The Month That Was in Baseball: October 2021
Friday, October 1
The American League’s wild wild card race gets wilder as AL East champion Tampa Bay, being given the chance to play spoiler, deny the Yankees a chance to maintain their two-game lead in the wild card race with a 4-3 win at New York. The Yankees don’t lose for a lack of trying; they score twice in the ninth to close the gap to within one with the aid of, of all things, a bunt single from all-or-nothing slugger Joey Gallo, but Andrew Kitteridge strikes out the final two Yankees to seal the win.
With Boston winning at Washington, 4-2, and Toronto surviving a late Baltimore rally to prevail at home, 6-4, the Yankees’ lead in the wild card race is down to one game over the Red Sox (who are holding onto the second wild card spot) and two games over the Blue Jays and Seattle.
The Mariners blow a chance to tie the Red Sox for slot #2, bowing to the lowly Los Angeles Angels, 2-1, as they can only manage five hits off of Angels starter Jose Suarez and four relievers. At least the fan base wakes up; after being criticized for drawing home crowds in the 10-20,000 range during the week, the Mariners see a packed house at T-Mobile Park.
The San Francisco Giants narrow their magic number to win the NL West to a mere one and tie their all-time mark for season victories with #106 in a 3-0 home win over San Diego. For the Padres, it’s their seventh straight defeat and #82 on the year, ensuring a losing season after high hopes for success and a strong start; they’re 19-40 since July 23.
The Dodgers’ hopes of avoiding wild card status are pinned against the ropes with the Giants’ win, even as they continue to triumph themselves. For the second straight night, they have to come from multiple runs down, with the help of Trea Turner’s two home runs (including a fifth-inning grand slam) to defeat Milwaukee, 8-6, for their 13th straight home win—the longest such streak in the majors this season. But there’s bad news from the mound; veteran ace Clayton Kershaw, seeking his 100th career home win, departs in the second inning with the same forearm issues that kept him out of action for two months; he will miss the postseason as a result.
The St. Louis Cardinals are rewarding 40-year-old ace Adam Wainwright for a vintage 2021 effort, handing him a reported $15 million contract for 2022. Wainwright is second in the majors both in wins (17) and innings pitched (206.1) to go with a sharp 3.05 earned run average.
Saturday, October 2
The AL wild card race becomes as tight as ever. The Yankees have a chance to clinch one of the two spots, but are pummeled by the Rays at New York, 12-2, as Brandon Lowe launches three home runs and knocks in seven for Tampa Bay. It’s the 100th win for the Rays, the first time in franchise history they’ve reached triple figures.
The Red Sox tie the Yankees for the #1 wild card seed, breaking a 1-1 tie in the ninth at Washington by piling up four runs. The latter two of those tallies come on Kiké Hernandez’s two-run homer; that insurance pop proves pivotal, as the Nationals answer with a pair of runs before Boston reliever Hansel Robles extinguishes the threat and secures a 5-3 result.
The Blue Jays avoid outright elimination by easing to a 10-1 victory over the visiting Orioles, who drop their 109th game. George Springer knocks out four hits and finishes a triple shy of the cycle, while rookie Alek Manoah allows just a hit and walk with 10 strikeouts through seven innings. Springer’s home run is one of four on the day for the Jays, breaking the franchise record for one season with 258.
The Jays’ win makes the AL East the first division in the post-1993 wild card era to field four teams with 90-plus wins.
And let’s not forget the Mariners, who along with Toronto push to within a game of the Yankees and Red Sox. Seattle blows a 3-1 lead in the top of the eighth as the visiting Angels rack up three runs—but the Mariners respond in the bottom of the inning with three tallies of their own, including a two-run, go-ahead single from Mitch Haniger, who overall drives in five in a 6-4 victory.
There’s the possibility that all four teams competing for the two AL wild card spots will be tied at the end of the regular season’s final scheduled day with 91-71 records.
The NL West is still undecided as day #162 looms. The Giants have their chance to clinch, but can’t hold a slim 2-1 lead in the eighth and lose in 10 innings, 3-2 to the visiting Padres. San Francisco does experience a historical silver lining moment when Austin Slater comes off the bench and drills the Giants’ 18th pinch-hit homer of the year, setting an all-time MLB season mark.
The Giants still could still wrap up the division at the end of the day if Milwaukee defeats the Dodgers at Los Angeles, but Corbin Burnes is unusually ineffective and removed after just two innings. The Dodgers ultimately roll to an 8-3 victory, as Julio Urias becomes the first and only pitcher this season to record 20 wins (against just three losses).
It’s interesting to note: Only three times in MLB history have there been two teams with 105 or more wins in a single season. This is the first of those three in which the two teams (Giants and Dodgers) are in the same division, let along the same league.
Sunday, October 3
There will be no spillover of the suspense triumphantly advertised by MLB as “chaos,” as the remaining four postseason spots are all solidified.
In San Francisco, the Giants need a franchise-record 107th win to clinch the NL West as they club the Padres, 11-4. The Giants are propelled by Logan Webb, who pitches effectively and efficiently before stalling in the eighth, and heavily contributes on offense by collecting two hits (including his first career home run) while scoring three runs.
For the second-place Dodgers, it’s a bittersweet day—with the focus on “bitter.” It’s sweet in that they defeat the Brewers, 10-3, witness Trea Turner hit his second grand slam in three days while grabbing the NL batting title with a .328 average, and match a franchise season mark with 106 wins while setting another with their 15th straight home win. But then there’s the bitter; beyond the realization that the Dodgers’ win total is the highest ever by a team not finishing first—thus ending a run of eight straight years winning the West—they lose first baseman Max Muncy for the postseason after hyperextending his left arm on a freakish collision with Milwaukee’s Jace Peterson.
The Yankees and Red Sox survive as the AL’s two wild card participants. New York fights hard with the AL East champion Rays for eight scoreless innings, which includes an eye-opening defensive gem from shortstop Gio Urshela—who chases down a foul ball and makes the catch running at full speed into the Tampa Bay dugout; the resulting collision leads to thigh stiffness, forcing his departure shortly afterward. But with runners at first and third and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Aaron Judge connects on his first walk-off hit—not with a prodigious home run but, ironically, an infield single—to bring home pinch-runner Tyler Wade with the game-winner.
Moments after the Yankees’ 1-0 win, the Red Sox triumph with a ninth-inning rally of their own and will host New York in the wild card game. Rafael Devers’ second homer of the game and career-high 38th of the year brings home two runs and puts Boston ahead to stay, 7-5.
Eliminated from the wild card-palooza are Toronto and Seattle. The Blue Jays are out despite hammering the visiting Orioles, 12-4, while the Mariners are upended at home by the Angels, 7-3—ensuring a 20th straight year without postseason participation, the longest current streak in the majors.
Cleveland defeats the Rangers at Arlington, 6-0, in the final game in which the team will be known as the Indians, as they’ve been called since 1915. After protests grew over the controversial use of the name, the Indians will switch to “Guardians” in 2022. Despite the win, Cleveland finishes with a losing record for the first time since 2012.
The Chicago Cubs finished out a forgettable season with a rain-shortened (eight innings) 3-2 victory at St. Louis; the team finishes the year having used 69 players throughout the season—a major league record previously held by the 2019 Mariners.
They shortened the breaks, simplified intentional walks, rationed the mound visits, and forced pitchers to stay in for three batters. All this—and still, the length of baseball games keeps rising. The average time of an MLB contest rose to three hours and10 minutes during the 2021 regular season, up two-plus minutes from 2020—and nearly five minutes longer than 2019. Back in 2015, when MLB began some of these time-saving measures, the average length was at two hours and 56 minutes—nearly 15 minutes lighter than 2021.
