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And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Only four games last night since the day a lot of teams usually have off — Monday — featured a full schedule due to Labor Day. I have no proof of this, but I’m going to choose to believe that all of the players and the concession and stadium workers who were forced to work on a holiday celebrating the contributions of workers spent their makeup day off marching and singing old strike songs and remembering the Haymarket Affair and stuff.

Ah, nope. Oh well.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Padres 6, Reds 2: Francisco Mejia hit two homers — one a three-run shot — in his first full game in a Padres uniform. Brad Hand has been fine for Cleveland since that trade, but I suspect that the Padres are gonna be deemed the winner of the deal in the medium and long run. Possibly even the short run. Hunter Renfroe also went deep for the Padres.

In other news, this passage in the AP gamer about Mejia is telling:

Mejia connected on his first two swings against Luis Castillo (8-12) for his first homers in the majors . The 22-year-old prized prospect was called up Tuesday as the Padres get him ready for a bigger role next season.

That last bit is a reminder that the dudes being held down for service time reasons now, like Eloy Jimenez and Vlad Jr.,  will likewise be kept in the minors for the first few weeks of 2019 too, with the team saying they can’t just throw them in the cold water of the majors on Opening Day. Especially since their 2018 seasons ended early! And there won’t be a dang thing they or their agents can do about.

Cubs 6, Nationals 4: You may recall that, back in August, David Bote hit a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to give the Cubs a 4-3 win over Washington. He wasn’t as dramatic last night, but Bote once again came up big against the Nats, smacking a pinch-hit, go-ahead RBI double in the 10th inning to help the Cubs to victory. Daniel Murphy made his return to Nats Park after being traded to the Cubs a couple of weeks ago. He went 1-for-5 with a strikeout and scored a run.

Indians 9, Blue Jays 4: Francisco Lindor hit two solo homers and drove in two more with a single on his 4-for-5 night and Jason Kipnis hit a late three-run homer of his own. Shane Bieber allowed four runs — three earned — on seven hits in six and a third to pick up his ninth win. He didn’t need to be super sharp with Lindor hitting bombs.

Braves 7, Diamondbacks 6: For the second day in a row the Braves blew a late lead, this time giving up two in the ninth, one on a Paul Goldschmidt homer, to let the Dbacks tie things up and force extra innings. They lucked out in the tenth, however, when the Dbacks’ ninth pitcher of the game — Yoshihisa Hirano — came into a two-out, bases-loaded situation and . . . uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Dansby Swanson to come home with the go-ahead and, eventually, winning run for the Braves. In all fairness, Atlanta should’ve scored before that. With Swanson on base already, Tyler Flowers singled. Swanson likely could’ve scored since the ball had gotten away from the fielder, but he stumbled over the third base bag and had to go back. He’d score two batters later.

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.