Knuckleballer meets knuckleheads

Mickey Jannis

TV broadcast screen capture shows 33-year-old rookie knuckleballer Mickey Jannis’s MLB debut interrupted by a naughty-sauce frisk. Seriously?

“In putting the [naughty sauce crackdown] plan together,” said commissioner Rob Manfred to The Athletic‘s Brittany Ghiroli on Wednesday, “we tried to come up with a plan that was as unobtrusive as possible given the practicalities of the game and the need to move the game along. We thought the checks between innings was a good way to de-escalate them, maybe is the right word (to use).”

The knucklehead didn’t bank on a knuckleballer being stopped and frisked in a cop stop so ridiculous the most corrupt police department alive wouldn’t find any graft opportunity in it.

“When do you figure we can say for sure that this mid-season crackdown on foreign substances has gone from the ridiculous to the knuckleheaded?” asked Tortilla Fats, with appropriate indignation.

He called me this morning after watching the Astros—whom he doesn’t care about, emphatically—demolish the Orioles 13-0 Wednesday. And, after reading Commissioner Nero’s Athletic comments.

“What are you talking about?” I answered. “Isn’t provoking a couple of pitchers into near-stripteases on or around the mound enough evidence, if you’ll pardon the expression?”

“Go look up what happened after Mickey Jannis pitched the top of the sixth for the Orioles,” Fats said. “You won’t believe it.”

These days, when it comes to baseball in the Age of Manfred, I’d believe just about anything. Fats knows it, too. So when he tells me now that I won’t believe what I’m about to see, I take him at his word.

I knew Jannis was one of those guys who scuffled (not scuffed), shuffled, and shouldered along in the minors as best he could for a long enough time. He’d only been doing it since he was 22 in 2010. Finally, at 33 in 2021, he got the break he’d only been praying for since he went from somewhat low-level Rays prospect to independent leaguer to Mets minor league asset to out of the game, seemingly, until the Orioles took a minor league flyer on him this spring.

I also knew Jannis’s aspiring money pitch was the knuckleball. The pitch that floats like a butterfly and stings just about the same if you happen to get hit by one at the plate. Thrown right, it relies almost entirely on the elements to make its way to the plate doing anything from a line dance to the cha-cha-cha and back to a break dance, before it arrives snickering into or around or within a parking space of the strike zone.

Thrown wrong, it tends to hover like a rescue helicopter. That’s the only thing it has in common with the whirlybirds. Rescue helicopters don’t get hit into the next area codes.

Thrown at all these days, it’s as much of a genuine novelty as baseball people only thought it was back in the so-called Good Old Days of the Grand Old Game.

“You got it yet?” Fats asked impatiently.

“I got it,” I said. I watched Jannis in the fifth strike Yordan Alvarez out, get Carlos Correa to fly out to right, walk Kyle Tucker, and then escape in advance when Oriole catcher Austin Wynns threw Tucker out trying to commit grand theft second. The Orioles might still be down 6-0 at that point but the Camden Yards crowd sure did show the old rookie some new appreciation.

Then I watch Jannis in the sixth. He got Abraham Toro—who was at the plate when Tucker was cuffed and read his rights to end the fifth—to ground out to second. He got Myles Straw to fly out to center. He threw a knuckler with about as much rhythm as a garden slug to Martin Maldonado, and Maldonado swatted the little slimer into left for a base hit. He walked Jose Altuve on five pitches, two of which were four-seam fastballs that couldn’t out-race a horse-drawn produce wagon. But he threw Michael Brantley a nasty little butterfly that Brantley might have been lucky to send to left for an RBI single before Yuli Gurriel flied out for the side.

Then I got what agitated Fats.

The umps decided side retired after one run on two hits and a walk was the perfect moment to stop and frisk Jannis for naughty sauce. It was almost as Twilight Zone as the umps who stopped to frisk Yankee relief pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga—who isn’t a knuckleballer—after he was spanked for four runs on five hits in an inning.

“Knuckleballer searched by knuckleheads,” Fats fumed. “You ought to make that your column headline.”

“I don’t believe it either, Fats,” I said. “That pitch has about as much spin as a windmill. Matter of fact, I’ve seen windmills with more spin rate. What were those umps thinking?”

“You assume they were thinking.”

“My mistake.”

“Anyone with a third grade education can tell you there’s no reason on earth a knuckleball pitcher wants anything on his hands except flesh and fingernails.”

