The Twins deliver a stunning signing: Carlos Correa

Carlos Correa

Almost nobody expected the longtime Astros shortstop to sign with the Twins.

It’s hard to look at Carlos Correa signing with the Twins for three years and $105.3 million without knowing the Astros’ remaining Astrogate contingent is reduced officially by one. There are now only three position players and one pitcher remaining from the tainted 2017 World Series winners.

This should be good for the Astros in terms of leaving the Astrogate taint further and further behind them. But I suspect it won’t be. With only four Astrogate-team members left last year, the Astros still heard it loud and long from fans on the road. Some of it was mere booing, catcalling, and “chea-ter!” chants. Some of it was inflatable and actual trash cans hitting fields.

I still suspect it’s not going to stop until the last Astrogater standing no longer wears an Astro uniform. Not until second baseman Jose Altuve (who actually didn’t partake all the way in the Astro Intelligence Agency’s 2017-18 off-field based, illegal camera-abetted, electronic sign-stealing operation), third baseman Alex Bregman, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, and pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. move to other teams if not into retirement.

As it happens, I have tickets for what will now be Opening Day, period, in Angel Stadium on 7 April. Guess who the Angels host to start their regular season. My son and myself will probably wonder en route the ballpark how many other Angel fans will turn up with inflatable trash cans, bangable trash cans, and more to continue letting the Astros have it.

It took decades before the 1951 New York Giants were verified once and for all as off-field based sign-stealing cheaters en route the comeback that forced the fabled pennant playoff. It took only two years from the 2017 World Series to expose and verify the AIA. And it took only a couple of hours during the pandemically-aborted 2020 spring training for the Astros to show the world they didn’t quite think their cheating was that big a deal.

Correa since the infamous spring training 2020 presser has been maybe the most stubborn defender of the Astros’ 2017 Series title. “When you analyze the games,” he said before the coronavirus closed that spring training and half the season to come, “we won fair and square. We earned that championship.”

Funny, but that’s not exactly what Correa said at the infamous presser. While Astros owner Jim Crane tripped over himself, Bregman tossed word salad, and since-gone outfielder Josh Reddick “couldn’t really say [the AIA operation] did or didn’t” give the Astros an advantage, Correa said, essentially, not so fast:

It’s an advantage. I’m not going to lie to you. If you know what’s coming, you get a slight edge. And that’s why [then-general manager Jeff Luhnow and then-manager A.J. Hinch] got suspended and people got fired because it’s not right. It’s not right to do that. It was an advantage. But . . . it’s not going to happen moving forward.

After the Braves nailed last fall’s World Series at the Astros’ expense, Correa spoke in terms that would have made him a fit on the 20th Century Yankees.

Second place is not good enough for us. I know it’s not good enough for you guys. But it speaks volumes of how good our organization is, how talented our clubhouse is. Five ALCS in a row. Three World Series in five years. I don’t know what else you want to ask from a great ball club . . .People expect greatness when you talk about the Houston Astros. They expect us to make the playoffs every year. They expect us to be in the World Series every year.

But the only one they won is the one that just so happens to be tainted.

And, speaking of the Yankees, take a poke around the vast multitudes that root for or at least follow them and it seemed as though the number one thought in and out of their minds Saturday morning was, How on earth could the Yankees miss out on signing Correa? Did they really take Josh Donaldson’s contract on in that trade with the Twins just to let the Twins snatch Correa with the savings?

Others thought Correa outsmarted himself into taking considerably less with the Twins than he thought he might get on a market that got forced into overdrive thanks to that ridiculous owners’ lockout. But he’ll pull down the fourth-highest single-season salary of 2022, behind pitchers Max Scherzer (Mets) and Gerrit Cole (Yankees) plus outfielder Mike Trout (Angels).

The deal also includes opt-outs after this season and next. Turning 28 in the final third of this coming September, and assuming he has a typically Correa season in Minnesota, he could still opt out and play next winter’s market for something more to his supposed liking. Maybe he didn’t really outsmart himself, after all?

Maybe the Yankees still have a spring surprise yet to play. They unloaded Gio Urshela (shortstop) and Gary Sanchez (catcher) to bring Donaldson (third base), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (shortstop), and Ben Rortvedt (catcher) aboard. Maybe they have Kiner-Falefa in mind to play support after they sign free agent shorstop Trevor Story? Maybe?

Or maybe the Twins have decided, yes, they’re coming into it to try to win it, including enticing the shortstop anchor from the penthouse of the American League West for a season at least. Maybe they can make Correa happy in the Twin Cities, after all.

Maybe he can join his fellow high 2012 draft pick Byron Buxton (Correa and Buxton were numeros uno and two-o in that draft) to yank them from the basement to the penthouse. He did prove last year that he knows how to win without any funny business that anyone knew of, even if the Astros came up two bucks short in the World Series.

