Cheating is bad, but are the drugs?

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One of the issues many of us have with steroids is that they make players something they’re not. Or so we think anyway. Barry Bonds was practically a superhero in the early part of the last decade. Ryan Braun was probably destined to be a major leaguer, but now we assume that he was never meant to be an MVP. And it’s likely the case that more than a handful of pitchers who would have topped out at Double- or Triple-A otherwise turned themselves into major league relievers for a spell by juicing and adding a few miles per hour to their fastballs.

But what about the other side of juicing? What about the players who just want to be what they were? Many players have used the excuse that they turned to performance-enhancing drugs to aid in the recovery from an injury. Some of those people were undoubtedly lying, but others weren’t. Players want to play.

Bartolo Colon was pretty much written off as a major league pitcher after hurting his shoulder in 2009. Following a controversial surgery in which he had stem cells inserted into his right shoulder, he resurfaced with the Yankees in 2011 and was surprisingly solid, going 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 164 1/3 innings. It was the first time he had cracked 100 innings since his Cy Young season in 2005.

Colon performed even better for the A’s in 2011, going 10-9 with a 3.43 ERA, but then he was nabbed for testosterone use. The A’s re-signed him anyway, and this year, he’s been flat-out terrific, going 14-3 with a 2.54 ERA that ranks third in the AL.

We now know that Colon was a Biogenesis client alongside Braun, Alex Rodriguez and others. Many suspect he’s still cheating to this day. Even if he isn’t, he could still be deriving some benefit from the meds he got to help strengthen his shoulder.

And, oddly enough, I just don’t seem to care much about it. In reality, Colon’s crime is the same as Braun’s, and I pretty much despise Braun at the moment.

Colon, though, isn’t something he isn’t supposed to be. Instead, he’s a guy who simply bought himself a few more years. According to Baseball Info Solutions data, Colon is currently defying American League hitters with a fastball that averages all of 90.1 mph. That’s down from 92.7 mph in his Cy Young campaign eight years ago. The data doesn’t go back to when he first came up, but he probably averaged 94-95 mph in the late 90s, often going higher.

Steroids didn’t give Colon the excellent fastball accuracy he’s always enjoyed. They also haven’t helped him master a slider or a curve, which he never really did in the first place. He’s throwing two-seamers and four-seamers 85 percent of the time this year.

Now, maybe Colon’s cocktails will come back to bite him in the long run. We don’t know. Steroid use has always been reported to have dangerous side effects. Since we’ve demonized and criminalized steroid usage, studying whether these more modern regimens could prove relatively harmless is pretty much impossible.

We all like the idea of a level playing field, and if Colon is artificially extending his career, he’s taking a roster spot from a clean player. But, of course, depending on where you want to draw the line, half of the league is composed of guys who are now or will later artificially extend their careers. That’s just modern medicine doing its part.

It’s not like we’re ever going to win the war on performance enhancers. Chemists are always going to come up with new things. Someday, these new things won’t even be frowned upon. We shouldn’t be trying to outlaw substances that make us feel better and look better. We should just be making sure they’re safe.

Someday, people will look at the steroid era and wonder why so many people were so upset. They’ll have moved on. Perhaps not for the better. Perhaps they’ll simply be complaining about genetically engineered people ruining sports.

In the meantime, yes, by all means, punish the cheaters. But don’t pretend that the performance enhancers themselves are a black and white issue. The drugs keep getting better, and they’re not just for bodybuilders and professional athletes. Maybe they should be for everyone.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 2, Twins 1: Aaron Judge hit a solo homer and Jamie Garcia struck out nine and allowed only an unearned run in five and two-thirds. Things stayed close and got shaky in the eighth for New York as Dellin Betances hit the first batter he faced, uncorked a wild pitch and walked two more to load the bases with only one out. Aroldis Chapman came in and put out the fire, however, with two quick outs and stayed in for the ninth to complete the five-out save. That’s great and all, but if the Yankees are gonna do anything in October, they had better fix Betances first.

