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Are you ready for Adam Eaton to be a World Series hero?
He already sort of is, after hitting the game-tying homer off Justin Verlander en route to a 7-2 Nationals victory that forces a Game 7. The straight-up “hero” tag usually loses its adhesion if his team ends up losing the series. At best, it’s downgraded to a “hero of Game [x].” At worst, the guy is simply remembered by his team’s fans as a player who showed up. Look at last year’s Game 3, which Max Muncy won for Los Angeles with a walk-off homer in the 18th inning. That’s better remembered as the game where Nate Eovaldi the last six innings for Boston in a valiant loss. The winners usually define the terms.
Eaton’s doing what he can. He’s hitting .333/.400/.619 with four free bases (three walks, one HBP) to two strikeouts. Two of his hits have left the yard, including Tuesday night’s blast off Justin Verlander that helped change the course of the night.
Eaton might be the fourth-most important Washington National of the evening. Stephen Strasburg outpitched Justin Verlander and Juan Soto hit a go-ahead homer that humbled Alex Bregman. More than anybody, Anthony Rendon redefined the game with five RBIs, including a two-run homer off Verlander that diminished the impact of Sam Holbrook’s extremely sketchy interference call on Trea Turner that even the postgame comments couldn’t clear up.
All of these might’ve been possible without Eaton, but Eaton’s pulling more than his weight. And if the Nationals end up winning the World Series tonight with Eaton in the plus column, they, like the Red Sox last year, will have secured a win on their side of the blockbuster trade with the White Sox in December 2016. And hell, even if they end up losing a seventh game of the World Series, they’re probably already there.
That’s remarkable, because the White Sox looked like they locked this one up early thanks to Eaton’s early knee issues, and the subsequent Nat issues. But here we are, and the White Sox are the ones lagging because Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López keep swapping mojo. Maybe they come out a little bit ahead in terms of time accounting, but until two pitchers click or unless Giolito solidifies himself as a perennial Cy Young threat, the Sox will have to settle for breaking even.
Even though Eaton spent this year showing why those in and around the White Sox liked him less than fans did, I don’t mind seeing this redemption act. He might’ve been phony or corny — and calling Drake LaRoche a leader is an all-timer — but he was also one of the handful of White Sox players who produced. The 2019 Nats and the 2018 Red Sox show how a team can mitigate such issues with stronger leadership or deeper rosters, neither of which the White Sox were willing or able to provide. If these moments remind everybody of just how much more the Sox need to do this time around, maybe some good can come out of it. Not counting Giolito, who is also good.
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*Rendon’s homer overwrote the call on Turner, who Holbrook said was running inside the baseline when the throw from the catcher hit him, even though it was in the middle of his final stride to the middle of the bag.
Turner was caught in the dugout calling out Joe Torre, who oversees the umpires, but this is the kind of rulebook interpretation baseball would just rather hope doesn’t happen in key situations, because it’s trying to correct a design flaw in the game. By the rules, Holbrook had a point:
But because the meat of the bag is in fair territory, it’s hard to imagine Turner being anywhere else during his last stride regardless of the path he took. That’s a little different from this White Sox-Tigers game in April, when Jose Abreu was hit on the left shoulder while running inside the line and a full step away from first base. You may remember that ejection as the one where Renteria charted Abreu’s course to first base for everybody’s enjoyment.
It’s a fine line umpires have to manage based on the way the rule is written, because there’s only so much they can ignore. Maybe a “last stride” clause would take care of it?
*Bregman carried his bat all the way to first base after his two-run blast in the first inning, which seemed very much within his ultra-confident repertoire, so it was surprising to see him apologize for it after the game.
The “Let the Kids Play” lobby thought it was lame that Bregman felt compelled to apologize, especially since Juan Soto didn’t have such regrets for giving it back to the Astros later in the game.
I think the idea was sound, but the execution was lacking. There’s probably a way to carry the bat to first base without treating the first base coach like the help, and Jose Altuve’s grimace suggests Bregman’s disrespect extended to people in the same uniform. So I can understand if Bregman is rethinking it, especially since it set up Soto’s retaliation, which was beautiful.