‘[T]he makings of a formidable lineup are present in Minnesota, though they’ll need a few things to break right,” writes MLB Trade Rumors’s Steve Adams, who also notes their “patchwork starting [pitching] rotation” remains a cause for some alarm even with trading for Sonny Gray from the apparently tanking Reds.

From the defensive side of things, Correa gives the Twins a pair of Platinum Glove winners, joining Buxton in that regard. With quality defenders like [Max] Kepler, Urshela and young catcher Ryan Jeffers also occupying key spots on the diamond, the Twins should have a strong defensive team overall. The Twins already ranked 12th in the Majors both in Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average in 2021, and Correa should boost both marks.

There’s something else Correa could do now that he’s become a Twin, too. Something not exactly unprecedented. He could become the latest 2017 Astro to drop all pretenses, denials, and whataboutisms, and come a lot cleaner about Astrogate.

That began with utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, who signed with the Twins as a free agent for 2018, then with the Red Sox as a free agent for 2021, got released by the Red Sox last August, and signed to return to the Astros for their run to the World Series.

Gonzalez broke the ice around the time of the infamous 2020 Astro presser. “I’m remorseful for everything that happened in 2017,” he told reporters, “for everything that we did as a group, and for the players that were affected directly by us doing this.”

He, too, didn’t use the C word. Maybe it’d be too much to expect Correa to use it, too, if he decides it’s safe to come all the way clean now. But it would give him a better look either way than the one he often had clinging stubbornly to the idea that the 2017 World Series title wasn’t really tainted.

Correa vs. Jeter vs. Syndergaard

Carlos Correa, Derek Jeter

Carlos Correa’s jab at Hall of Famer Derek Jeter’s Gold Glove awards inspired the New York Post to insert Jeter showing one of his Gloves into this action shot of Correa with the leather. But was Correa really out of line?

Carlos Correa versus Derek Jeter isn’t exactly the equivalent of a cage match, no matter what Noah Syndergaard might want to make of it. Correa has just finished his seventh major league season; Jeter is a Hall of Famer who played twenty major league seasons. Correa’s career has miles to go before it sleeps; Jeter’s baseball legacy is secure in Cooperstown.

Correa actually said, aboard a recent Me Gustan Los Deportes (I Like Sports) podcast: “Derek Jeter didn’t deserve any of the Gold Gloves he won.” Syndergaard, now a former Mets pitcher freshly signed with the Angels, was not amused: asked by MLB Network whom he’d like to strike out the most, Syndergaard didn’t flinch.

Thor’s preferred strikeout target is Correa. “Not just for the obvious reason, but just what he said about Derek Jeter not deserving his Gold Gloves,” he said. “I think that was a little ridiculous to say.”

The “obvious reason,” of course, is the lingering stench of Astrogate and Correa’s frequent willingness to embrace the villain role the scandal imposed on the Astros, an imposition too likely to remain until the last member of the 2017-18 Astros no longer wears their uniform.

The next-obvious reason might be Correa winning this year’s American League Gold Glove award for shortstop, plus being a free agent and drawing a lot of attention as a contract candidate for the Yankees and other teams looking for better than they’ve got at shortsop.

Jeter wouldn’t let himself be drawn in. Today the Marlins’ chief executive officer, Jeter simply dismissed Correa’s jab: “I didn’t think much about it. I don’t know how my name came up. My Spanish is not that good, I still haven’t seen it, I don’t know how my name was brought up, but it doesn’t even warrant a response. I mean I could go a lot of different directions but I won’t.”

That was the same kind of high-road travel for which Jeter was known well enough during the prime of his playing career. But was it actually that ridiculous to critique Jeter’s Gold Gloves?

When Jeter wasn’t yet eligible for Hall of Fame election, Jay Jaffe wrote The Cooperstown Casebook: Who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Who Should Be In, and Who Should Pack Their Plaques in 2017. He did it position by position. When it came to the shortstops, Jaffe looked at Jeter in the chapter’s “Further Consideration (upcoming or overlooked candidates” subsection.  And this is what Jaffe concluded about Captain Clutch:

Seemingly engineered to withstand the spotlight’s glare, Jeter spent two decades in Yankee pinstripes pulling off the remarkable feat of simultaneously exuding charisma and remaining completely enigmatic, able to evade virtually every controversy that surrounded the franchise. A starter for sixteen playoff teams, seven pennant winners, and five [World Series] champions, he ranks among the position’s best hitters, collecting more hits than any other infielder, and ranking third in batting runs among shortstops (353) behind [Hall of Famer Honus] Wagner and [Hall of Famer Arky] Vaughan. Defensively, his strong arm, sure hands, and low error totals helped him pass the eye test of casual fans, broadcasters, and even the opposing managers who bestowed those Gold Gloves. However, his range was limited—he moved to his left about as well as Dick Cheney—and his -246 fielding runs is more than double the total of the next-closest shortatop; he was at least ten runs below average in three Gold Glove seasons. Still, Captain Clutch was unflappable in the big moments, hitting .304/.374/.465 with twenty homers in the postseason. Expect him to pull in at least 97 percent [of the Hall of Fame vote] in 2020.

