This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: October 2019

All Hail the Comeback Kids: The Nationals Win it All
Houston, We Have a Front-Office Problem    The Twins Bomb in October (Again)

September 2019    Comebacker Index    November 2019

Tuesday, October 1

For the first time since 1981, the Washington Nationals successfully clinch a postseason series/game as they defeat the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wild Card game, 4-3, on a play that could fittingly described as…wild. The visiting Brewers quickly jump on the Nationals and Max Scherzer with home runs in each of their first two innings—including a two-run shot by Yasmani Grandal in the first—to set the tone for a lead that would last all the way to the eighth. That’s when Washington rallies against Brewers closer Josh Hader, looking to compile a six-out save; they load the bases on a single, walk and controversial hit batsman (replay officials conclude that it’s inconclusive whether Hader’s pitch to Michael Taylor first hit his wrist or the knob of his bat). With two outs, 20-year-old Juan Soto lifts a soft liner to right that has the look of a game-tying single—but Brewers rookie outfielder Trent Grisham, starting in the place of injured MVP candidate Christian Yelich, has the ball bounce past him, allowing the go-ahead run to score as well. Daniel Hudson closes out the Brewers in the ninth to give the Nationals a 4-3 victory and an NLDS date with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Wednesday, October 2

Using the proverbial mirrors as always, the Tampa Bay Rays ease past the A’s, 5-1, in the AL Wild Card playoff before a huge but disappointed crowd of 54,005 at the Oakland Coliseum. The Rays’ unlikely hero is leadoff hitter/first baseman Yandy Diaz, playing his first game since suffering a foot injury on July 22; he belts solo home runs in each of his first two at-bats to help Tampa Bay build an early 4-0 lead. Charlie Morton and three relievers take it from there, scattering an unearned run on eight hits while striking out 12 to eliminate the A’s and move on to the ALDS against Houston.

Diaz is the first player to hit home runs in each of his first two postseason at-bats.

The A’s have lost nine straight winner-take-all postseason games—and are 1-15 since 2001 in games they could have won to clinched.

Morton is the first pitcher to win three winner-take-all playoff games. He also won Game Seven of both the ALCS and World Series for the Astros in 2017.

Thursday, October 3

In NLDS Game One at Atlanta, the Braves keep the Cardinals in check for seven innings with a 3-1 lead—but their bullpen then coughs up six runs in the final two frames, while a ninth-inning comeback attempt falls short as St. Louis takes a 7-6 decision. Atlanta’s relief strategy goes awry before a first pitch is thrown in the eighth; reliever Chris Martin, warming up on the mound, strains his oblique and is forced to leave. Luke Jackson is rushed in and allows three baserunners, two of whom score when closer Mark Melancon fails to put a lid on the St. Louis rally. Staying in for the ninth, Melancon can’t preserve the tie, either, as the Cardinals score four times to take a 7-3 lead. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman both crank homers in the bottom of the ninth to bring the Braves to within a run, but that’s where the scoring ends and the Cardinals take the early series lead.

Acuna Jr. might have bumped up the Braves’ early lead when he launches an opposite-field drive off the right-field wall to lead off the seventh, but he spends much of the ball’s flight admiring it—leaving him at first with a long single. He’ll later be doubled off of second base on Josh Donaldson’s line out to end the inning, when he might have been at third instead. After the game, Acuna’s teammates berate the 21-year-old star for his lack of hustle that very possibly may have changed the outcome of the game.

This is the ninth straight time the Braves have lost the first (or only—wild card) game of a playoff series, the longest such streak in major league history. It’s also the record-tying 30th straight postseason game that the Braves have finished without a lead in a series; they’ll break that mark in Game Two as the best they can do is even up the NLDS against St. Louis.

At Los Angeles, the Dodgers squeeze out a first-inning run on a four-walk, no-hit rally off of Washington’s Patrick Corbin, and the 1-0 lead holds until the late innings when the Dodgers’ bats power up with two home runs to throttle the Nationals in NLDS Game One, 6-0. Walker Buehler allows just one hit over six shutout innings, while rookie Gavin Lux becomes the youngest player to go deep in a pinch-hitting performance in the playoffs.

Both Los Angeles homers are served up by Washington reliever Hunter Strickland, who has now given up eight in 12 career postseason innings.

The New York Mets part ways with manager Mickey Callaway after two seasons. Though he did well to lead the Mets back from an underwhelming first half effort—they were 46-26 after the All-Star Break—the team suffered from an awful bullpen and failed to make the playoffs. This, after finishing below .500 in 2018.

Friday, October 4

Justin Verlander makes a first-game statement to start the ALDS at Houston, allowing just one hit through seven shutout innings as the Astros defeat the Rays, 6-2. Jose Altuve starts the scoring in the fifth for Houston with a two-run shot that’s his ninth career postseason home run—part of a four-run rally that cements Houston’s lead.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, after the game to reporters: “We got Verlandered.”

How do you defeat the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty? By shutting down his teammates. That’s how the Braves handle St. Louis’ sudden second-half ace, as Mike Foltynewicz and two relievers blank the Cardinals on six hits and no walks in a 3-0 victory to even their NLDS at one game apiece. Flaherty gives up one run in the first; Adam Duvall’s two-run homer in the eighth caps the scoring against him.

The Yankees and Twins, the first two teams to hit over 300 home runs in a season, match up against one another for ALDS Game One in New York—and it’s the Yankees who continue their long domination against Minnesota. Overcoming an early 2-0 deficit, the Yankees pile up 10 runs from the third inning through the seventh to easily handle the Twins, 10-4, on eight hits and eight walks. There are five homers in the game—three of them on the losing side as Minnesota cranks three solo shots.

The Twins have now lost an MLB-record 14 straight postseason games—11 of those against the Yankees. In 10 of those 11 defeats to New York, they’ve scored the first run 10 times.

Buffeted by three early runs scored off of the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, Washington’s Stephen Strasburg shuts down Los Angeles in NLDS Game Two by allowing a run on three hits over six innings with 10 strikeouts as the Nationals prevail on the road, 4-2. In 29 career postseason innings, Strasburg has allowed just two runs.

