Onto the ALCS

Agree or disagree, Hinch has the Astros in the ALCS with a gutsy move

Agree or disagree, Hinch has the Astros in the ALCS with a gutsy move
A.J. Hinch made a bold move and it paid off. Jason Behnken / Getty Images

The Astros and Yankees will square off in the ALCS starting Friday. John Granato, the dean of radio hosts in Houston, tells you how the Astros got there.

Game 4, Bottom of the 5th, Astros lead the Red Sox 2-1. With one out Charlie Morton walks Xander Bogaerts. Out of the dugout comes A.J. Hinch. In the bullpen for the first time in his adult life Justin Verlander is warming up. The right hand goes up and in comes Verlander with Andrew Benintendi waiting at the plate. After four fastballs topping out at 96 mph Verlander comes in with an 88 mile an hour slider that Benintendi deposits into the right field seats.

Cue twitter.

A.J. is an idiot and needs to go.

Worst decision I’ve seen in 50 years watching baseball.

This move reeks of desperation.

After Verlander shut the Sox down for the next 2 ⅔ and the Astros went on to win with a clutch 8th inning, twitter calmed down. It was pointed out that even though they won it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the right move (think back to last year’s World Series and how Joe Maddon used Aroldis Chapman.)

That’s fair. Everyone has a right to their opinion. Mine is exactly the opposite. When he put Verlander in here’s what I tweeted:

AJ put himself out there with that move. Verlander not a reliever or 3 days rest guy but I can’t fault him for trying to win now. Love that

A couple weeks ago I wrote that I hoped that A.J. had learned something from his first playoff experience in 2015 and it appears he had. In ‘15 he stuck with Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena even though they were awful at the plate. My contention was that you can put up with an extended slump in a 162 game season but in a five game series you don’t have that luxury. I thought A.J. lacked the urgency you need as a manager in the postseason.

In game 3 I was wondering whether or not he still lacked it. Carlos Beltran got the start at DH against Doug Fister which was understandable. Against lefties this year Carlos was good not great, but in that locker room no one is more respected. The guys look up to him and want to see him succeed. The bench exploded when Beltran had that huge hit in the 8th in game 4. Exploded. You can tell how much they revere him.

That said, when John Farrell went to left hander David Price in game 3 it was time for Carlos to sit down. He was overmatched as a right handed hitter this year. He hit .185, .228/.277/.505. Those numbers are just plain bad. Yet A.J. let him hit twice against Price in a one run game. You just can’t give away at-bats like that in the playoffs. You just can’t.

So when A.J. went to Verlander in the 5th inning in game 4 trying to hold onto a one run lead and end the series with his best pitcher I certainly couldn’t be critical.

Did he put himself out there for criticism? Absolutely. First, using Verlander on 3 days rest doesn’t happen. Coming in in relief had never happened and bringing him in in the middle of the inning as opposed to starting it was even ballsier.  He went for the jugular. (If you know poker it was like pushing all-in with just a 50-50 chance of winning the hand. But he was doing it with plenty of outs. He had Keuchel waiting on the river if he got beat on the turn and that’s a pretty good ace in the hole).

Was it the right call? That’s arguable. I can see both sides. But they won and that’s all that matters. How will Joe Maddon be remembered, as the guy who misused Chapman or the guy that ended the Cubs 108 year run of futility?

Time for the Astros to end their run and they’re one step closer whether you think it’s because of A.J. or in spite of him.     

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The NFL hasn't scheduled a game for every day of the week.

Yet.

“We’re going to be the new 7-Eleven," New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "NFL, 24 hours, you can watch them play any given day.”

The veteran preparing for his 14th season has a way of lacing his critiques with playful satire that hits his intended target. With the NFL close to filling every day of the week with a game in the 2024 season, the league with a reputation of “any given Sunday” might just qualify for that new nickname.

It's all part of the NFL's plan to keep growing the game and the league.

“Our job is to be everywhere our fans are,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when asked about the league's new three-year Netflix deal that this year adds Wednesday games. “They have almost 300 million global subscribers. We are obviously focused on becoming more global. So it's a huge benefit to us.”

That deal is why the league that has scheduled and played games on Christmas for years will be playing not one, but two games on Christmas when defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City visits Pittsburgh as part of a holiday doubleheader capped by Baltimore at Houston.

The difference is this will be only the third time the NFL has played on a Wednesday since 1950.

The four teams involved all play on Saturday, giving coaches and players the kind of turnaround faced when a Sunday game is followed by a Thursday night kickoff. Tuesday is the only day the Chiefs won't play a game this season — technically the lone day off for NFL players with Sunday games.

Washington coach Dan Quinn said the key to preparing is sticking to a routine and shifting days. That involves trying to fool the body clock.

“This would be like a Wednesday, this would be like a Friday, this is what we do before the game, so it’s not as difficult as it seems," Quinn said. "You have some travel that you have to work in, shorter weeks, longer weeks, but staying true to a process.”

The Baltimore Ravens will only miss playing a game on a Tuesday and Friday in a schedule that includes a pair of Thursday games. Christmas will cap a stretch of three games in 11 days for Baltimore.

Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton said it's not so much a concern as more of a “shock factor,” but players will adapt and prepare for what may be the start of a new stage for the NFL. He said players likely had the same conversations when the NFL introduced games on Monday nights, then Thursday nights.

“I’m sure 10 years from now, that might be the norm,” Hamilton said of an NFL schedule featuring games throughout a week.

Arizona offensive lineman Will Hernandez said getting the body to bounce back quickly is tough.

"I just go back to this: We all signed for it. We know what it is. Let’s just go,” Hernandez said.

Monday nights used to be for a premier game for the NFL. A new contract added games on Sunday night.

Then the NFL started opening seasons on Thursday nights in 2006. In 2020, the NFL played its first Tuesday night game since 2010 because of the pandemic. Before that, the NFL hadn't played on a Tuesday since 1946.

The schedule released last week opens as usual on a Thursday night with Baltimore visiting Kansas City.

Then Philadelphia plays Green Bay in Brazil on Friday night — previously seen as a sacrosanct night for high school football.

Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets kick off the traditional Monday night slate on Sept. 9 at San Francisco.

Thanksgiving long has been a day for the NFL with games in Detroit and Dallas now expanded into Thursday nights with a triple-header. This will be the second straight season the league will compete with stores for attention on Black Friday, with Las Vegas visiting Kansas City for anyone not shopping.

Add in the international games, NFL players' body clocks and circadian rhythms easily could be thrown off.

Jordan said the league preaches about using Guardian caps for player safety. “But nobody cares about our protocol of how to get our bodies back from a Sunday game to now a Wednesday game?” Jordan said. “Not saying that sounds absurd."

Player safety didn't stop the NFL from expanding the schedule from a 16-game season to 17 games in 2021 by cutting a preseason game in the league's first expansion since 1978. Now expanding to 18 games at some point in the future is a topic for discussion as Goodell says people "want obviously more football.”

Then the schedule-maker has to find a day to slot those games, giving the NFL another chance to fill out the rest of a week where every day looks like just another work day for players.

“If anything, we were going to practice, so why not play?” Jordan said. "And now we can wear our Guardian caps in the game!”

___

AP Pro Football Writers Dennis Waszak and Josh Dubow and AP Sports Writers Brett Martel, Noah Trister, David Brandt, Stephen Whyno, Dave Skretta, Joe Reedy and Mark Anderson contributed to this report.

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