Jeter ended up pulling 99.7 of the vote for his Hall of Fame election. He also inspired the strange phenomenon of Hall voters all but conspiring actively to make him the twenty-third Hall of Fame player to stand alone among incoming players on the Cooperstown podium.

The pan-damn-ic kept it from working out quite that way, of course. Jeter was inducted formally in 2021 with Ted Simmons and Larry Walker, both of whom were elected last winter, as was longtime Major League Baseball Players Association leader Marvin Miller posthumously. He didn’t quite get to stand alone.

But notice the text on Jeter’s Hall of Fame plaque:

Heartbeat of a Yankee dynasty defined a two-decade run of Bronx dominance that produced 17 postseason appearances, seven American League pennants and five World Series championships. Selected to 14 All-Star Games and named 1996 AL Rookie of the Year. Winner of five Gold Glove Awards, appearing in all of his 2,674 games in the field at shortstop. Totaled 200-or-more hits in eight seasons, retiring sixth all-time with 3,475. Scored 1,923 runs, with 100-or-more in 13 seasons. In a record 158 postseason games, batted .308 with 111 runs, 200 hits, 32 doubles. Earned 2000 World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

There you have it. Except for mentioning his five Gold Gloves almost in the middle of his other accomplishments, there’s not. one. single. word. about Jeter’s shortstop defense. Not one. Mentioning that he played every major league game of his career at the position is a question of presence, not performance. The plaque speaks essentially to what Jaffe isolated, Jeter being that great a batter among his fellow shortstops.

Let’s revisit where Jeter stands among his fellow post-World War II/post-integration/night ball-era Hall of Fame shortstops, according to my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances:

Shortstop PA TB BB IBB SAC HBP RBA
Luis Aparicio 11230 3504 736 22 177 27 .398
Ozzie Smith 10778 3084 1072 79 277 33 .422
Phil Rizzuto 6719 2065 651 35 195 49 .446
Pee Wee Reese 9470 3038 1210 67 176 26 .477
Alan Trammell 9376 3442 850 48 200 37 .488
Robin Yount 12249 4730 966 95 227 48 .495
Derek Jeter 12602 4921 1082 39 155 170 .505
Barry Larkin 9057 3527 939 66 126 55 .520
Cal Ripken 12883 5168 1129 107 137 66 .539
Ernie Banks 10395 4706 763 202 141 70 .565
HOF SS AVG .486

There’s no question. Jeter is an above-average Hall of Fame shortstop at the plate; only Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, and Ernie Banks (in ascending order) are past him there.

But that’s entirely at the plate. In the field, at shortstop, Jeter has a pocketful of isolated highlight-reel plays—the Flip, the Seat Dive, you name them—and they surely contributed to the image that he was an overall virtuoso with the leather and on the run. And that’s the problem. Perception is still everything to the casual observer and to the fanboi alike.

But perception is not evidence. The real evidence says that Jaffe had Jeter right in the field: he had the basic skills to enable him to pass the eye test with the minimum passing grade. But like the student who could pass his subjects without trying too hard wouldn’t advise anyone else to try it, you wouldn’t advise another shortstop to try passing the eye test with only the basics in the field unless he, too, is embedded on a passel of division/pennant winners and five-time World Series champions.

The table that follows is Derek Jeter’s fielding record during his five Gold Glove seasons, looking strictly at the number one job a defensive player has; namely, helping his team keep the other guys from putting runs on the scoreboard. The glossary is: DRS-defensive runs saved; RF/9-range factor per nine innings’ play; RF/9-LG-his league’s range factor per nine innings; RF/6-range factor per game; RF/6-LG-his league’s range factor per game.

Derek Jeter Gold Glove Years DRS RF/9 RF/9-LG RF/G RF-G/LG
2004 -13 4.46 4.56 4.32 4.53
2005 -27 4.76 4.60 4.56 4.55
2006 -16 4.14 4.60 3.97 4.42
2009 3 3.90 4.36 3.64 4.31
2010 -9 3.78 4.40 3.62 4.36
AVG-Gold Glove Years -15 4.21 4.50 4.02 4.43

Jeter won his first Gold Glove at age thirty, after he’d been the Yankees regular shortstop for nine years and after he and his Yankees already earned four pennants and World Series rings. There’s an awful lot of cred attached to him already just by dint of that kind of flight jacket.

He’d already shown his postseason mettle. He’d already proven himself money at the plate in those postseasons. He’d already secured his eternal image in Game Three of the 2001 American League division series with the fabled Flip—hustling down from his position across the first base line, grabbing an off-line throw home as he crossed the line a third of the way up from home plate, and throwing backward still on the run to get Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi at the plate.

The most likely reason Jeter won those five Gold Gloves to come was his image, the rep his image produced, perhaps the fact that he produced both as a Yankee—but not for his actual position performance. With the possible exception of his fellow Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, Jeter was the first player you thought of when someone mentioned the Core Five who brought the Yankees back to greatness during the first half of Jeter’s career.