Kershaw drops his postseason record to 9-11 with a 4.10 ERA.

Saturday, October 5

In ALDS Game Two at New York, the Twins throw rookie Randy Dobnak—who not long ago was making ends meet as an Uber driver—and although he posted a 1.59 ERA over nine appearances during the regular season, Dobnak realizes that the playoffs are an entirely different animal. He allows one first-inning run, and then in the third loads the bases with nobody out; they all score, as do four more in the frame as reliever Tyler Duffey can’t contain the Yankee rally. Didi Gregorius’ grand slam is the defining moment of the seven-run inning, as New York rolls to an 8-2 victory and a 2-0 series lead.

The Yankees have won 12 straight postseason games against the Twins, breaking the all-time record held by the Boston Red Sox against the California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels from 1986-2008.

Gregorius’ four RBIs on one swing of the bat matches his total number of runs brought in over 13 previous postseason games.

In Houston, Gerrit Cole follows up Justin Verlander’s gem with one of his own, striking out 15 over 7.2 scoreless innings and career-high 118 pitches, and the Astros survive an iffy closing effort from closer Roberto Osuna to defeat Tampa Bay, 3-1, and increase their ALDS lead to 2-0. Alex Bregman’s seventh career playoff homer starts the scoring in the fourth, and the Astros add single runs in the seventh and eighth innings.

Cole’s 15 strikeouts are exceeded in postseason history only by Kevin Brown (16 for San Diego in NLDS Game One 1998) and Bob Gibson (17 for St. Louis in World Series Game One 1968).

Andy Etchebarren, a two-time All-Star catcher and member of Baltimore Orioles teams that won World Series in 1966 and 1970, dies at the age of 76. A career .235 hitter, Etchebarren was better regarded for his fielding, three times throwing out more than 50% of would-be basestealers in a season. But on a pop cultural level, Etchebarren was best remembered for being one of baseball’s hairiest players, sporting a definitive unibrow; in a 1972 Topps baseball card, he appears to be wearing a black sleeve around his left forearm—until you realize that it’s his hair.

Sunday, October 6

At St. Louis for NLDS Game Three, the Cardinals take a slim 1-0 lead into the ninth after veteran Adam Wainwright throws 7.2 innings of shutout baseball—but closer Carlos Martinez can’t seal the deal as the Braves erupt for three runs, the last two crossing the plate on Adam Duvall’s tie-breaking single to give Atlanta a 3-1 win and 2-1 series lead. The comeback also erases what would have been an undeserving loss for Atlanta starter Mike Soroka, who allows just a run on two hits (and no walks) over seven innings of work.

The Braves’ win snaps their record 31-game postseason streak in which they did not have a series lead. It’s also their second postseason win in which they scored the go-ahead run with one out to spare. The other game: Game Seven of the 1992 NLCS against Pittsburgh, recalled for Sid Bream’s mad dash to win it.

The Nationals have a 2-1 lead over the Dodgers after five innings in NLDS Game Three at Washington, thanks to Juan Soto’s two-run homer in the first off of Hyun-Jin Ryu and five sharp innings of work from Anibal Sanchez, who strikes out a season high-tying nine batters. But Sanchez is removed for usual starter Patrick Corbin—who implodes after retiring the first two Dodgers in the sixth, being charged for six of the seven Los Angeles runs that will score in that frame. The Dodgers ultimately take a 10-4 victory and 2-1 series lead over Washington.

Not only do the Dodgers score all seven runs in the sixth with two outs, but each of their run-scoring hits come on two-strike counts.

San Diego pitcher Jacob Nix is arrested after attempting to enter a Peoria, Arizona home through a doggy door in the middle of the night. Nix escapes with minor league pitcher Thomas Cosgrove, but not before being kicked in the face and tasered in the back by the home’s occupants; he’s arrested two miles away by police. Nix later claims he was “inebriated” and thought he was entering his own home—although that home doesn’t have a special entry for animals.

Monday, October 7

All four divisional series are in action today—and all four could end today. But only one does. The Yankees successfully conclude another chapter in their near-two decade-long domination of the Twins, upending Minnesota at Target Field by a 5-1 count to finish a three-game sweep. Didi Gregorius knocks in two runs to increase his RBI count against the Twins this season to 16—in just 20 at-bats; he also makes a sensational diving catch at short in the ninth to stifle a potential last-ditch comeback effort by Minnesota. The Twins’ failure in the clutch is reflected in a 1-for-12 performance with runners in scoring position while leaving 11 men on base—including three in the second with no one out.

Because they’re the 2019 Yankees and a day just can’t go by without someone getting hurt, Aroldis Chapman—who closes out the series for New York—is seen celebrating in the clubhouse with his pitching hand heavily bandaged. Chapman says the injury is suffered as a result of a champagne bottle thrown at him.

Since the start of the 2002 season, the Yankees are 102-34 against the Twins, postseason included. Minnesota’s 16 straight postseason defeats overall ties an all-time North American pro sports record, matching hockey’s Chicago Blackhawks.

The Astros fail to close out the Rays at Tampa Bay as Zack Greinke gets zinged for three homers and six runs over 3.2 ineffective innings in a 10-3 loss. Former Astro Charlie Morton strikes out nine over five innings in a far sharper effort for the Rays.

For the first time all season, the Rays allow upper-deck seating at Tropicana Field. Not surprisingly, the crowd of 32,251 is the largest this season at St. Petersburg.

At St. Louis, the Cardinals even up the NLDS against Atlanta thanks to late-inning heroics from veteran catcher Yadier Molina. His two-out, eighth-inning flare of a single just beyond the reach of Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman ties the game—and two innings later, his deep sac fly to left brings home Kolten Wong to win it, 5-4 in 10. Adding muscle to the Cardinals’ effort is Paul Goldschmidt, who doubles twice and homers.

There will also be a winner-take-all fifth game in the other NLDS as the Nationals defeat the Dodgers at Washington, 6-1. Clutch efforts are provided by Max Scherzer (seven innings, one run allowed on four hits), and long-time Nat Ryan Zimmerman, whose towering three-run blast in the fifth opens the game up for keeps.

