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Houston Astros strand 11, rue missed chances as they face elimination in World Series

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ATLANTA — Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker has been around long enough to know the seven stranded runners his team left on base in the first three innings of Game 4 of the World Series would come back to haunt him later in the night.

It’s exactly what happened after Houston managed just two runs one day after getting shutout and now find themselves in a 3-1 series deficit and one defeat away from dropping their second World Series in three years.

“We usually pick those runners up,” Baker lamented after the 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday. “We left quite a few runners on base.”

In fact, they left 11 on-base for the game and have gone hitless in their last 17 chances with men in scoring position, dating back to Game 2. The biggest culprit is third baseman Alex Bregman. He’s been a rally killer in the heart of the Astros order. He’s just 1 for 14 (.071) in the World Series and struck out in the first inning off shaky Braves opener Dylan Lee, with two men on base.

Houston managed just a single run in the inning after loading the bases with one out.

“We really had them on the ropes in the first inning and we came out of there with one,” Baker said.

Baker admitted he may have to tinker with the lineup out of desperation on Sunday, hinting he could move Bregman down from his usual place at No. 3 in the batting order. Shortstop Carlos Correa was asked if he’s given any advice to his struggling teammate.

“There’s nothing I need to tell him,” Correa said. “He’s preparing every day to do his best out there. I saw him hit four times today. … He’s trying to fix it. Same with me. I’m putting in the work. I hit three times in the cage.”

Correa is hitting just .143 for the series while ALCS MVP Yordan Alvarez sits at .091. The Astros look out of sync, perhaps impacted by the colder game time temperatures in Atlanta, the inability to take outdoor batting practice due to rain the last two days and the loss of the designated hitter for the middle three games.

After scoring at least five runs in 10 of their first 12 playoff games this month, they haven’t come close the last two days.

“They’re not giving us a lot of pitches to hit,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “We’re trying hard as hitters. We’ve got a good lineup, we know, but sometimes you have to give credit to the other team as well.”

Except the other team gave the Astros an opening by pitching Lee, who had never started a game in the majors before Saturday. After he faltered in the first inning, the Braves went to righty Kyle Wright who threw a total of six innings this year. The game was there for Houston’s taking and they failed.

It also opened the door for second guessing as Baker let Zack Greinke hit for himself with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning. The veteran wasn’t scheduled to pitch long into the game anyway, but after he singled in his first at-bat — while looking sharp on the mound — Baker left him hit again. He grounded out.

“Greinke swung the bat well,” Baker stated. “He got the pitch that he was looking for, and we really needed to stretch Greinke out some because we’ve been going to that bullpen like super early every day.

“You can second-guess all you want to … that was my decision. We had left some runners out there prior to that.”

Baker had to feel good about the move as Greinke gave them two more clean innings. In fact, it was his best outing in months having thrown very little due to an injury and inactivity during the postseason. The veteran went four innings without giving up a run.

“It felt better than it has in a while,” Greinke said. “Tough game, though.”

Despite stranding all those runners, the Astrots were up 2-0 in the sixth inning before the Braves mounted their comeback. Back-to-back home runs off ace reliever Christian Javier in the seventh inning was a back breaker. They were the first runs he’s given up this postseason.

“None of these guys are perfect,” Baker said. “They could have popped those balls up, but they didn’t. These things happen. That’s why you play the game. Nobody’s infallible. It can happen to the best of them.”

The Astros have been here before. They were down 3-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays in last year’s ALCS before losing in seven games and also won three in a row in this year’s ALCS to advance. The difference is in the last round they were only down 2-1 in the series. Now, their backs are fully against the wall.

“You lean on your past,” Baker said. “We were down 3-0 last year and you lean on that, and you lean on the other series that they’ve come back on. You really don’t have any choice but that.”

Asked how the players are handling the situation facing them, Altuve used the old “one game at a time” approach. If it ever were to apply to a situation, it does here for the Astros.

“If we win tomorrow [Sunday], then try to win Game 6 and see what happens,” he said. “But we’ve got to focus on one game, and that game is tomorrow.”

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Time for an NBA-style signing deadline? Why MLB’s free-agent frenzy should be an annual event

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It was fun while it lasted.

For two glorious weeks, we got a glimpse of what baseball’s hot stove season could look like if allowed to flower to its full potential. It began with a few trickles in the middle of November — an Eduardo Rodriguez here, a Noah Syndergaard there — and two weeks later was a full-blown gusher. The signings came so fast it was dizzying, in a good way.