He was a good defensive shortstop who had periodic highlight-film plays in him, and executed them memorably, but shook out in the long run as a slightly below-average defensive shortstop for his time and place. It’s no crime to look at the evidence and make that conclusion based on the evidence as a whole, surface and depth alike. It doesn’t diminish the plate skills, the leadership, the public carriage that really put Jeter in the Hall of Fame in the first place.

If you were to see a shortstop with those net results who didn’t wear the Yankee uniform during Jeter’s career, you’d probably laugh your head off at the suggestion that you’d seen a Gold Glove shortstop. Just don’t let yourself go there about whether Correa did or didn’t deserve his Gold Glove this year:

Carlos Correa’s Gold Glove DRS RF/9 RF/9-LG RF/G RF-G/LG
2021 20 3.91 3.81 3.83 3.72

You can see this year’s American League shortstops weren’t quite as rangy as they were during Jeter’s five Gold Glove seasons, but you can also see Correa standing well above the league average for saving runs from his position and standing at least ten points above his league average for getting to balls in the first place.

If someone other than Correa had said aloud, on the record, that Jeter didn’t deserve his five Gold Gloves, it wouldn’t have been even an eighth as momentarily controversial. Neither would it have broiled Noah Syndergaard into having to defend a boyhood baseball hero’s honour with an urge some think may not stop with just a strikeout.

ALCS Game Three: Rock and troll

Carlos Correa, Eduardo Rodriguez

Rodriguez (right) couldn’t resist trolling Carlos (It’s My Time!) Correa as the top of the sixth ended . . .

Carlos Correa grounded out to end the Astros’s sixth Tuesday night. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez couldn’t resist pointing to his wrist, trolling Correa’s becoming-more-familiar “It’s my time!” gesture whenever nailing a key Astros hit. There was a birthday boy in the house who wasn’t necessarily amused.

“No, no,” Alex Cora hollered, as Rodriguez returned to the dugout during the sides changing. “Don’t do that!” The last thing the manager wanted on his 46th birthday was any of his Red Sox poking the Houston bear they were taking down, before the bear could even think about stealing their picnic baskets.

Not even the pitcher who’d just pitched six solid innings the only blemish of which was a three-run homer two innings earlier. Not even while the Red Sox still held a six-run lead that finished in a 12-3 demolition giving the Red Sox a 2-1 American League Championship Series advantage and the Astros a monumental migraine.

An inning and a half worth of three-up, three-down baseball that looked to shape into a pitching duel between Rodriguez and Astros starter Jose Urquidy got ripped into a Red Sox demolition in the bottom of the second after starting as a mere tear. Two walks sandwiching a J.D. Martinez one-out double merely loaded the bases for Christian Vazquez’s line single the other way to right field and kept them there.

Oops. Christian Arroyo ripped one off the mound and off Astros second baseman Jose Altuve to send Martinez home with a second Red Sox run. Falling into an early 2-0 hole with ducks still on the pond against these Astros still seemed surmountable. Until Kyle Schwarber told them otherwise.

After taking ball one inside, ball two downstairs, and ball three just inside, Schwarber took Urquidy’s fastball around the middle halfway up the right field seats. It was the third salami slice for the Red Sox in three ALCS games. As if slicing two in Game Two wasn’t precedent enough, the Schwarbinator’s blast made the Red Sox the first ever to slice three in any postseason series.

Kiké Hernández followed Schwarber at once with a base hit pulled up the left field line, and Xander Bogaerts ripped a single up the pipe one out later, and finally Astros manager Dusty Baker got Urquidy out of there before the Red Sox could cover his grave. Yimi Garcia shook off a second-and-third-making wild pitch to dispatch Alex Verdugo for the side at last, but aftershocks were still to come.

They started an inning later, when Hunter Renfroe drew a one-out walk, stole second, then took third when Astros catcher Martin Maldonado’s throw to second bounced away from Altuve, before coming home on Vazquez’s floating base hit into short center. Then Arroyo drove Garcia’s slightly hanging slide into the rear row of the Green Monster seats.

The Astros may have punctured the impenetrable when Astros center fielder Kyle Tucker parked one into the right field seats with Michael Brantley (leadoff single) and Yordan Alvarez (one-out single banged off the Monster but played perfectly by left fielder Verdugo to hold him) aboard in the top of the fourth.

Two innings and three Astro pitchers later, Rafael Devers took a leadoff walk and the Astros got two outs quick enough to follow, especially center field insertion Jose Siri’s sliding catch running in long to take Verdugo’s floater into shallow center. Phil Maton then relieved Brooks Raley for the Astros, and he arrived just in time to feed Martinez something to hit into the Monster seats about as deep as Arroyo’s blast traveled.

Kyle Schwarber

The Schwarbinator slicing salami in the second to start the Red Sox romp in earnest . . .

