Red Sox

Evan Drellich: Sign stealing is escalating spitting game for Yankees and Red Sox

Evan Drellich: Sign stealing is escalating spitting game for Yankees and Red Sox

BOSTON — These teams want to watch each other burn. What a wonderful spitting game to take in.

The Red Sox have no doubt the Yankees wanted the sign-stealing story public. It’s just a little icing on the cake for the Yanks, who took three out of four over the weekend and are quickly closing in on first place. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on Tuesday noted the league’s investigation has been going for 10, 12 days — maybe two weeks.

“The Yankees decided they wanted to give it to the [New York Times] today, for whatever reason,” Dombrowski said.

To be clear: one of the game’s most well-respected executives just accused the game’s most famous franchise of leaking a story to The New York Times.

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George Steinbrenner would be eating this stuff up. Yankees president Randy Levine is probably laughing himself to sleep.

It’s entertaining as hell for everyone watching. Between the competitiveness of the division, CC Sabathia’s unhappiness with bunting and new accusations of electronic theft, The Rivalry is turning into a soap opera again.

The Red Sox’ guilt doesn’t seem in question.

The New York Times reported the iSox have acknowledged they stole signs using electronic devices. Neither commissioner Rob Manfred nor the Red Sox confirmed as much Tuesday, saying the investigation was still ongoing. There were no denials issued on the Sox behalf, and Dombrowski seemed more bemused than anything else. 

The Sox have cooperated fully, and indications are they know they were wrong. The commissioner noted that stealing signs is a legal act, simply one that can’t be aided by electronics. 

Normally, though, the Sox’ discipline wouldn’t be public. None of this would be. Now everyone knows.

Just how the Yankees wanted it, perhaps? 

Clever, clever. It’s notable the matter became public the same day that the Sox filed a counter-complaint about the Yankees: for using a TV camera to steal signs.

Per the Times, the Sox’ complaint came on Tuesday.

“I do believe that this is a charged situation from a competitive perspective,” Manfred said. “When you have the kind of rivalry that the Yankees and the Red Sox have, I guess it’s not shocking you could have charges and counter charges like this. We will conduct a thorough investigation of the charges on both sides. I want to do that quickly. I think that’s important, that we get it resolved.

The iSox, who are trying to gain a competitive advantage like everyone else, have only themselves to blame for what happens from here. The commissioner said he wants any potential punishments to act as deterrents. So, the Sox may once again be held up as an example for the rest of the league, just as they were last year when they were punished sternly for impermissible international signings.

But the Yanks might get their punishment too, now that the Sox have countersued.

Once electronics get involved with the intent of gaining an advantage, a rule has been violated — Apple Watch, a YES Network camera, it does not appear it should matter by the letter of the law.

The most relevant portion of a bulletin provided to all teams prohibiting such action: “No equipment may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.”

So here’s the Yanks position: you, the Red Sox, tried to cheat us and got little out of it. We beat you anyway, and you hit .143 against us with runners in scoring position, which is when your sign-stealing was supposed to work. And now, you’re turning around and trying to accuse us of cheating?

Here you go, check out the Grey Lady.

It’s a brazen move, particularly if the Yanks don’t win the division, or get knocked out in the Wild Card round. And it is befitting the rivalry.

Manfred said at Fenway Park on Tuesday that these matters are typically handled between general managers. One GM calls another, the league doesn’t get involved and that’s that. But, Manfred said, there have been times where other teams have raised concerns about electronic sign stealing with the league, so the matter is not unprecedented.

Spitting games are much more enjoyable when public. 

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Drellich: Red Sox identity, standing as league's best will be tested

Drellich: Red Sox identity, standing as league's best will be tested

The greatest question the Red Sox face entering the second half of the season — well, final two-fifths, really — whether they’re good enough to avoid a Wild Card game. Whether they hold on to the American League East and keep the Yankees at bay. 

How many wins the Sox (68-30) wind up with does not matter outside of that context. A 105-win season would look plenty disappointing if it gives way to a loss in the only playoff game the Sox play in 2018.

Lurking in the background is more of a question of context and remembrance. Will these Sox eventually be recalled for something other than being outrageously good? 