“Have you seen Jannis’s grip?” I said. “He doesn’t use the seams. He’s got his first two fingertips on the meat between the seams. He has his other two fingers inside the turn on one seam and the ball of his thumb under the ball just up against that seam. So why the hell do the umps want to have him checked for naughty sauce?”

“You tell me,” Fats replied. “You’re the expert. I’m just a guy who doesn’t care about the Astros.”

“Jannis isn’t an Astro, remember? That run made the game 7-0, Astros.”

“It’s the Astros, so I don’t care.”

Astros starter Jose Urquidy shook off a leadoff single to rid himself of the Orioles on back-to-back popups and a ground out in the bottom of the sixth. Jannis went out for the seventh. It didn’t exactly go well for him. It only began with Alvarez fouling off two knuckleballs before he got one that didn’t even side step and drove it over the left center field fence.

From there, it was double to the back of center field (Correa), walk (Tucker, again), and Toro catching hold of another knuckler with cement shoes for dancing shoes and hitting a three-run homer. Poor Jannis also had to work the seventh and surrender a one-out solo bomb (to Alverez’s late left field replacement Chas McCormick); then, single, double, RBI single, before he escaped on a ground out and a called strikeout sandwiching another walk.

And, before his evening ended mercifully enough. Something just doesn’t seem right when a guy who waited 33 years to throw major league innings gets left in one inning past his evening’s shelf life.

Did the very absurdity of umpires checking the knuckleballer for naughty sauce squat inside Jannis’s head rent free? Even very well seasoned veterans up from the long days’ journey into the major league night can be leveled by a knuckle sandwich from just about any source.

Did the umps themselves think of how absurd the very idea of it is? Even if most umpires haven’t seen too many knuckleballs since the middle of the Obama Administration, the crew stopping and frisking Jannis had to think the commissioner’s orders now put them smack dab in the middle of a routine that ended up in Sam Kinison’s discard pile.

“The one kind of pitcher you could say doesn’t have problems going in with all these experimental baseballs the last few years should be knuckleballers,” Fats said. “They’re rare enough as it is. Unless this new dead fish ball is so dead that even their fingertips lose a grip.”

“I couldn’t tell you for dead last certain,” I replied. “But it still doesn’t make any sense on earth. Unless there’s some law of physics that doesn’t show up in the usual books, I’d think the only thing the real naughty sauce would do with a knuckleballer is keep the ball stuck in his fingertips.”

“Balk one,” Fats said.

“Only if men are on base,” I said.

“Well, let’s not get technical.”

Technical I can live with. A knuckleballer getting his knuckles rapped on shakier ground than that above an earthquake isn’t all that livable.

The Angel of Doom dooms a no-no

Brandon Bielak, Maikel Franco, Angel Hernandez

If this was ball one, I have X-ray vision. Even with a bad framing job that pitch crossed the plate under the strike zone’s ceiling.

Angel Hernandez sued MLB and lost when he tried claiming his race alone denied him postseason umpiring assignments. That was about at the end of spring training. Then, the Angel of Doom went out and continued proving you don’t have to be white to be among the top three to five reasons Robby the Umpbot will soon have major league employment.

Two things especially have stood out. Which may be saying something, depending on your experience.

Thing One: Hernandez called balls and strikes in Anaheim, in April, with the Angels playing the Astros, and blew a verified 24 pitch calls for an 83.2 percent rate of correct calls.

Thing Two: Hernandez may have cost the Astros a combined no-hitter Monday, when he blew an 0-2 strike from Astro righthander Brandon Bielak to Oriole third baseman Maikel Franco on the upper outside corner, still well within the zone, in the eighth inning.

What should have been strike three was ball one. And, with one out and one aboard on a walk, it was enough of reprieve for Franco to hit the next pitch over the left center field fence. Goodbye no-hitter, goodbye shutout.

Never mind the Astros going on to finish what they started otherwise, a 10-2 drubbing of the Woe-rioles. There was and remains no way strike three should have been called ball one.

It was a breaking ball that broke above the zone line but crossed the plate well inside the upper zone, even with Astros catcher Jason Castro trying to frame the pitch lower in the zone.

Unfortunately, it was Hernandez behind the plate. Putting pitchers into Hernandez’s hands is like putting skyjackers in charge of air traffic control.

“It’s the Astros, so I don’t care,” said Tortilla Fats on a face-time call.

