One of the truly interesting things about sports is knowing there’s always a game going on within a game, an entire series of observations and evaluations being made below the surface that only those privy to the insides and outs know and understand.
For instance, the casual fan watching the first inning of Game 5 of the ALDS between the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros on Thursday probably just figured Rays starter Tyler Glasnow didn’t have his stuff as the Astros quickly built a 4-0 lead.
Well, apparently the truth isn’t quite as simple as that.
Glasnow was seemingly doing subtle things on the mound that tipped off his pitches to the Astros hitters. Body movements. Position of the hands. Posture on the mound. Any one of those things in conjunction with a specific pitch served as a clarion call to a powerful lineup.
“I went back and looked, and it was pretty obvious,” said Glasnow. “As far as the tips go.”
If you hung around to watch the postgame show, you would have heard Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Frank Thomas offer a master class about how Glasnow was inadvertently advertising what he was about to do.
It began with George Springer’s leadoff single. Michael Brantley then singled moving Springer to third. Then Jose Altuve singled to right to score the game’s first run. Alex Bregman doubled into the gap to score two runs and then Yuli Gurriel singled home the fourth run.
If you watched the Astros during the inning, three things were clearly apparent. The hitters were in constant communication with each other. They systematically laid off most of Glasnow’s breaking stuff. And they made sharp contact with the pitcher’s heat.
Bottom line: They knew exactly what was coming out of the kid’s hand. And they used the information to pound their way into the ALCS against the New York Yankees.
“I’m aware that there is speculation about pitch tipping,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “It’s something we have discussed. It’s a little tough to do that, make an adjustment in Game 5 of a division series. But at the end of the day, give the guys the credit that went up to the plate and put the ball in play and hit line drives. I think that’s what did us in.”
Bregman, a serious candidate for the AL’s MVP, was asked what he thought of the theory.
“No, no, no,” said Bregman. “He’s as tough to face as anybody; I think if you went around and asked everybody on our team, it was just a team approach today. It was just one at-bat after another.
“The ball that Glasnow throws, that cutter, the four-seam cutter that he throws is unbelievable. His breaking ball goes from your head to your toes quick. So I feel like, with him, you just had to pick a pitch and try to put a pretty good swing on it.”
It would be understandable if the Astros would deny having any direct knowledge about Glasnow tipping pitches. Why let on that they had established a competitive advantage?
“I came back to my locker and I had about 9,000 texts about it,” said Glasnow.
The truth lies in Cash’s admission that the Rays were aware something was going on with Glasnow. And who is going to argue with ARod, Big Papi and The Big Hurt in a broadcast studio telling the nation the tipping was as clear to them as the stitches on the ball.
If there was an argument against it, it would be what followed. After the initial barrage – five hits to the first six hitters – Glasnow settled down and retired the next six hitters. Of course, its one thing to know what’s coming. It’s an entirely different thing to actual hit it.
Still, after the game Glasnow admitted he’s been aware of the problem. He told reporters that every so often he holds his glove higher when setting his hands before throwing a fastball and lower before throwing his curveball.
“Giving up a bunch of hits and runs is frustrating,” said Glasnow. “But I’m not going to say that’s the reason why. I left some pitches over the middle of the plate and they’re really good hitters and they can do things with it. I don’t care how hard you throw to good hitters. I don’t know if that’s what it was. But when I look back, it was pretty obvious.”
Much like Game 5 of the NLDS between the Cardinals and Braves, when St. Louis scored 10 runs in the top of the first, the Astros start was too much to overcome with Gerrit Cole on the mound.
“The four runs was a punch to the gut,” Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier told The Athletic.