Adam LaRoche opens up about retirement, Drake, sex-slavery in Asia and other things

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Last month Adam LaRoche’s retirement distracted baseball for a week. The circumstances of it — he was asked not to bring his son Drake to the clubhouse all the time — were strange and his decision seemed remarkably abrupt. People spent so much time focusing on the Drake LaRoche part of it all that they didn’t really think too hard of the Adam LaRoche part of it. What makes that guy tick that he’d walk away from $13 million over such an odd little dispute?

Today, in ESPN the Magazine, Tim Keown takes us into LaRoche’s world. And it’s a weird world. On the one hand there are a lot of the trappings we’ve come to expect from an American ballplayer from a decidedly non-urban area. Bow hunting, family, friendships with country singers and “Duck Dynasty” cast members and the like. A quote about how the clubhouse is sacred because “there’s no other workplace where you walk in and guys are slapping each other in the nuts and saying the stuff they do,” which I figure is a good thing, but who knows?

Then there is . . . the unexpected:

Then there’s this: LaRoche, along with Brewers pitcher Blaine Boyer, spent 10 days in November in Southeast Asian brothels, wearing a hidden camera and doing undercover work to help rescue underage sex slaves. All of which raises a question: After 12 years in the big leagues, the endless days and nights in dugouts and clubhouses, how did LaRoche’s nearly cinematic level of nonconformity escape detection?

The details of that operation are in the story. It’s definitely something.

Aside from just that, the whole piece has a McNulty-from-the-Wire “who the f*** was I chasing?” air to it. And there are great details, such as the fact that, after Ken Williams told LaRoche to “dial back” the presence of Drake in the clubhouse, LaRoche and his buddy Boyer went over his decision to retire “with the help of a bottle of Crown Royal . . . while Boyer cross-examined.” To be a fly on that wall.

Fascinating piece about a guy who, even if we still don’t fully understand him or his decision, is pretty interesting all the same.

Astros clinch AL West for third consecutive year

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For the third consecutive season, the Astros are AL West champions. The ‘stros clinched the division on Sunday afternoon with a convincing 13-5 win over the Angels. They were backed by three homers from leadoff man George Springer and individual homers from Alex Bregman and Aledmys Díaz.

Springer has the 22nd three-homer game in baseball this season. He’s the first Astro to hit three homers in a game since Yordan Álvarez last month, on August 10.

Justin Verlander lasted five innings in Sunday’s start, yielding two runs on six hits and a pair of walks with five strikeouts. The right-hander is arguably the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award, now 20-6 with a 2.53 ERA and a 288/42 K/BB ratio in 217 innings on the year. Verlander is 12 strikeouts shy of the 300-strikeout milestone and six strikeouts short of 3,000 for his career. If the Astros stay on schedule, Verlander would pitch the second-to-last game of the regular season against the Angels.

Sunday’s win marked No. 102 on the season for the Astros. The franchise record is 103 wins set last year. With six games remaining, it seems likely the Astros will set a new record.

The Astros and Yankees both won on Sunday, meaning the Astros remain a half-game ahead in the race for home field advantage. The No. 1 seed will also have the privilege of playing the Wild Card winner, which is down to the Athletics, Rays, and Indians.