2019 The Pill of Might

Home run records fall like dominoes as skeptical fans, angry pitchers and an oblivious MLB grapple over if a juiced ball is to blame.

Home Run: No two words personified the 2019 season more, as lively baseballs soared over fences at record-smashing rates. And no team witnessed more long balls flying over their heads than the Baltimore Orioles, who gave up 305 on the year—breaking the old mark by 47.

It’s often said that records are made to be broken. Anyone who owns a baseball record book understands; it’s usually outdated within a couple years after its publication.

For some baseball fans, it thus didn’t sound remarkable when, during the 2019 season, the Minnesota Twins reset the all-time season team mark for home runs—while the Baltimore Orioles broke the record for the most homers allowed in a year. After all, the records they erased were hardly longstanding; the old mark of 267 surpassed by the Twins was set just a year before, while the Orioles couldn’t avoid passing a mark that itself had stood for only three years.

So while all of that may not have sharply turned heads, this did: The Twins and Orioles set their records in late August—with a full month of the season still to play.

Raising the bar on home run totals is hardly anything new. A certain season is declared The Year of the Home Run, until it gets voided by the next Year of the Home Run, which then bows to yet another. The 1961 season, highlighted by Roger Maris’ 61 homers, gave way to 1969 and a power spike augmented by the lowering of the pitching mound, which gave way to 1977 and a rare 50-homer effort of the time by George Foster, and finally to 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa individually blasted past Maris.

In each of those cases, expansion was to blame; new teams meant more pitchers who a year earlier weren’t good enough to be major leaguers—and were thus taken advantage of by the likes of Maris, Foster, McGwire and Sosa. But the 2019 season involved no new teams, no new flock of sheep to be skinned by veteran sluggers. Same teams, same players—and a different, more lively ball. The vast preponderance of home run records set in 2019—and the remarkable ease and rapidity in which they were broken—made people wonder: Would this new Year of the Home Run remain the year for ages to come, the way 1968’s Year of the Pitcher remains so over 50 years later?

From the word go, it was quite apparent that the 2019 regular season would be a banner one for sluggers. The first of a cavalcade of home run records were set on Opening Day when 48 balls rocketed over the fence; 10 of them alone would be cranked out in a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, setting another first-day mark. On the second day, St. Louis’ Paul Goldschmidt—playing his second game for the Cardinals after eight years with the Diamondbacks—enjoyed the first of a record-tying 22 three-homer performances by major leaguers on the year. By the end of April, the beleaguered Orioles—coming off a 47-115 campaign the year before—surrendered 69 jacks, snapping the mark for the most allowed in a single month. (The Miami Marlins would tie the Orioles’ monthly mark later in August.) The Orioles would also give up at least five deep flies in six games during the month; the record for an entire season was nine. Eventually, the Orioles would blow right past the mark and give up five or more in 19 games. It was as if the batting practice pitchers had taken over to serve up one bleacher souvenir after another.

For the first time ever, over a thousand home runs were hit in April. In May, the 1,135 homers hit were the most for any month, ever. Then came June—and another reset, at 1,142. And then that got toppled two months later, when 1,228 sailed over the fence in August. In fact, by the end of the 2019 season, new records were set for every month. Grand total for the year: 6,776 home runs—an 11% increase over the previous season high of 6,105, set in 2017.

Shellshocked pitchers demoted to the minors would not find any safe spaces. Both Triple-A leagues (Pacific Coast, International), using the same ball as the majors for the first time ever, saw a radical 61% jump in home runs over the previous year.

So why was their so much sudden life in the baseball? The answer may lie in a move made by Major League Baseball a year earlier, when they joined a private equity firm to buy Rawlings, manufacturer of the official MLB ball. At the time, MLB executive vice president for strategy Chris Marinak perhaps foretold the future when he said that MLB was “particularly interested in providing even more input and direction on the production” of the ball. Apparently, that input was quite juicy.

A definite trend within the majors that led to 2019’s Year of the Home Run was what’s become known as the “three outcomes”—a scenario in which the batter is increasingly likely to strike out, walk or hit a home run. The decade-by-decade chart below, representing the whole of baseball’s modern era, reflects the three outcomes’ growing influence upon the game.During the 2019 All-Star Break, commissioner Rob Manfred fessed up—sort of. In an interview with Newsday, Manfred said the culprit for skyrocketing home run totals was a “pill” in the middle of the ball that, he said, Rawlings was getting better at centering. The theory went that the more centered the pill, the less drag the ball created—and thus the further it went.