Tuesday, October 8

In an attempt to get this damn thing over now, the Astros send Justin Verlander to the mound on three days’ rest in the hopes of wrapping up the ALDS at Tampa Bay. But the Rays expose the veteran ace’s inability to control either his fastball or slider and nail him for three first-inning runs—more than enough to eventually subdue Houston, 4-1, and send the series back to Houston for a winner-take-all Game Five. Key is the fourth-inning work of Tampa Bay shortstop Willie Adames; his excellent relay throw from right-center on a Yonder Alvarez double nails Jose Altuve at the plate, and his leadoff homer to start the bottom of the frame caps the scoring for the Rays.

Wednesday, October 9

It’s Upset Wednesday as the NL’s two best teams are kicked out of the postseason after shocking Game Five losses.

In Atlanta, the Cardinals pile it up early and often at a record pace as they score 10 runs in the first inning on five hits, four walks, an error and a strikeout gone awry thanks to a wild pitch. From there, the Redbirds breeze behind Jack Flaherty to a 13-1 rout of the Braves, stunning the SunTrust Park crowd and moving on to the NLCS. The 10 runs within a single inning matches a postseason mark held by the 1929 Cubs (World Series Game Five), 1968 Tigers (World Series Game Six) and 2002 Angels (ALCS Game Five); all 13 runs score within the first three innings, something no other postseason team had previously done.

The Braves have lost 10 straight playoff series (including wild card games), matching the Cubs (1910-98) for the longest such drought ever.

The foam tomahawks that have been a marketing staple for the controversial (and stupid) ‘war chants’ by Braves fans are not given out, likely in response to criticism by St. Louis relief pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation who called out the Braves for insensitivity. NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra later tweets that Helsley will be the target of epithets from angry Braves fans after the Cardinals floor it to an early rout.

After the game, veteran catcher Brian McCann announces his retirement at age 35. McCann had returned to the Braves in 2019 after spending five years with the Yankees and Astros; he performed his first nine big-league seasons with Atlanta. His 188 home runs with the Braves lists the seven-time All-Star at #11 on the franchise’s all-time list.

In Los Angeles, the Dodgers take an early 3-0 lead off of Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and hold it through seven innings thanks to Walker Buehler, who allows just one run over 6.2 innings. But Clayton Kershaw, in a rare relief appearance, allows solo home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto on consecutive pitches. The game moves to the 10th tied at 3-3 when Howie Kendrick—not having the best of series, committing all three of the Nationals’ NLDS errors to the moment—launches a one-out grand slam to stun the Dodgers and their 53,000 home fans. The 7-3 lead will hold and the Nationals win their first playoff series since taking the 1981 NL East Divisional Series from Philadelphia. Kendrick’s slam is the second in extra innings of a postseason game, preceded by Nelson Cruz for the 2011 Rangers in ALCS Game Two.

Thursday, October 10

The Astros immediately quash any thoughts of a second straight day of upsets as their first four batters reach against Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow (who later claims he was accidentally tipping his pitches) in ALDS Game Five—and they all score, setting the tone for Gerrit Cole to do his thing and help move on to their third straight ALCS with a 6-1 victory at Houston. With his fastball at less than the usual 99-100 MPH, Cole is not exactly at his most dominant—but even at less than 100%, he’s more effective than almost every other pitcher, striking out 10 Rays over eight innings while allowing a run on just two hits.

Cole’s 25 strikeouts over consecutive postseason games is surpassed in history only by Bob Gibson (27) in 1968.

By not striking out a batter in the third inning, Cole has a streak end in which had at least one K in 73 straight innings, regular and postseason combined; the previous mark had been Pedro Martinez, well behind at 40 innings. Cole’s regular season run of 57 remains intact and will continue into 2020…but the question is, who will Cole—a free agent this coming offseason—be pitching for?

The Philadelphia Phillies, after a disappointing 81-81 campaign amid a bulked-up roster and hopes of taking the NL East, dismiss manager Gabe Kapler after two seasons. It’s later reported that Phillies CEO John Middleton overruled his front office and made the decision.

Friday, October 11

The Nationals open the NLCS with a 2-0 win at St. Louis thanks to Anibal Sanchez, who takes a no-hitter into the eighth and, with two outs, finally gives up his first knock when the Cardinals’ Jose Martinez sends a floating liner into center for a single. The 35-year-old Sanchez is removed at that point, and the gracious Sanchez gives a nod to Martinez (who, like Sanchez, was born in Venezuela) and home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski. With ad-hoc Nats closer Daniel Hudson unavailable to be with his wife for the birth of their third child, Sean Doolittle retires the remaining four Cardinals to shut the door on St. Louis. Offensively, Howie Kendrick scores the first run on Yan Gomes’ second-inning double, and knocks in the insurance tally with a seventh-inning single.

Sanchez becomes the first player in postseason history to twice give up no runs on one or no hits in a quality start. In 2013 ALCS Game One for Detroit, he was removed after six no-hit innings at Boston.

Former Miami Marlins exec David Samson tweets that Hudson should have stayed with the Nationals and be available for a postseason game, rather than be with his wife. To which Doolittle latter responds: “If your reaction to someone having a bay is anything other than, ‘Congratulations, I hope everybody’s healthy,’ you’re an a**hole.”

MLB sets the qualifying price for teams attempting to keep upcoming free agents from leaving at $17.8 million—a fractional $100,000 drop from 2018. This is the first time since the routine began in 2012 that the price has been lowered. Through that time, 80 players have been given a qualifying offer, but only three have accepted it—including Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, who took the $17.9 million bait for 2019 and can now parlay that into a potential big payday after a Cy Young Award-level effort this past season.

Saturday, October 12

In a report that could have massive ramifications for baseball, ESPN’s T.J. Quinn writes that Eric Kay, the director of communications for the Los Angeles Angels, told the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that he supplied opioids to pitcher Tyler Skaggs—who died of an overdose in July—and sometimes even did said drugs together. Kay, who is currently undergoing substance abuse treatment, also claims that as many as five other Angels players were taking opioids, and that the Angels’ front office knew about it. The Angels deny the allegation, but MLB says it will fully cooperate with the DEA and open up its own investigation to look into the matter.

