Jake Fox — gasp! — broke an unwritten rule

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I had missed this, but several readers have alerted me to the fact that Jake Fox of the Baltimore Orioles was excoriated by both the opposing manager — Jim Leyland — and his own manager following what they perceived to be a clear violation of one of baseball’s many, many unwritten rules the other day:

The Orioles had runners on second and third and no outs in the eighth inning today when Fox came to the plate against Tigers minor leaguer Chance Ruffin. The most important aspect of this story is the score was 13-3 at the time, and both teams had subbed out most of their regulars. Ruffin started the at-bat with three straight balls, but Fox decided to take a rip at a 3-0 pitch in a clear take situation.

Taking that 3-0 rip in a blowout got both Leyland and Buck Showalter barking at Fox for not playing the game the right way and all of that rebop.

For what it’s worth, I think ‘Duk at Big League Stew nailed it in his post yesterday when he noted how — no matter what you think of Fox’s act on its own terms — it’s rather silly to get worked up about this sort of thing in a spring training game where the last thing anyone usually thinks about is competitive integrity.  And even if you should care about competitive integrity in such a game, it’s worth noting that the the Tigers staged a bit of a comeback in this one, with the score ending up 14-9.

But really: if pitchers are allowed to “work on stuff” in spring training games, why can’t hitters? There will be a time this year when Fox gets a green-light 3-0.  Is he not entitled to practice up on his from-the-heels swings?

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.