“Let me guess,” I said. “You forgot there are only five members of the Astrogate team left on the roster.”

“It’s still the Astros, and I still don’t care,” Fats harrumphed back. “Cheaters once, cheaters always.”

“I bet you would have been an absolute alegria if you were a White Sox fan,” I said. “After all, game fixers once, game fixers always, right?”

“It’s still the Astros, so I don’t care,” Fats doubled down.

“So what if it was Jacob deGrom working the no-no in the eighth with one out, one aboard, Hernandez behind the plate, Endier Inciarte on the Mendoza Line at the plate, and it’s 0-2,” I said. “What if deGrom throws that breaking ball that climbs upstairs and drops right into the upper zone? What if Hernandez calls that ball one, and Inciarte hits deGrom’s next pitch over the fence?”

“He’s not on the Astros,” Fats tripled down. “He’s also Jacob deGrom. Even Angel Hernandez knows that. DeGrom’s not gonna lose a strike and then serve the murcielago espaugeti a meatball.”

“OK, bad example,” I admitted. “Suppose it was Shohei Ohtani. Jacob deGrom he ain’t. Suppose he has Franco 0-2 with one out, one on, and Hernandez behind the plate? Suppose Ohtani throws that breaker starting upstairs and falling right into the zone? Suppose the Angel of Doom blows that strike into ball one? Suppose Franco hits him over the left center field fence?”

“Ohtani’s not an Astro,” Fats quadrupled down. “So I still don’t care. Anyway, the Astros won the game, didn’t they? So what the hell do they have to complain about?”

I reminded Fats that losing a no-hitter—solo, combined, whatever—isn’t exactly celebration fodder. There are those fans who’d rather go to funerals than see no-hitters broken up in the latest innings.

“It’s still the Astros,” Fats quintupled down. “So I still don’t care.”

This was getting worse than Pedro Baez stopping to shop Amazon Prime between pitches.

“Fats, you’re the guy who agreed with me that the human element needs help,” I said. “You’re the guy who said the umpires have gotten so human that Roberto el arbitro roboto can’t come too soon. You said it because you said I was right. You agreed the blown calls have gone pandemic enough. You agreed—blown calls need to be reduced to just the occasional honest mistake and not a goddam habit. With Hernandez its more than a habit, it’s a way of life, apparently.”

“It’s still the Astros,” Fats sextupled down. “So I still don’t care.”

He has this much in common with the Angel of Doom. Sometimes, there’s just no reasoning with Fats.

The dog ate his homework

Baltimore Orioles

Manager Brandon Hyde and his Orioles after one of their own got drilled following back-to-back bombs in Camden Yards Saturday night. They know damn well Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah didn’t just slip a runaway fastball inside.

Here’s the Saturday night scenario in Baltimore: A rookie pitcher surrenders back-to-back home runs. He hits the next man up squarely on the bicep with the first pitch. He gets ejected post haste, then speaks to the press post-game.

“I tried to get that fastball in and it slipped away,” said Alek Manoah, the Blue Jays righthanded rook who drilled the Orioles’ Maikel Franco in the fourth inning, right after Ryan Mountcastle hit the first one-out, one on service over the left field fence and D.J. Stewart hit a 2-1 pitch over the right field fence.

The dog ate his homework.

And the Blue Jays overthrew the 5-2 lead Mountcastle and Stewart provided to gorge on the Orioles with a six-run ninth and a 10-7 win. It’s gotten that bad for this year’s Woe-rioles. They can’t even claim safety in a three, then a four-run lead.

But Franco looked distinctly unamused after he got that very pronounced plunk, and as Manoah stepped down from the mound walking toward the plate area. He looked as though he couldn’t decide whether he’d like to have Manoah for dinner or have him crucified on the warehouse behind the yard.

“I was confused by his reaction,” Manoah said. “I was questioning ‘What’s going on? What’s wrong?’ Those were my hand gestures as I was walking toward him. I didn’t understand the frustration there.”

“Even rookies don’t usually have to be told that a guy who can’t hit with a telephone pole this season doesn’t understand why he’s being made to pay because you just surrendered long distance back-to-back on your dollars,” said my long-distance pitching acquaintance, Sticky Fingers McSpidertack, on the phone this morning.

“So you’re telling me the dog ate his homework?” I asked, without a single thought of being a wisenheimer.

