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Red Sox – Alex Cora admitted to wrongdoing on Astros

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BOSTON — Alex Cora admitted to playing a central role in the sign-stealing scheme that the Houston Astros used in their 2017 World Series title run, according to the brass for his current team, the Boston Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, president Sam Kennedy and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom addressed the media for the first time since Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended by MLB and subsequently fired. Cora was mentioned prominently in MLB’s ruling and he and the Red Sox decided to part ways Tuesday night.

“Alex, by his own admission, we agreed, played a central role in what happened in Houston,” Werner said. “And we all agreed that it was wrong, and we had a responsibility as stewards, as John has said, to have a standard here where that sort of behavior is not acceptable.”

When Astros owner Jim Crane dramatically announced on live television that he was letting go of Hinch and Luhnow, the architects of the analytics-driven behemoth in Houston, the microscope turned its focus towards Boston and its 44-year-old manager.

“It’s not ideal,” Henry said. “It’s not what we would like to be doing at this point. We were all surprised to read this report on Monday. But this is … I don’t know if you would call it a logical conclusion, but this is where are as a result of that.”

When asked about the ongoing investigation by MLB into the allegations that the Red Sox stole signs during their 2018 World Series run using the video replay room, the leadership group repeatedly declined comment and added that the league has directed them not to talk about the investigation. Red Sox officials noted that it was made clear to Cora what the rules were regarding the use of in-game video.

“Regarding the ongoing investigation here in Boston, MLB is doing a thorough investigation — as thorough as what took place in Houston — and we believe that all the facts will be ascertained,” Henry read from a prepared statement. “We would ask that everyone reserve judgment until MLB completes its investigation and determines whether rules were violated.”

The group was asked if they believe the Red Sox beat the Dodgers fair and square in 2018, when they clinched a World Series title in five games.

“Absolutely, yes,” Kennedy said.

On Monday, MLB said that the investigation into the Red Sox is ongoing and that a punishment for Cora is coming soon. The statement on the Astros mentions Cora’s name on 11 different occasions, saying that he was the only coach or front-office person who actively helped implement the system the Astros used to steal signs.

The Red Sox decided not to wait for Cora’s punishment to make a decision, especially with the team’s Winter Weekend event on Friday and Saturday, where Cora was scheduled to appear. Kennedy added that the team decided to part ways with Cora was “exclusively” related to the results of the report on the Astros, and unrelated to the ongoing investigation in Boston.

“We met with Alex yesterday, and as John has said, everyone went into that meeting trying to answer the question, what was in the best interest of the Boston Red Sox?” Werner said. “Alex was professional, understanding that he had made a mistake, so after a couple of conversations, we all mutually agreed that we needed to part ways. … He admitted that what he did was wrong, but that doesn’t mitigate, in our opinion, the extraordinary talent that he has. And we continue to be very fond of Alex.”

The most awkward moment of the press conference arose when the Red Sox leadership group was asked if they believe will ever manage again in the big leagues. After a long, awkward, pregnant pause, Kennedy jumped in to answer.

“I think Alex is an incredibly talented manager, and accomplished great things with us,” Kennedy said. “And he’s now — he expressed remorse; he apologized yesterday to us for the embarrassment that this caused. And I think, he’ll go through a process of rehabilitation and we’ll see what happens. It’d be hard to speculate, but he is an extreme talent.”

Bloom did not rule out an interim managerial solution for the 2020 season but said he’d like to “get it done as soon as possible.” He did not rule out the possibility that the team could enter spring training without a manager.

“There’s no question it’s an unusual time to be doing a managerial search — being at the point in the winter that we are, being this close to spring training,” Bloom said. “It’s impossible for that not to be a factor in how we process, but it’s not going to be the only factor, and we want to make sure we do this justice.”

Bloom acknowledged that the new manager enters a “unique situation.”

“We would want to make sure that whoever is in that chair next has the ability to handle,” he said.

Several longtime former managers are on the market, such as Bruce Bochy, Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia and Dusty Baker, but Bloom is known for his analytically-driven approach. He said he doesn’t like to categorize people by their age or experience level.