Pitchers may have agreed, but they were skeptical to accept Manfred’s innocent shrugging of his shoulders. Houston ace Justin Verlander didn’t mince words: “(The ball) is a f**king joke,” he told ESPN’s Jeff Passan. “They own (Rawlings)…We all know what happened. We’re not idiots.” Alex Cobb, one of those besieged by opposing boomers in Baltimore, told the Washington Post, “I’m amazed the question is even being asked.” The hitters, meanwhile, didn’t have much to say. They were too busy rounding the bases.

The nonstop assault on the record book continued past the All-Star Break. Not surprisingly, the Orioles led the way in the best and (mostly) worst of ways. In late July, they set an all-time mark by hitting at least two home runs in 10 straight games. Right on the heels of that achievement, they started a new streak—consecutive games allowing two or more homers. That run, which ended at 12 games, set another record.

No team took advantage of the combination of the perfectly centered pill and the Orioles’ sad state of pitching more than the New York Yankees. In 19 total games against the Orioles—17 of which the Yankees won—the Bronx Bombers teed off on helpless Baltimore hurlers with 61 total homers to forge a smile from the ghost of Roger Maris. Of those 61, 43 were hit in 10 games played at Baltimore’s home yard, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. This New York tsunami of taters, a good chunk of which were hit in August, helped the Yankees collect a whopping 74 for the entire month. The three numbers listed above—61 against one team, 43 at an opposing ballpark and 74 for one month—didn’t just break records; they annihilated them. The old records, respectively: 48, 29 and 58.

When the Yankees’ year-old season mark of 267 was broken by Minnesota on August 31, the question was not how many more the Twins would hit to extend the record total, but whether they would even own the record at year’s end. The Yankees, thanks to their demolition of the Orioles, were hot on their tails; not surprisingly, when the two teams earlier met in late July at Minneapolis, they combined to belt 20 homers—tying the AL mark for the most in a three-game series. At year’s end, however, the Twins barely prevailed as the all-time record-holder, powering out 307 to the Yankees’ 306 on the strength of five Twins hitting at least 30—another unprecedented feat.

Ironically, in a season gone mad with power, nobody came close to Barry Bonds’ individual season mark of 73, as New York Mets rookie Pete Alonso paced all major leaguers with 53. (Alonso did, however, break Aaron Judge’s rookie mark from 2017.) But 58 different players hit at least 30—more than double the 27 who did it a year before. One theory, perhaps bathed in conspiracy, as to why Bonds’ record remained easily secure amid the power surge came from no less an authority than Victor Conte, founder of the shuttered BALCO steroids lab that infamously counted Bonds as a client. Conte claimed that many major leaguers were still taking steroids, but had become wise to MLB’s PED testing routine—knowing how much to consume and when to not to get caught. In other words, to be content with 30 or 40 homers and not a sackful more to keep the floodlights of MLB’s steroid police off them.

If Conte’s belief was true, it only makes one pause to think just how many more home runs would have been hit in 2019. By season’s end, the carnage was complete enough, with half of MLB’s 30 teams either breaking or tying their all-time season marks for homers. Rob Manfred now had to ask himself the same question that his predecessors asked after all those other Years of the Home Run: Has this all become too much of a good thing?

Too much of a bad thing had been the story of the 2010s for the Washington Nationals—bad, that is, when they reached the postseason. The Nationals were constantly good in the regular season, winning more games during the decade than all but three teams (Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals) with a roster built behind slugger Bryce Harper and ace Stephen Strasburg, the team’s 1-2 punch of #1 draft picks-turned stars. But the Nationals failed to leverage the triumphant vibe into the playoffs, losing all four postseason series in which they appeared; three of those defeats ended in a decisive fifth game in which the Nationals led in each. It was a microcosm of a bigger trend for the franchise, which hadn’t won a playoff series since their days as the Montreal Expos nearly four decades earlier.

Being stung by October failures was bad enough karma for the Nationals. Worse, they entered 2019 feeling handicapped to boot after losing Harper in free agency to NL East rival Philadelphia. Then things got really ugly; the Nationals started the season at 19-31 thanks to a bullpen that couldn’t do anything right. It cost Washington pitching coach Derek Lilliquist his job; rumor had it that second-year manager Dave Martinez was next.