Alas, if there is an increased opioid usage by pro baseball players, it would not be surprising. Baseball has outlawed steroids as well as amphetamines—the latter previously used by many players to help get them through the rigors of a 162-game season—and it’s likely the reason why so many younger players rule the action today. Meanwhile, more veteran players trying to get around the amphetamine ban apply for medical exemptions (allowing them to drugs such as Adderall) at an exceedingly high rate. There is an opioids crisis in America; MLB needs to serious look into whether the problem has infiltrated its workforce. The revelations from the ESPN story, if true, only lends more credence to that notion.

A day after Anibal Sanchez’s near-no-hit gem, Max Scherzer gets his turn—just as he did in 2013 for the Tigers, also following Sanchez. The Washington ace befuddles the Cardinals for six no-no innings of his own before Paul Goldschmidt laces a liner right at the feet of Nationals left fielder Juan Soto (who could have made the catch, in our opinion) to break it up leading off the seventh. Scherzer ends up pitching seven innings, allowing just the one hit while striking out 11 as the Nationals stifle the Cardinals for a second straight day at St. Louis, 3-1. Adam Wainwright does just well enough not to win, conceding three runs on seven hits with 11 Ks of his own through 7.1 innings. Adam Eaton’s two-run single in the eighth proves to be the winning difference.

If this feels like a case of déjà vu—especially for Detroit fans—it’s because Scherzer also followed up Sanchez’s near-no-no with one of his own in the 2013 ALCS; in Game Two against the Red Sox, he didn’t allow his first hit until one out in the sixth. The two Sanchez-Scherzer back-to-backers are the only such times in postseason history in which pitchers took no-hitters into the sixth inning or later in consecutive games.

According to STATS, Goldschmidt’s hit was the first by a Cardinals starter after 62 straight hitless at-bats—setting a postseason record. (Jose Martinez’s hit in Game One came in a pinch-hitting role.)

With so little offense through their first two games of the NLCS, the Cardinals naturally complain afterwards that the ball has been de-juiced for the postseason. We did the math: Through today, postseason teams are hitting .229 versus .252 during the regular season, with an average of 2.43 home runs and 7.83 runs per game—compared to 2.78 and 9.66, respectively, during the regular season. MLB denies that it’s using a different ball in October.

The well-rested Yankees take apart the Astros at Houston in ALCS Game One, 7-0, behind six terrific innings of one-hit ball thrown by Masahiro Tanaka and five RBIs for Gleyber Torres—including his second postseason home run, a solo shot in the sixth. Zack Greinke earns the minimum requirements for a quality starter (six innings, three runs), but it’s not good enough for the Astros and an offense that pokes out only three hits overall.

David Freese, the hero of the 2011 World Series, retires at the age of 36 just days after the Dodgers, his last employer, were eliminated from postseason contention. Freese looked to be a star on the rise after a phenomenal postseason effort for St. Louis in 2011—hitting .397 with five home runs to win MVP honors for both the NLCS and World Series, won in seven games over Texas thanks to his Game Six heroics in which he tripled in the game-tying run in the ninth before homering in the 11th to win it. But after a solid follow-up 2012 season—his first in an everyday role—batting .297 with 20 homers and 79 RBIs, Freese devolved more than evolved, as his production sank and his overall game settled into something of a common player. Turns with the Angels and Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t provide a bump; he spent the last year-plus as a useful part-timer for the Dodgers. Freese finishes his career with a .277 average, 1,041 hits and 113 homers.

Sunday, October 13

The Astros grab a badly-needed—and very hard-fought—victory in ALCS Game Two to avoid a 2-0 series deficit with the next three games at New York as Carlos Correa’s lead-off homer in the 11th gives Houston a 3-2 decision. If this sounds something hauntingly familiar to Yankees fans, they’re right; in the second game of the 2017 ALCS between these same two teams, it was Correa’s double in the bottom of the ninth that scored the winning run for Houston. Correa’s homer comes off of J.A. Happ, the Yankees’ ninth pitcher of the evening; starter James Paxton lasts 2.1 innings before getting the quick hook after getting into some trouble in the third. Justin Verlander, on the other hand, lasts two outs into the seventh and strikes out seven, giving him 184 for his postseason career—trailing only John Smoltz (199).

After George Springer’s homer ties the game for Houston at 2-2 in the fifth and springs the already boisterous Astros fans to electric life, a sobering moment takes place when the next batter, Michael Brantley, launches a searing line foul ball into the Houston dugout—striking an on-call paramedic in the head. The game is stopped for several minutes as Astros manager A.J. Hinch goes out to console a shaken Brantley; the man is taken to a hospital where he’s listed in stable condition.

Monday, October 14

Washington makes it a near-insurmountable 3-0 NLCS advantage over St. Louis with an easy 8-1 victory at Nationals Park. An expected pitching duel between the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg and Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty reaches only half-fruition as Flaherty is knocked out in the fifth after conceding four runs, while Strasburg sails for seven solid innings, allowing an unearned run on seven hits with no walks while striking out 12. At the plate, Howie Kendrick continues his hot hitting with three doubles and three RBIs.

In the wake of a disappointing early postseason exist against the Nationals, the Dodgers officially announce that they are staying the course, bringing back manager Dave Roberts and general manager Andrew Friedman for 2020. Both men took the brunt of the criticism for Los Angeles’ fifth-game meltdown against Washington, and while others with more perspective acknowledge that the Dodgers have won seven straight NL West titles, none have resulted in their first world championship since 1988.

Tuesday, October 15

The Washington Nationals sweep the NLCS and take their first-ever pennant, setting a dominant tone early and holding on to defeat the Cardinals at Nationals Park, 7-4. The Nationals score all of their runs in the first inning, chasing rookie starting pitcher Dakota Hudson from the box with just one out; Patrick Corbin keeps the lid on early, striking out 10 through the first four innings, before the Cardinals finally get to him with a run in the fourth and three more in the fifth to make it a game. Three relievers from the Nationals’ bullpen—for much of the season, their Achilles heel—shut St. Louis down over the final four frames, surviving a tense eighth in which the Cardinals load the bases and bring pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter to the plate as the tying run, before he grounds out.

The Nationals never trailed at any point in this series.

How dominant was Washington pitching? Their starting pitchers ran up a streak of 29.1 scoreless innings that began in the NLDS, finally snapped on Yadier Molina’s fourth-inning homer off of Corbin; meanwhile, left-handed St. Louis hitters were a collective 0-for-31 in the series before Kolten Wong’s single in the third.

The Nationals’ first trip to the World Series leaves the Seattle Mariners as the only MLB franchise left without a pennant. It’s also the first time the city of Washington D.C. will be represented in the Fall Classic since the Senators lost in five games to the New York Giants in 1933.

Gerrit Cole is not at his best—he walks a career high-tying five and doesn’t collect double-digit strikeouts for the first time in 11 starts—but he’s again still good enough to deny the Yankees over seven innings, as the Astros take a crucial Game Three at New York by a 4-1 count. Early solo homers from Josh Reddick and Jose Altuve smacked off of New York starter Luis Severino give Houston the early advantage; a two-run rally in the seventh caps the team scoring.

The game is halted for 15 minutes before the start of the fourth inning as home plate umpire Jeff Nelson departs with a concussion after two foul balls ricochet off his face mask.

Wednesday, October 16

Joe Maddon gets a new gig, and the setting will be a familiar one for him. The Angels swoop down and grab the two-time pennant winning, 65-year-old manager to a three-year contract believed to be somewhere between $12-$15 million. From 1994-2005, Maddon was a coach for the Angels—and even performed two extended interim stints as their manager, going 8-14 in 1996 and 19-10 in 1999. No one has won more games (917) nor made the postseason (seven times) more often in the 2010s than Maddon.

Thursday, October 17

With a little help from the Yankees, the Astros take command of the ALCS with an 8-3 win at New York to up their series lead to 3-1. The Yankees draw first blood with a first-inning run off an erratic Zack Greinke, but Houston grabs the lead in the third with a three-run homer from George Springer; Carlos Correa’s three-run shot of his own in the sixth provides the killer blow. Four Yankee errors—two each from first baseman DJ LeMahieu and second baseman Gleyber Torres—gift the Astros with three unearned runs.

This is the sixth time that Springer and Correa have gone deep in the same postseason game. That sets an all-time record for teammates.

There’s more sadness for Yankee fans—and baseball fans in general—in the eighth when CC Sabathia takes the mound for a relief role and has to leave three batters later after separating his shoulder. It’s the last appearance for Sabathia, who holds his glove to his face in painful frustration as he walks off the field. With 58,829 pitches behind him, Sabathia ends his 19-year career as the leader among active pitchers in wins, innings pitched, starts, strikeouts, complete games, home runs allowed, walks, hits allowed, losses, earned runs allowed, hit-by-pitchers and batters faced.

Friday, October 18

The Yankees stave off elimination in ALCS Game Five with a 4-1 win over the Astros at New York. All of the game’s runs are scored in the first inning; Houston manufactures its run via the small ball, but New York counters with two home runs—a leadoff shot from DJ LeMahieu and a three-run liner drilled off the right-field foul pole by Aaron Hicks—off of Justin Verlander, who gives up four first-inning runs for the first time since 2014. Both Verlander and Yankees starter James Paxton settle down from there; Paxton goes six inning and strikes out nine, while Verlander allows just one hit in his next six innings while striking out nine overall himself.

This is the first time ever that both teams scored in the first inning of a postseason game—and then didn’t score any more afterward.

The Yankees, who hit an MLB-best .294 with runners in scoring position during the regular season, were hitless in 15 straight at-bats under that scenario until Hicks’ three-run shot in the first.

Saturday, October 19

For the second time in three years—and for the third time ever—the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series as they nab the AL pennant in dramatic walk-off fashion; Jose Altuve’s two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman wins Game Six, 6-4. Altuve’s blast off of Minute Maid Park’s tall wall in left-center, high above the home run line, undoes a tie that has been forged just a half-inning earlier when DJ LeMahieu sent a two-run homer off of Houston closer Roberto Osuna, just beyond the reach of George Springer in right. With both teams exclusively utilizing the bullpen, the Astros get a 3-0 jump in the first inning on Yuli Gurriel’s three-run homer; the Yankees narrow the Houston advantage to 3-2 by the sixth before the Astros gain a run back in that frame. Houston defense continually denies New York throughout, with diving catches in the outfield from Josh Reddick and Michael Brantley—and a sensational eighth inning-ending double play turned by Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa. Altuve wins the ALCS MVP not just for his walk-off heroics but also for leading the series in batting (.348), runs (six) and home runs (two).

Altuve’s homer is the fifth to end an LCS on a walk-off. One of the other four was hit by Aaron Boone, watching as manager in the opposing Yankees dugout; he did it for New York in 2003, against the Boston Red Sox.

It’s the first time in postseason history that a game-tying homer in the top of an inning was followed by a walk-off blast in the bottom half. The Astros’ two walk-off homers for the series is also a first.

The Astros win the series despite hitting a lowly .179 average with fewer home runs (eight, compared to the Yankees’ 10). But field discipline gives Houston the better advantage; the Astros play much better defense (just two errors compared to the Yankees’ five), and the Astros display nowhere near the sloppy work of New York’s batteries, which combine for five wild pitches, two hit batters and two passed balls.

The Yankees’ loss clinches this decade as the first since the 1910s in which the Yankees did not make a World Series appearance. They made the playoffs in seven years during the 2010s, four times reaching the ALCS—losing all of them.

He said what? Houston’s Carlos Correa, after the game: “We knew (the Yankees) had a great team. Like they call themselves, they’re savages. But in this jungle called the American League, we’re the apex predator.”

Sunday, October 20

Eric Cooper, a veteran umpire of 21 years, unexpectedly dies from a blood clot a few days after undergoing knee surgery at the age of 52. Cooper was one of 20 replacement umpires who joined the majors in 1999 in the midst of union head Richie Phillips’ ill-advised scheme to have umpires quit to protest his allegations that they were being mistreated by MLB. Some of those who did quit never got their jobs back, and Cooper remained—becoming one of the more well-liked umps among both colleagues and players. His last series called was the ALDS between the Yankees and Twins, earlier this month.

Monday, October 21

Sports Illustrated reports that during the Astros’ ALCS clubhouse celebration, Houston assistant GM Brandon Taubman approached three female reporters and yelled out six times to them, “Thank God we got Osuna!” with an expletive sprinkled in here and there. The story goes on to say that one of the women was left shaken by the moment, and that another Astros employee came over to apologize for Taubman’s outburst. Whatever Taubman’s intent, the optics are terrible; A team exec shouting at close range toward three women about how wonderful it was to have Roberto Osuna, who was suspended 75 games last season for violating MLB’s domestic abuse policy—even after having a bad night (Osuna blew a two-run lead in the ninth against the Yankees, only to be rescued by Jose Altuve’s game-winning homer a half-inning later). The Astros release a statement trashing the story as “misleading and completely irresponsible,” but other writers who witnessed the moment come forward and insist that Sports Illustrated’s reporting is on the mark.

Witnesses and their Twitter followers in tow heavily assail the Astros’ interpretation of the event; official statements released a day later by both Taubman and owner Jim Crane come off as weak, too little and too late—containing the “apologize for anyone I offended” treatment while touting past personal and team character as it relates to women and social awareness. Houston manager A.J. Hinch apparently isn’t a fan of the Astros’ tepid responses; speaking to reporters before World Series Game One, he states, “I’m very disappointed…It’s unfortunate, It’s uncalled for. We all need to be better across the board in the industry.”

Three days later, the Astros will fully admit they were wrong in their initial defense, apologize to the three sportswriters—and fire Taubman.

In the immediate aftermath of this episode, Larry Brown Sports reports of former Astros employees who call working in the front office “toxic” and “cutthroat,” and says that the team’s acquisition of Osuna in 2018—even after he was suspended for domestic abuse—caused “emotional devastation” among employees.

Tuesday, October 22

Young and old group together to give the Nationals a surprise 5-4 Game One win to open the World Series in Houston. Ryan Zimmerman, age 35 and a National since the team’s first year in Washington back in 2005, opens the Nationals scoring with a second-inning solo homer off of Astros ace Gerrit Cole. Juan Soto, age 20, goes deep to tie the game two innings later, and later doubles in two more to cap the scoring in the fifth. Meanwhile on the mound, 35-year-old Max Scherzer labors for five innings and 112 pitches, but only allows two runs as four Washington pitchers barely hold the lead down the rest of the way. In defeat, the Astros’ George Springer hits a home run in a record fifth straight Fall Classic contest, dating back to 2017; he reaches base three other times, including an eighth-inning double that he crucially fails to turn into a triple after he hops, skips and jumps halfway down the first-base line, watching to see if the ball will clear the fence. (With one out, Jose Altuve next flies to right; Springer might have scored the tying run from third.)

The Astros lose despite scoring twice in the first inning to take an early lead. They had previously scored at least two runs in the initial frame 28 times this season—and won each time.

The loss for Cole is his first since May 22 against the Chicago White Sox; it’s also the first time since that game that he’s given up five or more runs.

The Astros are the first team to feature no left-handed pitchers on their World Series roster since the very first Fall Classic in 1903, when both the Boston Americans (Red Sox) and Pirates had none.

Wednesday, October 23

A night after toppling Gerrit Cole on the road, the Nationals do the same to Justin Verlander and an ineffective bullpen as Washington bashes its way to a 12-3 rout of the Astros in World Series Game Two. Backing the Nationals’ offensive effort are three homers, though not from the usual suspects: Kurt Suzuki, Adam Eaton and Michael Taylor all go deep to help support Stephen Strasburg (two runs allowed through six innings) and complete a sweep of the Astros’ elite Cy Young Award candidates at Houston. It’s the eighth straight win for the Nationals overall—tying a record within one postseason.

The Nationals’ 17 runs over their first two games at Houston are the most by a road team in a World Series since the Yankees piled up 20 at Pittsburgh in their fateful seven-game loss to the Pirates in 1960.

Statistically, it’s a bittersweet night for Verlander; he becomes the all-time postseason strikeout leader with 202 (surpassing John Smoltz’s 199), but with the loss also becomes the first pitcher to ever lose five World Series decisions. He has yet to win one.

This is the first time all season that a team has been able to pin losses on Cole and Verlander in back-to-back games.

The Astros intentionally walk a player for the first time this year—and here’s why they probably won’t want to do it again for a while: Five Washington runs score after Juan Soto is granted first base to first to load the bases with two outs.

The Pirates announce that they have parted ways with president Frank Coonelly after 12 seasons. Coonelly oversaw the team’s rise from 20 years of losing with three straight postseason appearances in 2013-15, but the team has since suffered a decline, capped by a sour and highly turbulent 2019 campaign that saw them back in the NL Central basement.

MLB is looking into a deleted tweet from umpire Rob Drake in which, angered over the current impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, wrote that he would buy an AK-15 and that “YOU WILL HAVE CIVAL (sic) WAR!!!” Drake deleted the tweet shortly after posting it; the next day he will apologize for posting it.

Thursday, October 24

It’s manager announcement day as three teams name new skippers. The Philadelphia Phillies bring on Joe Girardi, who brings with him a .554 win percentage—mostly thanks to his 10 years leading the Yankees. In Chicago, recently retired catcher David Ross, a folk hero from the champion 2016 Cubs, is hired on to replace Joe Maddon, who’s now the Angels’ boss. And in San Diego, the Padres hire relative unknown Jayce Tingler, who at 38 will be the majors’ second youngest manager after Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli.

Friday, October 25

In the first World Series game played in Washington since 1933, the Astros get in the win column with a grinding 4-1 victory over the Nationals. Houston sets the pace with a run each in the second and third innings, and after the Nationals tally once in the fourth, the Astros respond with single runs, again in consecutive frames (the fifth and sixth). The final run comes on Robinson Chirinos’ home run off the left-field foul pole. Closer Roberto Osuna, heavily booed by Washington fans, allows one hit in the ninth but otherwise shuts the door on the Nationals.

Despite the relatively low score, the games lasts four hours and three minutes, speeding up after the first six innings lasts a full three hours. Part of the reason is that six Astros pitchers combine to throw 183 pitches—including 95 from starter Zack Greinke, who is removed one out shy of earning credit for the win with two outs in the fifth.

Before the game, Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco is rewarded with the Roberto Clemente Award for his community work. Carrasco missed a good chunk of the season after being diagnosed with leukemia.

The Red Sox hire Tampa Bay senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom to be their new chief baseball officer, replacing Dave Dombrowski. Bloom, a 36-year-old Yale graduate, has been a member of the Rays’ front office since 2005.

Saturday, October 26

The Astros tie up the World Series—and retake the momentum—with a definitive 8-1 Game Four victory over the Nationals at Washington. Houston Manager A.J. Hinch reaches into his bullpen to start Jose Urquidy, who responds with five innings of shutout ball, allowing two hits and walking none. The five Houston relievers who follow are more careless—walking five batters over the final four innings—but the Nationals don’t take advantage and are now 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position over their last two games (both losses). Offensively for the Astros, Alex Bregman drives in five runs, four on the first grand slam by an American Leaguer since Paul Konerko (against Houston) in 2005, while Robinson Chirinos continues his hot hitting with a home run in his second straight game, along with a double.

Urquidy is the second Mexican-born pitcher to win a World Series game; Fernando Valenzuela, in 1981, was the first.

Sunday, October 27

The Astros make it a three-game sweep in Washington as they once again clamp down on the Nationals in World Series Game Five, 7-1. The Nationals are already handicapped before the first pitch is thrown as scheduled starter Max Scherzer is scratched due to neck stiffness; in his place, spot starter Joe Ross throws five innings and gives up a pair of two-run homers—to Yordan Alvarez in the second, and Carlos Correa in the fourth. Those early blasts are more than enough for Astros ace Gerrit Cole, who allows just a run on three hits with nine strikeouts over seven innings in will be his last appearance in a Houston uniform before declaring free agency.

Cole’s 47 strikeouts this postseason are exceeded in MLB history by Arizona’s Curt Schilling’s 56 in 2001. (Stephen Strasburg will match him later in the series.) His 373 for the entire season (regular and postseason combined) are the fifth most ever collected; Randy Johnson (also in 2001, also for Arizona) tops the list with 419.

This is a record seventh straight World Series game (dating back to last season) in which the home team has failed to win. It’s also the first time that the road team has won the first five games of any Fall Classic.

Twitter stat guru Doug Kern points out that the last time the Nationals lost three straight games was exactly three months earlier (July 25-27). The three total runs scored by Washington in the three losses are the fewest tallied in consecutive World Series home defeats.

Game Five is noted for an appearance from President Donald Trump, who slips into a luxury box in the third and exits after the seventh. When he appears on the big scoreboard shortly after his arrival, the vast majority of the Nationals crowd responds with a cascade of boos, followed by sporadic chants of “lock him up” as an impeachment inquiry continues. Trump had declined an opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch; instead, the Nationals give the nod to renowned chef Jose Andres, an outspoken Trump critic who selfishly helped to provide millions of meals to Puerto Rico in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017—all while Trump publicly loathed to provide maximum assistance to the American territory.

Perhaps the one person who gets more boos than Trump on the night is home plate umpire Lance Barksdale, whose strike zone is all over the place. He also appears to spike his performance with spite; in the Astros’ sixth, the Nationals’ Tanner Rainey throws what appears to be strike three on Houston’s Michael Brantley, and catcher Yan Gomes pops up to start a post-K throw-around when Barksdale calls a ball instead. When Gomes asks about the call, Barksdale says, “You were taking off on me”—to which Gomes derisively replies, “Oh, it’s my fault.” In the wake of Barksdale’s awful game, the media (social or otherwise) ramps up chatter on the possible future use of robot umps.

Monday, October 28

The Pirates continue to clean house. After canning their manager and team president, the Bucs give the boot to general manager Neal Huntington. They also hire as the team’s new president Travis Williams, a long-time exec with the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins, but one no prior baseball experience—though he describes himself as a “a big baseball fan.”

Despite overseeing a rotation that was injury-riddled and a staff at large that put together a fine 2.87 postseason ERA, Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild gets the axe after nine years at New York. The 65-year-old Rothschild, who previously also served as pitching coach for the Florida Marlins and Chicago Cubs (and was the first manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), is ousted because the team is seeking “a new voice” according to sources.

Tuesday, October 29

The trending remains the same as the Nationals return to Houston and force Game Seven with a 7-2 victory over the Astros; Stephen Strasburg remains hot, the Nationals continue to bounce back, and the road team continues to prevail. Strasburg overcomes an early 2-1 deficit after Alex Bregman’s first-inning moon shot, not allowing any more runs as he throws 8.1 innings and picks up a record-tying fifth win within a postseason (matching Randy Johnson and reliever Francisco Rodriguez). Houston starter Justin Verlander, on the other hand, fails yet again to win his first World Series game, falling to 0-6 lifetime in the Fall Classic—losing the lead in the fifth on homers from Adam Eaton and Juan Soto, the latter reaching well into the second level of right-field bleachers. Anthony Rendon will add to the lead with a two-run shot in the seventh and two-run double in the ninth, driving in five runs overall.

The game is not without major controversy. Before Rendon’s homer in the seventh, the Nationals’ Trea Turner beats a throw to first and advances to second when the ball gets past Yuli Gurriel—but Turner is declared out for running out of the baseline. Replays show that the call is borderline and a video review takes over five minutes. (Turns out that the umpires were asking New York whether a protest filed by Washington manager Dave Martinez over the call should be allowed. New York said no.) Though the Nationals get two runs after the play when Rendon homers, Martinez is lit up because he feels it could have been three runs—and in a fiery confrontation between innings is thrown out of the game. He’s the first manager to be tossed from a World Series game in which he won.

