And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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As I sit down to assess last night’s action, I am recalling how 27 or 28 teams had no real interest in pursuing Bryce Harper in free agency this past offseason. I am also recalling how many of y’all, every time we wrote something about Harper, rushed to the comments to tell us how he was overrated and just good, not great. That he was not likely the sort of player who could rise to the occasion and that Philly would eat him alive.

Anyway, he’s hitting .429/.556/1.214 with three homers two doubles and five RBI in four games, all against the two teams who figure to most directly stand in the way of the Phillies winning the division this year. Ain’t that a damn thing?

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Phillies 8, Nationals 2: We covered the living heck out of Harper’s return to Washington last night, so if you want some good details and stuff those are the links to follow. Allow me to say, however, that the best part of the whole thing was, after Harper’s first inning strikeout, when the Nats Park crowd went crazy, Phillies play-by-play guy Tom McCarthy saying “well, the Nats haven’t won a championship since moving to D.C. but they are celebrating like they have won something.” The sickest burns are the most truthful burns.

Overall it was a very Nationals kind of night. Early enthusiasm — even the Nats’ Twitter feed thought it raised hell out of the gate — followed by disappointment late. It was all capped off, of course, by a big Harper homer . . .

. . . and a big Harper bat flip:

The Nationals’ will recover just fine after all of that. They’re a good team. And, indeed, the worst thing that happened last night wasn’t even Harper-related, it was Trea Turner breaking a finger on a bunt attempt. Note: Turner hit two home runs the game before that one and Dave Martinez had him bunting in a 0-0 contest. Does that make sense to you? Because it doesn’t make sense to me.

Diamondbacks 8, Padres 5: Have a game, Zack Greinke. The Dbacks’ ace allowed three runs over six and struck out ten and that was fine and all, but he also smacked two home runs. The first one was a a go-ahead three-run home run in the fourth inning. The second was a solo shot in the top of the sixth that had him going back-to-back with John Ryan Murphy. Watch:

After the first one his teammates jokingly gave him the silent treatment. Greinke later told reporters, “I told them it was the first time I wanted anyone to talk to me all year. And they didn’t want to talk to me then.” That’s a pretty on-brand quote for Greinke.

In other news, a weird call took place in the sixth when Manny Machado was called out on a dropped pop up for interfering with Murphy. Though they came close, Machado did not appear to touch Murphy as he went for the ball — he did drop the bat in Murphy’s vicinity, though Murphy didn’t touch it either — but the umpire said it was interference, which per the rules requires intentional and deliberate contact, neither of which seemed to go down. And, it’s worth noting, Machado was like five feet from Murphy when Murphy dropped the ball. Andy Green argued the call and was ejected and Machado seemed mostly perplexed. It was a weird call that did not otherwise seem to stir up acrimony — and I do not think would be called on any player other than Machado — but I suppose it’ll go into the “Machado is dirty” file so many folks are keeping.

Athletics 1, Red Sox 0: Chris Sale‘s velocity was low again — his fastball was in the high 80s most of the night — but he fought through it with breaking and offspeed stuff, allowing only one run over six. That one run — coming on a Matt Chapman solo homer in the first — was enough, though, thanks to (a) Matt Fiers and three relievers combining to shut out the World Series champs; and (b) this amazing, spectacular throw from Ramón Laureano to cut down Xander Bogaerts‘ in the top of the ninth:

Remember kids, even when you mess up, if you don’t panic, you can hustle and work hard to make the best of a bad situation and things might just turn out OK. At least if you have a hose like Laureano does. Also remember: don’t try to do too much. When life hands you a double, don’t get greedy and try to turn it into a triple. Especially if, like Bogaerts, you didn’t hustle out of the damn box.

Dodgers 6, Giants 5: The Dodgers jumped out to a 5-0 lead over Madison Bumgarner thanks mostly to a Cody Bellinger grand slam in the third inning. Bumgarner tried to make some of that up by hitting a homer himself in the sixth, and the Giants made a decent effort to come back, but it was just a tad too little and a tad too late. By the way: between Bumgarner and Greinke, last night there were three homers hit by pitchers. There were only two homers hit by designated hitters. Baseball is fun.

Rays 4, Rockies 0: Blake Snell gave up three home runs on Opening Day but he sure as heck turned things around in his second start of the season. The reigning Cy Young Award winner tied his career-high with 13 strikeouts in seven shutout innings while allowing only two hits in all. Both of the hits came from Trevor Story and one of those was an infield single. Utter dominance.

Orioles 2, Blue Jays 1: Birds win! Andrew Cashner bounced back from a bad Opening Day himself to shut down Toronto over six while Jonathan Villar and Trey Mancini knocked in the only two runs of support he’d need. After an Opening Day loss the O’s have taken four straight. All on the road. Break ’em up. They’re too dang good.

Brewers 4, Reds 3:  Orlando Arcia broke an 0-for-16 slump to hit a three-run homer to help the Brewers to a 5-1 start and yet another win over the Reds. Christian Yelich singled and doubled. Josh Hader got his fourth save in four save opportunities. The Brewers’ pen is a bit thinner at the moment than it’s been, but it’s stronger than ever in the ninth inning.

Tigers 3, Yankees 1: Tied 1-1 in the ninth and the Tigers get two runs off of Aroldis Chapman of all people, via an RBI double from Dustin Peterson — his first major league hit — and an RBI single from Jordy Mercer. The lead held up. Peterson could go 0-for-his-next-50, get DFA’d and never make the bigs again and he’ll always have a fantastic story to tell his kids and his grandchildren. It’s stuff like that that’ll make what figures to be a long season for the Tigers go a lot better.

Mets 6, Marlins 5: Jose Urena gave up five first inning runs and the Marlins, while getting to Jason Vargas a bit, couldn’t make it pay off well enough and couldn’t come back all the way late. Marlins catcher Jorge Alfaro was particularly unlucky, going 0-for-4 and stranding seven baserunners, including the potential tying run at third to end the eighth inning. Some nights the hits simply do not fall. Wilson Ramos and Dominic Smith each had two hits and an RBI for the Mets, who improved to 4-1.

Rangers 6, Astros 4: Justin Verlander didn’t have it, allowing four over four inefficient innings, and a late two-run single by Joey Gallo put Texas over the top. The Rangers have won three of their first five games and Gallo has had the go-ahead hit in two of them and scored the winning run in the third. Asdrubal Cabrera homered. The Rangers will miss the retired Adirán Beltré eventually, but so far Cabrera is doing a nice job filling in for the future Hall of Famer.

Twins 5, Royals 4: Nelson Cruz doubled in two and later hit the go-ahead single in the top of the 10th inning to lead the Twinkies to victory. He has six RBI in the last three games, so yeah, the old man is still an artist with the Thompson. Adalberto Mondesí hit an inside-the-park homer to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth:

As is the case with a lot of inside-the-parkers, a misplay or a weird bounce or an injury contributed. As you can see in the video, Byron Buxton hit the wall hard going for that one and was late recovering to get to it, helping Mondesi score. Buxton would later leave the game with bruised ribs, so that was less-than-ideal. Kansas City’s announced attendance as 10,024, the lowest at Kauffman Stadium since 9,279 souls showed up against Cleveland on April 21, 2011.

Mariners 2, Angels 1: Marco Gonzales was excellent, allowing only one run on four hits while pitching into the ninth inning. Mitch Haniger doubled in a run to put the M’s on the board in the sixth and Dan Vogelbach homered in the eighth to give Seattle the winning margin. Seattle improves to 7-1 on the season and the Angels fall to 1-7.

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.