What will MLB do to try next to reverse this annoying trend? There’s one very simple solution already in the books: Rule 8.04. What’s that, you may ask? It says that once the pitcher has the ball in his glove with no one on base, he has 12 seconds to throw it. That rule gets too often violated, and is virtually ignored by umpires as well as MLB, which seems to have forgotten that it exists. But if pitchers simply obeyed the rule, voila—shorter games. We won’t get back to games lasting two hours and 20 minutes, but it certainly wouldn’t be over three hours.
Monday, October 4
Luis Rojas is made the Fall Guy for a disappointing campaign at New York, relieved of his duties as Mets manager after two seasons—both of them below the .500 mark. This past season was hardly easy for Rojas to try and navigate the Mets through; super-ace Jacob deGrom (1.08 ERA over 92 innings) had to be shut down amid an injury-prone year, first-year Mets infielder Francisco Lindor (.230 average, 20 homers) underachieved, and there were controversies both in the front office (sexual harassment, DUI among top execs) and on the field (Mets players signaling “thumbs down” to their fans); much of the above was simply beyond his control.
With former “bad guy” Houston coaches A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora back to managing in the majors, is it time for the Mets to give Carlos Beltran another shot?
Say this for Dodgers fans: They show up to Dodger Stadium—even with pandemic restrictions through the season’s first two months, the Dodgers still drew nearly three million fans in 2021—and they come clad in their favorite players’ jerseys. MLB releases the top 20 jerseys sold this year, and four of the top eight are represented by Dodgers, with Mookie Betts taking the #1 spot for the second straight year. Other Dodgers ranked are Clayton Kershaw (#5), Cody Bellinger (#6) and Corey Seager (#8). Second overall on the list is the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr., followed by the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. and Javier Baez, whose sales were split between the Cubs and Mets. Aaron Judge checks in at #7 as the top selling Yankees jersey; Angels duel-threat Shohei Ohtani is slotted at a surprisingly low #9; and first year Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado rounds out the top 10.
Tuesday, October 5
The Red Sox advance to the ALDS by stopping the archrival Yankees in the AL Wild Card playoff at Fenway Park, 6-2—setting the pace early with home runs from Xander Bogaerts and Kyle Schwarber that KO New York ace Gerrit Cole after just two-plus innings. The Sox’ other three runs are brought home on a pair of hits from Alex Verdugo. Boston starter Nathan Eovaldi, who’s always done well in the postseason, allows just a run over 5.1 innings with eight strikeouts and no walks to collect credit for the win.
Giancarlo Stanton provides the Yankees with half of their offense, knocking out three of New York’s six hits and one of the team’s two runs on a solo homer. But he also over-admires a first inning blast he felt convinced was clearing Fenway’s Green Monster in left—before it ricocheted off the top of the wall; he ended up with a single.
Cole looked to run out of gas on the season. Over his last four starts, this one included, he allowed 18 runs over 19.2 innings for an 8.24 ERA, with seven home runs conceded.
Eddie Robinson, the oldest living ex-major leaguer at an even 100 years of age, passes away. Born in Paris, Texas, the first baseman debuted with a brief call-up in 1942 for Cleveland but spent the next three years serving in the military; when he returned, he became a reliable hitter who in four seasons (all consecutively) hit over 20 home runs and three times knocked in 100 runs, making four All-Star teams. He won a World Series ring with the 1948 Indians, and lost out on another when the 1955 Yankees he platooned for bowed to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson was traded six times, something for which he told us a few years ago was “never fun.” “Your life changes instantly,” he said.
The Colorado Rockies may not be big players in the upcoming free agent hunt—in fact, they’re likely to lose shortstop Trevor Story to another team—but they will retain two of their bigger talents. They re-up first baseman C.J. Cron for two years and $14.5 million, and pitcher Antonio Senzatela for five years and $50.5 million. Cron was the team’s most dangerous hitter in 2021, batting .281 with 28 home runs and 91 RBIs; Senzatela was only 4-10 in 28 starts, but his 4.42 ERA wasn’t bad by Rockies standards, and he actually pitched better at mile-high Coors Field (3.97 ERA) then on the road (5.05).
Wednesday, October 6
Someone mentions on Twitter before the NL Wild Card game: The Cardinals have won 11 straight road games, the Dodgers 15 straight at home. Something has to give. And for 8.2 innings, it doesn’t look like either team will give in a taut, tense and long (four hours and 15 minutes) battle. That’s until Chris Taylor steps to the plate with two outs and a runner on in a 1-1 tie. On the fourth pitch of his at-bat delivered by Cardinals reliever Alex Reyes, Taylor launches a drive well into the left-field bleachers in what might be the second most famous walk-off in Dodger Stadium history (Kirk Gibson keeps the #1 shot), giving the Dodgers a 3-1 victory and advancement to the NLDS against archrival San Francisco.
St. Louis nets its lone run in the first as Tommy Edman singles, steals second and eventually scores on a wild pitch by Dodgers starter Max Scherzer. The Dodgers tie it in the fourth on a solo homer from Justin Turner, and that’s the way it remains until the fateful ninth.
Neither Scherzer nor Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, two guys known to go deep into games, make it through the sixth; Scherzer is gone in the middle of the fifth, and when manager Dave Roberts comes out and extends his hand to take the ball, Scherzer communicates his disgust by shaking it in an act of comic defiance. The Dodgers are 12-0 in games when Scherzer starts for them.
The is the last game worked by 68-year-old umpire Joe West, wrapping up his 44th year. Nobody has umpired more major league games; in addition to the 5,500-plus regular season games he’s worked, West was the arbiter for 132 postseason games, including 34 World Series contests.
In a move that surprises nobody, the Padres fire manager Jayce Tingler after a highly disappointing 79-83 record in a year in which many had expected postseason participation and a fight to the finish with the Dodgers. (The Giants ended up taking their place.) Tingler will be offered a spot elsewhere in the organization should he agree to do so, but the Padres are now on the lookout for a new pilot to lead a team full of talent, including NL MVP candidate Fernando Tatis Jr., third baseman Manny Machado and a talented (if injury-prone) rotation that includes Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Mike Clevinger.
Thursday, October 7
If it’s the postseason, it must be Randy Arozarena. Last year’s playoff star for the Rays, who had a solid 2021 season despite not much fanfare—that tends to happen when you play for Tampa Bay—sparks the Rays with his 11th home run over 19 playoff games, and gets credit for the first stolen base of home seen in the postseason since 2016 as Tampa Bay takes ALDS Game One over the visiting Red Sox, 5-0. Shane McClanahan tosses five shutout innings for the Rays and three relievers completed the nine-hit shutout, neutralizing a potent Boston offense before a near-sellout crowd of 27,419 at untarped Tropicana Field.
Arozarena is the first player in MLB history to belt a home run and steal home in a postseason game.
The Rays’ other home run on the night is supplied by Nelson Cruz, who at age 41 years and 98 days is the second oldest player to go deep in MLB postseason history. Topping that list is Julio Franco, who hit a pair of dingers at age 43 in 2001.
The Astros easily snag their first game of the ALDS, defeating the White Sox at Houston, 6-1. All of the Astros’ runs are scored within the first five innings, mostly off ineffective Chicago starter Lance Lynn; the more effective Lance—Lance McCullers Jr.—uses the quick advantage to settle in and sail for 6.2 shutout innings, allowing four hits and no walks for Houston.
