What a difference a year makes for Justin Maxwell.
Last season the Royals acquired the veteran outfielder from the Astros on July 31 and watched him hit .268 with five homers and an .857 OPS in 35 games down the stretch. They signed him to a one-year, $1.33 million contract to avoid arbitration … and then Maxwell went 4-for-29 (.138) with 15 strikeouts to begin this season.
And today they designated him for assignment.
Maxwell obviously isn’t as bad as he looked in the early going this season and he barely played for the Royals, logging just 32 total plate appearances in 40 team games. He’s a 30-year-old career .225 hitter, but good power and decent plate discipline have led to a .733 OPS that would make him a fit as a fourth outfielder somewhere.
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.