Yesterday we’d been watching the all-important Game 5 in the Astros-Rangers ALDS. The Rangers were up 4-2 headed to the bottom of the eighth, and I had a late-afternoon Zoom call for work, so I headed into our home office while MrLefty stayed out in the living room watching the game. A few minutes later I heard loud, extended cheering and assumed that the Rangers had further broken the game open, maybe with a home run. Imagine my surprise when I emerged from the office a bit later and the Mr told me that Jose Altuve had hit a three-run homer. Guess those Astros fans travel well!
My first reaction after “Huh? I heard so much cheering!” was “Please tell me he hit it off Chapman.” It wasn’t, but how cool would that have been? It was four years ago almost to the day that Altuve hit a walk-off homer off Aroldis Chapman, then a Yankee, to send the Astros to the World Series. I remember where I was when he hit that homer–we were staying at a hotel in San Francisco for my aunt’s 80th birthday party, and we saw Altuve do what he did from our hotel bar.
Anyway, after a couple of dull rounds of postseason play, the two League Championship Series this week are barnburners. All four wild card rounds were two-and-out affairs. In the four League Division Series, none went the full five games, and two were three-game sweeps. Yes, there were great Cinderella stories about the Diamondbacks knocking out the Dodgers and the Rangers sweeping the top AL seed Orioles, but the series and the games were not especially tense or exciting. Earlier this week, it looked like the two LCS would be more of the same, with the Rangers and Phillies each taking commanding 2-0 leads.
But that was then and this is now. The Astros, whom people wrote off way too soon, swept Games 3-5 in Arlington and now return to Houston with a 3-2 series lead. So far the home teams are 0-5 in the ALCS, but given that Houston and Dallas are only about a three-hour drive apart, maybe there’s no such thing as a “road game” in this particular series. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks, who had looked completely overmatched by the swaggering, mashing Phillies, aren’t dead yet, either, after winning their first two games in Phoenix. The series is tied 2-2, with Game 5 tonight.
So the two series are great, and even though in last week’s column I predicted an Astros-Phillies World Series rematch, I wouldn’t venture a guess now. But we need to say more about yesterday’s two games, which were both epic. I already mentioned Altuve’s dramatic homer in the top of the ninth. He now has 26 postseason home runs, second all-time to #ForeverDodger Manny Ramirez. Ramirez will never be in the Hall of Fame. Will Altuve, or will the trash can saga taint his legacy too much?
Altuve’s homer was just the final twist and turn of a crazy game. The Astros were up 2-1 in the sixth when Adolis Garcia hit a three-run homer off future Hall-of-Famer Justin Verlander, and let’s just say that he really, really enjoyed his trip around the bases, which took awhile. His next time up, in the top of the eighth, Astros reliever Bryan Abreu hit him in the shoulder, Garcia took umbrage, benches cleared, and by the time it was all over, there were three ejections (Abreu, Garcia, and Astros manager Dusty Baker)–and it took the umpires 11 minutes to sort it all out, meaning that Rangers’ closer Jose LeClerc, who was already in the game, had to sit cooling his jets for awhile. LeClerc had been money this postseason, but in the top of the ninth, he went hit-walk-Altuve. You could argue that Garcia’s antics and then the brouhaha woke up the Astros.
The Astros said there was no intent, that they didn’t take Garcia’s celebratory trip around the bases amiss, and that hitting a guy in retribution late in a still-close and pivotal game would have been stupid. Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said he understood why Garcia was upset and that he himself was frustrated that it took the umpires so long to decide whom to eject, icing LeClerc. I agree with the Astros’ take on the situation and honestly lost respect for Bochy when I read both of his quotes (which you can find in this article). I understand that he wants to support his players, but I remember when Bochy as manager of the Giants wouldn’t tolerate the type of showboating Garcia did there and would have said something to reporters later like “That’s not who we are” and “I’ll talk to [name].”
Anyway, that wild affair was just the first of two exciting games. In the second, with the Phillies up 5-3 in the eighth, 23-year-old pinch-hitter Alek Thomas hit a two-run homer off future Hall-of-Famer Craig Kimbrel (are you sensing a pattern here?), which the Diamondbacks followed with another run to take the lead. The stunned Phillies went down on three straight strikeouts by closer Paul Sewald in the top of the ninth, and the Snakes won 6-5.
Well, obviously there isn’t much, with the postseason still going on, but here’s the latest roundup on the manager search:
- Internal candidates Mark Hallberg, Kai Correa, and Alyssa Nakken were interviewed
- Ron Wotus is “still under consideration”
- Former Giant and current Mariners bench coach Stephen Vogt is scheduled for an interview
- The Giants have asked for permission to interview Red Sox coach Jason Varitek
- The Giants want to interview their former hitting coach and current Rangers bench coach Donnie Ecker (but he’s busy right now)
- Farhan Zaidi is not interviewing people right now but is in Japan watching stud pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto; meanwhile, Giants GM Pete Putila was seen in Korea for the farewell appearance of outfielder Jung-hoo Lee.
- Oh, and Andrew Baggarly mentioned again that Padres manager Bob Melvin should still be considered in the mix
Not that he asked, but here’s my advice to Zaidi. In this order, he should do the following:
- Hire a freaking manager and do it soon. If there’s any chance the Padres would allow Melvin to move, go after him. If not, pick the one you like best between Vogt and Ecker. (I don’t know much about Varitek, but I’m not impressed with the Red Sox organization, which seems to have many of the same irritating qualities that the Giants do right now. Plus if they’re seriously considering Gabe Kapler for their president of baseball operations…I mean, seriously.) Anyway, don’t belabor this. Hire Wotus if you don’t think Melvin, Vogt, or Ecker is going to work out. Tick tock. Get it done.
- Just say no to pursuing Shohei Ohtani. Learn from your mistakes with Aaron Judge last year. Focus on Yamamoto and/or Lee, or closer to home, on Blake Snell or Cody Bellinger. Don’t sit around for weeks waiting on Ohtani to make a decision to go elsewhere. (Speaking of Judge, I finally saw a beat writer characterize that failed pursuit as a misstep. I always thought Zaidi got way too much of a pass for that stupid waste of time.)
- In free agent and/or trade scenarios, focus on (a) landing a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and (b) getting younger and more athletic up the middle. Do those two things and the 2024 team will be better than the 2023 team.
Anyway, there’s my take and Zaidi got it for free. He has paralysis-by-analysis syndrome, so I’m just keeping things simple. Hope he appreciates it.
I will be “on assignment” next weekend, attending an academic conference at Arizona State University. Sadly, I don’t think my schedule will permit my attendance at an Arizona Fall League game. But it would be kind of fun if we were there when the Diamondbacks were in the World Series! It could happen! The last time I went to this conference, which was in 2019, I was just settling into my hotel room in Tempe when the Giants announced they had hired Gabe Kapler as manager. I was NOT a happy camper. It would be an interesting bookend if the Giants hired a manager while I’m back in Tempe. Anyway, there will be no Out of Left Field next weekend, and I’ll return to this space on November 4. By that time we’ll either be anticipating Game 7 of the World Series or we’ll be moving on to talk about the offseason.
Enjoy the “gladiators” this weekend! Lefty out.