Before this ALCS ends, the Red Sox may need to put new tires on the laundry cart into which they dump their home run hitters to celebrate the blasts in each moment. They’re already down to the last millimeter of tread as it is.

As if making sure the sealant on the first puncture held fast, Devers turned on Astro relieve Ryan Stanek’s first one-out pitch in the bottom of the eighth and sent that into the Monster seats, too. Renfroe’s diving catch on Correa’s two-out, opposite-field drive in the top of the ninth must have felt like the first mercy shown the Astros all night long.

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom wondered aloud whether his charges might be tipping pitches. Not willing to commit to that quite all the way, he acknowledged that—between the Red Sox’s postseason plate discipline and all-fields approaches and Astro pitchers falling behind in counts so often now—he’s more than a little concerned.

“This is a very good hitting team,” Strom said of the Red Sox, “and they’re very adept at picking up little things, much more so than most teams,” Strom said. “We need to be very cognizant of the little things, tipping-type things, things like that, that they’re very astute at. We’ve just gotten behind hitters.”

Cora said the Red Sox approach began changing when Schwarber came aboard in a July trade with the Nationals. “We were expanding,” Cora said, meaning the strike zone. “We didn’t walk too much, and when he got here and when he started playing, it was different. It’s a different at-bat, and other guys have followed his lead, and right now, like I said, this is the best I’ve seen this team this season offensively.”

Correa thinks the Red Sox aren’t picking up Astro pitch tips so much as they’re just doing their jobs at the plate when the Astros’ pitchers aren’t doing theirs on the mound. As an Astro, it’s murder for Correa. But as a baseball fan, pardon the expression, it’s a blast.

“It’s fun to watch as a fan of the sport, see how everybody in the lineup has the same approach,” the shortstop said. “They’re not chasing. They’re staying in the zone. They’re not swinging at borderline pitches. It’s beautiful what they’re doing. We’ve got to find a way to throw more strikes and keep the ball in the ballpark.”

But as much talk came about Rodriguez giving Correa a taste of his own celebratory medicine as about the Red Sox’s thorough dismantling of the Astros’ balky pitching staff and shaky offense—particularly their big three of Altuve, Brantley, and Alex Bregman now standing a combined 5-for-36 in the set so far—after the game finally ended.

Cora didn’t exactly hold it against Rodriguez, making a point of embracing his pitcher when Rodriguez returned to the dugout. But he still didn’t want Rodriguez or any of his players re-awakening the suddenly sleeping Astro giants.

“We don’t act that way,” he said postgame. “We just show up, we play, and we move on, and he knows. I let him know. We don’t have to do that. If we’re looking for motivation outside of what we’re trying to accomplish, we’re in the wrong business. The only motivation we have is to win four games against them and move on to the next round.”

Correa didn’t exactly mind. The way he spoke postgame, you’d have thought the Astros forgot about such concepts as bulletin-board fodder. “He did my celebration,” said the shortstop liable to command a nice free agency deal this winter, no matter his Astrogate past.

“I thought it was kind of cool,” continued Correa, who’d done his “It’s my time” wrist-tap in Game One after breaking a three-all tie with an eighth-inning bomb. “It’s just the way baseball should trend. I loved it personally . . . I keep it real all the time and say how it is.”

Rodriguez admitted he was caught up in the moment after getting Correa to end the sixth. Cora was stern but not exactly harsh with his pitcher back in the dugout. His embrace fit perfectly with Rodriguez’s previous insistence that Cora was like a father or older brother to his players as well as a manager.

“He understands that we’re not that way.” said Cora, whose Red Sox almost got humbled out of the races in the second half between injuries, COVID sufferings, and a bullpen remake. “We talk about humble approach and humble players, and that’s who we are. We like to grind, and we like to play, but we don’t do that.”

Well, good Lord, a team hammering and blasting its way to a rout can’t be faulted for being just a little less than humble in the moment here and there. Can they?

ALCS Game One: The world didn’t implode

Jose Altuve

Jose Altuve’s two-run homer tied Game One and turned the game’s momentum to the Astros . . . (Fox Sports screen capture.)

Before the American League Championship Series began, it was easy to remember but so hard to forget. The elephant still lingered in the room.

The American League West-winning Astros. The American League wild card-winning Red Sox. Electronic sign-stealing cheaters versus electronic sign-stealing cheaters. Right?

Not quite that simple. Not even if Red Sox fans and others still cringe over the 2017-18 Astro Intelligence Agency. Not even if Astro fans and others still think the 2018 Rogue Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring proved the Astros weren’t alone in high-tech cheating.

Those Red Sox got nailed using their replay room as a sign-stealing helpmate. But they didn’t install the video apparatus in there, MLB did—for them and all thirty teams, behind all home and visitors’ dugouts in all thirty ballparks. Their way, and they probably weren’t the only team doing it, depended on having men on base to relay stolen signs to their batters.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it one more time: With the best intentions, MLB in essence were Mom and Dad leaving the keys to the liquor cabinet behind expecting the kids were mature enough not to open up and party while they were out of town for the weekend. The 2018 Rogue Sox opened up and partied. The 2017-18 Astros built their own distillery.

