The World Series has resembled a longest-drive competition this October, and for those who believe the baseballs are to blame, Sunday night’s Game 5 offered more evidence that could be used to support their case.
Through the first eight innings, the Astros and Dodgers combined for a trio of three-run homers — with Cody Bellinger, Yuli Gurriel and Jose Altuve going deep — along with a two-run blast by Carlos Correa and solo shots by George Springer and Brian McCann.
That brought the Series total to 21 homers — surpassing the record of 16 after five games by the Angels and Giants in 2002 and tying the seven-game record set that year — and launched us back into the ongoing debate involving the possibility of juiced baseballs at this Fall Classic.
“I think over the years, the numbers speak for themselves,” Justin Verlander said before Game 5. “I know Mr. Manfred said the balls haven’t changed, but I think there’s enough information out there to say that’s not true.
“Whether he has the say-so or not, I don’t know. But I think we just want consistency. Whether the balls are juiced or not, hey, I’m pitching with the same ball everybody else is pitching with. That’s a fair and even playing field.”
It wasn’t until after homer-happy Game 2, when the teams totaled eight homers — including a record five in extra innings — that Astros lefthander Dallas Keuchel picked up the rant on suspicious baseballs.
“Obviously the balls are juiced,” he told USA Today. “I think they’re juiced 100 percent. But it is what it is. I’m just glad we came out on top.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred repeatedly has said the baseballs are routinely tested and that the results are within the acceptable margins. If that’s the case, there could be other reasons the ball is jumping off the bat, such as the slickness of the balls, or the harder wood used for the bats, or even more advanced performance-enhancing drugs that can better elude detection.
The 6,104 home runs hit in 2017 destroyed the old record (5,693 in 2000), and that pace hasn’t slowed in the World Series. The baseballs sound like a convenient excuse, particularly from a pitcher’s standpoint. But if anyone can distinguish the subtle differences in that piece of equipment, they’re the experts, and that’s come up again.
“On one hand, you can have somebody that manufactures the ball say they’re not different,” Verlander said. “And on the other hand, you can say that the people that have held a ball in their hand their entire life, saying it’s different, you value one over the other. You take your pick.”
Sports Illustrated pulled the sport back down the rabbit hole Sunday by reporting complaints from pitchers in this Series about the “slick” baseballs being used. It’s not a new complaint. Even during the regular season, fresh baseballs come out of the box with a smooth surface that must be dirtied up with special mud by clubhouse personnel in order to get the tackiness that pitchers prefer.
The whole mud-rubbing thing is not a very scientific process, obviously. Another complicating factor, however, is the special oversized playoff logo that is branded onto each ball, potentially messing with the grip.
The SI story provided data showing that the Astros’ Ken Giles and the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish had lost movement on their sliders, prompting them to become more fastball-reliant and get bombed.
MLB said Sunday night: “World Series baseballs are tested at the time of manufacturing and are made from the same materials and to the same specifications as regular-season baseballs. The only difference is the gold stamping on the baseballs.”
Usually, there’s more than one contributing factor, and they can vary depending on whom you ask. As long as the baseballs keep flying, however, this debate isn’t going away.