They do not need to be, mind you. No team needs to do anything besides win (and act responsibly and benevolently as citizens, you could also say). This is the best team in baseball, with 64 games left on its schedule. They arrive, they rake and shove, they do it again the next day. It's 2007 all over again.

“It’s a very weird feeling in the clubhouse,” J.D. Martinez said in Washington D.C., during the All-Star Game festivities. “From the moment I got into spring training, it’s like everyone goes out there and whether we’re losing by a lot or we’re winning by a lot, the mood is always the same. There’s never any panic. 

"There’s no really like highs and lows it seems like in the clubhouse. It’s just everything is kind of like, even-keeled. So to me it’s like, it’s almost like that’s who we are: we’re playing like how we’re supposed to be playing."

The Sox are not underdogs with the highest payroll in baseball. They’re not all bearded. There are no reports of Jack Daniels shots prior to games. There’s certainly no curse to be broken, or any other broad backdrop, aside from the desire to avenge early exits in 2016 and 2017.

None of those threads are necessary for enjoyment, although they can act as an enhancement. Perhaps there’s a blue-collar narrative to be found here, if you can ignore the highest payroll in baseball. 

“Ah man, I don’t know,” Martinez said when asked about identity. “I feel like this is a very close group. It almost feels like a family. Everyone’s rooting for each other. I don’t know if I can put a label on it, it’s just, everyone always wants to grow and get better. Everyone’s always asking questions, and continuing to just not be satisfied I feel like in their own. They always want to get better. It’s been fun.”

The questions for Martinez and Mookie Betts didn’t stop at the All-Star Game, either. Both players will be high vote-getters in the American League MVP race, and Betts may well win. The duo, led by Martinez’s methods as well as hitting coach Tim Hyers, seems to have figured something out, a hitting approach that maximizes their off-the-chart talents.

“There’s a lot of hitting talk, but it’s not necessarily, ‘How do you do it?’” Betts said when asked if All-Stars were trying to understand what he and Martinez have been doing. “It’s the approaches and what not that you use. Just passing along information, that’s how everybody gets better. Everybody wants to get better.”

Hard to imagine the Sox actually getting better, given it would be a shock if they did not win 100 games. The Sox need to play .500 ball the rest of the way to reach that vaunted mark.

Martinez was asked if the Sox have peaked.

“I don’t know, you can always get better, right?” he said. “But we have a good team. I think we’re a very versatile team. I always say this: like, this is a team that can beat you in multiple ways. You can have someone throw a shutout and us put up one run. Or you know, us go out there and put up 10 runs and us win. You know the bullpen comes in, shuts the door. 

“We can steal bases. We can manufacture runs. It’s a team that’s not dependent on winning on one way. I kind of remember when I was in Detroit it was like, we had to slug. That was what we had to do to score. Here, it’s different.”

But, again, being good, or being different, or improving from this point really matters in only one context: the Yankees (62-33). They’re the only other team that can with East. And the prize associated with clinching the division — avoiding a one-game Wild Card berth — is tremendous. 

The Yanks sit 4 1/2 games back, with more games to play than the Sox down the stretch. Whether the Sox win 100 games, 110 games, really doesn’t matter outside of the magic and novelty associated with a big number. 

As of Wednesday, the Red Sox had a 58.1 percent chance to win the division, per Baseball Prospectus’ daily playoff odds. The Yanks were at 41.9 percent. They next meet in the first week of August at Fenway Park.

"We have a long way to go," Betts said. "We have to take these couple days to heal up, rest up and get ready to go."

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Orioles trade Manny Machado to Dodgers for five prospects

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Orioles trade Manny Machado to Dodgers for five prospects

The Dodgers are the winners of the Manny Machado sweepstakes, acquiring the ex-Orioles slugger in exchange for five prospects.

The prospects heading to Baltimore in the deal per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic are outfielder Yusniel Diaz, third baseman Rylan Bannon, right-handed pitcher Zach Pop, right-handed pitcher Dean Kremer, and second baseman Breyvic Valera.

Machado, 26,  is enjoying another stellar season, hitting .315 with 24 home runs at the break. The Dodgers fill the void at shortstop left by Corey Seager, who is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May. Machado is set to be a free agent after the season.

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