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Howie Kendrick continues to play unlikely hero for Nationals

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Howie Kendrick might not be the likeliest of heroes for the Washington Nationals, but neither is the 36-year-old vet the unlikeliest. After all, he has hit .325 over the past three seasons — the highest batting average in the majors.

Kendrick went 3-for-4 with three doubles and three RBIs in the Nationals’ 8-1 victory over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night. The Nationals are now one win away from their first World Series appearance in franchise history.

Kendrick became just the fourth player to hit three doubles in an LCS game, matching Ben Zobrist, Albert Pujols and Fred McGriff. He also hit the grand slam to beat the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS and is hitting .314 in the postseason with nine RBIs in nine games.

“He’s the greatest ever,” teammate Anthony Rendon said after the game. “I mean, you see the man. He’s, what, 36 years old, and he’s still doing it. He’s built like a frickin’ cinderblock. He’s huge. Man, he stays short. He’s strong. So if he puts that barrel to it and stays behind the ball, you see it. He does damage. So he knows how to hit. That’s what he does.”

Kendrick is a lifetime .294 hitter, but hit a career-high .344 in 334 at-bats in 2019.

“I’m just trying to get smarter,” Kendrick said about his big season and being locked in at the moment. “Making adjustments, I would say, is the biggest thing. Trying to be more efficient with my body and my swing. Kevin Long is a big part of that. Kevin lives out in Phoenix, and I live in Phoenix. It’s funny because the first time we met, I said to him, ‘Hey, what can I do to get better?’ He had a list, like he had wrote down on a pad of paper. I wasn’t expecting it. This was the first time I had ever hit with him. He had this sheet of paper. He goes, ‘All right. This is what I know about you. This is what you hit with this, this, and this.'”

Long became the Nationals’ hitting coach in 2018. Kendrick hit .303 last season, but suffered a season-ending Achilles injury on May 19. His work with Long has paid big dividends this season.

His big hit on Monday came against Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty and capped the Nationals’ four-run inning — all four of which came with two outs. Kendrick lined a 2-1 fastball into the gap in right-center at 105.5 mph, capping the rally with a two-run double. It was the one hard-hit ball in the inning off Flaherty.

“I didn’t execute the one to Kendrick,” Flaherty said. “That’s the one pitch I want back.”

Kendrick first joined the Nationals in a trade with the Phillies in 2017 and then remained as a free agent.

“I love the team, and I re-signed for two years,” he said. “Last year was bittersweet because I got off to a good start and ruptured my Achilles. Having the ability to come back this year and be a part of this team and to be with the guys in the locker room, that was huge. Me and Kevin and Joe Dillon, we got to continue the process that we’d already started with my hitting, and I just trusted them and stuck with it. They just helped me get better at a time when I really needed to.”

Now, in his 14th season in the majors, Kendrick is one win away from his first trip to the World Series. Rendon was asked what he’ll be doing at 36.

“Hopefully not playing baseball,” he said. “Probably sitting on the couch hanging out with my kids. [Kendrick’s] probably going to play another 20 years.”

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Astros exec suggested using cameras to spy in ’17, sources say

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A high-ranking Houston Astros official asked scouts to spy on opponents’ dugouts leading up to the 2017 postseason, hoping to steal signs and suggesting the potential use of cameras to do so, sources familiar with the request told ESPN.

The reaction among those who received an email from Kevin Goldstein, a special assistant to Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, was mixed, sources told ESPN. Some were intrigued by the idea, sources who received the email said, while others were bothered with the thoughts of pointing cameras toward opposing teams’ dugouts, a plan that could have earned them scorn within the scouting community if caught.

The email, which was first reported by The Athletic and confirmed by recipients to ESPN, is the first indication of Astros front-office involvement in potential cheating and further reveals the scope of Houston’s attempts to gain advantages through intercepted signs. Major League Baseball is investigating the organization’s methods of sign-stealing after pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic that during its World Series-winning 2017 season the team used a live video feed to steal catchers’ signs and transmit them to hitters by banging on a trash can.

Goldstein, who did not return a message seeking comment, wrote in the email: “One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can [or can’t] do and report back your findings.”

MLB’s investigation ramped up this week as interviewers spoke with on-field and front-office staff from the Astros and other teams. As the investigators attempt to confirm the allegations by Fiers, they continue to lay groundwork for other tentacles of alleged cheating, which people around baseball fear has grown into an epidemic in recent years.

“Technology and stealing info is going to be the black eye of this generation,” one longtime Astros employee said. “It’s really the last frontier that isn’t banned. It’s a way to get a competitive advantage without altering the actual players.”

