And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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It’s a weird year. Usually, like, ten games on a full fifteen game schedule in mid-September have playoff implications. So much is already decided this year, however, leaving us with only three or four which truly have relevance. Mostly in the AL West/AL Wild card. Like the first three games on this morning’s slate:

Twins 7, White Sox 0: Torii Hunter hit a three-run homer off of Chris Sale in the first and Kyle Gibson pitched shutout ball into the eighth inning. The Twins have totally owned Sale this year. Minnesota remains one game out of the Wild Card spot because . . .

Rangers 12, Athletics 4: . . . the Rangers beat the A’s behind two homers and five RBI from Adrian Beltre and a bunch more offense. And while that Wild Card lead is nice to maintain for Texas, they have bigger fish to fry. They’re only one and a half back of the Astros and begin a four-game series against them at home.

Astros 5, Angels 3: It would’ve been only a half game deficit except Houston rallied for five runs in the ninth inning against the Angels. The Astros were down to their last out before Preston Tucker hit a solo home run, George Springer tripled, Jose Altuve singled Spring in, Carlos Correa singled and then Jed Lowrie hit a dramatic three-run homer. Back-breaking for the Angels who were trying to sweep and stay in the playoff picture.

Indians 7, Tigers 2; Tigers 9, Indians 2: For reasons that still aren’t clear to me I watched the movie “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” last night and it made me think about the precariousness of civilization and the pointlessness of existence. Much the same way that two teams splitting a doubleheader does. It wasn’t a good movie, BTW, even though it had some good performances. Both of these games seem much the same way, though they lacked a fairly unrealistic Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Whether that made them better or worse is probably a personal preference.

Phillies 7, Cubs 4: Chicago splits the four-game series with the Phillies. After the game Joe Maddon said “I’m just glad we’re not in the same division as the Phillies.” I realize the Phillies won the season series against Chicago, but I feel like Maddon, if he were being completely honest, would be just fine with being in the same division as Philly this year. Anyone would, as they’re the worst team in baseball. I’ve noticed this year that postgame praise for the other team like that has spiked to unprecedented levels. You see it all the time now, whether the other team or any opposing player is truly good or not. “We got some hits against a tough pitcher,” someone will say after beating a merely adequate pitcher. “You don’t just come in here and win these games easily,” someone will say after beating a team a lot of people beat easily. I guess it’s just the sort of politeness grease that makes the world go ’round and, in baseball, that sort of respect for the other side is more ingrained in the culture of the game than it is in society in general. But it is pretty remarkable.

Mets 10, Braves 7: Holy crap the Braves’ bullpen is awful. They took a three-run lead into the ninth and blew it and then gave up three runs in the tenth, warmly inviting the Mets to win their seventh straight game. All of those runs came with two outs too. It was their first four-game sweep of the Braves since July 23, 1989. Which was nine days after I got my driver’s license The Braves have lost 12 in a row at home which is sort of re-defining bad.

Red Sox 2, Rays 0Rusney Castillo hit a two-run single in the 13th inning. Rich Hill was dominant in his first start since 2009, tossing seven shutout innings, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out 10. Imagine doing anything you used to do a lot for the first time in six years.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 0:  Dustin Ackley homered and had three RBI and R.A. Dickey lost for the first time since before the All-Star break. A much-needed win for the Yankees, stopping a five-game losing streak. Still a bad weekend in the Bronx, dropping three of four to the Blue Jays.

Cardinals 9, Reds 2: The Cards had lost right of ten going into this one, but Tommy Pham hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the sixth inning and the Cards really poured it on in the eighth with five runs. St. Louis avoids a sweep and remains two and a half in front of Pittsburgh.

Nationals 5, Marlins 0: Stop me if you’ve heard this but a team a lot of people thought was going to make the playoffs avoided a sweep. Max Scherzer tossed eight shutout innings and struck out six. Bryce Harper left the game in the first inning after colliding with Marlins second baseman Derek Dietrich. He said he felt dizzy afterward, so he’s in concussion test land now.

Pirates 7, Brewers 6: The Pirates rallied from a five-run deficit to force extra innings and then Josh Harrison walked them off in the 11th inning. The Buccos take three of four from Milwaukee who, before Friday’s game anyway, had owned the Pirates this year. I guess, in that case, it’d be OK for that “praise the otherwise bad team after the game” thing if Clint Hurdle did it, as the Brewers have almost single-handedly kept the Pirates from overtaking the Cardinals.

Giants 10, Padres 3Mike Leake finally won a game for the Giants. And he hit a three-run homer too. The Giants sweep the Padres and win their sixth game in the last eight. It’s a little too late for them, though, as they remain seven and a half back in both the division and the wild card.

Rockies 3, Mariners 2: Colorado scored twice on a Kyle Seager throwing error and got two outs on a defensive gem of their own. Check this out:

Dodgers 4, Diamondbacks 3: Zack Greinke pitched eight scoreless innings to lower his ERA to a crazy 1.61. A.J. Ellis homered and Adrian Gonzalez had three hits

Orioles 8, Royals 2: Over his past 5 starts, Johnny Cueto has allowed 28 earned runs in 26 and a third innings. Not exactly what the Royals had in mind when they traded for him.

