Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander perseveres as Tigers send Yankees to the brink of elimination

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When Justin Verlander gave up two runs and threw 21 pitches in the first inning tonight, it didn’t look like he would be long for this ballgame. Fortunately for the Tigers, he was just getting warmed up.

While CC Sabathia walked a season-high six batters and failed to make it out of the sixth inning, Verlander ended up striking out 11 over eight innings as the Tigers beat the Yankees 5-4 to grab a 2-1 series lead in the ALDS.

Delmon Young played the role of unlikely hero, slugging a go-ahead solo home run off Rafael Soriano in the bottom of the seventh inning to put the Tigers ahead for good. Jose Valverde, who labored Sunday’s win by throwing 34 pitches, survived another shaky ninth inning to lock down the save. He struck out Derek Jeter with runners on first and second to end it.

With their season on the line, the Yankees will now send A.J. Burnett to the hill Tuesday night against Rick Porcello. In other words, God help us all.

Notes

– Verlander really found a groove in the middle part of the ballgame, retiring 13 out of 15 batters from the third inning into the seventh, including seven strikeouts. The Yankees tied the game in the seventh on a two-run double by Brett Gardner, but the Tigers took the lead back in the next half inning on the home run by Young.

– Verlander cracked 100 mph on five straight pitches in the eighth inning, topping out at 101 mph. That’s right. In the eighth inning. Incredible.

– Remember when Buster Olney tweeted before the ballgame that CC Sabathia was 6-0 with a 2.19 ERA with Jerry Davis behind the plate? Well, that little factoid was rendered meaningless tonight. While some claimed that the big southpaw was getting squeezed, it was pretty obvious that he just didn’t have it. He was charged with four runs over 5 1/3 innings, but it could have been much worse. I was honestly surprised to see him back out there for the sixth inning.

– What’s with all the bunting, Jim Leyland? Ramon Santiago failed in his initial attempt to get a sacrifice down in the second inning, but that was actually a blessing in disguise for the Tigers, as he followed it with an RBI single. Then, with Sabathia on the ropes in the sixth, we saw a sacrifice bunt from Alex Avila of all people. Really? They were fortunate that didn’t come back to bite them.

– You want to nitpick that Rafael Soriano shouldn’t have come back out for the seventh after getting the final two outs in the sixth? Fine. But I have a bigger problem throwing a first-pitch fastball to Delmon Young.

– Russell Martin was hit in the ribs by a 100 mph fastball from Justin Verlander in the top of the seventh inning. No big deal. Shook it off and walked down to first base. Respect.

– Jorge Posada drew two huge walks late in the ballgame, including one with two outs in the two-run seventh and another with one out in the ninth.

– Actual quote from TBS broadcaster John Smoltz, presently completely out of context for maximum enjoyment: “That is a shagging dream.”

– Alex Rodriguez drew two walks and had an RBI groundout in the first inning, but is now 0-for-10 in the series. Mark Teixeira went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and is batting .091 (1-for-11) during the series.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]