From that low point, the Nationals began to bounce back—because their roster was just too good to remain stuck near the divisional cellar. Within six weeks, they were back at .500, and followed that stepping stone with another when their rotation—highlighted by Strasburg, fellow hard-throwing ace Max Scherzer and first-year National Patrick Corbin—went 27 straight games without a loss; the team won 20 of those games, with a still iffy bullpen getting charged for all seven losses. Then in August, the offense took over—hitting .292 for the month while averaging over 10 runs per contest in one seven-game stretch.

With each passing week, Washington strengthened on the field and in the standings; by mid-September, the Nationals took command of the NL wild card race and clinched the spot, all too poetically, when they swept a doubleheader from Harper’s Phillies in the season’s final week. The Nationals’ 93-69 regular season mark was all the more impressive given that they were 74-38 following their late-May nadir.

Home Run: No two words personified the 2019 season more, as lively baseballs soared over fences at record-smashing rates. And no team witnessed more long balls flying over their heads than the Baltimore Orioles, who gave up 305 on the year—breaking the old mark by 47.

Individually, the Nationals were a well-balanced representation of quality output. Third baseman Anthony Rendon blossomed into perfectly-timed MVP form as free agency loomed, batting .319 with 34 home runs and a major league-leading 126 runs batted in. Matching Rendon on the home run counter was sophomore outfielder Juan Soto, who at the tender age of 20 exhibited a remarkable combination of power and patience (108 walks) that led to daily Twitter stat accounts comparing his youthful rise to that of Mel Ott 90 years earlier. Speedster Trea Turner stole 35 bases, while 22-year-old rookie outfielder Victor Robles swiped 28 more. From the bench, veteran Howie Kendrick was frequently plugged in wherever needed and hit .344 over 334 at-bats. On the mound, Strasburg (18 wins, six losses, 3.32 earned run average and 251 strikeouts), Scherzer (11-7, 2.92, 243) and Corbin (14-7, 3.25, 238) became the first-ever trio of pitchers from the same team to strike out at least 225. And even the maligned bullpen got its act together toward season’s end, with stabilization from closer Sean Doolittle (29 saves) and true relief from Daniel Hudson, who posted a 1.44 ERA over 24 games after being picked up from Toronto.

The regular season behind them, the Nationals now came face-to-face with what had been, historically, the hard part: Winning in the postseason. And in what would be a parallel to the year to date, the Nationals would play the comeback kids, spotting opponents the advantage before stealing it away. It would be a nice, swift about face from previous years of postseason woe.

In the NL Wild Card game against Milwaukee—a potent side fronted by star outfielder Christian Yelich, until he suffered a season-ending broken wrist in early September—the Nationals trailed the whole way at home into the eighth inning. But a 3-1 deficit was erased in the bottom half of that frame when Soto’s soft liner to right eluded rookie outfielder Trent Grisham—subbing in for Yelich—to score the eventual game-winner. It was the first time the Nationals won a playoff game to advance since 1981.

A much tougher task lay ahead for Washington in the NLDS, facing off against the Dodgers. To say the odds didn’t favor the Nationals was an understatement; Los Angeles won a franchise-record 106 games, set a NL record with 270 home runs, and fielded eventual league MVP Cody Bellinger (.305 average, 47 homers and 115 RBIs) and ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu (2.32). And when the Dodgers won two of the first three games by an aggregate score of 18-8, the Nationals once more got that sinking feeling of imminent playoff departure.

After staying alive with a 6-1 Game Four victory behind Scherzer, the Nationals returned to Los Angeles for the decisive fifth game and, as they did against Milwaukee, entered the eighth inning trailing, 3-1. And, as they did against Milwaukee, they countered—this time more improbably, with back-to-back solo homers from Rendon and Soto off of veteran Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, making a rare relief appearance. Tied after nine innings, the Nationals leveled a shocking blow in the 10th when Howie Kendrick blasted a grand slam against reliever Joe Kelly to forge a 7-3, series-winning upset. Riding the exaltation of triumph over the Dodgers, the Nationals quickly grounded the NL Central-winning Cardinals in four straight at the NLCS.

One huge hurdle was cleared for the Nationals by expelling the favored Dodgers and Cardinals. Another lay ahead in the World Series against an even more dominant team: The Houston Astros.

