Brandon Belt’s 18th-inning homer sends Giants up 2-0 in NLDS over the Nationals

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Through 17 innings, both the Giants and the Nationals had combined for two runs on 16 hits and seven walks. The cold wind blowing in at Nationals Park combined with the sterling pitching on both sides left hitters praying for anything, even a bleeder through the infield.

The game went into the 18th inning, becoming only the second playoff game to reach that plateau, joining Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS between the Astros and Braves. Tanner Roark had thrown a scoreless inning of relief and the Nationals needed him to continue as he took the mound to start the inning.

Roark missed his spot with a fastball badly — catcher Wilson Ramos set up on the outside corner, but Roark’s fastball was left right over the plate. Brandon Belt, who was 0-for-6 leading up to his at-bat against Roark, did not miss, hitting a no-doubter over the fence in right field to put the Giants up 2-1.

Hunter Strickland came on in the bottom half of the 18th and set Danny Espinosa and Denard Span down quietly. He issued a two-out walk to Anthony Rendon before bouncing back and getting Jayson Werth to fly out to right field to end the game.

The Nationals had the game very nearly won, as Jordan Zimmermann was working on a three-hit shutout with two outs in the ninth inning. The Nationals had scored the game’s only run at that point in the third inning on Anthony Rendon’s two-out RBI single. Zimmermann walked Joe Panik, forcing manager Matt Williams to call on Drew Storen from the bullpen to nail down the save — a decision that will surely be second-guessed in the time between now and the start of Game 3. Storen served up a single to Buster Posey, then Pablo Sandoval sliced a line drive down the left field line, allowing the Giants to easily tie the game at 1-1. Posey was following Sandoval home and was tagged out on a well-executed relay throw from left fielder Bryce Harper to shortstop Ian Desmond, who made a good throw home to catcher Wilson Ramos. The tag was reviewed and home plate umpire Vic Carapazza’s out ruling was upheld, sending the game into the 10th.

There was a bit of drama in the bottom of the 10th inning, as Carapazza made a debatable strike call on a 3-1 pitch from reliever Jeremy Affeldt to Nationals second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera was clearly unhappy with the call, ostensibly with a slight delay from Carapazza. Affeldt’s 3-2 pitch was nearly in the same location and Carapazza rung up Cabrera emphatically. Cabrera slammed his bat, then his helmet, before confronting Carapazza, who quickly ejected him. Manager Matt Williams rushed out to defend his player and was shortly thereafter ejected as well. From there, both sides would exchange goose eggs with sterling relief work.

Giants reliever Yusmeiro Petit will wind up the game’s unsung hero, as he threw six scoreless innings of relief, when the Giants’ bullpen was nearly exhausted, before giving way to Strickland. Starter Tim Hudson — who also started that 18-inning game in 2005, coincidentally — is not to be forgotten, either, as he was every bit Zimmermann’s equal, despite allowing a two-out, third-inning run to the Nationals on an Anthony Rendon single. Hudson went 7 1/3, allowing seven hits (six singles) while striking out eight and issuing no walks.

The series will resume in San Francisco on Monday with the Giants leading the Nationals two games to none. The Nationals will have to rely on Doug Fister to stave off elimination, while the Giants will counter with Madison Bumgarner, who tossed a four-hit shutout against the Pirates in the National League Wild Card game on Wednesday.

An Astros executive asked scouts to use cameras, binoculars to steal signs in 2017

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The Athletic reports that an Astros executive asked scouts to spy on opponents’ dugouts in August of 2017, suggesting in an email that they use cameras or binoculars to do so.

The email, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports, came from Kevin Goldstein, who is currently a special assistant for player personnel but who at the time was the director of pro scouting. In it he wrote:

“One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can (or can’t) do and report back your findings.”

The email came during the same month that the Red Sox were found to have illegally used an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees. The Red Sox were fined as a result, and it led to a clarification from Major League Baseball that sign stealing via electronic or technological means was prohibited. Early in 2019 Major League Baseball further emphasized this rule and stated that teams would receive heavy penalties, including loss of draft picks and/or bonus pool money if they were found to be in violation.

It’s an interesting question whether Goldstein’s request to scouts would fall under the same category as the Apple Watch stuff or other technology-based sign-stealing schemes. On the one hand, the email certainly asked scouts to use cameras and binoculars to get a look at opposing signs. On the other hand, it does not appear that it was part of a sign-relaying scheme or that it was to be used in real time. Rather, it seems aimed at information gathering for later use. The Athletic suggests that using eyes or binoculars would be considered acceptable in 2017 but that cameras would not be. The Athletic spoke to scouts and other front office people who all think that asking scouts to use a camera would “be over the line” or would constitute “cheating.”

Of course, given how vague, until very recently Major League Baseball’s rules have been about this — it’s long been governed by the so-called “unwritten rules” and convention, only recently becoming a matter of official sanction — it’s not at all clear how the league might consider it. It’s certainly part and parcel of an overarching sign-stealing culture in baseball which we are learning has moved far, far past players simply looking on from second base to try to steal signs, which has always been considered a simple matter of gamesmanship. Now, it appears, it is organizationally-driven, with baseball operations, scouting and audio-visual people being involved. The view on all of this has changed given how sophisticated and wide-ranging an operation modern sign-stealing appears to be. Major League Baseball was particularly concerned, at the time the Red Sox were punished for the Apple Watch stuff, that it involved management and front office personnel.

Regardless of how that all fits together, Goldstein’s email generated considerable angst among Astros scouts, many of whom, The Athletic and ESPN report, commented in real time via email and the Astros scout’s Slack channel, that they considered it to be an unreasonable request that would risk their reputations as scouts. Some voiced concern to management. Today that email has new life, emerging as it does in the wake of last week’s revelations about the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes.

This is quickly becoming the biggest story of the offseason.