Their front office used an in-house-designed computer algorithm devised for sign stealing during games, despite the designer’s warning that doing it in-game was illegal. They used a high-speed, real-time camera to abrogate the mandatory eight-second transmission delay and send opposing signs to clubhouse monitors, next to which someone sent the hitters the dope via the infamous trash can bangs.

Both teams cheated then. Both teams seemed like deer frozen in the proverbial headlights when asked to show public accountability and contrition. The Astros were far, far worse. They went far, far above and beyond both the traditional on-the-field, in-the-dugout gamesmanship and the sort of boys-will-be-boys thing the Rogue Sox and others did with the MLB-gifted replay rooms.

Commissioner Rob Manfred may have erred in granting players from those teams immunity in return for the details, but his investigation did at least turn up and discipline the key overseers.

He suspended then-Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch before owner Jim Crane fired the pair. He suspended then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora over Astrogate, but determined the 2018 Rogue Sox’s prime culprit was video room operator J.T. Watkins while manager Cora, his coaches, the front office, and maybe half the Red Sox’s players weren’t in on the replay room reconnaissance ring.

Nobody can redeem those Astros or Red Sox, even if the Red Sox did re-hire a contrite-enough Cora to manage them this year. But we can remind ourselves that, today, only five Astrogate players remain with the team. We should remind ourselves that at least one such suspect, second baseman Jose Altuve, actually demurred from accepting stolen signs and even told his teammates and others to knock off the trash can banging while he was at the plate.

Only nine Rogue Sox members remain in uniform today, too. And, the rules against electronic sign-stealing were tightened in Astrogate’s aftermath. Video room security is now three people deep. Video feed delays are now fifteen seconds over the previous eight. Players caught stealing signs electronically can be suspended without pay or credited major league service time.

This year’s Astros and this year’s Red Sox got to this year’s ALCS regardless. Remove their former taints, and you have two opponents who entered the set with suspect pitching (particularly the Astros, losing Lance McCullers, Jr. to a forearm issue) but very strong offenses. Then, you watched Game One Friday night, even if in spite of yourselves.

You watched Red Sox center fielder Kike Hernandez strike long twice but Altuve strike once to change the game’s momentum toward the eventual 5-4 Astros win.

You watched Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez and Red Sox starter Chris Sale unable to get out of the third inning alive. You watched the ordinarily suspect Astros bullpen hold the Red Sox to four hits, one walk, and one measly run, when Hernandez—who tied the game leading off the top of the third by hitting a Valdez curve ball far over the left center field seats—caught hold of a Ryan Pressly slider and send it deep into the Crawfords in the top of the ninth.

You watched the Red Sox take a 3-1 lead in that third a ground out, a walk, and a base hit up the pipe later, when designated hitter J.D. Martinez’s hopping grounder bumped off Altuve’s glove to send shortstop Xander Bogaerts (the walk) home, before right fielder Hunter Renfroe ripped an RBI double past Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and down the left field line to score Bregman’s Red Sox counterpart Rafael Devers (the base hit).

You watched Altuve ruin that lead in the bottom of the sixth, with Astros center fielder Chas McCormick aboard on a one-out single, when he hit the first pitch he saw from Red Sox reliever Tanner Houck into the Crawfords.

You watched another Red Sox reliever, Hansel Robles, fire sub-100 mph bullets in the bottom of the seventh to get rid of Bregman on a grounder to short and left fielder Yordan Alvarez on a hard-swinging strikeout, before offering Astros shortstop Carlos Correa a changeup that hung up enough for him to yank into the Crawfords to break the three-all tie.

You watched a Red Sox reliever who hadn’t pitched in almost two weeks, Hirokazu Sawamura, surrender a leadoff walk to Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel before McCormick bounced a base hit in front of Red Sox left-field insertion Danny Santana (a top-of-the-eighth pinch hitter). You saw Martin Maldonado take a pitch off his right wrist to load the pads with nobody out.

And you saw Altuve hit a sacrifice fly to center to send Gurriel home with the fifth Houston run, though a slightly more on-line throw might have gotten Gurriel at the plate to keep things within a single run for Hernandez’s second launch of the night.

Kike Hernandez

Hernandez’s dive-and-roll catch of Michael Brantley’s second-inning-ending, bases-loaded sinking liner wasn’t enough to stop the Astros Friday night. Neither were his two long home runs. (Fox Sports screenshot.)

Hernandez’s mayhem—the two homers on a 4-for-5 night (the first such leadoff hitter in the Show to do it), bringing him to fourteen hits in 28 postseaon at-bats this time around, his MLB-record third lifetime postseason game of ten total bases—may not have been quite enough for the Red Sox to take Game One. But it was more than enough to impress Astros manager Dusty Baker.

