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The Sports Report: Missing a sign at your house? Check with the Houston Astros

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Seven
Yu Darvish of the Dodgers reacts after George Springer of the Astros homers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series.
(Getty Images)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. How do you know vampires are good at baseball? They carry their own bats everywhere.

DODGERS

So it turns out that when the Houston Astros defeated the Dodgers in the 2017, they were stealing signs. Well, we should say allegedly stealing signs, but the evidence was brought forth on Tuesday.

An article published on the Athletic website contends that the Astros stole signs electronically — an illegal practice — during the 2017 season. Two people told the Athletic that the Astros’ use of the system extended into the 2017 playoffs. Another person denied that, saying the system ended before the postseason.

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The story describes how the Astros relayed catchers’ signs in real time at home games using a camera in the outfield and a monitor placed in a tunnel between their dugout and clubhouse. A noise from the dugout would then help the batter know what pitch was coming. Mike Fiers, a pitcher on the Astros that season, confirmed the system’s existence.

Hours after the story appeared online, the Astros issued a statement saying the organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball.

“Teams are competing with one another and everybody’s trying to find an edge, but we all have to follow the rules and the rules are set by Major League Baseball,” Astros president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow said. “We all follow them. We all agree to follow them. And obviously if you don’t, there’s ramifications to that, so we want to follow the rules. We want to compete and win. That’s what every other club does as well.”

That doesn’t sound like a strong denial.

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Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman emphasized he did not want to elaborate on the allegations because he didn’t want to sound bitter, but he hinted that during Yu Darvish’s two starts in the 2017 World Series, the Dodgers believed the Astros were stealing signs in ways they hadn’t encountered. Darvish logged just 1 2/3 innings in both games and didn’t strike out a batter. He allowed four earned runs in both Game 3 in Houston and Game 7 in L.A., both Dodgers losses.

“We certainly did not know anything definitive at the time,” Friedman said. “But we had a player who was really good at picking up pitch-tipping-type things and he watched the Darvish outings and said, ‘You couldn’t sell out on something that Darvish was doing.’ ”

Friedman said the experience informed the organization on how to better combat sign-stealing. He explained it has since been discussed during spring training, with measures implemented during the regular season to make October “less panicked.” It’s a new normal clubs and MLB must combat.

We’ll have more on this on Friday in our Dodgers newsletter. Subscribe to it (it’s free) by clicking here.

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With free agency upon us, one option the Dodgers are considering is third baseman Josh Donaldson. MLB.com has reported that the Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves are also pursuing Donaldson, the 2015 American League most valuable player and three-time All-Star.

Donaldson, who turns 34 next month, is coming off a rebound campaign with the Braves after battling calf and shoulder injuries the previous two years. He hit 37 home runs with a .900 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 155 games as the Braves won their second consecutive National League East title before losing in a Division Series. He reestablished himself on a one-year, $23-million contract, effectively betting on a bounce-back season before reentering free agency.

Donaldson has until Thursday to decide on a one-year, $17.8-million qualifying offer from the Braves. He is expected to decline it. As a result, the Dodgers would surrender their second-highest pick in June’s draft and $500,000 of international bonus pool money to sign him.

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Also Tuesday, utilityman Kristopher Negron announced his retirement Tuesday, three days after the Dodgers released him. The 33-year-old appeared in 30 games at six positions for the Dodgers after they acquired him from the Seattle Mariners in July.

ANGELS

General manager Billy Eppler hired reinforcements for his front office Tuesday, bringing aboard Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as a special assistant of baseball operations. He’ll assist in all areas, including player evaluations and minor league development.

Above all, La Russa, 75, will serve as a sounding board for Eppler, who raved about the prospect of working closely with someone he met at dinner five years ago as an assistant general manager for the New York Yankees.

“Having somebody with that knowledge, that expertise, that experience, I found that very helpful when I was in New York,” Eppler said during the second day of baseball’s general managers meetings.

“My interactions with him have always been very positive. So I’m looking forward to using him as a resource. Tony is just looking to make a contribution and there’s no doubt he will.”

