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And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Here are the scores. And here are the highlights:

Astros 5, Pirates 4: Evan Gattis and Carlos Correa homer as the Astros scratch out five runs off of Gerrit Cole. Finishing the road trip 5-2 has to make the Astros feel a bit better about things at the moment. They’re still four and a half back with four teams ahead of them in the Wild Card, but there’s still time.

Brewers 7, Rockies 1: Two homers from Ryan Braun, driving in three while Zach Davis allowed one run over six, striking out eight. Four wins in a row for Milwaukee. That means nothing for playoff purposes — they ain’t in the conversation — but they can mention it in the holiday letter.

Athletics 5, Indians 1: Kendall Graveman allowed one run while pitching into the seventh while his teammates scratched out runs with singles, sac flies and reaching on errors. The Indians scored three runs total in this three game series. They somehow managed to win one of the three games but, boy howdy, that’s not what a playoff team wants to do against a losing team with the worst defense in baseball.

Yankees 5, Mariners 0: Gary Sanchez homered again, his seventh in his past nine games and his ninth overall. The Mariners intentionally walked him twice, which had Joe Girardi talking about how unusual it is for a team to do that to a rookie and how much respect it shows for his power. Probably worth mentioning that the guy they walked him in order to get to was Mark Teixeira, who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a friggin’ boat anymore, but I get why Girardi didn’t mention that. Masahiro Tanaka tossed seven shutout innings.

Cubs 6, Padres 3: Kyle Hendricks allowed two runs over six innings which actually increased his ERA from 2.16 to 2.19. He leads all of baseball in that department nonetheless. Ben Zobrist had two hits including a triple which knocked in two.

Orioles 10, Nationals 8: Zack Britton allowed a run on an Anthony Rendon RBI double but his ERA remains a nice 0.69. The reason he was in the game was because Daniel Murphy hit a late grand slam while the Nats were down by seven, transforming a blowout into a save situation. I wonder if Britton had sort of mentally written off his need to pitch before going in. Who knows. Manny Machado and Matt Wieters each drove in four. The win plus the Blue Jays and Red Sox losing brings Baltimore back to within one game of the division leaders.

Angels 8, Blue Jays 2: Albert Pujols homered, pushing him past Mark McGwire on the all-time list. He’s now 10th in history with 584 bombs. He had four hits in all and three RBI. Mike Trout homered too and Matt Shoemaker tossed six shutout innings.

Rangers 6, Reds 5: Yu Darvish of all people homered and Adrian Beltre hit a tiebreaking RBI double in the eighth. The Rangers had a three-run lead, blew it, but pulled it out in the end. Speaking of Rangers, y’all should go see the movie “Hell or Highwater.” I took a night off of baseball last night and saw it and it was amazing. Jeff Bridges plays a Texas Ranger of the law enforcement variety and he’s fantastic. Chris Pine was something of a revelation, though, playing a west Texas dude who finds himself living an outlaw life due to desperate circumstances. Just a good, tight, well-written and well-acted flick.

Marlins 3, Royals 0: The Royals nine-game winning streak ends thanks to Jose Fernandez’s nine strikeouts in seven shutout innings. Christian Yelich singled in two. Best news of the night for Miami, though, was trading for Jeff Francoeur. That’s not great for baseball purposes, but he really is a nice young man who will light your day up with his smile.

Rays 4, Red Sox 3: Boston had an early three-run lead that was cut to 3-2 before Evan Longoria‘s eighth inning homer tied things up and forced extras. In the 11th Boston reliever Heath Hembree got two outs before giving up a double to Luke Maile. Then Hembree dropped the toss while covering first base on a Kevin Kiermaier grounder, allowing Maile to score from second. That doesn’t exactly make Kiermaier a hero in this situation, but he made the contact that resulted in the winning run so he is still The Cool Cat of the game, and is still worthy of an award: a video from one year ago today of my kitty cat Scully eating cold oatmeal out of a cup on my desk. She’s the cuuuuuutest. Congratulations, Kevin!

Phillies 5, White Sox 3Tommy Joseph and Cesar Hernandez homered. The White Sox sure had a crappy day yesterday. 

Tigers 9, Twins 4: Miguel Cabrera had four hits, including a homer. The suddenly useful Justin Upton homered as well. Cabrera was a triple shy of the cycle, which we’d like to remind you still isn’t a notable thing.

Cardinals 8, Mets 1: The Cards smacked three homers off of Jacob deGrom who wasn’t too deGreat last night. Carlos Martinez allowed one run over eight innings, however, and that’ll do just deFine.

Diamondbacks 10, Braves 9: Brandon Drury hit a walkoff sac fly in the 11th. Drury was a Braves draft pick once upon a time. They traded him to Arizona to get Justin Upton. That seems like it was about 10,000 years ago.

Dodgers 1, Giants 0: Rich Hill made his Dodgers debut and it was worth the wait: six shutout innings. Four members of the bullpen tossed three more to complete the shutout, which allowed Justin Turner‘s fourth inning solo homer to stand up. A three-game lead in the West now for L.A. This Giants second half is a nightmare.

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

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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.