Astros, Dodgers set Series HR record amid juiced ball buzz

Rome News-Tribune - - SPORTS - By Ronald Blum As­so­ci­ated Press Base­ball Writer

HOUS­TON — Home runs kept fly­ing over the wall at Minute Maid Park, on line drives up to­ward the train tracks, on fly balls that just dropped over the fence.

Seven more were hit in Game 5, rais­ing the to­tal to a World Series record 22 — with two pos­si­ble more games to play. Twenty-five runs were scored in a game started by the Dodgers’ Clay­ton Ker­shaw and the Astros’ Dal­las Keuchel, Cy Young Award win­ners re­garded as among base­ball’s best.

Af­ter a sea­son when slug­gers out­paced even their steroid-era pre­de­ces­sors for home runs, some are con­vinced that some­thing is amiss with the base­balls.

“The main com­plaint is that the balls seem a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent in the post­sea­son, and even from the post­sea­son to the World Series balls,” Justin Ver­lan­der said Sun­day, two days be­fore he takes the mound in Game 6 and tries to pitch the Astros to their first ti­tle. “They’re a lit­tle slick. You just deal with it. But I don’t think it’s the case of one pitcher say­ing, ‘Hey, some­thing is dif­fer­ent here.’ I think as a whole, ev­ery­body is say­ing, ‘Whoa, some­thing is a lit­tle off here.’”

A record eight home runs were hit in Game 2, in­clud­ing five in ex­tra in­nings, and Game 5’s seven long balls would have tied the old mark. The 1312, 10-in­ning Astros’ win Sun­day night was the sec­ond-high­est scor­ing game in Series his­tory.

Keuchel was quoted as say­ing af­ter Game 2: “Ob­vi­ously, the balls are juiced.”

Not so ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­one, even amid the power surge.

“I haven’t per­son­ally no­ticed any­thing. I haven’t tried to think about it either,” Dodgers re­liever Bran­don Mor­row said af­ter giv­ing up two homers in Game 5. “It’s not some­thing you want to put in your own head.”

Same for Ker­shaw, even af­ter giv­ing up his record eighth homer of the post­sea­son Sun­day.

“I don’t re­ally pay at­ten­tion to it,” Ker­shaw said. “I just as­sume that both sides are deal­ing with it, so I’m not go­ing to worry about it.”

This year’s long ball as­sault

topped the 21 of the 2002 Series. Ana­heim hit seven and Barry Bonds and his San Fran­cisco Gi­ants slugged 14 over seven games. That was the year be­fore sur­vey drug test­ing.

Spec­u­la­tion that some­thing has changed in­cludes a study claim­ing to have found dif­fer­ences in the size and seam height of balls since the 2015 All-Star break.

“I know there was talk about dif­fer­ent sizes and some of the base­balls were slightly big­ger and some were smaller. Some of the seams were higher, some of the seams were lower.”

“But, no, it’s been con­sis­tent,” said Rich Hill, who will start Game 6 for the Dodgers. “I think that just has to do with con­di­tions — if it’s colder it’s go­ing to be slicker. If it’s a lit­tle bit warmer out or hu­mid, I think you’re go­ing to find that you’re go­ing to have a lit­tle bit more of mois­ture to the base­balls.”

Base­ball Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred in­sists noth­ing ne­far­i­ous is go­ing on.

“I’m ab­so­lutely con­fi­dent that the balls that we’re us­ing are within our es­tab­lished spec­i­fi­ca­tions,” he said Fri­day. Ver­lan­der re­jected that as­ser­tion. “I know Mr. Man­fred said the balls haven’t changed, but I think there’s enough in­for­ma­tion out there to say that’s not true,” he said.

Ver­lan­der also does not think it’s an is­sue of how balls are rubbed up be­fore games.

“I know base­ball uses the same mud for ev­ery sin­gle ball for ev­ery sin­gle game that’s played,” he said. “I think there’s a broader is­sue that we’re all miss­ing.”

On the day he be­come com­mis­sioner in Jan­uary 2015, Man­fred said, “I’m cog­nizant in the drop in of­fense over the last five years, and it’s be­come a topic of con­ver­sa­tion in the game, and it’s some­thing that we’re go­ing to have to con­tinue to mon­i­tor and study.”

Of­fense started re­bound­ing dur­ing the sec­ond half of the sea­son, and a record 6,105 home runs were hit this year, 2.4 per­cent more than the pre­vi­ous mark of 5,963 set in 2000 at the height of the Steroids Era.

“I think it’s pretty clear,” Ver­lan­der said. “I think our com­mis­sioner has said pub­licly that they wanted more of­fense in the game. I’m pretty sure I’m not fab­ri­cat­ing a quote here when I say that. I think it was al­ready All­Star break of ‘15, or right be­fore, when he said that.”

San Fran­cisco’s Johnny Cueto and Toronto’s Mar­cus Stro­man also think the balls have changed, with Stro­man blam­ing slick balls for a rise in

pitcher blis­ters — an af­flic­tion which has struck Hill a few times in the past cou­ple sea­sons, too.

Hous­ton’s Brent Strom and the Dodgers’ Rick Hon­ey­cutt, the World Series pitch­ing coaches, both were quoted by Sports Il­lus­trated on Sun­day as say­ing the slick­ness of the ball made throw­ing slid­ers dif­fi­cult.

“Ev­ery­one is en­ti­tled to their opin­ion,” Astros man­ager A.J. Hinch said. “I don’t see a ton dif­fer­ence, but I’m not go­ing to get in a ver­bal war with coaches and play­ers who think oth­er­wise.”

Dodgers man­ager Dave Roberts had a sim­i­lar view but ac­knowl­edged the power records got his at­ten­tion.

“The pitch­ers talk about it feels dif­fer­ent in their hand. The one com­po­nent is the slick­ness and guys at dif­fer­ent ball­parks rub it up dif­fer­ently,” he said. “Sort of feels the same to me. But it’s hard to ar­gue the num­bers. You know there’s more ve­loc­ity. Guys are swing­ing harder. I know in Los An­ge­les the air was light. It was hot. The ball was fly­ing, car­ry­ing more than typ­i­cally. But I hes­i­tate to try to give you any in­sight be­cause I re­ally don’t know.”

Mark J. Ter­rill / AP

Los An­ge­les’ Corey Sea­ger cel­e­brates af­ter a two-run home run against the Hous­ton Astros.

David J. Phillip / AP

Spec­u­la­tion is rife that ‘juiced’ base­balls are be­ing used in this year’s World Series.

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