The Weekend Takeaway
Presented without comment: three peculiar sequences of action, each involving a balk, a run scored, and a split-second ruling, each more implausible than the last.
The setting: Fenway Park, top of the seventh inning, a runner on third and one out. The players: Red Sox left-hander Fernando Abad, pitching through his last inning of the night; Angels batter Kole Calhoun, feeling restless on a 3-1 count at the plate; and home plate umpire Ryan Blakney.
What happens next is for you to decide.
Scenario 1: Fernando Abad starts his delivery to Kole Calhoun. Calhoun begins to move out of the batter’s box, prompting Abad to stop his delivery. Ryan Blakney officially calls time a fraction of a second before Abad steps back from the mound, erroneously triggering a balk that plates Cameron Maybin to give the Angels a 5-1 lead in the seventh inning.
Scenario 2: Fernando Abad starts his delivery to Kole Calhoun. Calhoun begins to move out of the batter’s box, prompting Abad to stop his delivery. Ryan Blakney officially calls time a fraction of a second after Abad steps back from the mound, triggering a balk that plates Cameron Maybin to give the Angels a 5-1 lead in the seventh inning.
Scenario 3: Fernando Abad balks without rhyme or reason. Catcher Christian Vazquez attempts to call time, but home plate ump Ryan Blakney either doesn’t hear him or doesn’t react until Calhoun also calls time and steps out of the batter’s box. Maybin scores from third, and the Angels take a 5-1 lead.
Ready? Let’s go to the tape.
None of Red Sox skipper John Farrell, crew chief Bill Miller, nor Angels manager Mike Scioscia came to a consensus on exactly what went down between Abad and Calhoun, but by the end of the play (and after an explosive dispute that left Farrell watching the rest of the game from the clubhouse), the ruling stood. The Angels piled on another insurance run in the ninth inning, bringing them back to .500 with a decisive 6-3 finish.
Quick Hits of the Weekend
There may only be one Aaron Judge, but there appears to be no shortage of talented rookie sluggers floating around the league this season. Take the A’s, who saw three of their newest players mash their first career home runs in the same afternoon.
Matt Olson was the first to strike on Saturday. The 23-year-old right fielder stepped up to the plate in the first inning, unleashing a 423-foot bomb off of James Shields for his first home run in 49 major-league plate appearances.
His moment in the sun was altogether too brief, as fellow rookie outfielder Jaycob Brugman pulled a copycat move in the second inning with his first big-league homer:
Shields, meanwhile, stepped back in the spotlight after Brugman circled the bases, catching Khris Davis looking for his fourth strikeout of the afternoon and the 2,000th strikeout of his 12-year career.
He, too, was quickly overshadowed by another A’s rookie. In the third, Franklin Barreto rounded out the group with a 400-foot drive to the center field bleachers, not only recording his first major-league homer but doing so in his first major-league game:
With the three milestone blasts, the A’s became the first team in MLB history to see three rookies hit their first home runs in the same game. Only one other pro ball team has managed to pull off such a feat: the 1914 Kansas City Packers of the now-defunct Federal League, whose trifecta of home runs came from excellently-named rookie outfielders Duke Kenworthy, Art Kruger, and John Potts.
The sun is shining, the Mariners are back at .500, and Felix Hernandez is once again King of the hill. As far as we know, no one has stumbled into a parallel universe, which means that the Mariners’ success is a real, tangible thing that might even lead to contention of some kind, if only for a Wild Card berth.
Seattle retrieved Hernandez from the 10-day disabled list on Friday night and was rewarded with a rare display of dominance from their former ace. Felix exhibited no symptoms of shoulder pain as he cruised through six innings, scattering three runs, a walk, and six strikeouts en route to his third win of the season.
Of course, a 13-run backing from the offense didn’t hurt, especially once Mitch Haniger got things going for the Mariners in the third:
The Astros didn’t take kindly to being trounced, however, and exacted their revenge against their third-place division rivals with back-to-back wins to polish off a 6-1 road trip.
For a team that’s currently sitting four games back of the division lead, the Orioles haven’t looked so hot lately. They allowed at least five runs in every game from June 3 through June 23, racking up a record-tying 160 runs over their last 20 games and scoring just 89.
Friday’s series opener against the Rays was one of their worst losses during that stretch. Ubaldo Jimenez imploded in the first inning, kick-starting the game with a pair of walks and allowing back-to-back runs on a two-run single from Evan Longoria and an RBI triple from Logan Morrison. Jimenez was booted by the third inning after giving up a season-high nine runs, paving the way for the bullpen to turn things around. Okay, maybe “turn things around” isn’t exactly what they did:
Per Elias Sports Bureau, only one other team has allowed more than 160 runs over a 20-game period: the 2007 Orioles, who did not finish their season anywhere close to the front of the division or the .500 mark. Neither did the 1924 Phillies, who were the first team to establish a 20-game streak of giving up 5-plus runs per game 93 years ago.
For now, though, it looks like the Orioles won’t be the ones to set new records in either category. They rebounded on Saturday, snapping their skid with an 8-3 win on the back of Dylan Bundy’s second quality start of the month.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Let it never be said that Robinson Chirinos gives less than 110 percent on the field, even when the ball is technically out of bounds:
Speaking of players who go all out, Ichiro Suzuki became the oldest starting center fielder in MLB history on Sunday, eclipsing the record set by 43-year-old Rickey Henderson back in 2002. He had no trouble fielding all four balls hit in his direction during the Marlins’ 4-2 win over the Cubs, including a key inning-ending fly out to leave the bases loaded in the second:
What to Watch on Monday
The Yankees and Red Sox are still neck-and-neck in the AL East, and both clubs will have the opportunity to claim sole possession of first place on Monday evening. The Yankees’ one-two punch comes in the form of rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery (3.73 DRA, 92 cFIP) and rookie slugger Aaron Judge, each of whom have excelled at their respective positions this season. Montgomery is hunting for a sixth win after going 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA through his first 13 starts, though he hasn’t pitched into the seventh inning since June 9 (8:10 ET).
Over in Boston, the Red Sox will kick off the last series of their homestand with Chris Sale (1.78 DRA, 60 cFIP), who’s slated to go up against Twins power pitcher Jose Berrios. Sale has been predictably phenomenal in June, recording consecutive eight-inning, 10-strikeout performances during his last two starts against the Phillies and Royals. He may meet his match in Berrios, who has held each of his opponents to two runs this month and is backed by the fifth-best offense in the American League (7:10 ET).