Royals emerge victorious in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Orioles, 8-6

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It wasn’t pretty — in fact, it was downright ugly at times — but the Royals have taken the first game of the American League Championship Series, defeating the Orioles at Camden Yards on Friday night by an 8-6 margin. The Royals used two 10th-inning home runs from Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas to slide past their foes in their quest to reach the World Series.

The Royals jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the third when Alcides Escobar hit a solo home run and Gordon cleared the bases, dunking a broken-bat double down the right field line. The Orioles responded with a run in the bottom of the third, and the Royals re-padded their lead to four runs with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly by Billy Butler. Orioles starter Chris Tillman was only able to record one out in the fifth inning before departing.

Royals starter James Shields began to falter, however, as the Orioles used a Nelson Cruz RBI double and a two-run Ryan Flaherty single to shave off a significant portion of their deficit. The Orioles tied the game in the sixth on an infield bloop single over the pitcher’s mound by Alejandro De Aza, knotting the game at five apiece.

The Orioles’ bullpen bent but did not break, particularly in the top of the ninth when closer Zach Britton loaded the bases on three consecutive walks. Britton and sidewinder Darren O’Day combined to escape the frame without allowing a runner to touch home. Royals relievers Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis, meanwhile, combined for four spotless innings, allowing no hits or walks while striking out six.

O’Day took the mound again to begin the top of the 10th inning to face Alex Gordon, and he now wishes he hadn’t. Gordon greeted him with a well-struck solo home run to right field to break the 5-5 tie. The Royals continued to add on, however. After Salvador Perez, O’Day struck out Omar Infante, but that was the end of his night. Orioles manager Buck Showalter wanted the platoon advantage, so he brought in southpaw Brian Matusz to face Moustakas. Matusz misplaced a fastball, and Moustakas crushed it to right-center for a two-run round-tripper, pushing the Royals’ lead to 8-5.

Closer Greg Holland quickly got two outs in the bottom half of the ninth, but then found himself in some trouble in his attempt to close out the ballgame. The right-hander allowed a single to Flaherty and walked pinch-hitter Jimmy Paredes. Flaherty came around to score when Delmon Young hit a ground ball single up the middle, making it 8-6. The Orioles had the tying run on first base in the legs of pinch-runner David Lough. Holland had the tall task of having to retire Nick Markakis, who already had three hits on the evening. Holland battled and got Markakis to hit a 4-3 ground out to, at long last, end the ballgame.

It was not pristine baseball, but it was entertaining, back-and-forth baseball that made for a thrilling opener to the ALCS. The post-season has already been memorable in so many ways, why should the Championship Series be any different?

The two clubs will match up for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon, as Royals starter Yordano Ventura will face Bud Norris on the Orioles’ side.

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.