“In my past with the Rays, I worked with someone who would probably roll my eyes to hear me say this, but over time especially as [Joe Maddon] got some tenure on the job, became one of the older managers in baseball and then worked with one of the youngest,” Bloom said. “Everyone brings different things to the table. I don’t like to categorize people, typecast people. It’s unfair to them and in doing that, it would be unfair to us. It’s the sum total of all the characters that someone brings to the table.”

Bloom shared his disappointment that he would not be working with Cora, once one of the main attractions of the Red Sox baseball operations department.

“It’s really disappointing. I told you guys on that day that I had really high regard for his talents as a manager and I still do,” Bloom said. “Unfortunately because of what came out in that report, it just wasn’t possible for this to go forward about that. Although I don’t know him as well as the other folks that were up on the stage with me, I would echo everything. It was very clear in the time we spent together and getting to know each other that he was an extremely impressive person and there’s nothing but sadness that this is where we are.”

Over the course of the 45-minute press conference, the Red Sox leadership group praised Cora for everything from his passion, to his energy, to his sense of humor, to his ability to work with all personality types. But they stressed that Boston’s focus now must turn toward the new season, despite the dark cloud of MLB’s investigation.

“Well, of course it’s disappointing, but yesterday we all mutually agreed that Alex couldn’t lead this organization going forward,” Werner said. “And so we’ve turned the page, and after this press conference, we’re gonna address the 2020 season. So we move on.”

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New York Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu on verge of winning AL batting title

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NEW YORK — DJ LeMahieu is on the verge of a first in more than a century of Major League Baseball: the first player to win undisputed batting titles in both the American and National Leagues.

Luke Voit is about to become a more common name atop the leaderboards but part of an illustrious list, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez as New York Yankees to top the majors in home runs.

“I’ve always admired the Babe,” Voit said after the Yankees woke up from their latest slump to beat the Miami Marlins 11-4 on Saturday and kept their hold on the AL’s No. 5 postseason seed going into the final day. “It’s just awesome company. That guy hit 700 home runs (714 to be exact). That means I got to start hitting like 150 a year to catch up to him. So that’s never going to happen.”

Voit hit his major league-leading 22nd homer. Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox is second with 19.

LeMahieu had his fourth four-hit game and three RBIs while raising his average to .359. He passed Washington’s Juan Soto (.346) for the big league lead and opened a large margin over defending AL batting champion Tim Anderson of the White Sox, second in the AL at .337.

“This game’s been around for a long time, and I think anyone who’s watched knows just how special a player DJ LeMahieu’s been for us in these two years,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

LeMahieu won the 2016 NL batting title with a .348 average for Colorado. Ed Delahanty hit .410 for the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL championship in 1899; he is credited by some researchers with the 1902 AL championship at .376, while others accept Nap Lajoie as winning that title at .378 despite lacking the plate appearances required in more modern times.

“Guys don’t win batting titles in both leagues, because you win it in one league, they probably keep you,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, the 1984 AL batting champion with the Yankees. “It’s a different game nowadays.”

A 32-year-old infielder in his second season with the Yankees, LeMahieu will become New York’s first batting champion since Bernie Williams in 1998.

Voit hit a three-run drive against Nick Vincent in a seven-run sixth for a 10-3 lead. He has made 38 consecutive starts, including 19 straight at first base, despite an injured foot.

“I’ve been trying to transform myself into a better power hitter and this year was another steppingstone for me,” Voit said. “I’ve always been a guy, high school, college, minors. I play through stuff. I’m a grinder. I want to be out there. I want to help a team, especially when we were hurting earlier in the year and I had to do whatever it took to be out there. So I was making sure I was getting plenty of treatment from all of our trainers and trying to stay on top of it so I could play through it and not be like killing me.”

Yankees rookie Deivi Garcia (3-2) allowed four runs and seven hits in 6⅔ innings with seven strikeouts and a walk. Boone has not announced whether Garcia or left-hander J.A. Happ will follow Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka as his playoff starters.

Preparing for a first-round playoff series on the road, likely at Cleveland or Tampa Bay, the Yankees (33-26) are trying to hold off third-place Toronto (32-27) and keep the No. 5 seed. New York’s season has flowed and drifted like the tide: a 16-6 start, following by a 5-15 slide, a 10-game winning streak and five losses in a six-game span coming in.

