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And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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We’re getting closer to having no games that matter. As it stands after yesterday’s action:

  • The Cubs’ magic number to clinch the NL Central is 1;
  • The Twins’ magic number to clinch the Wild Card is 2;
  • The Red Sox’ magic number to clinch the AL East is 3;
  • The Rockies’ magic number to clinch the Wild Card is 5;
  • The Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the top seed in the NL is 2; and
  • The Indians magic number to clinch the top seed in the AL is 5.

What I’m saying is, feel free to make plans next Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Anyway: Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 11, Royals 3: All Rise. Aaron Judge hit his 49th and 50th homers of the season, tying and then breaking Mark McGwire’s single season rookie home run record. Which, now that I write that out I realize is redundant because anything a rookie does is, by definition, a single season event. Anyway: even if the games don’t matter a ton in the next few days, we can get a head start on what will likely be a very exhaustion “Judge vs. Altuve” MVP debate. And yes, let’s keep it to those parameters, because it really pisses off the Jose Ramirez and Mike Trout fans and they’re adorable.

Braves 9, Mets 2; Mets 3, Braves 2: A late September game between the Mets and the Braves is already an exercise in existential dread. A doubleheader between them seems like cruel and unusual punishment. The game story should be written by Franz Kafka with illustrations by Junji Ito. As it was, in the first game Braves starter Lucas Sims had a nice outing, pitching into the seventh and allowing only two runs. There’s some hope for 2018. In the nightcap, Seth Lugo pitched two-hit ball over six innings and Travis d'Arnaud hit the Mets’ 219th homer of the season, setting a club record. Sadly, the Big Apple in the outfield couldn’t get it up for the occasion. Look, no one was excited about this series, but you have a job to do Apple.

Nationals 3, Phillies 1Michael Taylor hit a two-run homer and Jayson Werth knocked in the other Nats run on a fielder’s choice. Starter A.J. Cole allowed one run while pitching into the sixth inning. The Nats only question for the next week is when Bryce Harper will be activated.

Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 4: Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three, snapping the Sox’ six-game winning streak. The loss is OK — Boston is gonna win the division — but some bad news came in the form of Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts each living with injuries. Nunez aggravated his right knee injury that has caused him to miss time and Betts had pain in his left wrist. Neither seem super serious but there will be updates today.

Astros 11, Rangers 2: This is that series that the Rangers didn’t want to move to Houston in exchange for playing last month’s series against the Astros in Arlington in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Paid attendance was over 30,000 but there were nowhere near as many butts in the seats. Oh well. Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBI. Joey Gallo hit a homer. The next batter up was Carlos Gomez, who was brushed back by a Colin McHugh pitch which McHugh said wasn’t intentional but probably was. Benches cleared but nothing came of it. Later Jose Altuve was hit and came out of the game but he seems to have nothing more than a bruised forearm.

White Sox 4, Angels 2: James Shields allowed two runs over seven innings. Nicky Delmonico drove in two. Those were his first RBI in over a week, so you might say Delmonico was in . . . rare form.

Cubs 10, Cardinals 2: Addison Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning. He also dived into the stands at one point and spilled a Cardinals fan’s nachos. He came out a couple of innings later and delivered a fresh plate of nachos to the guy. That’s pretty dang cool. Jon Lester allowed five hits and one run over six innings. Yadi Molina came out of the game after taking a ball off the mask and he’s in concussion protocol. St. Louis was eliminated from the NL Central and made up no ground on the Rockies for the Wild Card. Things are just about over for the Cardinals.

Marlins 5, Rockies 4: The Rockies really don’t seem eager to win that second Wild Card. They probably will, but dudes, you gotta beat a bad Marlins team, especially on a night one of your rivals for the spot loses. Miguel Rojas had a career-high four RBI for Miami. The Marlins had a 4-0 and a 5-1 lead and the Rockies clawed back, threatening in the ninth as well, but couldn’t close the deal.

Giants 9, Diamondbacks 2: Nick Hundley hit a three-run homer and drove in four overall while Johnny Cueto allowed two runs over six innings. Arizona was probably hung over after Sunday’s clinching celebration, so whatever.

Mariners 7, Athletics 1Mitch Haniger homered twice and drove in three, Mike Zunino hit a three-run homer and Yonder Alonso went deep as well. Felix Hernandez won his first game in months, allowing one run over six innings. The A’s seven-game winning streak comes to an end.

Dodgers 9, Padres 3: The Dodgers win their 100th game of the year. It’s the first time they won 100 since 1974. They won the pennant that year with 102 wins but lost the World Series to a 90-win Oakland A’s team. Stuff happens. Here Yu Darvish happened, allowing one run on two hits over seven innings and striking out nine. Logan Forsythe hit a three-run double, homered and drove in four overall. Austin Barnes hit a three-run blast.

