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Jim Henneman: The Defining Moment Of The ALCS ... And The Unanswerable Question

October 22, 2019
The two League Championship Series that set up what should be an entertaining World Series didn't lack for dramatic moments, but the most defining of all was the last one, delivered with such suddenness that it took only one look of anguish to tell the story.

The game-winning and ALCS-deciding home run had barely left Jose Altuve's bat, unmistakably headed for the barrier above the left-center field wall, when a brief but brilliant piece of camera work captured the startled expression on Aroldis Chapman's face. 

It was a look that screamed: "How could he?" 

It was a question that would be asked often, in different contexts, during the ensuing moments of celebration by the Astros and the hours of agony by the Yankees.

At 5-foot-6-inches and 165 pounds, Altuve is far from your prototypical home run hitter, even in baseball's Powerball Era. So you might understand someone questioning how someone that size could record such exit speed. 

On the other hand there was Chapman, possessor of a fastball that regularly tops 100 mph, surely fast enough to slow the bat of even the game's strongest sluggers.

But Altuve is not a hitter whose ability can be measured by pounds or inches -- and Chapman, for whatever reason, is not a pitcher who always depends on his power pitch. So, while Joe Fan might be asking "how could he?" because of Altuve's size, the look on Chapman's face said something entirely different.

With that brief look of anguish you could just about read Chapman's mind asking "how could he?" while wondering why Altuve would've been looking for that pitch in that situation. 

Meanwhile many of the stunned onlookers, no doubt including some in the Yankees' dugout, were also asking "how could he?" while wondering the same thing -- why would Chapman throw his second-best pitch in such a situation. 

Some questions, in this case asked three different ways, just can't be answered. "That's baseball," doesn't quite do it.

***

Speaking of unanswerable questions, how about this one: How many believe there will be a "bullpen game" in Game 4 of the upcoming World Series, as there was in Game 6 of the ALCS?

Count me among those not raising a hand on this one.

There will be four marquee pitchers in this matchup, two each for the Astros, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, and Nationals, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, (with apologies to Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin, who at least deserve elite status). That's one too many for either team to risk the possibility of an unbalanced lineup.

The first three matchups are pretty much set in stone -- Cole against Scherzer, Verlander against Strasburg, and Greinke against Corbin, in what very well might be the key matchup. The speculation here is the team down after three games will play at least one of its aces on short rest rather than risk a mismatch.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact games 3-4-5 are scheduled for Washington, where a rainout is always possible. The Game 1 starters would be aligned on normal rest for a regularly scheduled Game 5, but the Game 2 starters would be working on an extra day for Game 6, a proposition that could be as dicey as working on short rest.

I cannot imagine a Game 7 between these two teams without Cole or Verlander on one side and Scherzer or Strasburg on the other. That being said and barring a sweep of the first three games, I think the team winning Game 4 will win it all -- and I'm giving the Astros the slightest edge.

*** 

It took just about the entire season, and he won't quality for the award, but Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks may be the Comeback Player of the Year. He missed just about the whole season, plus the Division Series win against the Twins, but Hicks not only got on the eligible list, but jumped right into the middle of the lineup.

In the process Hicks showed the ability former manager Joe Girardi saw three years ago, when he said choosing Aaron Judge was almost an Opening Day flip-of-the-coin decision. He hasn't been able to stay healthy for a full year, but Hicks could make for an interesting scenario next year, when Giancarlo Stanton presumably will be back in the picture.

I'm not quite sure where that leaves Brett Gardner, who manned the No. 3 spot in the playoff batting order until Hicks forced his way into the picture, but somehow I think he'll be his normal pesky self and find himself a spot.

*** 

For what it's worth, he National League had a 166-134 interleague record in 2019, the second straight year it has held the upper hand after 14 straight years of American League dominance. The Nationals had a 14-6 record, while the Astros were 11-9.

***

With all World Series games scheduled in the 8.05-8.10 Eastern time zone window, the over/under on the finish is midnight, about the time it takes for the average televised college football game. With some of the proposed pitching matchups, the under might actually work -- but don't risk the farm.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com