Friday, October 8
All four Divisional Series are in action, with the most anticipated of those starting out in San Francisco with the 107-win Giants spinning a Webb Gem to defeat the 106-win Dodgers, 4-0. Starting pitcher Logan Webb squashes Los Angeles for 7.2 innings, striking out 10 with no walks and no runs allowed—something only three other pitchers in the postseason have achieved. Offensively, all four Giants runs score on three home runs—the first from veteran catcher Buster Posey, whose two-run, opposite-field blast in the first strikes a brick pillar behind Oracle Park’s elevated right-field walkway, preventing it from becoming the first-ever home run hit by a right-handed batter into McCovey Cove.
This is the first modern-era postseason game between the two storied archrivals. The Dodgers and Giants did play best-of-three tiebreaker series in 1951 and 1962 to determine the NL winner, but those games were technically considered an extension of the regular season. And way back in 1889, the NL Giants and the American Association’s Bridegrooms—as the Dodgers were then known—played a best-of-nine series, the sixth of seven such clashes between the two leagues before the AA folded in 1891, with the surviving Bridegrooms moving to the NL. The Giants won that series, six games to three.
The other NLDS opens in Milwaukee with the Brewers tipping the Braves in a well-pitched 2-1 contest. Corbin Burnes and Charlie Morton exchange zeroes for six innings, but the Brewers take out Burnes in the seventh—and Morton continues, only to allow the Brewers’ two tallies when he hits leadoff batter Avisail Garcia before serving up a big-time, two-run shot to center field from Rowdy Tellez. Joc Pederson’s solo homer in the eighth is all the Braves can counter with.
Boston evens up its ALDS series at Tampa Bay with a 14-6 rout, overcoming a bad start as the Rays rack five first-inning runs off ace Chris Sale—four of those on a grand slam from Jordan Luplow. But the Red Sox, who plate two runs themselves in the first, outscored the Rays the rest of the way by a 12-1 count, with five total home runs—the most ever hit in 192 postseason games involving the Red Sox. Kiké Hernandez leads the way with five hits, including four of the extra-base variety (three doubles, one homer); the other player to do that in a postseason game was the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui, during the 2004 ALCS against…the Red Sox.
The Astros make it two straight against the White Sox at Houston, scoring five runs in the seventh to break a tie and pull away with a 9-4 victory. Part of Chicago’s failing thus far is that even though they’re hitting .265 in the series, they’re also slugging .265; all 18 of their hits thus far are singles.
Saturday, October 9
The Dodgers even up the NLDS with a definitive 9-2 win over the Giants at San Francisco, turning a tight game into a one-sided affair in the sixth with four runs before adding three more in the eighth. A key hit comes from 2021 bust Cody Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP who’s suffered horribly (.165 regular season average); though he strikes out three times, he contributes to the sixth-inning rally by smoking a two-run double to left-center. The hit is lashed off Giants reliever Dominic Leone, who sees all four runs score on his watch over just eight pitches after taking over for an effective (but perhaps fading) Kevin Gausman. Julio Urias pitches five solid innings and contributes on offense with an RBI single in the second, after the Giants intentionally walk A.J. Pollock to face him with two outs.
The other NLDS is also tied up as the Braves earn a split over the first two games at Milwaukee with a 3-0 win. Max Fried fires six shutout innings and 81 pitches, allowing three hits and no walks with nine strikeouts; three Atlanta relievers walk the proverbial tightrope from there, as the Brewers rally in each of the final three innings with six different batters representing the tying run at the plate. But none of them comes through, and the Braves complete the shutout victory.
Sunday, October 10
In the first game this season to go into extra innings—thus, no gift runners on second—the Red Sox and Rays fight it through to the 13th, when Boston emerges victorious 6-4 on a two-run, walk-off blast from catcher Christian Vazquez, giving the Sox a 2-1 ALDS lead. But that’s only half of what people were talking about afterwards. In the top half of the 13th with two outs and Yandy Diaz at first, the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier lofts a deep fly off the base of the short right-center field wall in front of the Red Sox’ bullpen; the ball bounces at and ricochets off Boston right fielder Hunter Renfroe, back over the fence. If the ball stays in play and Renfroe is left scampering to pick it up, Diaz would easily scored and Kiermaier would end up at third. But after discussion and a check with MLB’s video review war room, umpires give Kiermaier a ground rule double and orders Diaz to return to third. Mike Zunino next strikes out to end the rally, and the game remains tied until Vazquez’s game-winner a half-inning later.
Many within the Twitterverse and beyond don’t criticize the umpires’ decision as much as they do the rule itself. That rule states that any “bounding ball” deflected by a fielder into the stands is a ground-rule double and nothing more; the batter and any runners do not get an extra 90 feet or more as a result of the action. But the progress made on the basepaths by Diaz and Kiermaier plainly show that this particular interpretation of the ground-rule double needs to be rethought. For those thinking that this rule doesn’t need tinkering with because its occurrence is so rare (as ESPN’s Buster Olney argues), the Rays were on the other side of a similar ruling in 2019 at Toronto.
On the heels of a five-hit performance in Game Two, the Red Sox’ Kiké Hernandez racks up three more hits (including his second series homer) in Game Two to become the first player in MLB postseason history to notch eight over two games. The Sox overall tie another two-game playoff mark with 35 hits.
Down two games to none in their ALDS and trailing Game Three to the visiting Astros, 5-1, the White Sox’ chances of avoiding a series sweep doesn’t look too promising. But then their bats erupt; they scored eight runs over the third and fourth innings, then add three more in the eighth as an exclamation point as the Sox pounce on Houston, 12-6, to remain alive in the series. Tim Anderson has yet another three-hit postseason game for Chicago (his fourth in five career playoff games), while one L. Garcia (White Sox outfielder Leury Garcia) belts a three-run homer off another (Astros pitcher Luis Garcia) to cap a five-run third and put the White Sox ahead to stay.
Monday, October 11
The Red Sox are the first team to advance to the League Championship Series, knocking off the AL’s top-seeded Rays with a 6-5 home victory—their second straight in walk-off fashion, as Kiké Hernandez’s sacrifice fly brings home pinch-runner Danny Santana in the ninth. Boston blew an early 5-0 lead, as the Rays scratched back and tied it in the eighth; the Sox are the second MLB team (after the 1991 Twins, in the World Series) to clinch a postseason series with back-to-back walk-off victories.
The game includes a 17-pitch at-bat between Boston starter Eduardo Rodriguez and the Rays’ Austin Meadows, who eventually strikes out. It’s the most pitches in a single postseason at-bat since pitches began being officially tracked in 1988.
Ouch: After hitting 39 homers with 99 RBIs during the regular season, the Rays’ Brandon Lowe again turns into a postseason pumpkin—going 0-for-18 with nine strikeouts in the ALDS. For his career, Lowe is batting .115 over 113 playoff at-bats.
The Giants are accompanied by an old friend in NLDS Game Three in Los Angeles: Gusty winds with all the potency of old Candlestick Park, which came to their aid in a 1-0 win over the Dodgers to take a 2-1 series lead. Pinch-hitting with two outs in the ninth, the Dodgers’ Gavin Lux appears to launch a game-tying homer to left—but the wind knocks it down so hard that the catch is made on the edge of the warning track. The wind doesn’t deny Evan Longoria, who in the fifth supplies the game’s only run on a solo homer in the same direction off Dodgers starter Max Scherzer. It’s the sole blemish for the Dodgers ace, who otherwise gives up just two hits over seven innings with 10 strikeouts. Four Giants pitchers combine to shut down the Dodgers on five hits, including 4.2 innings from starter (and ex-Dodger) Alex Wood, and the final two from out-of-nowhere closer Camilo Doval—who becomes the first rookie to throw two or more innings without allowing a baserunner to earn a playoff save since the stat became official in 1969.
