Astros win the World Series

Quinn Salkind, Sports Writer

Last week the Houston Astros finished off the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series to earn their first title in franchise history. As one of the most exciting baseball series in recent memory unfolded, controversy began to stir. Pitchers from both teams claimed that the leather on the baseballs themselves felt different than it did in the regular season.

One pitcher who struggled immensely during the series was LA’s Yu Darvish. The five time all-star posted a 1.62 ERA over two dominant performances earlier in the postseason. In the World Series, he posted an ERA of 21.60 in two horrendous starts.

“Yu noticed the difference. He told me the balls were slicker and he had trouble throwing the slider because of how slick they were. He wasn’t able to throw his slider the same way,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said.

Illustration by Claire Revere

Additionally Astros’ closer Ken Giles, another consistent pitcher who relies heavily on the slider, gave up five runs while only recording five outs in two uncharacteristic appearances. The claims about the baseballs feeling different came from both sides of the field.

“Lance McCullers took the blindfold test in the bullpen … He could tell which ball was which with his eyes closed. It’s that different,” Astros’ pitcher Charlie Morton said.

“When the ball is slick you can’t throw in with the same aggressiveness. If you don’t have control of the baseball, you might end somebody’s career. That’s a very bad thought to have in your head,” Morton explained.

Plenty of pitchers like Morton and McCullers pitched well during the series, but the slider — and those who rely heavily on that pitch — suffered. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and Astros ace Dallas Keuchel faced off in game one with telling statistics. Combined the two pitches threw 58 sliders, just 47 percent of which were for strikes. During the regular season Kershaw was at 68 percent and Keuchel at 61 percent.

The hitters took benefit from the alleged change. By game five, the record for most home runs in a World Series had already been broken, among other stellar offensive performances. Fans who watched games two and five witnessed two exciting extra inning games where teams were able to tie the game up with their bats at-will.

Although the fall classic delivered some of the most exciting and highly rated games, does this alleged factor leave a taint on the series? Some would argue, no. Both teams used the same balls the entire series, so both teams had the same advantages and disadvantages.

I would argue, yes. The ability to adjust to different baseballs has never been a part of the sport. Introducing this new variable at the world series changes the formula that allowed both of these teams to make it to the end of the post-season in the first place.

Some pitchers seemed to be more able to cope than others, meaning the change did not have a uniform impact across both pitching staffs. The most notable strugglers, Yu Darvish and Ken Giles, by definition of their positions, do not contribute equally to the game.

As a starter, Darvish is expected to pitch at least five innings per game (around 10 over the series), while Giles, a reliever, is expected to pitch one (around five over the series). To the Dodgers, losing Darvish is more impactful than the Astros losing Giles. The argument can be made that the Dodgers were more adversely affected due to their overall greater reliance on the slider, the pitch that appeared to be most effected.

Overall, this controversy will likely have little impact on how history views this World Series. Both casual and dedicated fans got to experience some of the most suspenseful, offense-heavy games the series has ever seen, as these issues seemed to get lost in the media whirlwind.

The television ratings continued to build on what was already a good year for baseball, and they will continue to improve next year. Perhaps this was just a stunt from the MLB to make the game more exciting to raise ratings, perhaps is was an unintentional manufacturing effect or perhaps it was simply in these pitchers’ heads.