Mets’ Pete Alonso claims MLB manipulating baseballs to harm FAs

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BALTIMORE — New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso accused Major League Baseball of manipulating the baseballs to harm the earning potential for star free agents and players eligible for arbitration.

Alonso’s comments came before New York’s game at Baltimore. He was responding to a question about the crackdown on sticky substances used by pitchers.

“I think that the biggest concern is that Major League Baseball manipulates the baseballs year in and year out depending on the free agency class – or guys being in an advanced part of their arbitration,” Alonso said. “So I do think that’s a big issue – the ball being different every single year. … Maybe if the league didn’t change the baseball, pitchers wouldn’t need to use as much sticky stuff.”

When asked a follow-up question about this, Alonso remained firm. His implication was that the balls are friendlier to hitters in a year when a number of top pitchers are about to hit free agency – and vice versa.

“That’s a fact,” he said. “Guys have talked about it, but I mean, in 2019, there was a huge class of free agent pitchers, and then that’s, quote-unquote, the juiced balls. Then 2020, it was a strange year with the COVID season, but now that we’re back to playing like a regular season with a ton of shortstops or position players that are going to be paid a lot of money, high-caliber players, I mean yeah, it’s not a coincidence.”

The league did not comment on Alonso’s charge.

MLB informed teams in February that it planned to slightly deaden the baseballs for the 2021 season following a years-long surge in home runs. In 2019, 3.6% of plate appearances ended in a homer, a number that has dropped to 3.1% this year.

Alonso hit 53 home runs as a rookie in that 2019 season and 16 in 57 games last year. He homered in the first inning Wednesday, his 10th of the season.

After the 2019 season, Gerrit Cole landed a $324 million, nine-year deal with the New York Yankees, still a record contract for a pitcher in terms of its total value.

As far as the original question was concerned, Alonso did not seem terribly concerned with what opposing pitchers might be putting on the ball.

“Whatever they want to use to help control the ball, let them use it, because for me, I go in the box every single day, and I see guys throwing harder and harder every day, and I don’t want 99 slipping out of someone’s hand,” Alonso said.

Alonso said hitters have plenty of options to help their grip.

“On our on-deck bag, we have a pine tar rag, a pine tar stick, like a special sticky spray, rosin – I mean, you name it, we have it,” he said. “I wouldn’t care if they had that behind the mound to help hold onto the ball.”

Cole found himself immersed in the controversy last week when Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson casually brought the pitcher’s name up in an interview session, correlating a drop in Cole’s spin rate with an anticipated crackdown on the sticky stuff by MLB.

Cole sidestepped the accusation on Tuesday, and Donaldson elaborated on the matter Wednesday to clarify that he’s concerned about many more opponents in the game than just Cole.

“With Gerrit Cole, he was the first guy to pitch since the suspensions happened and he’s the first guy that you could see spin rates going down,” Donaldson said. “There’s been 12 or more guys already whose spin rates have magically dropped in the last week, so it’s not just Gerrit Cole.”

Donaldson said he believes the usage of grip aids has “got out of control” in the last few seasons.

“If you were to give $100 fake counterfeit money to an experienced bank teller, right away within five seconds you’re going to know that that’s not real money,” Donaldson said. “Just think about how many pitches I’ve seen in my career, think about Nelson Cruz, a lot of these guys who have seen a lot of pitches. We know when stuff’s up.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Wednesday he’s anticipating an “aggressive” crackdown at the major league level soon.

“It’s gonna be a little bit different,” he said.

Astros manager Dusty Baker noted Wednesday that pitchers have been using foreign substances “since the beginning of time.” While Baker says he will adhere to whatever mandates come from the league, he’s concerned about issues that could arise from stricter enforcement.

“Everybody’s talking about speed of the game,” he said. “This is gonna slow the game down even more. So I don’t know what we can do. I don’t know how enforceable it is. And the umpires have enough to worry about doing just calling balls and strikes and outs and safe.”

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.