“Dig,” McSpidertack replied. “That Mountcastle guy took him out over the center field fence with one out in the second. And who’s that guy, Cedric Mullins? Took him out over the right field fence with two out in the third.”

“So Manoah’s a little on the frustrated side,” I replied. “Didn’t anybody in the minors teach him even for a few minutes that the best pitchers in the business are going to have days where they’re going to get slapped silly? Happens even to the Hall of Famers, Stick.”

“He spent, what, three games in Triple-A,” McSpidertack answered. “Maybe that’s not long enough to teach a few baseball life lessons, maybe it is. I’m the wrong guy to ask. I didn’t get much past Single A, you know.”

“I know, but you don’t have corn flakes for brains, either. I don’t think I ever saw you try putting a hole in the next guy’s anatomy after you got hit for a skyrocket shot.”

“Of course not,” McSpidertack said. “And Franco’s not the one who hung that slider, kept that fastball’s feet tied at the ankles, or threw him a melon even a guy below the Mendoza Line could have given a ride.”

“A ride? OK, Mountcastle’s shot in the fourth just barely made it out, hit the rail behind the fence or something. Got a fastball to hit for that first shot in the second, this time he gets the breaking ball and breaks it because it didn’t really break.”

“Right”

“Then Stewart turns on 2-1 and hits it right onto the Camden Yard promenade. Maybe it landed a few feet from where Boog Powell used to have and run that great barbeque pit.”

“Oh, yeah. I remember that pit, too. There wasn’t one single healthy thing coming off that pit, thank God.”

“Now it’s Franco. Compared to him this year, Mario Mendoza looks like Monster Mashup. The last guy on the planet, or at least on the Orioles, who’s going to take him into the ether. And Manoah throws one right up and into the poor guys’ upper bicep.”

“Or lower shoulder ball.”

“Well, let’s not get technical.”

“Fair enough,” McSpidertack said. “So when it’s all said and done, what’s the take?”

“What the hell do you think it is, Stick?”

“You’re gonna make me say it, aren’t you.”

“That’s my job, Stick.”

“Yeah, I know. OK, here it is. Manoah was full of manure last night.”

“I had to open my big mouth, didn’t I?”

“Your fault, buddy,” McSpidertack said, laughing. “Now tell me what all that was when skipper Hyde comes out of the dugout looking like he wants to take someone in a Toronto uniform apart but also looks like he doesn’t want his guys to do anything of the kind.”

“You need me to tell you that? I don’t think he wanted to take someone apart himself. I think he just wanted Manure—sorry, Manoah—thrown out of the game post haste. Which is exactly what he got. After he returned a few, shall we say, vulgar mash notes from Charlie Montoyo.”

“The Blue Jays manager.”

“Yeah.”

McSpidertack excused himself a moment to refill his morning coffee. I needed another coffee jolt myself while he was at it. When he came back, I said, “Did you see Manure–sorry, Manoah again—talking to the press after the game?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you hear him say he tried to slip that fastball in and it got away?”

“Yeah,” McSpidertack said. “And if I had a dollar for every time I tried to get a fastball in that got away, I could buy that Antarctican beach club of yours.”

“No you couldn’t, Stick,” I said. “You said yourself your career was over before it really began. You didn’t really have time to learn how to slip runaway fastballs inside. At most you’d have had enough to buy me a new set of guitar strings.”

“Then the dog ate his homework.”

The first five days

Stop me if you’ve heard it before: Jacob deGrom pitched like a Hall of Famer, but the new Mets bullpen puked the bed like the old one did.

The fans are back in the stands, however limited by ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols, but the Nationals have yet to play a regular-season game thanks to a few players and a staffer or two testing positive. There went that Opening Day must-see match between Max Scherzer and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.

With their opening set with the Nats thus wiped out, deGrom had to wait until the Mets went to Philadelphia Monday. Oops. That and everything else seemed to play a support role to the horrid news out of San Diego.

The news that Fernando Tatis, Jr., the Padres’s new bazillion dollar shortstop, suffered a partial left shoulder dislocation on a hard third inning swing at the plate during a Monday loss to the Giants.

Padres manager Jayce Tingler told reporters he thinks team trainers and medical people were able to pop the shoulder back together, but the team isn’t taking chances. At this writing, MRI results aren’t available and nobody knows yet whether Tatis will spend significant time on the injured list.