In an American League where parity continued to be a lost concept—for the second straight year, nine of 15 AL teams won or lost 95-plus games—the Astros prevailed as the mightiest of the mighty, by the record and through October. A prodigious offense led the majors in bat average (.274), on-base percentage (.352) and slugging percentage (.495) while smacking 288 home runs—third highest on the year and, in this Year of the Home Run, third highest ever—with seven players hitting at least 20. Among them were usual suspects in lead-off masher George Springer (39 home runs over 122 games) and pint-sized infielder Jose Altuve (31 homers in 124 games), while infielder Alex Bregman emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate with a .296 average, 41 homers, 112 RBIs and 119 walks. But there were pleasant surprises adding their names to the list; outfielder Michael Brantley, the oft-injured former Cleveland star, managed to stay healthy in his first year at Houston with 22 jacks and a .311 average, while at midseason the Astros called up bruising 22-year-old Yordan Alvarez, who led the minors with 23 homers—and added 27 more with a .313 average in 87 games for Houston, earning AL Rookie of the Year honors.

Easily holding up an otherwise thin Houston rotation was a pair of aces: Right-handers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. The 36-year-old Verlander continued to live a late-career renaissance, winning a major league-best 21 wins against just six losses while posting a 2.58 ERA that was second in the AL; first place was reserved for Cole, whose 2.50 figure along with a 20-5 record was the product of an electric fastball (averaging 97.2 MPH) mixed with a combination of nasty off-speed deliveries. After losing at Chicago against the White Sox on May 22, Cole went undefeated for the rest of the regular season, going 16-0 in 22 starts with a 1.78 ERA; he struck out at least 10 batters in each of his last nine starts, setting an MLB record within one season. Overall, Cole struck out 326 batters—the most by an AL pitcher in over 40 years—while Verlander collected an even 300 Ks.

Houston Clubhouse ConfidentialAfter a blasé start by their standards, the Astros took hold of first place in the AL West by the end of April and never looked back, storming to a franchise-best 107-55 record on the strength of 60 home wins and a blistering 56-20 mark against divisional opponents. The AL playoffs proved less of a breeze; Houston sweated out a five-game ALDS triumph against a pesky Tampa Bay side sporting the majors’ lowest payroll, and was taken to a sixth game in the ALCS against the equally high-powered Yankees, clinching their second AL pennant in three years by overcoming a ninth-inning New York rally with one of its own on Altuve’s two-run, two-out walk-off shot against Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman.

No team all season had defeated Verlander and Cole in back-to-back games—and the Astros never lost any of 28 games in which they scored at least twice in the first inning. So what, said the Washington Nationals. In World Series Game One, the Nationals spotted Cole and the Astros a 2-0 deficit after an inning before scoring five unanswered runs, including solo homers from Juan Soto and Ryan Zimmerman—a member of the Nationals every year since their move from Montreal in 2005. In Game Two, a 2-2 tie remained until the seventh when Washington broke through for six runs—the first two off of Verlander, leading to his exit—to run away with a 12-3 rout.

The Astros, down two games with the next three at Washington, appeared to be in big trouble. But then it became their turn to play the road warriors. With late-season pick-up Zack Greinke, rookie spot starter Jose Urquidy and Cole clamping down, Houston won all three games at Nationals Park—allowing just a run in each. Suddenly, the Astros returned to Houston with two games to win one.

And the Nationals, who’d been playing from behind all year, had the Astros just where they wanted them.

Trailing again after the first inning in Game Six, the Nationals bounced back against Verlander and Company, notching six runs—five off the bat of Anthony Rendon—to secure an easy 7-2 victory, as Stephen Strasburg became impenetrable after a rocky start. (Verlander dropped to 0-6 in seven career World Series starts; no other pitcher has lost more in the Fall Classic without a win.) In the decisive Game Seven, Greinke had the Nationals locked down through six easy innings as Houston grabbed a 2-0 lead—but after Rendon homered and Soto walked with one out in the seventh, Houston manager A.J. Hinch played the kneejerk reactor and replaced Greinke with Will Harris, Houston’s toughest reliever during the year.

Except, that is, on this night.

The first batter facing Harris, one Howie Kendrick—he of the NLDS heroism against the Dodgers—struck again at just the right moment, tagging an opposite-field liner off Minute Maid Park’s right-field pole to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead. Patrick Corbin, used more crucially as a reliever during the postseason, easily stifled any counterattack from the Astros with three shutout frames—and with three additional runs of insurance, the Nationals pulled away with a 6-2 win. It was the first World Series triumph in 51 years of Expos/Nationals history, the first for a Washington-based team since the Senators beat the Giants in seven games 95 years earlier—and the first time every game of a Fall Classic was won by the road team. Only one other team had, at one point during the year, fallen more games below .500 before winning it all: Boston’s “Miracle” Braves of 1914.

