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Jack Flaherty insists he didn’t hit Ronald Acuña Jr. on purpose

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Things got a little bit snippy between the Braves and Cardinals during the NLDS. In Game 1, Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a two-run homer off of Carlos Martínez in the ninth inning, helping close what was a four-run deficit. An exited Acuña who, earlier in the game did not run hard out of the box on what turned into a long single that he thought had home run distance, gesticulated wildly towards his dugout as he rounded the bases. After the game, Martínez said of Acuña, “I wanted him to respect the game and respect me as a veteran player.”

Things were civil between the two sides in Games 2, 3, and 4. In Game 5, the Cardinals hung a 10-spot in the top of the first inning, giving Jack Flaherty a virtually insurmountable cushion before he ever took the mound. Flaherty threw a great game, holding the Braves to one run across six innings. He made only two mistakes: allowing a solo home run to Josh Donaldson in the fourth inning, and hitting Acuña with a fastball in the fifth. Acuña wasn’t happy about it, understandably. Warnings were issued to both sides and the game went on without any further incident?

It’s tough to say, as an outsider, if Flaherty clearly intended to hit Acuña. Flaherty was ahead 1-2. Catcher Yadier Molina set up inside and Flaherty missed his spot by a lot. It doesn’t seem like the most obvious spot to hit Acuña. Others would say that provided the necessary subterfuge for plausible deniability, plus the Cardinals had almost no risk in giving Acuña a free base.

After the game Flaherty denied hitting Acuña on purpose, but also inadvertently tipped his hand. Per Jeff Jones, Flaherty said:

We were trying to go in. WE’ve got two strikes on him, we were trying to go in. If we’re gonna go in, we’re gonna go in tight. It hit him. He took exception to it. That’s the guy he wants to be. That’s how it is. He’s been having all his antics all series. The guy hits a ball off the wall, he gets a single out of it. So he wants to take exception to it, he can do whatever he wants. He can talk all he wants. But we tried to go in, we talk, our scouting report is go in, we go in. So it got away, it hit him. He wants to take exception to it, he can do whatever he wants.

That Flaherty pointed to Acuña’s “antics,” even while denying intent, points to intent.

Furthermore, manager Mike Shildt used Acuña’s behavior in his postgame rallying speech to his team. Bench player Randy Arozarena live streamed the speech, which probably won’t sit well with anyone with the Cardinals. STL Sports Central has the video in which Shildt says, “The [Braves] started some [stuff]. We finished the [stuff]. And that’s how we roll. No one [messes] with us ever. Now, I don’t give a [hoot] who we play. We’re gonna [mess] them up. We’re gonna take it right to them the whole [freaking] way. We’re gonna kick their [freaking] [butt].”

Acuña’s behavior was clearly on the Cardinals’ mind all series long. Given his postgame denial and Shildt’s speech, the claim there was no intent behind Flaherty’s pitch looks spurious at best.

Astros claim AL pennant with walk-off win against the Yankees

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Following a rollercoaster performance on Saturday, the Astros clinched the American League Championship Series with a decisive 6-4 walk-off win against the Yankees, claiming their second AL pennant and earning a well-deserved entrance to the World Series.

Both clubs decided to preserve possible Game 7 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole, electing to have a “bullpen day” for a pivotal Game 6. Chad Green took the mound for the Yankees, tossing one inning before handing the ball off to a long line of relievers, while Brad Peacock‘s rare playoff start was capped at 1 2/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that made it the first postseason game since 1999 in which neither starting pitcher lasted two innings or longer.

All told, the two clubs utilized a total of 13 pitchers to make it through nine innings. The Astros lost Ryan Pressly to a worrisome knee injury in the third, but were able to lean on José Urquidy for 2 2/3 innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball. Although Yankees’ bullpen fought back in every inning, they had considerable difficulty recovering from Yuli Gurriel‘s three-run homer off of Green in the bottom of the first:

Still, New York managed to get in a couple of knocks as well: first, with Gary Sanchez‘s RBI single in the second inning, then with Gio Urshela‘s 395-foot blast in the fourth inning — the second of his postseason career to date. That wasn’t enough to close the gap, however, and Alex Bregman‘s productive groundout in the sixth helped cushion the Astros’ lead as they headed toward the final few innings of the series.

That lead started to look a little shaky in the ninth. Only three outs away from a ticket to the World Series, Houston closer Roberto Osuna gave up a leadoff single to Urshela, which was quickly followed by a jaw-dropping, full-count, game-tying two-run shot from DJ LeMahieu that barely cleared the right field fence.

With the threat of extra innings and a potential loss looming, the Astros engineered a last-minute rally to regain the lead and stake their claim for the pennant. With two outs and no runners on, George Springer took a five-pitch walk from Aroldis Chapman. In the next at-bat, Houston pinned their hopes on José Altuve — and he didn’t disappoint, lifting a 2-1 slider out to left field for a 406-foot, two-RBI homer that confirmed the Astros’ series win.

The 2019 World Series will mark the third Fall Classic appearance for the Astros and the first for the Nationals. It all begins on Tuesday night.