Scherzer evokes a Stu Miller memory in the first when the wind knocks him off his pitching motion. Unlike Miller in the 1961 All-Star Game at Candlestick, Scherzer isn’t called for a balk because nobody’s on base.
The Braves take a 2-1 lead in the other NLDS, silencing the Brewers at Atlanta, 3-0. Joc Pederson connects on a good day for ex-Dodgers (see Kiké Hernandez, above) with a pinch-hit homer in the fifth that brings in all three Atlanta runs; Ian Anderson tosses five shutout innings, while four Braves relievers finish off the five-hit blanking as the Brewers again exhaust several promising late rallies, to no avail.
Atlanta pitchers have not allowed a postseason run at Truist Park over their last 37 innings.
Tuesday, October 12
Houston is headed to its fifth straight ALCS after easily finishing off the White Sox at Chicago in ALDS Game Four, 10-1. After allowing the White Sox’ lone run in the second on a Gavin Sheets home run, the Astros quickly rebound with five tallies over the next two innings, before turning it into a rout late. Jose Altuve has the big day offensively for Houston, securing a 5-4-3-3 line in the box score with a single, double and three-run, game-capping homer in the ninth. The Astros’ only downside of the day is the loss of starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who leaves after four innings with discomfort in his throwing forearm; he’ll miss the rest of the postseason.
Only two other teams have reached five straight League Championship Series: The 1971-75 Oakland A’s, and the 1991-99 Atlanta Braves, who did it eight straight years (the postseason-less 1994 excluded). The Astros made it to the World Series in two of their previous four ALCS tourneys.
The White Sox do not go quiet into that good offseason. When the Astros’ Kendall Graveman plunks Jose Abreu with two outs, nobody on and a six-run lead in the eighth, White Sox manager Tony La Russa storms out of the dugout to protest, claiming that Abreu was targeted and had already been drilled once in the series (Game Three). A couple of things here; even with a six-run lead late, Graveman would have been tends to get hit by pitches, having gotten plunked 22 times during the regular season. It’s simply more likely that La Russa was opportunistically trying to fire up his troops.
While the ALCS is set, one-half of the NLCS matchup is cemented as the Braves advance over the visiting Brewers, 5-4, on Freddie Freeman’s dramatic two-out, eighth-inning homer off stellar Milwaukee closer Josh Hader to break a 4-4 tie. It’s the first run allowed by Hader since July 28, and his first round-tripper given up to a left-handed batter all year. In fact, Freeman is the first lefty to go deep twice on Hader, having belted one previously in 2019.
The Braves win despite losing outfielder/unlikely leadoff spark Jorge Soler, who tests positive for COVID-19. Soler will miss most of the upcoming NLCS; he had just one hit (a double) in 11 at-bats for the Braves in the NLDS, but his late-season presence after a trade from Kansas City was pivotal to helping push Atlanta into the postseason.
For the all the great pitching that buoyed the Brewers to a 95-67 finish this season, they were doomed in the NLDS by subpar hitting. Milwaukee slashed .192/.263/.264, with just two home runs and six walks. Christian Yelich, the Brewers’ supposed superstar who has struggled since signing his megadeal with the ballclub in March 2020, went 3-for-15 with no RBIs and eight strikeouts.
Who the Braves will face in the NLCS remains to be seen as the epic NLDS tilt between 100-plus-game winners San Francisco and Los Angeles predictably goes to a decisive fifth game. The Dodgers even the series with a 7-2 home victory, getting 4.1 superb innings from Walker Buehler—who starts on three days’ rest. The Giants, seemingly overwhelmed from the get-go, somehow manage to stay within arms’ length of the Dodgers before Will Smith’s two-run homer off Jake McGee—the eighth San Francisco pitcher on the night—puts the game away for good in the eighth.
Wednesday, October 13
Ray Fosse, the catcher/broadcaster best known for being on the wrong side of one of baseball’s worst home plate collisions, dies at the age of 74 after a long battle with cancer.
During his first full season in 1970, the Marion, Illinois native quickly ascended to top form for Cleveland and earned a spot on the AL All-Star team, backing up starter Bill Freehan (who also recently passed). In the 12th inning of the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati, Fosse was at the plate when he was violently bowled over by the Reds’ Pete Rose, who scored the winning run; Fosse lay keeled over near the plate, writhing in pain. He wouldn’t know until the following year that he had suffered a separation and fracture of the shoulder, as inflammation covered up the injury. Although he maintained a .300 average while playing 42 more games in 1970, he couldn’t power the ball; after hitting 16 home runs before the All-Star Break, he hit just two after.
The Rose injury was just the beginning of a sea of pain absorbed by Fosse, hobbling a career that somehow managed to last through 1979; in a recent interview, he claimed he had five knee surgeries, two bum shoulders and was suffering from arthritis. He leveraged his knowledge of the game to the booth, becoming a mainstay on the A’s broadcasting team starting in the mid-1980s. He took a leave of absence this past season to deal with the cancer he would sadly concede to.
Thursday, October 14
After staying completely on the Giants’ heels for the better part of the season and the bulk of the NLDS, the Dodgers finally catch up, surpass the NL West winners and put them in the rear-view mirror for good in 2021 with an expectedly tight—but controversial—Game Five win to take the series at San Francisco, 2-1. The defending champions get the winning run across in the top of the ninth from an unlikely source: Cody Bellinger, so lost during the regular season (2-for-48 against the Giants before the NLDS), delivering a solid single that scores Justin Turner.
The Dodgers send Max Scherzer, on two days’ rest, out in the bottom of the ninth to earn his first career save; he allows one baserunner before wrapping the game, series and Giants’ season when he strikes out Wilmer Flores on a swing he clearly appears to check—but is rung up anyway on appeal by first base umpire Gabe Morales. Irate Giants fans angered by the call—the tip of an iceberg of discontent over what they perceived as Doug Eddings’ balls-and-strikes favoritism toward Dodgers pitchers all night—rain beer cans and other trash upon the umpires as they leave the field.
The Giants stay square with the Dodgers in large part to starting pitcher Logan Webb, who has his second excellent effort in as many starts during the series; the Dodgers collectively match him, as manager Dave Roberts (and the front office) goes with reliever Corey Knebel to start; assumed Game Five starter Julio Urias takes over in the third as the third Los Angeles pitcher, conceding a run on three hits through the next four frames. Overall on the night, the Dodgers strike out 13 and walk no Giants, because…again, Doug Eddings.
Out of 36 postseason games thus far, only two pitchers have pitched at least seven innings: Webb (twice) and Scherzer (in Game Three).
The Achilles Heel for the Giants in the NLDS is their offense; in the five-game series against the Dodgers, they hit just .182, score 10 runs and walk just six times along with 49 strikeouts over 159 at-bats.
In a stunning move, the Cardinals fire manager Mike Shildt despite the team’s furious run to the postseason, highlighted by a franchise-record 17-game win streak in September before being edge out of the NL wild card game by the 106-win Dodgers. Cardinals’ president of baseball ops John Mozeliak explains the dismissal as a case of “philosophical differences,” though he does not elaborate. Shildt took over as St. Louis manager midway through the 2018 season and, a year, later won NL manager of the Year honors by taking the Cardinals to the NLCS (where they were swept by Washington). In his three-plus years at St. Louis, Shildt complied a strong 252-199 record.
Friday, October 15
Despite the best efforts of the Red Sox’ red-hot Kiké Hernandez, the Astros begin the ALCS with a come-from-behind 5-4 win at Houston. Jose Altuve’s two-run shot in the sixth, making him the fourth player with 20 postseason home runs, ties the game; Carlos Correa’s solo blast—spiked with hubris as he turns to the Astros’ dugout, points to his air watch and says, “it’s my time,”—is the 18th of his playoff career and gives Houston the lead to stay.
