New York Times, in contrast, painted a picture of an engaged jury, following the exchanges between Novitzky and his inquisitors raptly.

Novitzky will continue to be cross-examined today. Then he will return to his work of bringing down cheating athletes. The value of his testimony and that work will both be open questions for some time.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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We’re getting closer to having no games that matter. As it stands after yesterday’s action:

  • The Cubs’ magic number to clinch the NL Central is 1;
  • The Twins’ magic number to clinch the Wild Card is 2;
  • The Red Sox’ magic number to clinch the AL East is 3;
  • The Rockies’ magic number to clinch the Wild Card is 5;
  • The Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the top seed in the NL is 2; and
  • The Indians magic number to clinch the top seed in the AL is 5.

What I’m saying is, feel free to make plans next Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Anyway: Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 11, Royals 3: All Rise. Aaron Judge hit his 49th and 50th homers of the season, tying and then breaking Mark McGwire’s single season rookie home run record. Which, now that I write that out I realize is redundant because anything a rookie does is, by definition, a single season event. Anyway: even if the games don’t matter a ton in the next few days, we can get a head start on what will likely be a very exhaustion “Judge vs. Altuve” MVP debate. And yes, let’s keep it to those parameters, because it really pisses off the Jose Ramirez and Mike Trout fans and they’re adorable.

Braves 9, Mets 2; Mets 3, Braves 2: A late September game between the Mets and the Braves is already an exercise in existential dread. A doubleheader between them seems like cruel and unusual punishment. The game story should be written by Franz Kafka with illustrations by Junji Ito. As it was, in the first game Braves starter Lucas Sims had a nice outing, pitching into the seventh and allowing only two runs. There’s some hope for 2018. In the nightcap, Seth Lugo pitched two-hit ball over six innings and Travis d'Arnaud hit the Mets’ 219th homer of the season, setting a club record. Sadly, the Big Apple in the outfield couldn’t get it up for the occasion. Look, no one was excited about this series, but you have a job to do Apple.

Nationals 3, Phillies 1Michael Taylor hit a two-run homer and Jayson Werth knocked in the other Nats run on a fielder’s choice. Starter A.J. Cole allowed one run while pitching into the sixth inning. The Nats only question for the next week is when Bryce Harper will be activated.

Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 4: Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three, snapping the Sox’ six-game winning streak. The loss is OK — Boston is gonna win the division — but some bad news came in the form of Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts each living with injuries. Nunez aggravated his right knee injury that has caused him to miss time and Betts had pain in his left wrist. Neither seem super serious but there will be updates today.

Astros 11, Rangers 2: This is that series that the Rangers didn’t want to move to Houston in exchange for playing last month’s series against the Astros in Arlington in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Paid attendance was over 30,000 but there were nowhere near as many butts in the seats. Oh well. Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBI. Joey Gallo hit a homer. The next batter up was Carlos Gomez, who was brushed back by a Colin McHugh pitch which McHugh said wasn’t intentional but probably was. Benches cleared but nothing came of it. Later Jose Altuve was hit and came out of the game but he seems to have nothing more than a bruised forearm.

White Sox 4, Angels 2: James Shields allowed two runs over seven innings. Nicky Delmonico drove in two. Those were his first RBI in over a week, so you might say Delmonico was in . . . rare form.

Cubs 10, Cardinals 2: Addison Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning. He also dived into the stands at one point and spilled a Cardinals fan’s nachos. He came out a couple of innings later and delivered a fresh plate of nachos to the guy. That’s pretty dang cool. Jon Lester allowed five hits and one run over six innings. Yadi Molina came out of the game after taking a ball off the mask and he’s in concussion protocol. St. Louis was eliminated from the NL Central and made up no ground on the Rockies for the Wild Card. Things are just about over for the Cardinals.

Marlins 5, Rockies 4: The Rockies really don’t seem eager to win that second Wild Card. They probably will, but dudes, you gotta beat a bad Marlins team, especially on a night one of your rivals for the spot loses. Miguel Rojas had a career-high four RBI for Miami. The Marlins had a 4-0 and a 5-1 lead and the Rockies clawed back, threatening in the ninth as well, but couldn’t close the deal.

Giants 9, Diamondbacks 2: Nick Hundley hit a three-run homer and drove in four overall while Johnny Cueto allowed two runs over six innings. Arizona was probably hung over after Sunday’s clinching celebration, so whatever.

Mariners 7, Athletics 1Mitch Haniger homered twice and drove in three, Mike Zunino hit a three-run homer and Yonder Alonso went deep as well. Felix Hernandez won his first game in months, allowing one run over six innings. The A’s seven-game winning streak comes to an end.

Dodgers 9, Padres 3: The Dodgers win their 100th game of the year. It’s the first time they won 100 since 1974. They won the pennant that year with 102 wins but lost the World Series to a 90-win Oakland A’s team. Stuff happens. Here Yu Darvish happened, allowing one run on two hits over seven innings and striking out nine. Logan Forsythe hit a three-run double, homered and drove in four overall. Austin Barnes hit a three-run blast.

The Cubs will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday

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The Cubs soundly defeated the Cardinals on Monday night, 10-2, sending their magic number down to one. They will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday with another win against the Cardinals. Alternatively, if they lose, they can still clinch if the Brewers also lose on Tuesday.

The Cubs, of course, won the Central last year en route to winning their first World Series since 1908. It wasn’t nearly as easy this year as the club was below .500 entering June and was exactly at .500 entering July. A 16-8 July, 17-12 August, and 15-8 September have helped put the Cubs back in position to return to the postseason.

Not to be forgotten, the Cardinals were eliminated from NL Central contention with Monday’s loss. Now they have their sights set on the second NL Wild Card slot and currently trail the Rockies in that race.

The matchups for Tuesday’s action: