Some thoughts and observations as we await the 114th edition of the World Series to kick off Tuesday night at Fenway Park:
• Got to give David Price credit. Not only did Price finally come up with the big October moment he’s been searching for in the ALCS clincher, he handled the month’s previous frustration about as well as anyone we’ve seen, especially in a fishbowl like Boston. After getting smoked again by the Yankees in the Division Series, Price asked to follow Alex Cora in the postgame interview room — something that only is required of the losing team’s manager. Price owned the the self-proclaimed “narrative” of his October misery, and despite being throttled daily in New England as bad as anyone not named Bill Buckner, he kept pledging to rewrite the story. It’s easy to say that’s what is expected from a $30-million player, but plenty of others haven’t handled similar situations in such diplomatic fashion. Flipping the script in Game 5 won’t get Price a statue next to Ted Williams, but a rejuvenated Price instantly makes the Red Sox a better team heading into the World Series.
• Having covered Alex Cora as a player with the Mets, I’ve seen him get edgy with the media before. But his postgame outburst against WFAN’s Evan Roberts — he didn’t name him —for ripping Price on the MLB Network previous to Thursday’s Game 5 was just bizarre. The network is always on the clubhouse TVs, so it’s not surprising that Cora was aware of the anti-Price commentary. But for a manager to take issue with the opinion of a sports-radio host — in another city, no less — was almost unprecedented. If a manager or player dumped on Price, that I could see. But to single out Roberts, and even demand an apology after Price’s strong performance — while soaked with champagne after clinching — was the only questionable move by Cora this entire month. Cora was obviously just trying to stick up for Price, but his pitcher didn’t need that.
• Based on a few emails, some Little League coaches weren’t thrilled by my column suggesting, in part, that Manny Machado isn’t any less of a player for not running out every ground ball, as he showed during Game 2 of the NLCS. First off, Machado probably isn’t the best teaching example for young players in that respect anyway, an example made worse by him kicking Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar in Game 4. I’d also like to point out that there are a number of 35-homer, 100-RBI players that don’t bust it out of the box every single time at the major-league level, maybe to save some wear-and-tear on their legs. Or perhaps they just don’t feel like it. In a perfect world, it’s not right, but as long as the other offensive production is there, teams can live with it. For coaches looking for great teaching examples, finding some video of Derek Jeter and David Wright would be a good place to start. Or maybe Brandon Nimmo, who sprints on walks and home runs.
• Bad karma doesn’t lose playoff games, but you have to wonder if Aaron Judge and Alex Bregman had any second thoughts about their social-media stardom this month, based on how their incidents backfired. Judge was caught on video (which went viral) walking through Fenway Park, and by the Red Sox clubhouse — on the way to the bus — blasting Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” after the Yankees’ Game 2 victory, with the next two coming up in the Bronx. Some chalked it up to the enthusiastic Judge still being fired up after the win, and there’s probably truth in that. But for a young player that’s been brought up as the potential next captain, it’s hard to imagine Derek Jeter blasting a boom box, in an opposing stadium, with the series tied 1-1. The Red Sox pounded the Yankees the following night, 16-1, en route to closing them out in four games. As for Bregman, he posted an Instagram video of the Astros hitting three homers off Nathan Eovaldi before his start in Game 3 — caption: “lil pregame video work” — only to have Eovaldi deliver six strong innings (two runs) in the 8-2 win. It got worse for Bregman in the clinching Game 5, when Eovaldi entered as a reliever and whiffed Bregman on a 102-mph fastball. Price could be seen from the dugout yelling, “Post that!” Afterward, the Red Sox’ official Twitter account featured a video of the team’s clubhouse celebration with the caption, “lil post series video work.”
• Craig Counsell’s sneaky (genius?) maneuver to start Wade Miley for only five pitches in Game 5 was sound baseball logic, as he hoped to get favorable matchups for his righthanded reliever Brandon Woodruff, who immediately followed him, then start Miley again in Game 6 back home at Miller Park. In this new age of “openers” — relievers used as starters for just one time through the order — the Miley gambit was praised as more crafty deployment of a pitching staff. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts came off as irritated by the trickery, but didn’t seem totally surprised, as he made sure to plant the lefty Cody Bellinger in the leadoff spot as well as Max Muncy hitting fifth, which was different than their Game 1 lineup. Don’t expect this to be much of a trend. The Dodgers are a special case, and with so many platoon options, Counsell was seeking some kind of edge. Woodruff pitched well for 5 1/3 innings, and the Brewers still lost, 5-2. But Milwaukee had a fresh Miley and a rested bullpen for the weekend. That almost felt like a win.
• What would the playoffs be without a pace-of-play conversation? Regardless of our affection for baseball, I think we all agree that postseason games routinely stretching past midnight ET can’t possibly be good for the sport or its fans. The average length of a nine-inning game during the regular season this year was an even three hours, down from 3:05 in 2017. None of these LCS games, however, were shorter than 3:32, and the ALCS had two nine-inning games that went beyond four — 4:03, and 4:33, in Games 1 and 5, respectively. Longer commercial breaks (more ad revenue) help attribute to that, as well as numerous pitching chances, which is how the game is played now. During the regular season, each team averaged 4.36 pitchers per game, an all-time high, up from 4.22 in 2017 and 4.15 in ’16. That trend isn’t likely to change soon, either. As a comparison with other sports, Friday night in the NBA featured a marquee matchup between the Celtics and Raptors, which tipped off around 8:15 ET. It was over at 10:28, the same moment Corey Knebel struck out Manny Machado — to end the top of the fifth inning. Game 6 started at 8:39 ET, 14 minutes later, but you get the idea. MLB pays attention to that stuff, too.
• I’ve watched the controversial video of Mookie Betts attempting to make a spectacular leaping catch of Jose Altuve’s negated home run in Game 4 a few dozen times and incredibly it’s still not a clear ruling, so you have to cut umpire Joe West some slack — along with the replay officials — for going with the interference call in relatively short order. While it’s true that Betts’ amazing leap and reach takes him well beyond the yellow barrier atop the wall — and in range of the fans is his glove still on the playing side of the fence? The rule, 6.01 (e) seems a little vague on this:
No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.
In most cases, on the field such a play is likely to be called a home run, given that you can’t assume Betts is going to come down with that ball and he certainly appears to be carrying into the stands. The Red Sox caught a break there, and the replay official seemed to concur, ruling that the call “stands” rather than being “confirmed.” Apparently, there wasn’t obvious reason to overturn it, so West’s imprint on the game remained.
• Not only does Dodger Stadium have perfect weather (sun, high-70s, zero humidity) and postcard views (scenic hills, Pacific sunsets), the ballpark remains an ageless beauty and the in-game production value is top-notch, with entertaining player-related videos, music mix and a hip organist, Dieter Ruehle. Then again, what else would you expect from Hollywood?