Nearly half of the Red Sox’ offense is generated by Hernandez, who is 4-for-5 with two solo homers, a double and single from the leadoff spot. Over his last four games, Hernandez is 13-for-21 with four doubles, four homers and eight RBIs; those 13 hits are the most over a four-game postseason span in MLB history.
The contest essentially becomes another bullpen game, though not entirely by design; Houston’s Framber Valdez—who last season threw at least five innings in each of his four postseason starts—lasts just 2.2 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks. Red Sox counterpart Chris Sale is slightly better, pitching the same number of innings and allowing a run on five hits and a walk. Each team ends up using eight pitchers on the night.
The Cubs finally bring in a general manager, hiring 37-year-old Carter Hawkins to try and build the team back up after its first losing record since 2014. Chicago is hoping that it can leverage Hawkins’ ability to sniff out good pitching, which he was credited for doing as assistant general manager over the last five years with Cleveland.
Saturday, October 16
The Red Sox have a grand ol’ time at Houston for ALCS Game Two, becoming the first MLB team to blast grand slams in each of the first two innings and take a massive early lead before wrapping up a 9-5 victory. J.D. Martinez clears the bases in the first off Astros starter Luis Garcia, and he’s followed in the second by Rafael Devers against Jake Odorizzi—who comes in virtually cold after Garcia leaves with an injury. Kiké Hernandez, continuing his recent hot form, adds a solo shot in the fourth to cap the Boston scoring; the Astros fight back here and there and make defeat look respectable, but they aren’t able to raise the threat level toward changing the outcome.
Only five times in regular season history have teams smacked grand slams in each of the first two innings, the last occurrence being earlier this May by the Dodgers. The 1984 Red Sox were one of the other four, with Bill Buckner and Tony Armas providing the four-run shots.
Between the two Boston slams, Garcia’s departure and Odorizzi’s unorthodox warming up on the playing field before taking the mound, the first inning and a half lasts an hour and 10 minutes. The final seven and a half frames last a relatively crisp two hours and 58 minutes.
The NLCS opens in Atlanta with the Dodgers clamping down on Freddie Freeman—striking out the Braves’ star all four times he comes to bat—but they’re unable to clamp down on Austin Riley. The rising third baseman pokes out a fourth-inning homer in the fourth to tie the game at 2-2, then brings home the game’s next—and final—run of the night with a walk-off hit, scoring Ozzie Albies (who singled and stole second) to take Game One, 3-2. The Dodgers muff their own attempt at a ninth-inning rally when Chris Taylor walks with two outs and next attempts to reach third on Cody Bellinger’s single to right—but fatally changes his mind halfway between second and third, forcing him into a pickle for which he’s tagged out to end the inning.
The Braves got a solid starting effort from Max Fried, who allows two runs on eight hits and no walks through six innings; at one point, he fires 23 consecutive strikes, which according to the Elias Sports Bureau is the longest such postseason streak in the last 20 years.
Sunday, October 17
It’s another night and another walk-off victory for the Braves as Eddie Rosario plays the hero with an RBI single—his fourth hit of the game—in the bottom of the ninth to give Atlanta a 5-4 victory and 2-0 NLCS lead over the Dodgers as the series moves on to Los Angeles for the next three games. Corey Seager’s two-run homer in the first gives the Dodgers an early lead off Atlanta starter Ian Anderson (who lasts only three innings), but the Braves equal the score on Joc Pederson’s monster blast to right—the only two runs conceded by Dodgers starter Max Scherzer, who leaves after 4.1 innings and later admits that he’s working with a “dead arm.” The Dodgers reclaim the two-run advantage in the seventh when Chris Taylor’s bases-loaded, sinking liner to center drops in front of—and past—outfielder Guillermo Heredia, who had just entered the game. Los Angeles’ 4-2 margin stands up until the bottom of the eighth when 20-game winner Julio Urias—brought on to hold the lead as part of manager Dave Roberts’ unique pattern to mix relievers and starters at essentially any time—gives up two runs as the Braves re-knot the score. With two outs in the ninth and Ozzie Albies at second, the Dodgers turn to closer Kenley Jansen—whose first pitch to Rosario is seared up the middle, too hot for Corey Seager’s glove at second, and into center to score Albies with the game-winner.
The Dodgers fall despite stealing a season-high four bases, including a pair from Mookie Betts; the Braves win despite another grisly performance from Freddie Freeman, who becomes the first LCS player to strike out in each of his first seven at-bats of the series—let alone six or five at-bats—before flying out in the eighth.
MLB has finally become kind enough to help provide housing assistance to minor leaguers, stating that all 30 teams will be required to financially help those having trouble living decently on, in some cases, sub-minimal wage. The multi-billion-dollar industry likely succumbs to pressure from advocacy groups, sportswriters and just plain optics that they’ve been turning their backs on future stars who’ve had difficulty making ends meet in the midst of the season. Details are still yet to be worked out, but this is surely a victory for minor leaguers suffering without union representation.
Monday, October 18
Who said there are no reruns in the Fall TV season? Two days after bursting out to a big start and pummeling the Astros, the Red Sox repeat the whole scene all over again—spanking Houston with nine runs over the first three innings on their way to a 12-3 rout and a 2-1 ALCS lead at Boston. Once more, the grand slam plays a role in the Red Sox’ early breakout. Kyle Schwarber clears the bases with a titanic moonshot to right, capping a six-run second inning and giving the Sox three grand slams over their last two games. Boston is the first team to hit three slams in consecutive games within the first two innings—postseason or regular. Additionally, the Red Sox’ 11 hits gave them at least 10 for the sixth straight postseason game, the first time any MLB team has accomplished them within one playoff cycle.
Through the first three games of the series, Astros starting pitchers have combined to throw just 5.1 innings, allowing 14 runs (12 earned) on 13 hits, eight walks and three home runs.
Tuesday, October 19
Desperate times call for desperate measures—and both teams trailing in the two LCS’s meet the call and avoided plunging deeper into series holes.
In Los Angeles, the Dodgers are down by three runs with less than six outs to spare when they awaken both themselves and a bummed-out crowd with a crucial four-run rally in the eighth to take a 6-5 lead over the Braves in NLCS Game Three; Kenley Jansen then strikes out the heart of the Atlanta order, 1-2-3, in the ninth to preserve the victory and help the Dodgers avoid a 3-0 series deficit. The big blow in the four-run eighth comes on a three-run homer from Cody Bellinger, whose postseason clutch theatrics are making Dodgers fans everywhere forget the pure misery that was his regular season performance; Mookie Betts brings home the go-ahead run three batters later when he doubles in Chris Taylor, who had singled on the heels of Bellinger’s blast.
This is the 82nd time that the Dodgers entered the eighth inning of a postseason game trailing by three or more runs; they were winless in their previous 81 attempts.
After batting an atrocious .165 during the regular season, Bellinger seems to have reformed himself in October; he’s 7-for-24 (.292) with a home run and six RBIs in eight playoff games so far.
The Astros, meanwhile, look in danger of dropping to a 3-1 ALCS deficit for much of the way in Game Four at Boston. The Red Sox strike early again as Xander Bogaerts’ ballpark-clearing shot to left gives Boston two first-inning runs, countering a solo homer in the top of the frame by Houston’s Alex Bregman. But unlike the previous two games, the Red Sox cannot run up the score, and the 2-1 margin would remain through the seventh—with an overtaxed Astros bullpen managing to keep the game tight after yet another quick hook of the starter, Zack Greinke (1.1 innings, two runs allowed on a hit and three walks). But in the eighth, Jose Altuve blasts one over the Green Monster to tie the game—and in the ninth, Houston explodes for a franchise playoff-record seven runs to run away with a stunning 9-2 result.