The Pandora’s box of technology use, even with new rules put into place before the 2019 season, continues to vex a sport that encourages teams to meander into gray areas. Sign-stealing long has been a part of baseball, supported by players and scouts alike, particularly runners on second base eyeing the catchers’ signals and relaying them to the batter.

The use of cameras to do so is regarded as unethical by many and due to recent rule changes is now codified as illegal by MLB. The level of punishment for those involved in the Astros’ alleged 2017 sign stealing might depend on commissioner Rob Manfred’s interpretation of a rule against using technology for “stealing signs or conveying information.” In 2017, the league fined the Boston Red Sox for using an Apple Watch in their dugout.

The breadth of the Astros’ willingness to use technology for on-field advantages continues to come into focus. During the 2018 postseason, Kyle McLaughlin, an Astros baseball operations staffer, was removed from the camera wells next to the dugouts of the Cleveland Indians and Red Sox during the postseason after pointing a cell phone into the dugout. Luhnow said the Astros simply were running a counterintelligence operation against the teams to ensure they were not cheating.

The 2017 plans relayed by Goldstein involved a pro scouting department that since has been gutted, with the Astros’ analytics-scouting balance since then tilting wildly to the side of analytics — “99 to 1,” according to a person familiar with the team’s resources. Much of the Astros’ scouting work today, sources said, involves cameras and video.

On-field personnel that has drawn the interest of the league includes Red Sox manager and former Astros bench coach Alex Cora, New York Mets manager and former Astros DH Carlos Beltran, Astros manager A.J. Hinch and Red Sox bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, who had the same job with Houston in 2017.

MLB’s probe follows years of cheating allegations by teams regularly reported to the league office because of suspicious actions or anomalous results. The league has looked into past allegations against the Astros by Oakland last August and the McLaughlin incidents in October and cleared Houston of wrongdoing. The scope of the investigation is expected to include other Astros teams, including the 2019 version that lost the World Series in seven games.

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Vera Clemente, widow of Pirates legend, dies at age 78

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PITTSBURGH — Vera Clemente, the widow of Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente and a goodwill ambassador for Major League Baseball, has died. She was 78.

MLB and the Pittsburgh Pirates announced her death Saturday. She died in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

MLB says Vera Clemente had health issues recently. The Pittsburgh Pirates tweeted on Nov. 1 that she had been hospitalized in “delicate health.”

Vera and Roberto Clemente were married in November 1964, according to the Roberto Clemente Foundation. Roberto Clemente was a 15-time All-Star with the Pirates. He was killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred says Vera Clemente “impacted countless children and extended her family’s humanitarian legacy of helping those in need.”

Vera Clemente served as the chairwoman for the foundation, which works “to promote positive change and community engagement through the example and inspiration of Roberto.” Vera and Roberto had three sons: Roberto Jr., Luis and Enrique.

Pirates owner Bob Nutting called Clemente “a cherished member of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Major League Baseball family.” He says she “epitomized grace, dignity and strength in the wake of heartbreaking tragedy and loss.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Judge says MASN should pay Nats based on MLB panel decision

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NEW YORK — A judge has ordered lawyers for the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles to submit a proposed judgment of what the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network should pay the Nationals for television rights from 2012-16 based on the decision issued in April by an arbitration panel of three baseball executives.

New York Supreme Court Justice Joel M. Cohen wrote in a decision issued Thursday that MASN should pay the Nationals the $296.8 million recommended by the panel, minus rights fees MASN already has paid for that five-year period. Cohen said the clerk of the court should calculate interest on the net amount from April 15 through the date the remaining money is paid.

Cohen heard renewed arguments Tuesday and denied a motion by the Orioles to reargue the case that led to his Aug. 22 decision to confirm the arbitration award. He said the sides should jointly submit a proposed judgment by Nov. 21 and also said the Orioles are not precluded from seeking recalculations of MASN profit distributions.

The Orioles and Nationals jointly own MASN and have been fighting in court for years. MASN was established in March 2005 after the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals, moving into what had been Baltimore’s exclusive broadcast territory since 1972. The Orioles have a controlling interest in the network.

MASN paid the Nationals for 2012-16 what the Orioles proposed, $197.5 million, and Washington argued it should be paid $475 million.

The parties agreed in 2005 have disputes over rights fees decided by Major League Baseball’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee. The decision by the RSDC in April was made by Milwaukee Brewers chairman Mark Attanasio, Seattle Mariners President Kevin Mather and Toronto Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro.

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