If it’s more than a small shoulder dislocation, it may not be significant time. If it’s something like a labral tear, Tatis could miss six months—essentially, the rest of the season—according to one doctor who knows such shoulder troubles and spoke to the Los Angeles Times. Don’t fault the Padres if they’re saying to themselves, “Thank God for insurance.”

DeGrom could use a little extra insurance himself, alas. The good news for the Mets: deGrom was his usual self Monday night. Six shutout innings, seven punchouts, three hits, three-figure speed on his fastballs. The bad news, alas: the Mets are gonna Met, so far. At least out of the bullpen.

Their on-paper impressive offense found nothing more than two runs to support their ace. They got an inning of shutout relief from Miguel Castro relieving deGrom for the seventh, but the bullpen puked the bed in the eighth—including hitting Bryce Harper with the bases loaded. Not exactly a Rhodes Scholarship move there.

The Old Fart Contingency thundered aboard social media that Mets manager Luis Rojas blew it lifting deGrom after six strong—until they were reminded the added layoff after the Washington postponement put both deGrom and the Mets into caution mode.

“If that was [last] Thursday and I’m on normal rest,” the smooth righthander said postgame of the early hook, “I don’t think there is any chance I’m coming out of that game. We discussed it before what was the right thing to do. Long season and talking to them coming in, it felt like was the right decision.”

It was neither deGrom’s nor Rojas’s fault that, after Garcia took care of the Phillies in the seventh with just one infield hit within a fly out and two ground outs, the Phillies loaded the bases on the Mets’ new relief toy, Tyler May, in the eighth with one out, before Rojas went to another new Met bull, Aaron Loup. And Loup promptly hit Harper to push Miller home, before J.T. Realmuto singled home pinch runner Quinn, Mets late third base replacement Luis Guillorme threw home off line allowing Harper and Rhys Hoskins to score, and Didi Gregorius pushed Realmuto home with a first-pitch sacrifice fly.

The Mets had nothing to answer except a two-out ninth-inning stand that came up two dollars short against Phillies closer Alvarado. Kevin Pillar singled up the pipe, Francisco Lindor—the Mets’ own new bazillion-dollar lifetime shortstop—dumped a quail into shallow right that landed just in front of and then off the glove on oncoming, diving Harper, and Michael Conforto singled Pillar home while setting up first and third.

Pete Alonso, their 2019 Rookie of the Year bomber, hit one to the back of right field that looked as though it had a chance to ricochet off the top of the fence if not clear it. It wasn’t quite enough to stop Harper from running it down, taking a flying leap with his back against the fence, and snapping it into his glove to stop a game-tying extra-base hit and end the game with the Phillies on the plus side, 5-3.

Marry the foregoing to deGrom going 2-for-3 at the plate including an RBI single, and no wonder May himself said post-game, “Jake shouldn’t have to do everything himself. That’s not what teams are, and frankly Jake did almost everything today.”

Just don’t marry that to things such as the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hitting 100+ mph on the mound and hitting a mammoth home run that flew out 100+ mph in the same inning last Friday night. Ohtani the two way player is an outlier among outliers; deGrom’s merely an outlier.

As of Tuesday morning— with the National League’s pitchers having to bat because Commissioner Nero simply couldn’t bring himself to keep the universal designated hitter this year at least, and Ohtani batting second in the Angel lineup the night he started on the mound, among other things—the pitchers have a .131/.157/.192 slash line and a .349 OPS.

The pitchers at the plate from Opening Day through the end of Monday night collected thirteen hits in 149 plate appearances: nine singles, three doubles, and Ohtani’s Friday night flog a third of the way up Angel Stadium’s high right field bleachers. They also walked three times and struck out 56 times. And the OFC still insists the National League just say no to its own invention.

All around the Show, too, there was one home run hit every 35 plate appearances and fourteen percent of all 928 hits the season’s first five days cleared the fences. It took five outs to create a single run, with 5.3 average runs created per game and 631 runs created while 559 scored.

It was fun to hear the fan noises even in limited capacities, too, though the limits in Angel Stadium made Ohtani’s blast sound even more explosive at the split second he hit it. If only things had been more fun for the home crowds: the many themes for the Show’s first five days could include, plausibly, the blues classic “On the Road Again.”

The home teams’ slash lines: .225/.313/.374/.687 OPS. The road teams: .245/.328/.403/.731 OPS. The road teams drove in fifteen more runs, hit thirteen more home runs, seven more doubles, and had seventy more hits overall. They also took eleven more walks, though they struck out fifty more times and grounded into fifteen more double plays. The road rats also had a +29 batting average on balls in play over the home boys and 108 more total bases while they were at it.