Red Sox 10, Orioles 8: Baltimore took an early 5-0 lead and then Dustin Pedroia had to leave after he bounced a ball off the plate on a check swing that came back up and smacked his nose, giving him a nasal contusion. It would get better, however, as the Sox rallied for a run that frame and six in the fifth inning. A Xander Bogaerts homer in the seventh would tie things up at eight and then Andrew Benintendi hit a two-run single in the 11th inning to give Boston the lead and, eventually, the game.  Mookie Betts had four RBI and Bogaerts wold score three times. The Orioles have lost 10 of 12.

Phillies 4, Dodgers 3: Clayton Kershaw had faced 103 batters in his career with bases loaded without allowing a grand slam. He would not make it 104. Aaron Altherr would come to the plate with the bases juiced in the sixth and he launched a long one to left to give the Phillies all of their runs and, it turned out, the only runs they’d need. This after L.A. led off the game with two home runs from their first two batters, the first being an inside-the-park number from Chris Taylor. Justin Turner would follow him with a conventional homer and Curtis Granderson added one in the top of the ninth, but it couldn’t make up for Altherr’s salami. Chase Utley returned to Philly. He went 0-for-2, but got a standing ovation from the Phaithful at Citizens Bank Park when he first came to bat. That’s nice to see.

Brewers 3, Pirates 0Brent Suter shut out Pittsburgh for five innings and four relievers took it the rest of the way. Ryan Braun homered and former Pirate Neil Walker knocked in a run. Travis Shaw‘s RBI single rounded out the scoring as Milwaukee pulled to within three and a half games of the idle Cubs in the NL Central and two games behind the idle Rockies for the final NL Wild Card.

Athletics 8, Tigers 3:  Matt Olson homered for his fourth straight game and Jed Lowrie drove in three runs. Raul Alcantara was pressed into service as an emergency starter after Jharel Cotton tweaked his groin just before game time. Some scary business late as Tigers reliever Jeff Ferrell left the game in the eighth inning after getting hit in the head by a 102.6 mph line drive off the bat of Ryon Healy. Amazingly, Ferrell seems to be OK. He never went down, walked off the field under his own power and was alert and responsive the entire time.

Marlins 13, Mets 1: Giancarlo Stanton hit his 55th homer and drove in four as the Marlins routed Matt Harvey and the Mets. Every Marlin starter had at least one hit. Marcell Ozuna had four hits, including a homer. Dee Gordon also had four, including a two-run triple. Ichiro had two hits and an RBI. Brian Anderson drove in two runs with a triple. The line on Harvey: seven runs on twelve hits in four innings. He’s been basically terrible since he came off the disabled list. It’ll be interesting to see what the Mets do with their former ace in the offseason.

Padres 4, Diamondbacks 2: The Padres scored three in the first on a Hunter Renfroe three-run homer and added one in the second on an Austin Hedges solo shot. That’s all they’d need as Luis Perdomo gave them a workmanlike five and a third, allowing a pair of RBI singles and nothing else, and four relievers shut out the Snakes the rest of the way.

Aaron Altherr hit the first ever grand slam off of Clayton Kershaw

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Entering Monday’s start against the Phillies, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw had made 287 starts and pitched 1,917 innings over parts of 10 seasons. He’s done a lot of things, like winning a Cy Young Award, an MVP Award, winning 20 games, posting a sub-2.00 ERA. One thing he had never done is allow a grand slam.

Kershaw had loaded the bases 103 times coming into Monday’s action. Batters hit .193/.233/.250 off of him with 17 hits, of which only five went for extra bases (all doubles). In 2017, opposing hitters were 0-for-6 with five strikeouts with the bags packed.

Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr changed that in a big way. In the bottom of the sixth inning, trailing 2-0, the Phillies loaded the bases on a Ty Kelly walk, a Freddy Galvis single, and a Rhys Hoskins walk, bringing up Altherr. After running the count even at 1-1, Altherr blasted a grand slam into the second deck at Citizens Bank Park for the first grand slam ever hit off of Kershaw. According to Statcast, the ball left his bat at 107.6 MPH and went 418 feet.

Following the grand slam, Altherr improved his slash line to .276/.348/.521 along with 17 home runs, 55 RBI, and 51 runs scored in 362 plate appearances.

Kershaw was lifted after six innings. He gave up the four runs on four hits and two walks with six strikeouts. He still owns a sterling 17-3 record with a 2.26 ERA and a 194/30 K/BB ratio in 163 innings on the season.