A most interesting ball

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LAKELAND, FLORIDA — You know, you never handle your luggage in the show? Somebody else carries your bags. It’s great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains.

Well, maybe not the white balls part. At least not in spring training.  Meet Richard DeConcilio, from Lakeland, Florida:

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He’s here today for the Yankees-Tigers game, and I started talking to him during batting practice because he yelled something about how a bottle of water left on the field was really “A-Rod’s growth hormone!” He seemed like my kind of guy, so I went over. I was specifically interested in the ball he was holding, which he told me was a home run ball he caught during the Tigers-Florida Southern game on Tuesday:

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Yep, they were using leftover — and apparently well-used — 2013 playoff balls in a spring training game. Which, while 100% understandable and sensible, just strikes me as kind of neat and odd.

I’m going to assume that was the ball that Jarrod Saltalamacchia tagged Prince Fielder with on the flop play at third base in Game 6 of the ALCS.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.