In December 2019, an independent study was released on just why the ball was jumping out of ballparks at a record rate. Four scientists concluded that there was a decrease in drag, but didn’t mention Rob Manfred’s “pill” at the center of the ball. They also determined that part of the increase was due to the players themselves, who were mastering the art of the “launch angle” to send balls higher and deeper into orbit. But they found no smoking gun, no nefarious schemes to intentionally liven up the ball. Some fans and media were skeptical about the “independent” nature of the report, given that it was commissioned—and thus potentially controlled—by Manfred and MLB.

For the conspiracy theorists, there was further argument to be taken up that MLB wanted the ball spiked and, when it achieved its objective, found it had gone a little too far. Perhaps that explained why the ball seemed less lively in the postseason, as participating players openly questioned why the ball that they were pounding over the fence during the regular season was suddenly being caught at the wall. The truth is that postseason home run rates were down only 4% from the regular season, but reality has a way of being exaggerated into perception.

Thus ended the latest Year of the Home Run. Until the next one comes along.

If it ever does.

2018 baseball historyBack to 2018: Wrenching With Tradition The advent of the opener threatens to accelerate the devolution of the starting pitcher as Baseball ponders rule changes in response.

2010s baseball historyThe 2010s Page: A Call to Arms Stronger and faster than ever, major league pitchers restore the balance and then some—yet despite the decline in offense and rise in strikeouts, baseball continues to bring home the bacon through its lucrative online and regional network engagements.

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2019 Standings

National League East
Atlanta Braves
Washington Nationals (w)
New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies
Miami Marlins
National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals
Milwaukee Brewers (w)
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
American League East
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays (w)
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles
American League Central
Minnesota Twins
Cleveland Indians
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
Detroit Tigers
American League West
Houston Astros
Oakland A's (w)
Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels
Seattle Mariners

2019 Postseason Results
NL Wild Card Washington defeated Milwaukee.
AL Wild Card Tampa Bay defeated Oakland.
NLDS St. Louis defeated Atlanta, 3-2.
NLDS Washington defeated Los Angeles, 3-2.
ALDS Houston defeated Tampa Bay, 3-2.
ALDS New York defeated Minnesota, 3-0.
NLCS Washington defeated St. Louis, 4-0.
ALCS Houston defeated New York, 4-2.
World Series Washington (NL) defeated Houston (AL), 4-3.

It Happened in 2019

The Death of Tyler Skaggs
The baseball community is shaken on the morning of July 1 when it’s learned that 27-year-old Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, on his way to his best year yet, dies in a hotel room in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area hours before a scheduled game against the Texas Rangers—which is postponed once the news hits. While authorities caution against an early cause of death, the Santa Monica Observer writes that Skaggs dies of an overdose of opioids—infuriating the Angels, who claim it’s not true. Several months later, it turns out that the Observer had it mostly right as an autopsy reveals that Skaggs choked on his own vomit after digesting a mixture of opioids and alcohol.

Skaggs’ death takes on an expanded concern in the Fall when it’s revealed that an Angels front office employee admits to having taken opioids with Skaggs—and claims that as many as five other Angels players are also taking such drugs. Major League Baseball begins an investigation into the matter.

Vote For Him—Because We Know Where You Live
All-time saves leader Mariano Rivera becomes the first player unanimously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The 100% approval may be a result of social media’s mob mentality; one voter, Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, initially states he would not vote for Rivera because he sees little value in closers and the ‘save’ statistic—but changes his mind after an avalanche of dissenting and, in many cases, irate blowback from colleagues and Twitter trolls.

That’s One Expensive Trout
The Angels tear up Mike Trout’s existing contract on March 19 and replace it with the biggest yet in North America pro sports history, totaling 12 years and a whopping $426.5 million with no opt-outs. It’s nearly $100 million more than the previous MLB high of $330 million, set just three weeks earlier by Bryce Harper and his megadeal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Game of the Year of the Home Run
In a record-setting year for home runs, no game is more active with long balls than on June 10 at Philadelphia when the Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks combine for a major league-record 13 taters. Eight of the homers are slugged by the Diamondbacks, including two each from Eduardo Escobar and Ildemaro Vargas, in a 13-8 victory.

