Red Sox play spoiler; Yankees, Orioles tied again

26 Comments

Boston’s two remaining stars did their thing Tuesday, and the AL East is again all knotted at the top.

With the Orioles having already topped the Rays 9-2, the Red Sox got a game-winning single from Jacoby Ellsbury in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees 4-3.

Ellsbury ended up 4-for-5 on his 29th birthday, and Dustin Pedroia went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI for Boston.

The Yankees managed to work seven walks against Red Sox starter Jon Lester, but they settled for three runs, even though they had two on with none out in the first, third and sixth innings.

The game got freaky in the bottom of the seventh. Ryan Kalish started the frame with an ugly popup bunt single that fell in over the head of the pitcher but in front of Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Pedro Ciriaco then tried to sacrifice him along, only to reach first when catcher Russell Martin mishandled the bunt a foot in front of home plate (it almost certainly would have rolled foul given the backspin on the ball).

Mike Aviles then became the third straight Red Sox hitter to attempt a bunt, only to miss on two stabs. He struck out swinging. That was it for Hiroki Kuroda. Boone Logan came in and induced a grounder to the right side from Ellsbury, but he didn’t bother covering first because he thought Cano would play it, not the first baseman. He was wrong, and the Red Sox had the bases loaded with one out. Logan was pulled, but Joba Chamberlain came in from there and retired Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia to preserve a 3-3 tie.

The Yankees were stifled by the Red Sox pen from there. They finished with just six hits on the night, compared to 12 for Boston. David Robertson took his seventh loss when he gave up Ellsbury’s hit in the ninth.

Baltimore’s win was much easier than Boston’s. The Orioles scored off all five Rays pitchers on the night and handed rookie Matt Moore his 10th loss. J.J. Hardy was the star, going 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBI. Still, it may have been a costly loss for Baltimore, as starter Jason Hammel reinjured his knee in the fourth inning, forcing him to leave the game.

MLB report blames seam height, not juiced balls, for 2019 home run surge

Getty Images
2 Comments

SAN DIEGO — This morning Major League Baseball released a report from a committee of scientists tasked with studying baseballs and the home run surge from 2019. Their verdict: that manufacturing variation leading to inconsistent seam height — not any intentional act taken to “juice” baseballs — is the reason for last year’s power explosion.

There were 6,776 home runs hit during the regular season, which shattered the previous record, set in 2017, by nearly 11 percent. Numerous players around the league suspected or assumed that the league, which owns the ball manufacturer, Rawlings, had intentionally juiced the baseball to promote offense. The committee concluded in the report that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”

That conclusion would appear to only be partially accurate.

Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist who has been conducting her own research on baseballs and the home run explosion, published her own work on all of this in The Athletic last June. Wills concluded that, based on her examination of baseball seams and seam height, a key part of the manufacturing process — the drying of damp, finished baseballs after assembly is complete — likely did change.

Specifically, she concluded that seam height and decreased bulging of baseballs which led to less aerodynamic drag and farther ball flight was likely the result of Rawlings using heaters to dry balls, as opposed to the traditional air-drying, allowing them to produce more balls in a shorter period of time. Wills told NBC Sports this morning that she suspects Rawlings did this because many more balls were needed due to Major League Baseball mandating that Triple-A adopt the major league ball for the 2019 season.

As such, the key word in this morning’s report is “intentional.” Wills:

“The decrease in drag was very likely unintentional, but the change in the drying process would be intentional. No, they didn’t intend to juice the ball, but yes, they did make an intentional change to the manufacturing process. It was not ‘manufacturing variability’ it was deliberate process improvement to accommodate higher demand. ‘Variability’ makes it sound like it’s random or a mistake. It was not.”

There is also the matter of the decrease in ball flight and home runs observed — and confirmed by today’s report — in the 2019 postseason.

MLB’s expert panel basically punts on any explanations for the variation, noting small sample size and no other apparent explanation. As such, the matter for the immediate change in the home run rate and fly ball distance the moment we moved from September to October baseball is not clear. Wills is continuing her research on 2019 postseason game balls — a matter about which there has already been no small amount of controversy of late — and expects to publish her results soon.

There will be a press conference regarding the study here at the Winter Meetings at 1PM Eastern time today. NBC Sports will be at that press conference. NBC Sports has a good number of followup questions.