Bad decisions and indecision cost the Royals Game 3

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NEW YORK — With one out, one in and runners on the corners in the bottom of the sixth, Royals reliever Franklin Morales fielded a comebacker off the bat of Curtis Granderson. Morales looked to second, looked home, looked to third and then, having thoroughly and excruciatingly assessed his many options, turned back to second and threw the damn ball away. If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. A fielder’s choice in this case and now there were two runs in and the rout was on.

By that point it didn’t really matter. Morales was already wobbling like Michael Spinks in the Tyson fight, having given up an RBI single to a man who hadn’t swung a bat in a real game in over a month in Juan Uribe. Morales’ panicked indecision is the visual we’ll always remember from that inning, but the decision to have Morales in the game in the first place was probably more significant.

Morales is about as low on the Royals’ depth chart as an active guy can be and he had no business pitching in a 5-3 game. Not with Luke Hochevar having just pitched a nice fifth inning, striking out two and needing only 15 pitches to do it. Not with a Royals team behind him which has treated two-run deficits as tie games and one-run deficits as leads since October began. There were any number of things Ned Yost could have done in that situation, but the thing he chose to do — bringing in Morales — was about as far from a threatening move he had at his disposal.

Maybe Yost knew this game was different, though, and that the script of the movie we’ve been watching for the first two games [“Relentless” starring The Kansas City Royals!] had been torn up. Or at least replaced with new one for a night. One which featured the Mets hitting home runs again. Remember that from a couple of weeks ago? David Wright hit a two-run dinger in the first and Curtis Granderson hit a two-run shot in the third. There were dinks and doinks that fell in for the Mets and not the Royals this time. There were defensive miscues that befell the Royals and not the Mets. It was a very different night than the previous three we’ve seen: two with Royals wins, one off-night with lots of existential angst for Mets fans.

Also different here: the starting pitching. On Tuesday night Matt Harvey gave up 3 runs in 6 innings. Tonight Noah Syndergaard gave up 3 runs in 6 innings.  But Harvey only struck out two and got eight swings-and-misses. Syndergaard, in contrast, struck out six and got 16 swings-and-misses. Even before Syndergaard settled down from his shaky start and retired 12 batters at one point, he felt more in control of the game than either Harvey or Jacob deGrom ever did in the first two games. He gave the Royals fewer chances to exploit the Mets defense and, in turn, the anxieties of the 44,781 fans in Citi Field.

After six innings Addison Reed took over for Syndergaard and breezed. Then Tyler Clippard did the same. By that time we had seen the Franklin Morales show, followed by some gratuitous Kelvin Herrera. Why was he pitching and not putative mopup man Kris Medlen? Maybe because Medlen could be needed to back up Chris Young tomorrow or provide an emergency start on Sunday in case Yordano Ventura doesn’t make it back? That’s plausible. Oh, wait, then Yost used Medlen anyway in the eighth. I have no idea. I’m not sure that Yost did either.

And I don’t know who’s going to win this World Series. It could be either team now. All I know is that if the Mets win it the sixth inning of Game 3 will be one Mets fans long remember and one that Royals fans are already trying to forget. I also know that if the Royals win it, their hitters and starting pitchers had best give Ned Yost as few chances to make decisions as possible.

Don’t let Rob Manfred pass the buck

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Yesterday morning, in Ken Rosenthal’s article, Rob Manfred made it pretty clear what his aim is at the moment: throw blame on the union for the sign stealing scandal getting to the place it is. It was clear in both his words and Rosenthal’s words, actually:

In fairness, Manfred was not alone in failing to see the future clearly. As far back as 2015, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expressed concerns to MLB about the rise of technology in the sport. The union, however, did not directly focus on the threat to the game’s integrity.

Then, in his press conference yesterday, he went farther, saying that the union refused to allow a situation in which punishment might happen, going so far as to claim that the union refused to make Astros players available for interviews without blanket immunity.

The union, both in its official statement last night and in Tony Clark’s words to Yahoo’s Hannah Keyser earlier this afternoon, is basically saying Manfred is full of it:

“We were approached with respect to their intentions to not discipline players. Our legal role and responsibility is inherent in accepting that consideration, which is what we did.”

Which is to say, it was Rob Manfred, and not the union, which started from the presumption that there was immunity for Astros players. Manfred is the one who settled on that at the outset, and he’s now trying to make it look like the union was the side that insisted on it so that people who are mad will get mad at Tony Clark for defending the indefensible as opposed to getting mad at him for creating a situation in which there was no legal way to punish Astros players.

And, as we have noted many times already, he did create that situation.

It’s undisputed that Manfred never attempted to make rules or set forth discipline for players stealing signs. Indeed, he did the opposite of that, saying over two years ago that GMs and managers, not players, would be held responsible. If he wanted to discipline players now, he’d have a big problem because he specifically excluded them from discipline then. I’d argue it was a mistake for him to do that — he should’ve said, three years ago, that everyone’s butt would be on the line if the cheating continued — but he didn’t.

Some people I’ve spoken to are taking the position that the union is still to blame here. I’m sort of at a loss as to how that could be.

It is the union’s job to protect its members from arbitrary punishment by management. It is not the union’s job to say “hey, I know our workers were off the hook here based on the specific thing you said, but maybe we should give them some retroactive punishment anyway?” If someone in charge of a union proposed that, they’d be in dereliction of their duties and could be fired and/or sued. Probably should be, actually. A lot of people might be mad about that, and I know fully well that unions aren’t popular. But then again, neither are criminal defense attorneys, and they don’t go up to prosecutors and say “well, there isn’t a law against what my client did — in fact, the governor issued an order a couple of years ago saying that what he did wasn’t prohibited — but we’re all kind of mad about it, so why don’t we work together to find a way to put him in jail, eh?” It’d be insane.

That doesn’t make anyone feel better now. The players are certainly mad, with new ones every day finding a camera to yell at over all of this. I get it. What has happened is upsetting. It’s a situation in which some members of the union are at odds with other members. It’s not an easy situation to navigate.

They should take that anger, however, and channel it into telling their leader, Tony Clark, that they don’t want this to happen again. That, to the extent Rob Manfred now, belatedly, proposes new rules and new punishments for sign-stealing or other things, he should get on board with that. They should also — after the yelling dies down — maybe think a little bit about how, if the facts were slightly different here, they would never argue that Rob Manfred should have the power to impose retroactive or other non-previously-negotiated punishment on players.

Either way, neither they nor any of the rest of us should take Manfred’s bait and try to claim that what’s happening now is the union’s fault. If, for no other reason, than because he doesn’t have much credibility when it comes to this whole scandal. Remember, he’s the guy who issued a report saying that, except for Alex Cora, it was only players involved despite knowing at the time he said it that the front office had hatched the scheme in the first place. Which, by the way, similarly sought to make the players out to be the only ones to blame while protecting people on management’s side. He’s not someone who can be trusted in any of this, frankly.

At the end of the day, this was a scheme perpetrated by both front office and uniformed personnel of the Houston Astros. To the extent nothing more can be done about that than already has been done, blame it on Rob Manfred’s failure of leadership. Not on the MLB Players Association.