And We Thought You’d Already Hit Rock Bottom
On the heels of a dismal 2018 campaign, Baltimore’s Chris Davis runs up a record hitless streak of 54 at-bats—a slump that began at the end of the previous year—before finally connecting on an RBI single in Boston on April 13. Additionally, Davis’ single ends a streak of 61 straight plate appearances without a hit—another all-time mark. For the season, Davis will again bat well below .200 (at .179) with 12 home runs over 352 at-bats.

Somebody Always Love You, Edwin
Veteran pitcher Edwin Jackson is signed in May by the Toronto Blue Jays, the team the 14th he’s played for—breaking Octavio Dotel’s all-time record. But Jackson shows why the other 13 teams let him go; in eight appearances (five starts) for Toronto, he’ll go 1-5 with an 11.12 ERA and 12 home runs allowed over 28.1 innings before being released. Amazingly, Jackson gets yet another call before year’s end, as the Detroit Tigers—on their way to an abysmal 47-114 record—bring him on in August for the second time in his career. Jackson’s performance in Motown isn’t much better; he’s 2-5 with an 8.47 ERA over 10 appearances.

Homer Streakin’
Among the other home run records not mentioned at left or above include: The Yankees hitting at least one homer in 31 straight games, from May 26-June 30; a streak of 15 games from June 1-16 in which the Yankees and their opponents each go deep at least once; and the Seattle Mariners and/or their opponents hitting at least one in 107 straight games, from March 20 (an early Opening Day in Tokyo, Japan) to July 26.

Outfielder as Savior
Baltimore outfielder Stevie Wilkerson becomes the first position player ever to record a save when he takes over for an exhausted Orioles bullpen in the 16th inning at Anaheim on July 25 and fires a 1-2-3 inning. The Orioles defeat the Angels, 10-8 in a game that takes six hours and 19 minutes.

Now That’s Relief
Houston reliever Ryan Pressley makes 40 straight appearances without allowing a run, setting an MLB record. The streak began in 2018; this is not to be confused with Zach Britton’s 43-game streak (from 2016) without allowing an earned run.

Time to Move the Netting Again
A somber moment during a May 29 game at Houston, when a two-year young girl suffers a fractured skull from a foul ball off the bat of the Chicago Cubs’ Albert Almora Jr., sounds the alarms for MLB teams to extend protective netting further down the lines from the dugouts—where they had been extended just a few years earlier. By the end of the season, 16 teams extend the netting close to or at the foul poles; the remaining 14 will do the same for 2020.

London Calling
The first regular season games held “across the pond” takes place on June 29-30 when the Red Sox and Yankees play two games at London Stadium, normally the home of soccer’s West Ham United. With outfield dimensions measuring 330 feet down the lines but a mere 385 to the deepest part of center, offense is definitely expected; sure enough, the Yankees win both games by scores of 17-13 and 12-8. Sellout crowds of nearly 60,000—the largest seen in MLB since 2003—attend the games.

Multiple Madness
On August 15, Houston and Oakland each has two players with multiple homers—a major league first—as the A’s triumph at home, 7-6. Just 26 days later, they’ll do it again in Houston, as the A’s slug their way to a 21-7 rout. Oakland’s Matt Olson collects a pair of homers in each game.

From Death Valley to Everest
By finishing with a franchise best 107-55 record, the Astros become the first team to record three 100-win campaigns—and three 100-loss campaigns—within the same decade.

Giving Everybody a Chance
In a 16-inning game at San Francisco won by Colorado, 8-5, a major league-record total of 25 pitchers are used. Just a week earlier, the Giants and Boston Red Sox had employed 24 pitchers in a game, tying the old record.

Home Field Disadvantage
The Detroit Tigers, on their way to a wretched 47-114 record, lose a record-tying 59 games at home. In one midseason stretch, the Tigers win just four of 36 games at Comerica Park.

One Hundred or Bust
A record eight of MLB’s 30 teams either win or lose 100 games. The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston and Minnesota all reach triple-digits in wins—while Baltimore, Kansas City, Detroit and Miami each lose 100.

This Year’s Proof That Gerrit Cole is Striking Everybody Out
In a fantastic last season with Houston before signing a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees, Gerrit Cole strikes out 326 batters and sets an all-time record with 13.82 per nine innings.

We’d Rather Go for the Intentional Out
The Astros become the first team to not walk a batter intentionally since the statistic became official in 1955.

In Compliance With the ADA…
The “disabled list” is officially renamed the “injured list” after advocates for the handicapped complained about the term’s misleading title.

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