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And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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I took the kids to see “Captain America: Civil War” last night. Its plot is set in motion by a powerful and at times inspiring hero who, unfortunately, is divisive, occasionally arrogant, is prone to poor impulse control and who is really feeling the heat after he is accused of destroying an entire country. He also has at times questionable facial hair and a sidekick named Clint who is surprisingly heroic when given the chance. When I got home, I watched the last couple of innings of the Nationals-Tigers game which featured a powerful and at times inspiring hero who, unfortunately, is divisive, occasionally arrogant, prone to poor impulse control and who is often accused of destroying an entire country. He also has at times questionable facial hair and a sidekick named Clint who is surprisingly heroic when given the chance.

I guess what I’m saying is that I totally expect people to propose the baseball equivalent of the Sokovia Accords for Bryce Harper today, even if I expect him to be less receptive to it than Iron Man was. In both cases our hero is far more interesting when he’s doing the things he’s born to do than when he’s pulled into contrived controversies, so here’s hoping we can just see more repulsor beam firing from our hero and less political intrigue surrounding him going forward. And here’s hoping Iron Man’s life is simplified a bit too.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 5, Tigers 4: For all of that Bryce Harper drama, the absolute best part of this game was Clint Robinson admitting that he thought it was the eighth inning and not the ninth and didn’t realize at first he had hit a walkoff homer. The second best part of this was that my friend who is a Tigers fan was watching it as the ninth was starting and texted me to tell me that she was going to go bed, saying “Don’t really want to see how the Tigers lose this one and I have to work early tomorrow.” Real Tigers fans know. They know it in their bones. It’s not even surprising or particularly disappointing to them anymore.

Yankees 6, Royals 3: The Yankees hit five solo homers. Carlos Beltran hit two of them. The Royals hit two homers as well. Just a dingeriffic night in the Bronx. Well, not so much for Kansas City who has lost 10 of 13 and is under .500 for the first time in forever. Aroldis Chapman made his 2016 and his Yankees debut, striking out two and flashing triple-digit heat but also giving up two hits and a run.

Red Sox 14, Athletics 7: Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a grand slam and drove in six. He’s on a 15-game hitting streak during which he’s hitting .382 (21-for-55). Brock Holt hit a two-run homer, and David Ortiz had three hits and two RBI for Boston. The Sox have won seven of 10.

Reds 3, Pirates 2: Tucker BarnhartZack Cozart and Joey Votto all went deep for the Reds’ only three runs and, shocker, the bullpen didn’t allow any runs in three innings.

Marlins 4, Brewers 1: Jose Fernandez tossed seven shutout innings but the highlight of the game was clearly J.T. Realmuto hitting what would’ve been a tiebreaking two-run home run only to have it negated because he passed the baserunner ahead of him on the basepaths. That’s the kind of thing that would be excruciating in a loss, but they can joke about it in a win. Maybe whoever bats ahead of him in the lineup tonight should be designated “line leader” like my kids had in preschool.

White Sox 8, Rangers 4: Todd Frazier had been slumping, but a grand slam in extra innings will turn that frown upside down. It was Frazier’s second homer of the game. He, like Bradley in Boston, had six RBI on the night. They were all needed as the White Sox pen blew leads in the eighth and ninth innings before having their bacon saved.

Astros 7, Indians 1: The Astros bats beat up the 2014 Cy Young winner for five runs in two and two-thirds, propelled by Jose Altuve‘s three RBI and a pair from Colby Rasmus. Altuve is putting up MVP numbers — .323/.408/.654.

Diamondbacks 10, Rockies 5: Jake Lamb homered and drove in four. A lot of baseball writers won’t admit it, but I will because I’m all about transparency: I’m gonna like Lamb for the rest of his career because he gave me a really fun and funny interview in spring training. I didn’t even use the best part for any story. The upshot was that he was talking to his dad over the winter and he mentioned some famous player like Paul Goldschmidt and his dad was all impressed and talked about what it must be like to be a big famous major leaguer. Lamb was like “dad, you know I am a major leaguer too . . .” And Lamb’s dad told him “Well, yeah, but you know what I mean.” I understand, Jake. I totally understand.

Mariners 5, Rays 2: Felix Hernandez is now the all-time wins leader for the Mariners, passing Jamie Moyer. I bet a lot of people would’ve thought it was Randy Johnson. It’s easy to think that — he spent parts of ten seasons in Seattle — but he wasn’t RANDY JOHNSON yet for the first few and ended up with only 130 wins in an M’s uniform while Hernandez now has 146. Ketel Marte hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in the sixth here to ensure King Felix’s place atop the team leaderboard.

Mets 4, Dodgers 2: Steven Matz won his fifth after allowing two runs and six hits in six innings and striking out five. Scott Kazmir continues to allow a lot of homers — he now has surrendered nine on the year, which is a 46-HR pace if he’s allowed to pitch all season — and the Dodgers continue to reel. Chase Utley pinch hit and came to the plate twice, but there was no hint of retribution for the infamous slide from last year’s playoffs.

Blue Jays 3, Giants 1: Aaron Sanchez allowed only one run and three hits in seven innings. Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run homer in the third which provided the winning margin. The call on that homer was pretty impressive.

Padres vs. Cubs; Orioles vs. Twins — POSTPONED: Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height… height…
Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height… height…
Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me

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.