New York trailed 3-0 before Tyler Wade‘s two-run homer in the fifth against Ryne Stanek, and Aaron Hicks had a two-run homer in the sixth against former Yankee Stephen Tarpley (2-2) for a 5-3 lead.

Wade’s homer off the second deck in right ended the Yankees’ first five-game homerless streak since April 1-5, 2014. They have scored nearly half their runs via the long ball, 156 of 315, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“Any spark to get us going, especially with the last game coming up tomorrow and going to the playoffs,” Wade said after his third homer this season.

Giancarlo Stanton was in a 1-for-21 slide with 12 strikeouts before his 113-mph RBI double to the left-center gap in the fifth that drove in Aaron Judge with the tying run.

“I feel like we’re always one swing away,” Voit said. “We just need to get that one to get us going.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Los Angeles’ Angels Mike Trout — ‘We gotta get to the playoffs’

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The Los Angeles Angels were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention at Dodger Stadium on Friday night, which means that in nine full seasons in the major leagues, Mike Trout — considered by many the game’s greatest player for most, if not all, of those seasons — has made the playoffs only once.

“The biggest thing is getting to the playoffs,” Trout said Saturday, moments before the second of a three-game series against the cross-town Los Angeles Dodgers. “You guys all see it. I see it. It sucks being out of it. It’s time. We gotta get to the playoffs.”

Trout made the playoffs in 2014, when the Angels suffered a first-round sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals. The 2020 season will now mark the fifth consecutive time his Angels have finished with a losing record, even though the offseason additions of manager Joe Maddon and third baseman Anthony Rendon had many believing the team might contend for a championship.

The Angels lost 25 of their first 37 games but have since won 14 of 21. The 60-game season didn’t provide enough time to make up ground.

“It could be a different story if we played a full season,” Trout said. “We got hot just a little late and fell short.”

The end result, a postseason absence even though Major League Baseball expanded the field to 16 teams, could lead to the firing of general manager Billy Eppler, who’s winding down his fifth season with the team and hasn’t been extended beyond 2020.

Eppler played a lead role in recruiting Shohei Ohtani, was a big reason Trout basically decided to spend his entire career with the Angels and took steps to rebuild the farm system, adding high-ceiling talent such as Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh. But Eppler consistently came up short addressing the pitching staff; the manager he appointed in 2019, Brad Ausmus, lasted only one season. Decorated executive Dave Dombrowski has been rumored inside and outside of baseball to be his successor.

“Billy was a big reason why I signed back here,” Trout said. “We’ve built a friendship over the years. He’s put a lot of great teams together, and it just didn’t work out these last few years. The relationship and the friendship I’ve built with Billy — it obviously goes beyond baseball now. I’ve had a couple GMs come in here; I’ve never had the GM relationship I’ve had with him with anybody else.”

Trout, who became a father eight weeks ago, was batting .281/.390/.603 with 17 home runs in 241 plate appearances heading into Saturday’s game. He ranked seventh among major league position players in FanGraphs wins above replacement, and though he continually called this season “a grind,” Trout will undoubtedly finish within the top five in American League Most Valuable Player voting for the ninth consecutive year. But he’ll be 30 next year — and is still chasing October.

“I don’t like losing,” Trout said. “I wanna get to the playoffs. Every time we get into spring, our main goal is to get to the playoffs and bring a championship back to Anaheim. That’s just the mindset. When you’re that close and you come up short, it sucks.”

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Chicago White Sox’s Jimmy Cordero suspended 3 games for hitting Willson Contreras

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Chicago White Sox pitcher Jimmy Cordero was suspended three games for intentionally hitting Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, while manager Rick Renteria got a one-game ban, Major League Baseball announced Saturday.

Cordero hit Contreras during Friday’s blowout loss to the Cubs, several innings after Contreras threw his bat high into the air to celebrate a three-run homer.

“I knew it was coming,” Contreras said after the game. “I have no regrets, zero regrets. Once they hit me, I don’t think that’s the smartest thing to do. He got thrown out. And who knows if he’s going to get suspended?”

Renteria will serve his suspension during Saturday’s game against the Cubs. He and pitching coach Don Cooper also were fined an undisclosed amount.

It is unknown at this time if Cordero will appeal the suspension.

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