Of the 53 runs scored by the Astros so far in the playoffs, 36 have come with two outs. Altuve’s homer gives him 21 for his postseason career—trailing only Bernie Williams (22) and Manny Ramirez (29) in MLB October annals.
Despite whispers to the contrary, the Yankees will be bringing back manager Aaron Boone on a three-year contract with a club option for 2025. In his first four years at New York, Boone has produced a 328-218 record and made the postseason in each of his first four seasons, but he has yet to produce a pennant; overall, the Yankees haven’t been to the World Series since 2009, the longest such drought since between 1981-96.
Wednesday, October 20
And so here we are again with the NLCS: The Braves take a 3-1 series lead, with three games to win one and a trip to the World Series. For the Braves’ sake, they’d better not crash and burn once more.
In Game Four at Los Angeles, the Braves bash Dodgers starter Julio Urias, who serves up three home runs for the first time since 2016; the first of those dingers comes on a solo shot in the second from Eddie Rosario, who also hits the fourth (and final) Braves blow of the evening in the ninth when he plants a three-run drive into the Atlanta bullpen behind the right-field fence, giving the Braves a 9-2 victory. The irony of Rosario’s second homer is that had the ball landed off the wall instead of over it, he likely would have had a double and the second cycle in postseason history, after Boston’s Brock Holt in 2018. Rosario is the second player (after Robin Yount in 1982) to have multiple four-hit performances within a single postseason—and he accomplishes the feat over a three-game stretch. Beyond Rosario, the key to the Braves’ win is the effort of six relievers as the starters get a night off. Drew Smyly, Atlanta’s second pitcher, picks up the win by throwing 3.1 innings and allowing the Dodgers’ lone two runs—though the hit that scores them is served up by his successor on the mound, Chris Martin.
While the Braves and their fans may be equally excited about the 3-1 series lead, they’re also nervous that history doesn’t repeat itself; last season, the two teams were at this same point and the Dodgers pulled off the trifecta comeback, winning the final three games to advance to the World Series. But for the Dodgers to repeat the feat, they’ll need to win the final two games in hostile Atlanta territory before packed Truist Park houses—unlike last year, when they were the “official” home team based at a neutral site (Arlington’s Globe Life Field) before relatively scant crowds made up mostly of Dodgers rooters. Additionally, Los Angeles will have to do the rest of the series without third baseman Justin Turner, who threw a hamstring while running out a ground ball to first base.
The Astros get just what the doctor ordered in ALCS Game Five, dominating the Red Sox anew with a 9-1 triumph and completing an unlikely momentum shift, winning their second straight game to head back to Boston with a 3-2 series lead. Framber Valdez becomes the first pitcher anywhere this postseason to complete eight innings of work, allowing just a run on three hits over 93 pitches; in fact, Valdez compiles more innings than the four previous Houston starters combined. His counterpart, recovering Boston ace Chris Sale, looks sharp into the sixth until the Astros launch a five-run rally with the help of a critical error from novice first baseman Kyle Schwarber. The Astros’ Yordan Alvarez stars on offense, flirting with a cycle of his own before settling with a home run, double and single to go along with three RBIs.
The Brewers won 95 games this year in spite of substandard hitting that produced a .233 batting average in the regular season, scored just six runs in their four-game NLDS bow to the Braves, and lacked a star element as former MVP Christian Yelich continued to mystify with his inability to return to elite form. This all spells bad news for hitting coach Andy Haines, who’s let go by Milwaukee. Brewers management releases a statement hiding its displeasure with praise for Haines, saying that he was a “very good coach” and “contributed to a lot of wins,” but that the team needed to “make a change.”
Thursday, October 21
The NLCS script from 2020 continues to be copied and paste to 2021 as the Dodgers avoided elimination in Game Five, bouncing back from an early Atlanta lead to dominate at Los Angeles, 11-2. Providing the offensive thrust for the Dodgers is Chris Taylor, who is the 11th player in postseason history—and the second Dodgers player, after Kiké Hernandez in the 2017 NLCS—to belt three home runs in a postseason game. Taylor has a chance to make it four homers with two outs in the eighth, but strikes out trying. A.J. Pollock adds two homers of his own to give the Dodgers a franchise postseason record-tying five blasts on the night. Meanwhile on the mound, six Los Angeles relievers shut the Braves down on three hits, no walks and nine strikeouts after ‘opener’ Joe Kelly struggles and leaves before the end of the first inning with a shoulder injury, knocking him out of the series.
The similarities to last year’s NLCS Game Five between these two teams are intriguing. Back then, the Dodgers also stayed alive with a 7-3 win, also after trailing early, 2-0.
Friday, October 22
For the third time in five years, the Astros are heading to the World Series, finishing an impressive LCS rebound against the Red Sox with a 5-0 Game Six victory at Houston. The Astros’ return to the Fall Classic represents affirmation for a team that, this time, is achieving success the honest way. It’s also a feel-good moment for manager Dusty Baker, who took over the Houston reins last year amid turmoil within the organization and, at age 72, is headed back to the World Series for the first time since 2002 when managing the Giants against the Angels. A trophy would also shed his image as a latter-day Gene Mauch, a manager who can’t win the big series when he appears to have it in the bag. Baker is the eighth manager to win pennants for both an AL and NL team.
The Astros quickly get on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first on red-hot Yordan Alvarez’s RBI double, but the game stays tight for much of the way. After tripling in the sixth, Alvarez scores on a double play to make it 2-0—and the Astros blow it open in the eighth on Kyle Tucker’s three-run homer into Minute Maid Park’s Crawford Boxes behind left field.
Boston’s offense, so alive early in the series, continues to be AWOL. Astros starter Luis Garcia, inexplicably throwing his fastball three MPH faster than normal on average, takes a no-hitter into the sixth when Kiké Hernandez triples (but ultimately fails to score). An inning later, with the Houston bullpen taking over, the Red Sox put together their biggest threat of the night—but with runners at first and third and one out, pinch-hitter Travis Shaw strikes out and Alex Verdugo, running from first, is gunned down at second on a perfect throw from Houston catcher Martin Maldonado.
Alvarez is simply unreal over the series’ last two games. He cranks out seven hits—two more than the entire Red Sox lineup—with three doubles, a triple and home run. He’s the no-brainer chance for the ALCS MVP.
It was the tale of two series for the Red Sox. They hit .292 and scored 21 runs through the first three games; over the last three, that average tumbled to .111 with just three plated.
The Astros scored 27 runs with two outs in the series, setting a postseason series record they previously held when they collected 24 in the 2004 NLDS against Atlanta.
Saturday, October 23
Three teams won 100 games during the regular season; none of them will be in the World Series. That fact is cemented when the Dodgers, the last of the triple-digit ballclubs standing in the postseason, bow out of the NLCS with a 4-2, Game Six loss to the Braves at Atlanta. For the Braves—the team with the worst record (88-73) among all 10 postseason participants, they become the team that’s the latest ever to get over .500 for the first time in the regular season (August 6) and still make it to the World Series.