Then, at the end of the first day of December, the fire hose of transactions stopped, as if someone forgot to pay the water bill. Since then, it’s been crickets, save for a few minor league invites. All we’re left with are the last publicly issued, self-serving statements from both sides of baseball’s great money dispute echoing through streets that only a few days ago were filled with shouts and laughter.

Or, to put it in less grandiose terms: An offseason that was so much fun has suddenly turned into a major bummer. Thank goodness for Sunday’s glorious announcements from the Hall of Fame.

Now that baseball’s offseason has been halted by the great cosmic pause button, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that baseball stumbled onto something pretty great when it spurred a frenzy of activity in advance of a jarring shutdown we all knew was coming. Why not learn from that and make an MLB free-agent deadline an annual event?

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Kenneth Moffett, federal mediator of 1981 baseball strike and former MLBPA executive, dies at 90

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Kenneth Moffett, the federal mediator during the 1981 baseball strike who briefly succeeded Marvin Miller as the second head of the players’ association, has died. He was 90.

Moffett died Nov. 19 at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, said his wife, the former Mary Taddeo. He had been ill with dementia for about six months and the death certificate cited natural causes, she said Monday.

His death was first reported by The New York Times.

Moffett was part of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in 1980, when baseball players and owners reached an agreement that put off a work stoppage until the following year. As deputy director of the FMCS during the 50-day strike that interrupted the 1981 season, he shuttled between the parties, set up bargaining sessions and suggested frameworks for settlement.

He also worked at the FMCS during the August 1981 strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization against the Federal Aviation Administration. President Ronald Reagan ordered the firing of workers who did not return to their jobs.

Moffett said in 1994 that baseball negotiations were different from all other types of collective bargaining.

“It is done in a fishbowl,” Moffett told The Associated Press. “Every statement, every press release — anything — is for public consumption. In most negotiations, you don’t hear a peep until there’s a settlement.”

As the union’s 1994 strike deadline approached, Moffett said: “My gut reaction is it seems like nothing’s changed. … The issues are still the same.”

Moffett was hired in December 1982 as the second executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association and took over on Jan. 1, 1983, when Miller retired ahead of his 66th birthday. Moffett was given a three-year contract but lasted just 10 1/2 months and was fired that Nov. 22 by the union’s executive board.

Donald Fehr, then the union’s general counsel, took over as acting executive director on Dec. 8, became executive director on a full-time basis in January 1986 and held the top spot until retiring in December 2009.

Moffett became assistant to the president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians in 1985. That union merged with the Communications Workers of America in 1994. He retired in 2003 as the CWA’s human resources director.

Moffett is survived by his fourth wife, whom he married in 1999; and three children from his first wife, Barbara: son Kenneth Jr., director of negotiations at the National Treasury Employees Union; son John; and daughter Laura Tornell. Moffett’s three previous marriages ended in divorce.

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The Mets spent, the Yankees didn’t and more

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When MLB free agency began, as I was comparing notes with agents and executives, a popular discussion was how many players would sign big deals before the collective bargaining agreement expired on Dec. 1. The common opinion was that only a couple of guys would sign for $75 million or more — and some legitimately thought zero would. They also expected slower-than-usual overall volume.

All of that turned out to be … wildly wrong!

Now we’re in the midst of a lockout that will likely freeze the market for months, but before Dec. 1, we had tons of action to a degree that no one expected. Over the course of about three weeks, teams handed out 51 MLB deals with guaranteed money totaling $1.974 billion. If you include extensions occurring in the 2021 calendar year, another $1.655 billion was spent, and nearly $1.1 billion of that went to five players: Byron Buxton, Wander Franco, Jose Berrios, Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr. Let’s go on a journey of the lessons learned from this incredibly entertaining and active first part of the offseason.

The Mets went hard.
The 2021 season didn’t go that well for the New York Mets, who ended the season in third place in the National League East with 77 wins and watched the Atlanta Braves win the World Series. But since the clock turned to November, things have turned around. Robinson Cano‘s season-long suspension ended, Jacob deGrom should be healthy by the time the season starts, and they added Max Scherzer ($130 million guaranteed), Starling Marte ($78 million), Mark Canha ($26.5 million) and Eduardo Escobar ($20 million) in free agency. With these additions, FanGraphs’ depth charts now have the Mets in a dead heat with the best teams in baseball. The Mets, a team that posted 34.6 WAR in 2021, are projected to post 48.0 in 2022 — behind (and just slightly) only the Dodgers and Yankees.

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