Astros Dodgers benches clear
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Benches clear between Astros, Dodgers in 2017 World Series rematch

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As previewed earlier, the Astros and Dodgers met up in a regular season game for the first time this season and, more importantly, for the first time since the Astros were punished by Major League Baseball for their cheating scheme used during the 2017 campaign to steal signs. The Astros ultimately defeated the Dodgers in the World Series to win the first championship in franchise history. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he didn’t expect his players to retaliate for the Astros’ transgressions. I suggested it might not happen due to the pandemic and the need for social distancing. Boy, were we naïve.

In the sixth inning, with the Dodgers leading 5-2, Joe Kelly threw a 3-0 fastball that sailed over Alex Bregman‘s head to the backstop. Michael Brantley then grounded into what could have been a 3-6-1 double play, but Brantley narrowly beat the throw. As Brantley crossed first base, he stepped on Kelly’s ankle, reminiscent of former Dodger Manny Machado spiking Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar’s ankle during Game 4 of the 2018 NLCS.

Later in the sixth, with runners on first and second, Kelly threw a first-pitch fastball that nearly hit Carlos Correa in the head. The ball sailed to the backstop and allowed both runners to advance. Correa glared at Kelly, who had come towards him in the event of a play at the plate. Kelly ultimately won the exchange, striking Correa out on a slider. As Kelly retreated from the mound towards the dugout, he made some exaggerated sad faces and barked, “Nice swing, b**ch” at Correa. The two teams’ benches emptied but no punches were thrown and there were no ejections.

The Dodgers went on to win 5-2. After the game, Kelly insisted he didn’t throw intentionally at Bregman or Correa, citing his own lack of control that went viral in April. Kelly’s wife Ashley posted a video of Kelly throwing a training device called CleanFuego in their back yard. The “ball” slipped and broke one of the windows of their house. It’s true that, even beyond the viral video, Kelly has at times struggled with his control. There is no way to definitively prove intent short of cartoon villain-like actions or his own admission, but it still doesn’t look good.

During the offseason, commissioner Rob Manfred issued a memorandum discouraging teams to retaliate against the Astros. Additionally, one of the temporary rules for the shortened 60-game 2020 season during the COVID-19 pandemic is that players and coaches can’t start altercations with other teams or argue with umpires in order to maintain proper social distancing. As one can see in the above video, there wasn’t much social distancing going on at a time in which around half of the Marlins’ active roster has tested positive for COVID-19 and will be held out of action for a week.

It will be interesting to see how Manfred handles this situation. The league looks really bad given the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak. If Manfred does nothing, he reveals his own memorandums and temporary COVID-19 social distancing rules to be toothless during a pandemic, arguably when enforcement of rules are more important than ever. If Manfred does punish Kelly for throwing at Astros batters, and both teams for allowing their benches to clear, he will need to do so in a way that actually feels like a punishment rather than a short unpaid vacation and a slap on the wrist.

Nationals GM Rizzo won’t reveal length of Martinez’s new contract

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WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez spoke Saturday about managing the Washington Nationals for “many, many years” and over the “long term” and “quite some time,” thanks to his contract extension.

Sharing a table to a socially distanced degree with his manager on a video conference call to announce the new deal – each member of the duo sporting a 2019 World Series ring on his right hand – Nationals GM Mike Rizzo referred to the agreement’s “multiyear” nature, but repeatedly refused to reveal anything more specific in response to reporters’ questions.

“We don’t talk about terms as far as years, length and salaries and that type of thing. We’re comfortable with what we have and the consistency that we’re going to have down the road,” said Rizzo, who recently agreed to a three-year extension of his own. “That’s all we want to say about terms, because it’s private information and we don’t want you guys to know about it.”

When Martinez initially was hired by Rizzo in October 2017 – his first managing job at any level – the Nationals’ news release at the time announced that he was given a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.

That 2021 option had not yet been picked up.

“The partnership that Davey and I have together, our communication styles are very similar. Our aspirations are similar, and kind of our mindset of how to obtain the goals that we want to obtain are similar. I think it’s a good match,” Rizzo said. “We couldn’t have hit on a more positive and enthusiastic leader in the clubhouse. I think you see it shine through even in the most trying times.”

The Nationals entered Saturday – Martinez’s 56th birthday – with a 23-34 record and in last place in the NL East, which Rizzo called “a disappointing season.” The team’s title defense was slowed by injuries and inconsistency during a 60-game season delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg threw just five innings because of a nerve issue in his pitching hand and players such as Starlin Castro, Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Adam Eaton and Carter Kieboom finished the year on the IL.

“This year, for me, we didn’t get it done. We had a lot of bumps in the road this year. But I really, fully believe, we’ve got the core guys here that we need to win another championship,” Martinez said. “I know Mike, myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys we think can potentially help us in the future. And we’ll be back on the podium. I’m really confident about that.”

Rizzo was asked Saturday why the team announces contract lengths for players, as is common practice around the major leagues, but wouldn’t do so in this instance for Martinez.

“The reason is we don’t want anybody to know. That’s the reason,” Rizzo said, before asking the reporter: “How much do you make? How many years do you have?”

Moments later, as the back-and-forth continued, Rizzo said: “It’s kind of an individual thing with certain people. I don’t want you to know what I make or how many years I have. Davey doesn’t want you to know. And I think that it’s only fair … when people don’t want certain information out there, that we don’t give it.”

There were some calling for Martinez to lose his job last season when Washington got off to a 19-31 start. But Rizzo stood by his manager, and the team eventually turned things around, going 74-38 the rest of the way to reach the playoffs as an NL wild-card team.

The Nationals then beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals to reach the World Series, where they beat the Houston Astros in Game 7.

Washington joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams in major league history to win a World Series after being 12 games below .500 during a season.

“Everything from Day 1 to where he’s gotten to now, he’s grown so much. He’s really become one of my favorite managers of all,” three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer said after helping Washington win Saturday’s opener of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. “Davey really understands how to manage a clubhouse, manage a team. We saw it in the postseason. He knows how to push the right buttons when everything is on the line.”