The Braves hold the edge from the start, plating a first-inning run off Walker Buehler (working on three days’ rest in the place of scheduled starter Max Scherzer, still out with a dead arm) on Austin Riley’s ground-rule double to score Ozzie Albies. But the killer blow comes in the fourth when the white-hot Eddie Rosario sears a three-run liner over the right-field wall, giving the Braves a 4-1 lead they would not relinquish. Not that the Dodgers, winner of 106 regular season games and loaded in the lineup from top to bottom, don’t try. Their biggest threat to undo the Atlanta lead comes in the seventh when the first three batters reached (one scoring) off of ineffective Braves reliever Luke Jackson. With runners at second and third and nobody out, Jackson is replaced with left-handed Tyler Matzek—who proceeds to strike out the next three batters, all right-handed, and including Albert Pujols and Mookie Betts. The Dodgers never get another runner on base, and the Braves hold on to win their first pennant since 1999.
With his game-deciding homer, Rosario matches a postseason record with 14 hits. Those include a double, triple and three homers; he also receives three walks and knocks in nine runs. Not surprisingly, he’s granted NLCS MVP honors. But serious honorable mention goes to Matzek. The southpaw reliever did have one iffy outing—in Game Two, when he walked two batters (one intentionally), both of whom became inherited and scored upon…Luke Jackson. But overall, Matzek is lights out in the series, allowing one hit over six innings with 11 strikeouts against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers’ loss breaks a streak of seven straight victories when facing elimination; the record remains 10 with the 2012-16 Giants. The exit of the Dodgers also ensures the extension of seasons without a repeat champion to 21; the Yankees (1998-2000) are still the last team to win consecutive titles.
As true baseball fans will pull for longtime baseball warrior/Houston manager Dusty Baker in the World Series, they have found an Atlanta equal in third-base coach Ron Washington, who’s been in professional baseball as player, coach or manager since 1971 and has never been able to wear a World Series ring; the closest he came was in 2010-11, when he won consecutive pennants as Texas manager but lost both Fall Classics.
For the Dodgers, it’s another frustrating exit out of the postseason amid a 10-year run that’s seen them strong enough to secure multiple World Series but win only once—and some believe that even 2020’s lone triumph denotes an asterisk due to the nature of the shortened pandemic campaign. Will the Dodgers get more chances? The team is flush in revenue and many star players return in 2022, but the offseason will be peppered with outgoing Los Angeles free agents including Scherzer, Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Taylor, Kenley Jansen and Joe Kelly. And the Dodgers need to weather out the saga of pitcher Trevor Bauer, still battling in court against a sexual accuser and holding the key to activating a $35 million salary for 2022.
And finally, there’s this: Although the NL West champion Giants couldn’t overcome the second-place Dodgers in the NLDS, they may have taken Los Angeles down with them by battling to the end and forcing Scherzer to the mound to close out the decisive game. If Scherzer doesn’t come into that ninth inning and report a dead arm later in the NLCS—assuming, of course, that another Dodgers pitcher would have completed the save—we would have a different set of scenarios between the Dodgers and Braves—and who knows where it would have gone from there.
Monday, October 25
The Cardinals announce bench coach Oliver Marmol to replace the recently fired Mike Shildt as the team’s manager. A former infielder in the Cardinals’ organization who never made it higher than Single-A, Marmol has been on the St. Louis coaching staff for the past five years and, at age 35, has earned enough respect to take over the helm. He’ll be the youngest manager in MLB—in fact, he’ll be younger than several Cardinals expected to play for him in 2022, including catcher Yadier Molina (currently 39) and pitcher Adam Wainwright (40).
Ken Griffey Jr. is back with the Seattle Mariners in an ownership capacity. The greatest hitter in Mariners history has bought out minority shares, part of a continued resuscitation of his relationship with the team that bottomed out with his second go-around as a player in 2010; he has since been re-embraced by serving the Mariners’ front office in various roles.
Tuesday, October 26
The 2021 World Series opens with the Braves wasting little time establishing the advantage—and keeping it from the first batter to the last. Jorge Soler takes Houston starter Framber Valdez deep on the third pitch of the game, giving the Braves the quick lead and making Soler the first player ever to lead off a World Series with a home run. Atlanta adds four more runs by the third inning, knocking Valdez out of the box; from there, they breeze to a 6-2 Game One victory. It’s a group effort for the Braves; all nine of their starting lineup members each have at least a hit before the end of the fifth inning. Adam Duvall’s two-run blast in the third—ending Valdez’s night—is the ninth this postseason by an Atlanta player who didn’t start the year with the Braves. Eddie Rosario remains hot, punching out two more hits—and punching out the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel in the eighth on a throw from center field to second base.
The only sour note on the night for Atlanta is the early departure of starting pitcher Charlie Morton, who leaves midway through the third inning from an ailing knee nailed an inning earlier by a comebacker; turns out that he pitched to three additional batters on a fractured knee. He’ll miss the rest of the series.
In defeat, Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez connects on his second triple in as many games; he has only one three-bagger in 233 career regular season games.
Dual Angels threat Shohei Ohtani picks up his first of what is expected to be many offseason honors, being given the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award for excelling both as a slugger and pitcher during the season. The honor, created in 1998, is not yearly; in fact, one hasn’t been given out since 2014, when two awards were handed out to retiring shortstop Derek Jeter and legendary broadcaster Vin Scully.
Wednesday, October 27
The Astros even up the World Series at a game apiece as they run over the Braves at Houston, 7-2 in Game Two. It ends a streak of 10 Fall Classic contests in which the home team lost—discounting the 2020 Series, entirely played at a neutral setting in Arlington, Texas. Defensive miscues hurt the Braves’ cause. In the midst of Houston’s four-run second, a Martin Maldonado single scores Yuli Gurriel from second—and Jose Siri plates right behind him when outfielder Eddie Rosario throws to an unmanned third base; the ball then skips starting Atlanta pitcher Max Fried, failing to provide backup. Later in the sixth, Atlanta infielder Ozzie Albies botches a putout at second on a potential inning-ending double play, all while Yordan Alvarez scores from third with the Astros’ sixth run.
A night after enduring a 0-for-5 Game One with three strikeouts, Houston’s Jose Altuve collects two hits including his 22nd career postseason home run, tying Bernie Williams for the second most ever hit in the playoffs. (Manny Ramirez has the most with 28.) The Braves’ Rosario, meanwhile, is hitless in four at-bats—ending an 11-game hit streak.
The 50th Roberto Clemente Award is given to Nelson Cruz, who split his time this past season between Minnesota and Tampa Bay. The 41-year-old slugger met the award’s criteria of “character, community involvement and philanthropy.” Earlier this year, Cruz provided financial support for 1,200 families in his Dominican Republic hometown as the island nation was wracked by COVID-19.
After a long and expensive process, the Cleveland Guardians may have to look for a new name. Astonishingly, the Guardians nee Indians decided on the new name despite the fact that a local roller derby outfit already goes by the same moniker—which it trademarked. Those Guardians have sued the new Guardians, declaring in its filing, “There cannot be two ‘Cleveland Guardians’ teams in Cleveland, and, to be blunt, Plantiff was here first.” The roller derby’s team’s existence apparently did not come as any surprise to the former Indians. In fact, they were in negotiations as far back as June, with the Indians offering to pay to take control of the name—but the roller derby Guardians refused, saying the offer wasn’t enough. Experts believe the Indians will secure “Guardians” before a trial starts, but it will have to pony up more money.
Thursday, October 28
Bob Melvin receives a very nice present on his 60th birthday, switching Oakland for San Diego and signing a three-year deal to manage the Padres. The deal is a coup for the Padres; in 18 years of managing, Melvin has led seven of his teams to the postseason—and though none of them made it to the World Series, he still owns a ring for being on Bob Brenly’s coaching staff for the 2001 Diamondbacks. The three-time Manager of the Year (once with Arizona, twice with the A’s) will be free of the spending restrictions he faced in Oakland, but the pressure will be on him to produce in San Diego, which has been littered with ex-managers and coaches of late.