“I haven’t seen a hitter this hot in the last week than Kike Hernandez,” the skipper said post-game, after Hernandez’s first launch came during Baker’s brief turn talking to Fox Sports broadcasters Joe Buck and Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz. “Boy, when I saw that ball go up, I was like, oh man, that was a blast. Then he blasted another one. It’s not a good feeling when you know you’re live on air and you see that ball leaving the ballpark.”

Hernandez wasn’t the only one dancing with the record books. Altuve and Correa became the first teammates to homer in the same postseason game for a fourth time. “He is just so dangerous,” said Correa of Altuve post-game. “His track record in the playoffs is insane, and he just inspires me. He inspires me without saying much.”

That track record includes tying Hall of Famer Derek Jeter for number three on the all-time postseason bomb roll with his 20th such launch Friday night. But you should have heard Altuve speak of Correa, too. “He is amazing,” the compact second baseman said of his keystone partner at shortstop. “He likes this kind of game. He wants to go out there and hit big homers. It seems like he expects to go out there and do it, so if you’re expecting something, eventually you’re going to make it happen, and that’s him.”

Hernandez also impressed the Astros and maybe even some of their home crowd Friday night with a few defensive gems, particularly his dive-and-roll catch of designated hitter Michael Brantley’s bases-loaded, sinking line drive to end the bottom of the second. But he’d have swapped all that for a Red Sox win.

“I think overall we played a good game,” he said postgame. “Once again, we didn’t do a good job of adding on to the lead, and at the end of the day, that’s why we lost. We weren’t able to add any more runs.” That was in large part because the usually suspect Astro bullpen managed to keep them to a measly four hits and a walk in the unexpected bullpen game.

With Nathan Eovaldi starting Game Two, and the still-fresh memory of being shut out by the Rays to start a division series in which they won the next three straight, the Red Sox don’t exactly have reasons to cringe just yet. Even Sale admitted Eovaldi was their best foot forward to launch Saturday.

“We’ve got the right guy on the right mound, and that’s all we can say,” he said. “Our lineup is going to bang with the best of them. There’s no doubt about that. We’ve got to do the little things right, and with Nate taking the ball, that’s everything we could ask for.”

So guess what didn’t happen when the two teams still recovering from their own Astrogate and Rogue Sox scandals—yes, listed in the order of true gravity—tangled in Game One? Knowing that no one will be comfortable with either one wholly, but the Astros especially, until the last Astrogater or the last of the Rogue Sox no longer wears either uniform?

The world didn’t implode. The flora didn’t wilt. The fauna didn’t commit mass suicide. The moon didn’t fall into the river. The sun didn’t awaken before its appointed time. The nations didn’t fall from the earth. The earth didn’t go flat.

Unless there comes fresh contravening evidence, the Astros and the Red Sox played it straight, no chaser, in a game that would have classified as a bit of a thriller had it not been for that still-lingering elephant. The one aboard which the Astros, like it or not, still look far, far worse than the Red Sox or their fellow unverified-but-certain replay room rogues do.

Max the Knife comes up aces

Max Scherzer

Dodger fans asked Max the Knife for something he’d never had in his career before Wednesday night—a curtain call.

Nothing could spoil Max Scherzer’s mound premiere in a Dodger uniform Wednesday night. And it wasn’t for lack of trying by the Astros. Not even for lack of trying by one particularly brain dead Dodger fan down the right field line.

The Astros made a grand enough effort after Scherzer left the game following seven stellar innings and ten strikeouts marred only by a solo home run and an RBI single. They had to settle for losing by two runs instead of five.

The Dodger bullpen made a grand enough effort, too, letting the Astros pry three runs out of them including a two-run homer in the top of the ninth off Kenley Jansen before he finally struck out the side to end the 7-5 Dodger win without any further self-immolation.

The aforesaid meathead in the stands did his best to contribute to a potential overthrow, too. With two out in the top of the eighth, struggling Cody Bellinger playing right field, and Carlos Correa at the plate against his old buddy Joe Kelly, Correa on 1-0 lifted a long foul down the line. Bellinger had a running bead on the ball and a certain side-retiring catch ready and waiting.

Until he didn’t.

Bellinger jumped just enough to make the catch. Except that the idiot in a Mookie Betts jersey with a glove on his left meathook reached up to snatch the ball right before it would have landed in Bellinger’s glove. Some of the fans surrounding the jerk congratulated him. Others surrounding him looked as though they wanted to brain him.

Technically, the jerk didn’t quite cross the line into obvious fan interference. But you’d think even the most profit-hungering souvenir hunter would be smart enough to back down when the right fielder has a chance to end an inning with a catch just above the edge of the fence padding.

Instead of side retired, Correa got extra life against Kelly. He swung and missed for strike two immediately after the stolen foul out, fouled another off, then turned on a hanging slider and sent it almost halfway up the left field bleachers for the third Astro run of the night.

Dodger Stadium security removed the miscreant after Correa finished his trip around the bases. A few of the fans in the same region let the security people know just how happy they weren’t over that removal. They’d better be grateful that this wasn’t another World Series game.

