A BITTER END

Hoffman presents an ironic twist to the shocking Astros firings of A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow

Photo by Jason Behnken / Getty Images

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

You like irony? In 2015, the Positive Coaching Alliance asked if I'd interview and write a column about the guest speaker at its annual fundraiser. The Positive Coaching Alliance promotes good sportsmanship in youth sports. Its mission statement is, "Play by the rules, honor the sport."

The guest speaker? A.J. Hinch, the Houston Astros manager first suspended for a year by Major League Baseball, then fired forever by team owner Jim Crane for his role in the Astros' sign-stealing cheating scandal.

I am sad to see Hinch go. He seemed like a good guy and the perfect manager for the lovable Astros. Obviously, he was involved enough in the skullduggery to warrant a suspension and Crane is right to clear house, including dismissing Hinch. The Astros need to be a clean machine.

General manager Jeff Luhnow, I never cared for. He always struck me as a skunk and bit of a nut job. I once corrected his spelling on Twitter and he didn't see the humor in that.

Then I saw him wearing flip-flops at Fuddruckers and I saw nothing funny about that. I've got a thing about feet and food.

There's cheating...and then there's cheating
But cheating is a weird thing. There's cheating...and then there's cheating. As a Little League manager, I was a member of the Positive Coaching Alliance. One time, the local PCA rep asked if I thought "framing" a pitch was cheating.

Framing a pitch is when the catcher moves his glove slightly after catching a pitch so the umpire is more likely to call the pitch a strike. I said it wasn't cheating, every big league catcher does it on TV. It's part of the game. The PCA rep said it absolutely was cheating and I should tell my catcher not to do it. I told him, I'm lucky if my pitcher can reach home plate, and if he does it's unlikely my catcher will catch the ball. Next subject.

I didn't grow up in Houston, so my life will go on without Hinch and Luhnow fired. I remember comedian Robert Klein telling how he worshipped the New York Yankees when he was a kid growing up in The Bronx. He lived and died with the Yankees. He celebrated each win, mourned each loss. Then he became a celebrity and was invited into the Yankee clubhouse. During his visit, he saw Yogi Berra emerging from the shower. From that day on, he was OK with the Yankees losing a game.

My kid and his friends did grow up here. They're devastated by the news that Hinch has been fired as Astros manager. They all played baseball through Little League and high school and some beyond. One of them told me, "We stole signs on every level." In Little League, managers in the third base coach's box often could see the opponent's catcher stick down one finger for a fast ball, two fingers for a curve. If the coach saw one finger, he'd yell to the batter, "C'mon, Johnny." If the coach saw two fingers, he'd holler, "C'mon number 5!" Not exactly Navajo code talkers, but the batter was 12 years old.

If a tournament had a strict 90-minute time limit, coaches would tell their batters to stall, tie their shoelaces, call time out, adjust their batting gloves. Catchers were told to visit the mound and recite the Gettysburg Address. There's a company that will take a metal bat and practically turn it into a rocket launcher by hardening the metal or shaving the inside to make it lighter. I've seen parents let their hotshot kid pitch six innings for one team in the morning, then another six innings for a different team that afternoon. That's sick and more than a little dangerous and possibly rising to child abuse.

Continue on CultureMap to read about the distinction between theatrics and cheating.

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Houston can win series on Sunday

Timely hitting helps Astros edge out D-backs to even series

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Astros had two losses over the last 24 hours; one a game against the Diamondbacks in the series opener on Friday night, the other the news that their recovering ace, Justin Verlander, announced Saturday afternoon that he is opting to undergo Tommy John surgery. The decision and surgery will likely sideline Verlander through 2021 when his current contract with Houston ends.

With that, the Astros headwinds continued to increase, meaning a win to even the series with Arizona on Saturday would be a much-needed pick-me-up. Here's how they did:

Final Score: Astros 3, Diamondbacks 2.

Record: 26-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-2, 2.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luke Weaver (1-8, 6.51 ERA).

D-backs score two on Javier who is pulled early

Kole Calhoun, who drove in four runs, including a home run in Friday's game, would start the scoring on Saturday with a solo home run off of Cristian Javier in the top of the second, giving Arizona an early 1-0 lead. Javier allowed another run in the top of the third, giving up a leadoff single that would move to third on a groundout then score on a sac fly, doubling the lead to 2-0.

Javier finished the third and tossed a 1-2-3 fourth, but whether it be due to a pre-determined pitch count or other situation, he would not go any further, ending his night there on just 77 pitches. His final line: 4.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 77 P.

Astros grab a lead in the sixth

The Astros were able to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third, getting a leadoff single by Josh Reddick, who would move to third after a walk and fielder's choice before scoring on an RBI-groundout by Jose Altuve, making it 2-1. Enoli Paredes was first out of Houston's bullpen, taking over for Javier in the top of the fifth and retiring six straight batters for two perfect frames.

Houston would get to Luke Weaver in the bottom of the sixth, getting a leadoff single by George Springer, who would score from first on an RBI-double by Altuve to tie the game. Altuve would come around as the go-ahead run later in the inning on an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, knocking Weaver out of the game as the Astros took their first lead of the game, 3-2.

Houston evens the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James was the next reliever for Houston in the top of the seventh, and despite getting into a jam by issuing a one-out walk and hitting the next batter, he was able to get out of it. It was thanks to a great play by Michael Brantley, who started a double play by catching a lineout and throwing a runner out at second to end the inning.

Brooks Raley had the eighth and erased a one-out walk by retiring the next two batters to maintain the one-run lead. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, the Astros turned to closer Ryan Pressly to get another save and finish the one-run game. Pressly would do so, as Houston would move back up to .500 and even the series 1-1 heading into the rubber game on Sunday.

Up Next: The finale of this series between Houston and Arizona, and Houston's last regular-season home game of 2020, will get underway at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) ERA will be on the mound for the D-backs, while Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will start for the Astros.

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