Joshua Streit, a 30-year-old Minnesota resident, managed to hack into MLB computers and figure out how to illegally stream games from his home. Most people would have been happy right there, but Streit decided to go one step further—by contacting MLB and threatening to publicize the hacked code unless it paid him $150,000. Hang on, said MLB—which contacted authorities, who arrested Strait for extortion. An FBI spokesperson summed up the case neatly: “The puns write themselves in this investigation, and now instead of scoring a payday, (Streit) faces a federal prison sentence as a penalty.”
The Miami Marlins don’t waste time solidifying its roster for 2021, extending shortstop Miguel Rojas for two years and $10 million. Rojas, who will be 33 next Opening Day, has developed into one of the Marlins’ more reliable players; he hit .265 with 30 doubles, nine home runs, 48 RBIs and 13 steals this past season.
Friday, October 29
In a tight, low-scoring contest reflective of the chilly, damp conditions at Atlanta’s Truist Park, the Braves stifle the Astros for a 2-0 Game Three win; they lead the World Series, two games to one. Atlanta pitching dominates; second-year (but still officially rookie) starter Ian Anderson completes five no-hit innings, but is removed in part because only 39 of his 76 pitches are strikes, suggesting that the Braves are worried over his control (and thus longevity) in a close game.
Austin Riley’s double in the third brings home Eddie Rosario for Atlanta’s first run; insurance is finally added in the eighth with Travis D’Arnaud’s 437-foot bomb to center. Meanwhile, the Astros have nothing to offer offensively; Aledmys Diaz’s pinch-hit single to lead off the eighth is Houston’s first, a pop fly that falls at the feet of an onrushing Rosario in left. Pinch-running for Diaz, Jose Siri reaches third on a steal/error at second, but cannot advance from there.
Anderson goes deeper into a World Series game allowing no hits than any other rookie except Jeff Tesreau, who threw 5.1 innings for the New York Giants in Game One of the 1912 Fall Classic against Boston. The combined effort by Atlanta pitching created the longest no-hit bid in Series history since Jim Lonborg threw 7.2 hitless innings during Game Two in 1967.
In eight career postseason starts, Anderson is 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA; he’s allowed 20 hits over 35.2 innings.
This is the first World Series game the Braves won at home since their 1-0 victory over Cleveland that clinched the team’s last world title, in 1995 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. They had lost five straight since, all to the Yankees—in 1996 and 1999.
Saturday, October 30
The Braves are one game away from the promised land, taking a 3-1 game lead in the World Series after defeating the visiting Astros in Game Four, 3-2. Houston takes early advantage of surprise ‘opener’ Dylan Lee, the first-ever pitcher to make his first major league start in a World Series. A clearly nervous Lee faces four batters and throws just five of his 15 pitches for strikes, walking two and leaving with the bases loaded. The Astros notch a run but fail to convert the rally into a big inning as Kyle Wright clamps down on Houston following Lee’s departure. Wright gives the Braves’ bullpen more rest than expected by pitching through the end of the fifth, allowing just one more run—a solo home run from Jose Altuve in the fourth.
Meanwhile, the Astros shut down the Braves on offense as veteran Zack Greinke—who came into the game throwing 3,219 career major league innings as opposed to Lee’s 4.2—scatters four hits and three walks through four innings without allowing a run. “If anybody knows how to pitch in a big game, it’s Greinke,” exclaims Houston manager Dusty Baker before the game; if only Greinke had been allowed to prove Baker’s brag a bit longer. The 38-year-old right-hander is removed after the fourth, having thrown just 58 pitches; some believe it’s a good move, considering Greinke’s recent health issues (neck injury, COVID) that have limited his playing time and, therefore it’s assumed, his stamina.
While Atlanta’s bullpen keeps the game tight, Houston’s cannot keep it in its favor. The Braves rally for one run in the sixth and, an inning later with Cristian Javier on the mound, hit back-to-back bombs from Dansby Swanson and pinch-hitter Jorge Soler to take a 3-2 lead. Altuve’s bid to ape Game Four of the ALCS and bring the Astros back with an eighth-inning homer falls just short of the wall and into the glove of Atlanta left fielder Eddie Rosario, who makes a terrific catch to preserve the lead. In the ninth, Braves closer Will Smith retires the Astros in order to preserve the 3-2 win; Smith hasn’t allowed a run in 10 postseason appearances thus far, matching three other relievers for the most in one year (the last being Cleveland’s Cody Allen in 2016).
It’s the third time that a World Series team hits back-to-back homers—one to tie the game, the other to take the lead. The other occurrences took place in 1928 (by the Yankees’ Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig) and 1981 (by the Dodgers’ Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager).
Sunday, October 31
The Astros overcome another highly unorthodox start from the Braves’ pitching staff—and a first-inning grand slam by Atlanta’s Adam Duvall—to stay alive in the World Series and return to Houston for Game Six in Houston with a 9-5 triumph. It’s the first home loss for the Braves this postseason after winning seven straight.
A day after starting virtual major league debutante Dylan Lee, the Braves go with Tucker Davidson—who himself has only five career appearances at the MLB level to his name, and last pitched for the Braves on June 16 before elbow woes knocked him out for the rest of the regular season. Like Lee, Davidson is wobbly—allowing four runs (two earned) on two hits and three walks through two-plus innings, as the Astros rebound to tie the game and erase the early lead built up on Duvall’s slam. After Freddie Freeman’s 460-foot blast gives Atlanta the lead back in the bottom of the third, the Astros take the lead for good with a three-spot in the fifth, the last two of those runs plating on a soft single by once-and-current Astro Marwin Gonzalez. Houston adds insurance with single runs in the seventh and eighth to complete the victory.
Jose Urquidy, Houston’s third pitcher on the evening, gains credit for the victory; he’s the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2001 to win games in a World Series as both starter and reliever.
Duvall’s slam is the fifth hit this postseason, setting an MLB record; four of them have been hit against Houston, with all of those coming within the first two innings.
Asked to pinch-hit in the fourth, veteran pitcher Zack Greinke—with a .233 average and nine home runs over 521 career regular season at-bats—laces an opposite-field single for the Astros. He’s the first pitcher with a World Series pinch-hit since the Giants’ Jack Bentley stroked two in 1923.
Only one other team in World Series history has come from four or more runs down on the road and win when faced with elimination. That ballclub was none other than the 1919 Chicago White Sox in Game Six at Cincinnati, with everyone playing to win as the “Black Sox” conspirators weren’t seeing any payment for throwing earlier games.
Former second baseman and long-time Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy passes away at the age of 68 after a long battle with lung cancer. The Massachusetts native was the epitome of the 1970s middle infielder—small and lacking muscle, but also agile and quick. He was a reliable second sacker and stole 208 bases over 10 years of play split between the Angels and Red Sox, but he hit just seven home runs over 4,455 career at-bats—including none over his 2,320. In 1988, four years after playing his last game, he joined the Red Sox’ broadcasting crew and remained there through this past season, taking a number of leaves to deal with the cancer he was diagnosed with in 2008. Remy made for an upbeat last appearance at the AL Wild Card playoff between the Red Sox and Yankees at Fenway Park on October 5, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
Albert Pujols still has the urge to play—even if it means a spot on a winter ball team. Back in his native Dominican Republic, the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer plays his first game for Leones del Escogudo and provides a walk-off hit—an infield single, which seems rather improbable given Pujols’ low rate of speed that’s made him responsible for grounding into an MLB-record 413 double plays over his 21-year career.
Pujols seems to be making it clear that he intends to return to the majors for 2022. The question is: Who will take him? For Pujols, how well he plays in the D.R. will determine that.
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