Rob Manfred responds to our report about recent labor negotiations

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Two days ago NBC Sports reported comments Rob Manfred made to players union officials during midterm Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions this past summer. Specifically, sources told NBC Sports that Manfred took an aggressive posture, telling the union that there is “not going to be a deal where we pay you in economics to get labor peace” and “maybe Marvin Miller’s financial system doesn’t work anymore.” Those comments and our report led many to believe that Manfred and baseball’s owners intend to take a hard line with the union between now and when the current CBA expires in December 2021.

Yesterday, at the conclusion of the Owners Meetings, Manfred was asked about our report. Part of his comments were reported in the New York Post last night, but NBC Sports has obtained a full transcript of his entire response:

“One of the things that I never do is talk about what is said in a bargaining room because my experience has been that it usually results in unproductive mischaracterization of the comment. There were four people in that room the day of that conversation: me, [Deputy Commissioner] Dan Halem, Tony Clark and [MLBPA chief negotiator] Bruce Meyer. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that it was not Dan Halem and not me that was the source of that story.

“The comments, the way the conversation actually went, as opposed to the way that it was spun: we invited the MLBPA to come forward with suggestions about midterm modifications that might address some of their concerns. In the meeting, Mr. Meyer suggested a series of changes that would turn the Basic Agreement back 50 years. I mean, essentially give back to the union everything we’ve achieved over the last few decades. I asked, in response to his suggestion, what was in that deal for the clubs? He said, ‘Labor peace.’ The way the conversation actually went is I said to him, ‘Labor peace is a mutual benefit. It’s not something that you trade economics against. It is a mutual benefit it keeps the players working and getting paid and it keeps our business forward.’ That’s how the conversation actually went.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. So let’s unpack.

First off, NBC Sports has no comment of our own about Manfred’s speculation about the sources of our story, as we do not talk about or reveal our confidential sources. As for his comment about “the way it was spun,” we stand by our report, thanks.

As for the substance, Manfred’s comment that the union “suggested a series of changes” that “would turn the Basic Agreement back 50 years” is not consistent with what we were told by our sources. Our sources told us that the union, rather than make any specific proposals, simply laid out its version of where things stand at present between owners and the players financially speaking. Revenue, salaries, free agent signings and things of that nature, while noting their dissatisfaction about that state of affairs. Of course, given that Manfred was actually at the meeting and, given that the MLBPA has declined comment on all of this we’ll leave that go.

But even if Manfred is right and the union made a bunch of proposals, is it really plausible that they were, essentially, retrograde proposals via which the union would seek to “turn back the Basic Agreement 50 years?”

In 1969 the players had no free agency. No arbitration. They were subject to the reserve clause which rendered them utterly powerless in every conceivable way. Going back 50 years — or even 30 years, which was when owners openly colluded against free agents and the minimum salary was still five figures — is surely not a thing the union wants to do. Yes, I presume the union would probably like to see a system more akin to that which existed in the relatively recent past, when free agency worked better for them and they received a higher percentage of league revenues, but Manfred’s characterization of the union’s stance, assuming it was not uncharacteristic hyperbole on his part, is not super plausible.

In contrast, I’ll note that Manfred did not comment on the part of our story where we reported that he said “maybe Marvin Miller’s financial system doesn’t work anymore.” We stand by our report that he did, in fact, say that. And we note that if someone was desirous of wanting a baseball economic system that did not have Marvin Miller’s fingerprints all over it, that system would, by definition, look very much like that which existed 50 years ago. Which leads me to wonder if Manfred is merely projecting when it comes to his characterization of the union’s position.

More important than all of that, though, is the final bit he had to say last night. A bit that, actually, is pretty consistent with our reporting on Wednesday.

Again, from Manfred, offering his own account of what he said to Clark and Meyer in negotiations this past summer:

I asked, in response to his suggestion, what was in that deal for the clubs? He said, ‘Labor peace.’ The way the conversation actually went is I said to him, ‘Labor peace is a mutual benefit. It’s not something that you trade economics against. It is a mutual benefit it keeps the players working and getting paid and it keeps our business forward.’

Even if you assume that, and not the way we reported it on Wednesday, was the exact verbiage, I’m not sure how it makes any difference. At bottom, it’s the exact same position: MLB is communicating that it is unwilling to make economic concessions in the face of a threat of a work stoppage. It’s one party to a negotiation telling the other party to the negotiation that even if it exercises the most drastic power it has at its disposal, it will not back down. Or, alternatively, it’s a demand that the one side disarm itself of its most potent weapon before the other side agrees to anything of substance.

That’s certainly something management can do, but it’s not something that it can do and still portray itself as seeking an amicable resolution to what appears will be a contentious negotiation. That’s, by definition, a hardline position.

Given that the general upshot of our report on Wednesday was that MLB was taking a hardline position in early negotiations, I don’t think anything Manfred had to say last night stands as a rebuttal.