Maybe the shocker among the opening road rats were the Orioles. The Woe-rioles. Taking three straight from the Red Sox in Fenway Park. Out-scoring the Olde Towne Team 18-5, including and especially an 11-3 battering on Sunday afternoon. Even those paranoid about ID cards might want to insist the Orioles show theirs, even after the Orioles got a brief return to earth from the Yankees beating them 7-0 Monday in New York.

Unless it was the Reds, taking two out of three from the Cardinals to open, including and especially a 12-1 battering Sunday afternoon that proved the best revenge against abject stupidity is to slap, slash, scamper, and smash your way to a six-run seventh when you’re already up three runs—thanks to Nick Castellanos ripping Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez for a two-out, three-run homer an inning earlier.

Castellanos got drilled by Cardinals reliever Jack Woodford Saturday . . . two days after he bat-flipped a home run. Then, when he dove home to score on a wild pitch, Castellanos got bumped by Woodford sliding in to bring down the tag Castellanos beat. Castellanos sprung up, barked at Woodford, and began walking away before trouble could arrive. Oops. Trouble arrived—when Yadier Molina shoved him from behind to spark a bench-clearing brawl.

Baseball government myopically suspended Castellanos two games for “provoking” the brawl. Who’s baseball’s official optician? Who couldn’t see what everyone else with eyes saw? And how long has Molina—handed only an “undisclosed fine” along with a few others in the scrum—been so privileged a character that he can get away with the actual kickoff of a brawl that was seeded in the first place because the Cardinals are one of the game’s self-appointed Fun Police precincts?

“I was pleased,” Cardinal manager Mike Schildt told the press after that game. “Our guys came out there. We’re not going to take it. I know Yadi went immediately right at him, got sidetracked by [Cincinnati’s Mike Moustakas]. Woody, to his credit, got up and was like, ‘I’m not going to sit here and be taunted.’ Good for him.”

Taunted? All Castellanos said when he sprang up, by his own admission, was “Let’s [fornicating] go!” Anyone who thinks Woodford lacked intent didn’t see that ball sailing on a sure line up into Castellanos’s shoulder and rib region. Nor did they see Molina very clearly shoving Castellanos without Castellanos having the benefit of a rear-view mirror.

Castellanos appealed the two-game suspension. The final result wasn’t known at this writing. But the Cardinals should be getting a message of their own: Defund the Fun Police. Pronto.

How about the Astros, who went into Oakland and swept four from the Athletics before ambling on to Anaheim and losing 7-6 to the Angels Monday night? That was despite dropping a three-run first on Angel starter Jose Quintana and yanking a fourth run out of him in the top of the fourth, before the Angels finally opened their side of the scoreboard with Mike Trout (of course) hitting Luis Garcia’s 2-2 meatball about twelve or thirteen rows into the left field seats.

The Angels pushed a little further back, the Astros pushed a little further ahead, until the Angels ironed up and tore four runs out of the Astros in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single (Dexter Fowler), a run-scoring force play (David Fletcher), a throwing error (on Jared Walsh’s grounder to first), an intentional walk (to Trout, of all people), and a sacrifice fly (Anthony Rendon).

Kyle Tucker’s ninth-inning solo bomb turned out more a kind of excuse-us shot than a last stand. The game left both the Astros and the Angels at 4-1 to open the season and what could be very interesting proceedings in the American League West. Now, if only the Astros could finally get past Astrogate.

They’ve been playing and winning through numerous catcalls, howls, and even a few inflatable and actual trash can sightings in Oakland and Anaheim. Jose Altuve—who’s looked more like his old self at the plate so far—seemed mildly amused when an inflatable trash can fell to the warning from those high Angel Stadium right field bleachers.

Astrogate was and remains anything but amusing. The Astros could keep up their torrid opening and overwhelm the AL West this season, but the scandal won’t go away entirely (nor should it) until the absolute last Astrogater standing no longer wears their fatigues. Yes, you’ve heard that before. That doesn’t make it any less painful for Astro fans or less true for everyone else. The Astros, nobody else, wrote the script that made them pariahs. Bang the cans slowly, fans.

