And That Happened: SPECIAL BEN AFFLECK AS BATMAN EDITION

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Before the scores, some important Batman news. You may want to scroll down past this, because I’m gonna take a bit of time here.

In case you missed it last night, Ben Affleck has been cast as the Dark Knight in the upcoming Batman/Superman movie. Many people alerted me to this news last night the way you might alert a mother that her child has died. They tried to break it gently. They made sure that I was not in distress as I tried to process the news. When they saw me in a state less than tears, they assumed I was in the denial stage of the grieving process. It was quite the scene.

But while I thank my friends, real and virtual, for thinking of me and assuming that I would utterly lose it at the thought of Affleck as Batman, I’m really OK with it. Why? Because — and please brace yourself for some Real Talk — Christian Bale wasn’t anything extraordinary or irreplaceable as Batman. There, I said it.

“Batman Begins” was an incredible movie and, in it, Bale was fantastic. He played the young Bruce Wayne wonderfully and helped connect a, let’s admit it, somewhat silly character to us as viewers. It was real acting from a guy who is an incredible actor. “The Dark Knight” was an even better movie. Just perfect on almost every level. But Bale was nowhere near the best part of that movie. His growly voice as Batman may have been faithful to certain comic book interpretations and may have made sense in the “real world” version of Batman that Christopher Nolan was going for, but it was distracting. And his Bruce Wayne scenes, while fine, didn’t exactly require Oscar-level acting. You can almost see Bale getting a bit bored with the Wayne stuff at times. He’s above it.

“Dark Knight Rises” was a pretty bad movie. Let us not pretend it wasn’t. Some cool scenes and set pieces, but it was pretty weak. You may bristle at this — and, like a kid brother, I may defend it to outsiders who don’t understand that Batman is awesome overall — but among friends we need to be honest about the fact that it was a pile compared to the other two. And, I would argue, compared to the two Michael Keaton Batman movies in at least certain respects.

So: no, this isn’t like hiring Jack Lemmon to play Don Corleone in “Godfather Part II.” This isn’t like getting Robin Williams to play Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs II: Electric Boogaloo.” Affleck has dark hair and a square jaw and as we saw in “Argo” he can play it straight and act like a real adult and not be some stereotypical Boston goon like we often consider him to be. He’ll be fine.

We survived Val Kilmer and George Clooney. We can survive Ben Affleck. End of rant.

[exhales, sits back, stares emptily into middle distance]

Dodgers 6, Marlins 0: Clayton Kershaw (8 IP, 5 H, 0 ER) is like Doctor Manhattan. So superior and gifted that the mortals bore and disappoint him. He’s likely considering going to another planet to find new challenges for himself. He didn’t even have his best stuff yesterday and no one could really touch him. It’s almost unfair.

Pirates 10, Giants 5: Quite the disaster for the Giants as Matt Cain left early after taking a comebacker off his right arm. Thankfully X-Rays were negative. The bullpen, sadly, was pretty negative for the Giants too. And while ten runs and a win was nice for the Pirates, they have to be worried about Jeff Locke, who is looking increasingly gassed and ineffective as the season winds down.

Reds 2, Diamondbacks 1: Four wild pitches for Arizona, a couple which set up the Reds run in the third and another that actually scored the winning run in the eighth. The Reds took three of four from the Dbacks, effectively burying them in the wild card race, one figures.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 3: A lot of the people who think it’s a longshot for the Yankees to get back into the race and make the playoffs think this because the starting pitching has been so poopy lately. As such, seeing Andy Pettitte allow one run over six innings has to be, at the very least, encouraging. The Yanks have won five in a row and ten of twelve. A-Rod for MVP.

Twins 7, Tigers 6:  Chris Herrmann had a couple of RBI doubles, one of which was aided by Austin Jackson misplaying the ball. The Twins take two of three from Detroit.

Nationals 5, Cubs 4: Stephen Strasburg was one out from a complete game but then he ran out of gas and had some defensive miscues behind him allowing the Cubs to rally for three runs. Four innings later Denard Span doubled and some small ball scored him for the go-ahead and, ultimately, winning run.

White Sox 4, Royals 3: Chicago fought back from a three-run deficit to force extras and then Conor Gillaspie socked a homer in the 12th. Pretty sure that’s the first time I ever used the phrase “socked a homer” in my life. Weird.

Phillies 5, Rockies 4: Philly scored four of their five runs in the last two innings, capped with Domonic Brown’s walkoff single. Oh, remember yesterday when I suggested that a walkoff sac fly was the least exciting walkoff event? I’m now thinking a walkoff balk qualifies. By definition it requires the absolute bare minimum of movement to happen. Like, a simple flinch could make it happen. Would love to see a World Series end on a walkoff balk. Joe Buck would probably capture that moment for the ages.

