Defeat from the jaws of victory! The Astros melt down, the Royals force Game 5

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Someplace in the bowels of Minute Maid Park there is a clubhouse attendant who knows whether or not the carts full of champagne and beer were already wheeled into the Astros’ clubhouse. Whether or not the plastic was taped above the Astros’ lockers. He’s likely been sworn to secrecy — there’s a code of discretion to which these professionals ascribe — but he knows.

And who would’ve blamed him? The Astros were up by four runs and were only six outs away from advancing to the ALCS. They were on their way there thanks to a hero-making turn from Carlos Correa, who hit his second homer of the day in the bottom of the seventh. It was a two-run shot, followed immediately by Colby Rasmus‘ solo homer to make it 6-2. Between that and the deflating, inning-ending replay review in the top half of the inning, the Royals could’ve pretty easily packed it in.

But they didn’t. Not by a long shot. It wasn’t a Chernobyl-level thing and maybe not even Three-Mile Island. But what happened to the Astros in the eighth inning this afternoon may rank somewhere near the Saint-Laurent disaster in the meltdown pantheon.

Will Harris was on the mound for Houston, having taken the ball from Lance McCullers the previous inning. McCullers was great and Harris helped stop the would-be seventh-inning rally, but he was peppered in the eighth. Death by a thousand cuts, really. Alex Rios singled. Alcides Escobar singled. Ben Zobrist singled. Lorenzo Cain singled to drive in Rios. In came Tony Sipp for Harris and nothing changed. Eric Hosmer singled in Escobar, Kendrys Morales hit into a fielder’s choice that was booted to score two more runs and just like that it was tied.

Tony Sipp eventually got an out but he had two men on by then. Luke Gregerson came in to relieve Sipp to face Drew Butera, who has a career .241 on-base percentage and may be one of the worst hitters in baseball. Butera drew a walk because of course he did and the bases were loaded. Alex Gordon grounded out to score one more and by the time the very, very long top of the eighth ended it was 7-6 Royals. The air had been taken out of Minute Maid Park. The champagne, if it was in place, had been taken out of the Astros’ clubhouse.

The Royals weren’t done yet. After Wade Davis came in and got the first three quick outs of a potential six-out save, Eric Hosmer hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth. 9-6 Royals. Wade Davis had a couple of bumps in the ninth but he shut it down for that six-out save. Ryan Madson — the Royals’ pitcher of record during that long top of the eighth — got the win despite giving up two homers and handing the Astros a big lead back in the seventh. He’ll take it.

As I write these words, the Astros are back in that clubhouse. They’re no doubt as quiet as church mice. They’re showering and dressing and getting ready to head to the airport for a long, tense flight to Kansas City and a Game Five that, an hour or two ago, they never would’ve guessed they’d have to play.

As they walk out of the clubhouse, I wonder if, in the event they happen to look down, they’ll see the wheel marks of those champagne and beer carts in the thick major league carpet. Wheeled in with confidence, wheeled out with haste.

Astros fan logs trash can bangs from 2017

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A fascinating and no doubt time consuming research project was released this morning. An Astros fan by the name of Tony Adams went through every Astros home game in the 2017 season and logged trash can bangs. Which, as you know, was the mechanism via which Astros players in the clubhouse signaled to hitters which pitch was coming.

Adams listened to every pitch from the Astros’ 2017 home games and made a note of any banging noise he could detect. There were 20 home games for which he did not have access to video. There were three “home” games which took place at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida due to the team being displaced by hurricane Harvey and for which, obviously, the Astros’ camera setup from Minute Maid Park would not have been applicable.

Adams logged over 8,200 pitches and found banging before over 1,100 of those pitches. He graphed which players got the most bangs during their at batsMarwin Gonzalez got the most, with bangs coming before 147 of 776 pitches seen, followed by George Springer, who got bangs on 139 of 933. José Altuve had the least among regulars, with only 24 bangs in 866 pitches. One gets the sense that, perhaps, he felt that the banging would interfere with his normal pitch recognition process or something. Either way it’s worth noting that a lack of banging was also signal. Specifically, for a fastball. As such, Astros hitters were helped on a much higher percentage of pitches than what is depicted in the graphs themselves.

Adams reminds us that Commissioner Manfred’s report stated that the Astros also used hand-clapping, whistling, and yelling early in the season before settling on trash can banging. Those things were impossible to detect simply by watching video. As it is, Adams’ graphs of bangs-per-game shows that the can-banging plan dramatically ramped-up on May 28.

It’s hard to say anything definitive about the scope and effectiveness of the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme based on this study alone. Adams may or may not have been hearing everything and, as he notes, there may have been a lot more pitches relayed thought means other than trash can banging than we know. Alternatively it’s possible that Adams was marking some sounds as bangs that were not, in fact, Astros players sending signals to the batter. It’s probably an inexact science.

Still, this is an impressive undertaking that no doubt took a ton of time. And it at least begins to provide a glimpse into the Astros’ sign-stealing operation.