Will off-field-based illegal electronic sign stealing disappear at all? Players got same-game video access back this year. There are three security people in every team’s video room at home and on the road. League cameras have been installed in those video rooms. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to add guard dogs?

The players union agreed last year: there’ll be no more players getting away with murder even in return for spilling the deets—the commissioner can drop a lot more than a marshmallow hammer on the cheaters from now on. All by himself. He can demand answers without plea bargaining. And he doesn’t need a permission slip.

“But one of the prevailing lessons from the electronic sign-stealing era is that even if a scheme sounds far-fetched, someone might give it a whirl if they believe they can get away with it,” writes The Athletic‘s Evan Drellich, one of the two reporters (Ken Rosenthal was his partner) who helped break and burrow deep into Astrogate. “This holds true no matter what MLB does. Even a total ban on electronics, which the players would never agree to, would not be enough. In that case, a player or staffer could simply go rogue.”

In other words, boys will be still be boys, if they can-can.

Short, sweet, and encouraging enough

From Dark Knight to dark horse. So far.

Going from the Dark Knight to a dark horse isn’t the worst thing that could have happened to Matt Harvey. The Orioles have had worse happen to them the last few years than a dark horse pitching up well enough to send them on the way to a second straight season-opening win, too.

Looking resplendent enough in the Orioles’ orange and black, mustachioed but no longer bearded, Harvey started and pitched three shutout innings before running into a little trouble in the fourth and tiring after 86 pitches with two out, two aboard, and a one-run Oriole lead in the fifth.

For other pitchers it might be cause for caution tape. For Harvey, it might be a giant step forward in the second act that’s been harder to find than Harvey once found the bright New York lights that finally helped sear him when his shoulder didn’t.

The righthander threw 56 strikes, including eleven first-strikes and fifteen called strikes, and looked generally like he was anything but the increasingly lost cause who left the Mets for a brief resurrection in Cincinnati but a collapse in Anaheim.

To the Orioles, this is the next best thing to hitting a jackpot on a slot machine. To Harvey, it’s one step at a time even now. Don’t doubt for a moment that he won’t take it.

He certainly won’t spurn the help he got from his new friends. Not when two runs score for him in the top of the fourth on an infield hit, not when another run scores for him on another infield hit in the top of the fifth, not when a seventh-inning sacrifice fly re-claims a two-run Oriole lead, and not when the first of those two fourth-inning runs was set up by an unlikely throwing error by Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers.

Maybe the only real mistake involving Harvey was Oriole manager Brandon Hyde electing to let him pitch to J.D. Martinez in the fifth after back-to-back one-out walks to Kevin Plawecki and Enrique Hernandez. Martinez didn’t exactly murder Harvey, but his wicked-hopping comebacker bounced off Harvey’s body enough to let Plawecki score.

The so-far-surprising Oriole bullpen took it from there shutout style, not letting even the extremely few hiccups along the way stop them from stopping the Red Sox.

Harvey isn’t unappreciative. “Overall I think it was a solid first start and I’ll try to build off that next time,” he told reporters after the game. “Anytime you win the first series of the year, it’s big, so we’ve got some good momentum now. To come in here against a good ball club, you’ve got to play well and our guys came in and pitched great after me.”

That’s a far different tone than the one for which Harvey was once notorious. He’s no longer the howitzer-armed Dark Knight whom Met teammates sometimes accused of big-timing them while chasing the demimonde. He’s not the guy who thought the world was his to conquer until thoracic outlet surgery, diminished speed, and especially a crash and burn out of the demimonde and off the Mets brought him down to earth with a resounding crash.

When Harvey missed last year without a major league job, pondering and even making a video for consideration by the Korean Baseball Organisation, he spoke with an introspection many who knew him as a Met might have thought unlikely.

“There are a lot of things I’d do differently, but I don’t like to live with regret,” he told the New York Post.

There were just things I didn’t know at the time. Now, obviously, I’ve struggled the last few years. And what I know now is how much time and effort it takes to stay at the top of your game. I wouldn’t say my work ethic was bad whatsoever, but when you’re young, it’s not like you feel invincible, but when everything is going so well, you don’t know what it takes to stay on the field. It’s definitely more time consuming and takes more concentration.

The beginning of wisdom too often arrives after great pain and self-demolition. Harvey began acquiring it before he stepped on the mound for the Orioles. He pitched like it Saturday afternoon. All he has to do now is continue acquiring more hard-arrived wisdom and pitching every few days like he’s not kidding.