And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

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Rangers 5, Astros 3: The first round of the biggest four-game series in Texas baseball history goes to the Rangers. It was tied 3-3 before Prince Fielder came up in the bottom of the eighth and smacked a two-run homer off Astros reliever Will Harris for what proved to be the winning runs. Earlier Mitch Moreland hit a homer and Cole Hamels scattered seven hits over seven innings, working his way out of trouble as needed. Only a half game separates these two now.

Orioles 2, Red Sox 0: A race at the opposite end of the spectrum, this one to avoid the cellar in the AL East. Boston “led” that race by a game over Baltimore heading into this one and managed to keep that “lead” thanks to Kevin Gausman and four relievers combining to stifle the Sox.

Nationals 8, Phillies 7: Yesterday Jonathan Papelbon said that he was “one of the few that wanted to actually win” when he played for Philly. Freddy Galvis was either one of those too or else he found the light after Paps left town, because he hit a homer off of him in the 10th inning, causing his former teammate to blow his first save of the season. Papelbon managed to get the win, however, by being the pitcher of record when Yunel Escobar knocked in a run in the 11th for the winning margin. Before that, the Nats hit four homers, including two by Jayson Werth, who drove in five runs.

Indians 8, Royals 3: Very quietly, the Indians have gotten into at least nominal contention, winning their 13th of 18 and pulling to .500. They’re four and a half back of Texas for the second wild card too. Still kind of hard to say they’re a strong contender given that the Angels and Twins stand in between them and Texas and jumping a couple of teams is hard in the last couple of weeks of the season, but still.

Mets 4, Marlins 3Yoenis Cespedes homered once again and David Wright had the go-ahead double in the seventh. It was Cespedes’ ninth homer in the past 13 games.

Yankees 4, Rays 1: Alex Rodriguez hit a tying, two-out RBI double in the ninth — he’s always been clutch, right? — and Slade Heathcott hit a three-run homer to complete the Yankees’ four-run rally. All of this despite the fact that Erasmo Ramirez had a no-hitter going until Carlos Beltran led off the eighth with a single. Ramirez ended up with a one-hit, no-run no-decision and one of those “games which he started, the team lost” factoids for his trouble. George Burns was right: baseball is a hideous bitch-goddess.

White Sox 8, Athletics 7: Chicago blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning — where have you gone Bobby Thigpen? Where have you gone David Robertson, for that matter — but then Melky Cabrera drove in Geovany Soto with two outs in the 14th. I say “but then” as if it just happened right after that, but I imagine there isn’t much longer than the innings between the ninth and the fourteenth when you’ve blown a lead.

Twins 7, Tigers 1: Six runs in the first two innings off of Kyle Lobstein made it an easy night for the Twins. Tyler Duffey struck out seven while allowing one run on seven hits and pitching into the seventh inning. They remain a game back of the Rangers for the second wild card. Although after tonight they could be chasing the Astros instead, I suppose.

Padres 10, Diamondbacks 3: Rain poured through the Chase Field roof into the stands behind home plate at one point here. I feel like this happened a couple of months ago too. I realize that in Phoenix a roof is more designed to keep air conditioning in than rain out, but really guys. The Padres rained on the Diamondbacks’ parade too (note: that there is a professional writer’s segue; do NOT attempt that at home) as Wil Myers hit a leadoff homer in San Diego’s five-run first inning and added a three-run double later in the game. Just a downpour of offense for the Padres. A deluge. Quite a precipitous offensive night. Wait, that’s not what “precipitous” means. Dammit, forget that part. I’ll work on some more later.

Mariners 10, Angels 1: An offensive deluge in Seattle too, though they’re more used to it. Taijuan Walker allowed one run over seven and was backed by a six-run seventh inning. Seth Smith drove in three with a homer and a double.

Dodgers 4, Rockies 1: Clayton Kershaw allowed one run over seven, winning his ninth straight decision and reducing his ERA to 2.12. Justin Turner hit a tie-breaking double in the fifth and Scott Schebler hit a two-run homer in the eighth for insurance.

Giants 5, Reds 3: The fourth straight win for the Giants, doing well in their race for the Pride Division championships at least. Brandon Belt tripled and drove in two. Matt Duffy doubled twice and drove in two.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.