Cardinals 6, Braves 2: Joe Kelly wasn’t sharp but he was effective. Jordan Schafer was 0 for 5 with two strikeouts leading off for Atlanta. The Braves are gonna miss Jason Heyward something fierce.

Rob Manfred offers little insight, shows contempt for reporters in press conference

Rob Manfred
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a press conference, addressing the Astros cheating scandal and other topics on Sunday evening. It did not go well.

To start, the press conference was not broadcast officially on MLB’s own TV channel (it aired the 1988 movie Bull Durham instead), nor could any mention to it or link to the live stream be found anywhere on MLB.com. When the actual questions began, Manfred’s answers were circuitous or simply illogical given other comments he has made in the past. On more than one occasion, he showed contempt for reporters for doing their jobs — and, some might argue, doing his job — holding players and front office personnel accountable.

Last month, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal broke a story about the Astros’ “dark arts” and “Codebreaker” operation, based on a letter Manfred sent to then-GM Jeff Luhnow. Diamond was among the reporters present for Manfred’s press conference on Sunday. Per The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler, Manfred addressed Diamond, saying, “You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part.” MLB’s response to the depth of the Astros’ cheating ways was lacking and, without Diamond’s reporting, we would have known how deeply lacking that response was. It is understandable that Manfred would be salty about it, since it exposed him as doing his job poorly, but it was an immature, unrestrained response from someone in charge of the entire league.

Onto the actual topic at hand, Manfred said he felt like the punishment doled out to the Astros was enough. Per Chris Cotillo, Manfred said Astros players “have been hurt by this” and will forever be questioned about their achievements in 2017 and ’18. Some players disagree. Former pitcher Phil Hughes even suggested the players have a work stoppage over this issue.

Manfred defended his decision not to vacate the Astros’ championship, saying, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” The commissioner devaluing the meaning of a championship seems… not great? Counterintuitive, even? The “piece of metal” is literally called the Commissioner’s Trophy. Manfred went on to brag about the league having “the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty.” Be careful, don’t hurt yourself patting yourself on the back for doing the bare minimum.

Manfred said there was no evidence found that the Astros used buzzers and added that, since the players were given immunity, he doesn’t think they would continue to hide that when asked about it. He said, “I think in my own mind. It was hard for me to figure out why they would tell us, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful and admit they did the wrong thing and 17, admit they did the wrong thing and 18, and then lie about what was going on in 19.”

The commissioner expects the league to implement “really serious restrictions” on access to in-game video feeds for the 2020 season.

There has been some recent back-and-forth between the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Astros’ Carlos Correa. Manfred isn’t a fan of the sniping through the media. He said, “I’m sort of a civil discourse person. It must be because I’m old. But, yeah, I think that the back and forth that’s gone on is not healthy.” The reason Bellinger and others are speaking publicly about the issue, attempting to hold the Astros accountable, is because the league did not do a sufficient job doing that itself. Bellinger wouldn’t feel the need to speak up in defense of himself, his teammates, and other players affected by the cheating scheme if he felt like the league had his and his peers’ backs.

Because the players involved in the Astros’ cheating scheme weren’t punished, some — like Larry Bowa — have suggested intentionally throwing baseballs at Astros players to exact justice. Manfred met with managers who were in attendance today to inform them that retaliatory beanballs “will not be tolerated.” He added, “It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.” Manfred has done nothing about beanball wars in the past, but it will now give the Astros somewhat of an advantage since pitchers will now be judged closely on any pitch that runs too far inside on Astro hitters.

Manfred also spoke about the ongoing feud with Minor League Baseball and basically reiterated what he and the rest of the league have disingenuously been saying since it was revealed MLB proposed cutting 42 minor league teams. Manfred’s talking point is that MLB is concerned about substandard facilities being used by minor league players, but not all of the 42 teams on the proposed chopping block have anything close to what could reasonably be considered substandard.

Lastly, Manfred was asked about the Orioles and tanking, and more or less danced around the issue by expressing confidence in the club’s ownership. The Orioles have won 47 and 54 games in the past two seasons. Payroll dropped by more than $50 million. The Orioles saw over 250,000 fewer fans in attendance in 2019 than in ’18. The O’s also saw a decline of over 460,000 fans in attendance from 2017 to ’18. But, yeah, it’s going well.

All in all, this press conference could not have gone worse for Manfred. The press found it condescending and the comments he made rang hollow to the players. Manfred seemed on edge and unprepared addressing arguably the biggest controversy baseball has faced since the steroid era. This is a dark time for the sport.