Rob Manfred is prepared to implement a pitch clock unilaterally for 2018

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Rob Manfred has long been on record wanting to speed up the pace of play in baseball and, to that end, last year proposed a 20-second pitch clock. Pursuant to baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, he could not implement that unilaterally last year. However if, one year after a proposed rules change, no agreement can be reached with the union, he has the power to impose the originally-proposed change unilaterally.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says today that he is prepared to do just that — imposing that pitch clock and a rule limiting mound visits — for the 2018 season. He further says that the players might very well allow him to do that, despite the fact that they and Manfred are currently negotiating an agreed set of rule changes.

Why? Because, Rosenthal says, if they step aside and let Manfred do it by himself and the rules changes prove unpopular, he’ll take the blame for it:

If enough players oppose the changes, they could absolve themselves of responsibility and allow Manfred to force the issue by introducing the two key elements of MLB’s plan: a 20-second pitch clock and reduction in mound visits. The onus then would be on Manfred to deal with any public fallout and unintended consequences the new rules might trigger.

I’m not sure, based on the story itself, if that’s just Rosenthal’s speculation or if it’s actually a potential union strategy to do nothing and let Manfred own the rules changes. If it’s the latter, though, it’s a monumentally stupid strategy. For a few reasons.

The first and biggest reason is that it is not a union’s job to play public relations games. It’s a union’s job to make workplace conditions as good as possible for its membership via bargaining. Rob Manfred is required to engage with the union on these rules changes for a limited time and is doing so, apparently in good faith. The union, while not possessing great leverage here, has at least some ability to put its two cents in on a rule that impacts all of its members and could, conceivably, make the rules a bit better for them. Barring that, they could at least attempt to obtain some sort of concession in another area in order to get their agreement to the rule. Blowing the chance to have input on work rules because of a chance to win a public relations fight is an abdication of responsibility for a labor union.

Second: there is not going to be any sort of public relations win for the union regardless of what happens. Indeed, to even think there could be one is to ignore what has happened with every rules change in baseball history and how they have played with the public.

No matter how much some people complain about a change in baseball — and some people love to complain — most folks eventually get used them. The DH rule just celebrated its 50th anniversary. People moan, but it’s just part of life. Same with interleague play and divisional realignment and expanded playoffs and no-pitch intentional walks and the takeout slide rules and everything else. The complaints about such things are loud, but they’re not deeply felt or widely felt by any but a handful of self-proclaimed traditionalists. The game chugs on and most people get used to it without there ever being the kind of P.R. fallout that puts egg on the league’s face or which puts the players in some better light. If the pitch clock rule is imposed, people will complain a lot and lot of ink will be spilled about it, but it won’t do anything to substantially harm the league let alone help the players.

That speaks to a larger historical lesson about public relations and players, of course: they’re almost always going to be seen as the bad guys by fans, no matter what they do.

Owners abused their power for a century and fans didn’t care. Starting in the 1960s, when the players finally began to effectively assert their leverage, the players were cast as greedy mercenaries. An owner gives out a foolishly large contract and the player is blamed for taking it. The owners band together in an illegal scheme to harm the players’ interest and the owner who orchestrated it is inducted into the Hall of Fame. The DH rule gets imposed and players who excel as designated hitters are viewed poorly by the writers and the public when it comes time to consider their Hall of Fame case. A new rule gets implemented to deal with slides and it’s not “The Rob Manfred slide rule” it’s “The Chase Utley Rule.” The players are the visible ones. They bear the brunt of just about anything that happens.

Which is to say, if the pitch clock creates some weird situations or controversies, the players involved in those situations and controversies are going to be the ones to take the blame. Just imagine a Dodgers-Giants game that turns on some weirdness involving Madison Bumgarner taking too long to deliver a pitch to Yasiel Puig, forcing in the walkoff run. Imagine that both Bumgarner and Puig saying the other was to blame. Imagine that the umpires messed up the application of the rule. You think Rob Manfred is going to catch hell for it as opposed to the players and the umpires involved? Hell no. Giants fans will yell that Puig did something that should’ve caused the clock to be reset. Dodgers fans will blame Bumgarner for taking too long. It’ll dominate the news for a couple of days but it won’t be the league and its owners taking crap for it.

Against that backdrop, why in the heck would the union try to win some P.R. battle? Screw the P.R. battle. Union leadership — including Tony Clark and the player reps — should negotiate for the best rules possible for the players they represent and let the public relations chips fall where they may.

Will they do that? Based on how the last few management-labor battles have gone, I don’t have a lot of confidence. In recent years the union has seemed far more focused on relatively short term and picayune concerns while trying not to look like the bad guys to fans. Meanwhile, the meat and potatoes labor issues which sometimes require a union to take unpopular stances in the long term, big picture interests of the players have been dominated by the owners. Ask the free agents who can’t find a team because the luxury tax is far lower, compared to revenues, now than it was 15 years ago and is serving as a defacto salary cap. Ask the guys who are being lowballed because of the qualifying offer.

It appears as though we’ll have a pitch clock in 2018 one way or another. The players need to decide pretty quickly if they’re going to have some say in that process or if they’re going to allow themselves to be marginalized in the management of the game even more than they already have been.