Bregman’s homer in the first comes with a little audaciousness as he carries the bat all the way to first base before dropping it at the feet of his first-base coach. It’s hard to understand why this would upset anyone, but apparently it does—and when Soto lands his monster shot in the seventh, he does the same, exclaiming afterwards, “I just thought it was pretty cool, I want to do it too.” Bregman will apologize after the game.

Soto has hit five postseason homers, with three in the World Series—surpassing Mickey Mantle as the youngest to do so.

Wednesday, October 30

Showing a resilience they have maintained with uncanny persistence throughout the year, the Washington Nationals defeat the Astros at Houston in World Series Game Seven, 6-2, and win the world title for the first time in their 51-year existence. It’s also the first time that a Washington-based team has won the Fall Classic since the Senators defeated the New York Giants in seven games back in 1924.

Once again, the Nationals fall behind—they trailed in all but one game during the series—as Yuli Gurriel’s solo shot opens the scoring for Houston in the second. The Astros add one more run off Nationals starter Max Scherzer before ending his night with five innings and his neck intact. In the seventh, the Nationals awaken off Houston starter Zack Greinke, who had been dominant and efficient (60 pitches) through six scoreless innings, as Anthony Rendon belts a solo homer to put Washington in the scoring column. A walk follows, and Houston skipper A.J. Hinch pulls Grienke—not for Gerrit Cole, who had been warming up earlier, but reliever Will Harris. For a second straight night, Harris fails to lock down the Nats as Howie Kendrick—he of the series-winning grand slam to dethrone the Dodgers in the NLCS—goes the opposite way and lines a deep shot off the foul pole to give Washington a lead it will not surrender. Crucially, Patrick Corbin—making his fifth relief appearance of the postseason—keeps the Astros in check from innings six through eight, and Daniel Hudson earns the final three outs in the ninth.

It’s a year of comebacks for the Nationals; they were 19-31 on May 23 and came back to grab a NL wild card spot; trailed 3-1 at the end of seven innings in the wild card against Milwaukee before winning that contest; trailed the Dodgers two games to one in the NLDS, and trailed 3-1 after seven innings in Game Five before rebounding to take the win and that series; and were down three games to two against Houston in the World Series, winning the final two games at Houston—both in comeback fashion.

Only the 1914 Boston “Miracle” Braves were further below .500 (16 games, at 12-28) in a championship season than the Nationals.

This is the first time that no home team wins any game during the World Series. It’s also the ninth straight Fall Classic victory by a road team going back to last season, and the sixth straight year that the eventual champion wins the clincher on the road. The Nationals won their last eight road games of this postseason.

Quick opinion hit: Everyone was talking about why Hinch didn’t bring in Cole to replace Greinke. But here’s the real question: Why did Hinch pull Greinke so quickly? Greinke was sailing along, and he did give up the home run followed by a walk to Juan Soto peppered with a couple of questionable non-strike calls from home plate umpire Jim Wolf (who was not at his best). Greinke’s removal, at that moment, would not have happened in years gone by when the starter had more respect and was expected to work his way out of jams. This trend of rotation pitchers being removed at the slightest hint of trouble has gotten out of hand. Let them pitch.

For winning his two starts for the Nationals in the Fall Classic, Stephen Strasburg is given the World Series MVP. Voters probably lean toward him also because of his overall postseason effort; in six starts, he went 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA, 47 strikeouts and four walks. This will likely fuel his decision to opt out of his current contract, which he can do this winter with four years and $100 million currently owed to him by Washington.

Kendrick is the first player to hit multiple go-ahead homers in a winner-take-all postseason game in the seventh inning or later. Both have been hit in the same postseason.

Getting the win despite walking four and striking out three, Scherzer ends a streak of 257 straight games (regular and postseason combined) in which he struck out fewer opponents than he walked. That is a post-1920 record.

The Nationals were 10-0 when either Strasburg or Scherzer started in October. The Astros’ top two aces—Cole and Justin Verlander—were a combined 6-5. Cole, after the game, is prodded by an Astros public relations official to speak to reporters. The response from the free agent-to-be Cole? “I’m not employed by the team.” He eventually speaks and thanks the Astros for his time in Houston.

Though we brag about how younger players have taken over the game in our 2019 season review, the Nationals win the title with the majors’ oldest roster, at 31.1 years per player.

A relatively big draw for Game Seven on Fox saves this World Series from being the lowest rated ever. Overall, the series averages 13.91 million viewers; only the 2012 series (San Francisco vs. Detroit) and 2008 series (Philadelphia vs. Tampa Bay) had fewer viewers.

Troubling news out of Texas where, in an affidavit released to the public, the 14-year-old daughter of Josh Hamilton claims that the former AL MVP beat her up in a prolonged, angry tirade. Hamilton, who is divorced, surrenders to authorities and is released on $35,000 bond; if sentenced for his alleged crime, he can spend up to 10 years in prison.

Former major leaguer and broadcaster Ron Fairly passes away from cancer at the age of 81. Fairly spent 21 years in the majors as a player, collecting 1,913 hits and 215 home runs to go along with a .266 average; he was a member of four World Series teams for the Dodgers, hitting .300 in 20 Fall Classic games. Twice he appeared in an All-Star Game, including the 1977 game (at age 39) as the first-ever representative of the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. He went on to do play-by-play work for the Angels, Giants and Mariners through 2006.

Thursday, October 31

The Kansas City Royals name ex-St. Louis manager Mike Matheny as their new manager in a move that surprises no one. The 49-year-old Matheny had been a special advisor to the Royals for a year after being axed by the Cardinals midway through the 2018 season, despite never having a losing season in St. Louis; he was even 47-46 when he was let go. The Royals, meanwhile, are coming off consecutive 100-loss seasons.

On the first day of the 2019-20 offseason, 131 major leaguers announce their free agency, including Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Marcell Ozuna, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Adam Wainwright, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig and Nick Castellanos. Incumbent teams have a five-day window to exclusively negotiate. Others teams exercise or deny team options for 2020; while Cleveland announces it will keep ace Corey Kluber for $20 million next season, the Yankees decline a similar fee for slugger Edwin Encarnacion, making him a free agent.

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