Umpire tells Russell Martin he has to “earn the privilege” to throw new balls back to the pitcher

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Weirdness in Anaheim.

Last night Russell Martin and home plate umpire Laz Diaz got into it over balls and strikes early in the game, but no one lost their head and Martin was not ejected. Later, however, Martin said Diaz began to mess with him:

Martin says Diaz wouldn’t allow him to throw new baseballs back to his pitchers after fouls during New York’s 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday night … Martin says Diaz told him that throwing the balls was “a privilege I had to earn.”

In explaining it, Martin used a colorful metaphor to describe Diaz:

“Even at the end of the game after I get hit in the neck. I’m like, can I throw the ball back now? He’s still like no. I’m like you’re such a (expletive). Like for real. Unbelievable. I even told him like when there’s guys on base, I like to keep my arm loose. No. I’m not letting you throw a ball back. That’s pretty strange to me … I was kind of mystified. I really didn’t get that. He was punishing me.”

I have never heard of such a thing. And while umpires sometimes throw the new balls out themselves, I have certainly never heard of an umpire either insisting on throwing them or refusing to allow a catcher to do so.

If this actually went down the way Martin says it did and Diaz was petulantly messing with Martin over their earlier dispute, the guy doesn’t deserve to be officiating major league games.

Astros clinch postseason berth with 11-3 win over Angels

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No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.

First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.

On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.

Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.