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Disputed check-swing call on Wilmer Flores ‘disappointing way to end’ San Francisco Giants’ season, Gabe Kapler says



SAN FRANCISCO — Wilmer Flores swung — or he didn’t — and that was it. Last call for the San Francisco Giants.

A surprising and spectacular ride for the Giants came to a startling halt Thursday night. Flores slowly walked back to the dugout after being called out on a disputed check-swing, finishing a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

“It looked like he didn’t go. I mean, that was my take on it,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said.

“I just think it’s just a disappointing way to end,” he said.

Kapler added: “It’s heightened on the last play of the game … in this case a check-swing.”

“That’s going to be the thing that is talked about quite a bit and I understand why,” he said. “I just don’t know how much sense it makes to, for us, on our side, to pick that apart. I don’t know how much, how helpful it’s going to be.”

Kapler’s ballclub, which set a franchise record with 107 wins in the regular season and had stayed a step ahead of the Dodgers the whole year, couldn’t finish off the defending World Series champions in a winner-take-all game.

Instead, the Giants’ final chance ended when Flores was rung up on an 0-2 pitch from Dodgers ace Max Scherzer working in a rare closer’s role.

With a runner on first and two outs, Flores appeared on TV replays to hold up on a low-and-away slider that missed the strike zone. Plate umpire Doug Eddings checked with first-base ump Gabe Morales, who ruled Flores swung. Check-swings are judgment calls and not reviewable under Major League Baseball replay rules.

“I mean, the immediate emotion is frustration, right?” Kapler said.

“Super tough. Yeah, I mean, obviously you don’t want a game to end that way. I know these guys work really hard to make the right call, so it’s super challenging on our end. Obviously it’s going to be frustrating to have a game end like that. But a pretty high-quality hitter at the plate that can climb back into that count, it’s no guarantee of success at the end of the at-bat. It’s just a tough way to end it.”

Morales told a pool reporter that “check-swings are one of the hardest calls we have. I don’t have the benefit of multiple camera angles when I’m watching it live. When it happened live I thought he went, so that’s why I called it a swing.”

Morales said he had seen a replay of the last pitch. Asked whether he still thought it was a swing, crew chief Ted Barrett answered.

“Yeah, no, we, yeah, yeah, he doesn’t want to say,” Barrett said.

Many in the crowd of 42,275 had a more definitive view.

Fans who had spent the evening standing and waving orange towels erupted in anger after Morales’ call. Some threw cans of beer onto the field as the Dodgers emerged from their dugout, and several pieces of trash were tossed onto the outfield grass.

It was an abrupt end to a year that few people saw coming out of spring training, especially from a team that hadn’t finished over .500 since 2016.

With the World Series champion Dodgers and San Diego Padres heavily favored, the upstart Giants not only saw their championship-experienced veterans shine but repeatedly rode their bevy of fresh new faces — including young ace Logan Webb — to the best record in baseball.

They did it behind resurgent seasons from catcher Buster Posey and All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford. Kris Bryant, acquired at the trade deadline, provided pop for a lineup that led the NL with 241 home runs.

That power was mostly missing in the deciding game against the Dodgers. Darin Ruf‘s solo shot off Julio Urias was the lone run the Giants scored.

In late July, Ruf had his own experience with a check-swing against Los Angeles. The umpires ruled he held up — it appeared he didn’t come close — on a full-count pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium, resulting in a tying walk in a game the Giants eventually won.

This time, the call went a different way against his club.

“I mean, at the time I didn’t know, but obviously we’ve been able to see the replay and it didn’t look like he went,” Ruf said. “But a check-swing earlier in the year helped us out, too. So it’s kind of funny how it comes down to those two events. But, yeah, just, yeah.”

It was the 24th game this season between the rivals, and they split them — 12 wins each.

The Dodgers won the final meeting, and manager Dave Roberts did his best to get the final call to go his way.

“I’m trying to sell it as much as I possibly can. So it’s baseball and, it’s baseball, and ultimately we won a ballgame,” he said.

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Buck O’Neil joins Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, others in being elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame



Buck O’Neil, a champion of Black ballplayers during a monumental, eight-decade career on and off the field, joined Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso and three others in being elected to the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Former Minnesota Twins teammates Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, a longtime television analyst after his playing days, also were chosen along with Bud Fowler by a pair of veterans committees.

Oliva and Kaat are the only living new members. Dick Allen, who died last December, fell one vote shy of election.

Kaat pitched 25 seasons with a host of teams, including the Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals, winning 283 games. He served as an analyst for the Yankees before moving on to the MLB Network.

The 16-member Early Days and Golden Days committees met separately in Orlando, Florida. The election announcement was originally scheduled to coincide with the big league winter meetings, which were nixed because of the MLB lockout.

The six newcomers will be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York, on July 24, 2022, along with any new members elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. First-time candidates David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez join Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the ballot, with voting results on Jan. 25.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Daisuke Matsuzaka ends 23-year career, surprised by Ichiro Suzuki in ceremony



Daisuke Matsuzaka brought his 23-year professional baseball career to a close Saturday in a ceremony that included a surprise appearance by Ichiro Suzuki.

Matsuzaka, who faced only one batter this season for the Saitama Seibu Lions — issuing a walk in an October appearance — told fans at Seibu’s MetLife Dome that he was happy to leave the sport on his terms.

“I’m content that I was able to keep playing baseball until I could no longer throw normally in the end,” Matsuzaka said, according to Kyodo News.

A video from Suzuki was played, ending with the longtime Seattle Mariners outfielder surprising Matsuzaka on the field and giving him a flower bouquet.

“I hadn’t imagined this. It was crazy,” Matsuzaka said, according to Kyodo News. “At first I was able to hold up, and then the tears came and I was done for.

“I was surprised and just overjoyed that, at the end, Ichiro-san came to see me. I’m happy I was able to come so far.”

Suzuki and Matsuzaka faced each other both in Japan and Major League Baseball over their careers. They were also teammates for Japan’s World Baseball Classic titles in 2006 and 2009.

Matsuzaka, 41, was 56-43 with a 4.45 ERA in 132 career MLB starts with the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets from 2007 to 2014. He won a World Series title in his rookie season with the Red Sox in 2017.

He started and ended his career with the Lions, pitching for them from 1999 to 2006 and the past two seasons. He also played for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Chunichi Dragons after returning to Japan in 2015.

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Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and USWNT soccer player Mallory Pugh announce their engagement



Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson earned a ring last month. U.S. women’s national team forward Mallory Pugh got one this month.

The World Series champion and the World Cup winner announced their engagement on Instagram Thursday night. The two have dated since 2017.

The couple met through Swanson’s former teammate Jace Peterson, now with the Milwaukee Brewers, who is married to Pugh’s sister.

Pugh plays with the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL and has been with the U.S. national team since 2016. She played in the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2019 World Cup, scoring a goal against Thailand.

Swanson made his major league debut with the Braves in 2016. This season, he hit .248 with 27 home runs and 88 RBIs.

The couple is just the latest power couple with connections to the U.S. team. They join Megan Rapinoe and her partner, WNBA star Sue Bird, and Julie Ertz, who is married to Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz.

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