They’d also better be grateful that not even jerks being jerks could spoil Scherzer’s first outing as a Dodger.

The packed, roaring house just gave Scherzer even more incentive to go forth and do what he tends to do best, refusing to let even Michael Brantley’s one-out bomb in the top of the first, or Kyle Tucker singling Yordan Alvarez home with two outs in the fourth keep him from his appointed ten punchouts thanks to an effective curve ball setting up the fastest fastballs he’s thrown all season.

“You live for this,” Max the Knife said after the game. “You live to pitch in front of 50,000 people going nuts.”

They went nuts enough that still-ailing Clayton Kershaw, his fellow three-time Cy Young Award winner, nudged Scherzer back out of the dugout after his outing ended to take what he’d never taken in his entire career to that point—a curtain call.

“With everything on the line, the way the crowd was, that was a high-adrenaline start, coming here,” the righthander continued. “Try not to do too much. Just pitch my game, go out there and do what I can do, and just try to navigate the lineup. The offense tonight went off.”

“Went off” was a polite way to put it. The Astros barely had time to let their opening 1-0 advantage sink in when Betts turned on Jake Odorizzi’s slider and sent it over the center field fence to lead the bottom of the first off. A walk, a swinging strikeout, and a Jose Altuve throwing error later, Will Smith turned on Odorizzi’s fastball and drove it into the right field bleachers.

One inning and one out after that, Betts struck again, hitting a 3-1 heater into the left field bleachers. An inning, two outs, and a walk after that, A.J. Pollock hit one over the left field fence and Odorizzi must have thought by then that he could have pulled an automatic pistol out of his pocket, fired toward the plate, and still watched the bullet travel out of the yard off the end of a Dodger bat.

The Astro righthander blamed poor mechanics since the All-Star break, but with a 4.95 ERA and a 5.06 fielding-independent pitching rate on the season you could almost wonder whether the Astros threw him up as a sacrificial lamb Wednesday night.

“My fastball has been flat,” Odorizzi said after the game. He could have said “flat-tened” and it wouldn’t have made a difference. “There are a lot of things I am working on between outings, but then I am reverting back to bad form.”

The bad news for the Dodgers was that such reversion threatened to ruin Jansen and them in the top of the ninth. He surrendered a leadoff single to Aledmys Diaz before Tucker sent a hanging cutter into the right field bullpen. Then Jansen re-horsed to strike Robel Garcia, Jason Castro, and pinch-hitter Meyers out swinging.

Nothing, though, could diminish Scherzer’s impact. Especially with the Dodgers in straits desperate enough in the starting pitching department. Walker Buehler and Julio Arias have had to hold fort while Kershaw’s forarm inflammation hasn’t subsided yet, and it’s already kept the lefthander out since early July.

Tony Gonsolin’s shoulder is inflamed likewise. Still-ailing Kansas City import Danny Duffy isn’t likely to be ready before September. And the execrable Trevor Bauer remains on administrative leave while MLB and the Pasadena police continue investigating sexual assault accusations against him.

The Dodgers hogged the headlines on trade deadline day when they swept in and snatched Scherzer (plus star infielder Trea Turner) from the Nationals and right out from under their downstate rival Padres’s noses. Now Scherzer had to live up to the headlines—just the way he forced himself to live up to the biggest noise of 2019 and pitch on nothing but fumes and will to keep the World Series-winning Nats in Game Seven just long enough to give them a chance to win it in the first place.

Manager Dave Roberts almost wasn’t worried. Almost. Buehler and Urias must have felt as though thousand-pound iron blocks were removed from both their shoulders after Scherzer’s evening’s work finished.

“From the moment I got to the ballpark, we got to the ballpark, you could just see that elevation, anticipation from our guys,” Roberts said post-game. “The buzz in the crowd from the first pitch, him taking the mound, donning the [Dodgers’ home uniform] for the first time—he delivered. He delivered. Just the intensity. It was so much fun. And it was just really cool to see the crowd smell it and want him to finish that seventh inning.”

“I mean, it’s Max Scherzer,” the Mookie Monster said post-game. “I think that kind of speaks for itself.” (In case you were curious, Betts had one hit—a double—in six lifetime plate appearances against Scherzer before they became teammates.)

For Scherzer, coming off the only mid-season trade of his distinguished career, and to the team he’d helped beat in the 2019 National League Division Series, the hardest part’s over. For now. “I’m a Dodger,” Max the Knife said. “It feels a lot more normal when you just go out there and pitch and win. Winning kind of cures everything.”

It might even get him the final home address of his career. Might.

If he keeps pitching the way he did Wednesday night, even at age 37, and nobody including Scherzer shouldn’t be shocked if the Dodgers decide to make it worth his while and his bank account to keep him in the family. At least until his arm finally decides to resign its commission a couple of years from now. Maybe with a couple of more World Series triumphs to its credit before he’s done.