BASEBALL

Gabe Kapler has been hired as manager of the San Francisco Giants, a month after being fired from the same job by the Philadelphia Phillies.

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Kapler replaces Bruce Bochy, who retired at the end of the season after 13 years and three championships with San Francisco.

The Giants made the announcement late Tuesday and planned a formal introduction to follow. Kapler is the second big hire in a matter of days by Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, who on Monday introduced new general manager Scott Harris, most recently an assistant GM for the Chicago Cubs.

The 44-year-old Kapler was fired Oct. 10 after going 161-163 over two seasons as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. With slugger Bryce Harper their blockbuster acquisition, the Phillies finished 81-81 this year for their first non-losing season since 2012.

LAKERS

They followed their second loss of the season by beating the Phoenix Suns, 123-115 on Tuesday night.

With a raucous crowd chanting for defense, LeBron James stepped back to hit a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 114-113 lead with 3:12 left. One possession later, Kyle Kuzma hit another three to extend the lead to four. And as the Suns kept missing, the Lakers kept scoring, securing their best 10-game start since the 2010-11 season.

The Lakers are 8-2 and in first place in the Pacific Division.

Phoenix shot better than 50% from three-point range for 2½ quarters, and better than 50% overall through three. The Lakers, meanwhile, made an astounding 58.6% of their shots through three quarters, though they were less successful from three-point range.

Until the fourth quarter, the Lakers never held a lead larger than four.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 24 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while James added 19 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Kuzma scored a season-high 23 points.

Read more

Lakers get a high five from JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard

DUCKS

Dylan Larkin scored the tying goal during a 6-on-3 advantage with 37 seconds left in regulation, and Dennis Cholowski scored with 2:56 on the clock in overtime to send the Detroit Red Wings to their third straight victory, 4-3 over the Ducks.

After Ducks defensemen Brendan Guhle and Korbinian Holzer took penalties 21 seconds apart in the waning moments of regulation, Larkin scored from a sharp angle while the Red Wings had three extra skaters on the ice with their goalie pulled.

Cholowski then got his second goal of the season on a long shot past Ryan Miller, who made 32 saves for Anaheim.

USC BASKETBALL

Nick Rakocevic tied his career high with 27 points and 16 rebounds and USC twice rallied in the second half before pulling away to beat South Dakota State, 84-66.

Onyeka Okongwu, who had double-doubles in his first two college games, added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Trojans (3-0).

Rakocevic went over 1,000 points in his career as did fellow senior Jonah Mathews, who finished with 14 points.

The Jackrabbits (3-1) twice pulled within one point in the second half, both times on three-pointers by Noah Freidel and Brandon Key. The second time the Trojans responded with 11 unanswered points to go up 56-44. Grad transfer Quinton Adlesh hit two three-pointers and Okongwu had a three-point play.

NFL

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be featured in a private workout Saturday arranged by the NFL and to be held in Atlanta.

In a memo sent to all 32 teams Tuesday and obtained by The Times, the league alerted general managers, head coaches, and player personnel directors that there will be a workout and interview of Kaepernick at Atlanta Falcons headquarters. There will be a recording of the session made available to all clubs.

Kaepernick, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016 with the San Francisco 49ers, was at the center of protests about racial and social injustice, sparked when he knelt during the national anthem at games. In February, the league settled a grievance filed by Kaepernick and former teammate Eric Reid.

One NFL team executive, while not dismissing the value of a Kaepernick workout, said it comes at a particularly inconvenient time for teams.

“It just never happens during the season that I can recall,” said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “If they can check a box, so be it. Maybe it works out great and someone signs him. But if this is part of their settlement, they should have done this in June.”

RAMS

After the Rams’ 17-12 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, a game in which Todd Gurley inexplicably did not touch the ball in the fourth quarter, the star running back was asked if he wished he would see the ball more in the second half or get more carries.

“Not really,” he said. “I mean, kind of used to it.”

With the Rams having won two games in a row and returning from a week off, the stage appeared set for coach Sean McVay to finally turn loose one of the NFL’s most dynamic and well-compensated playmakers.

It did not happen.

Backup Malcolm Brown got fourth-quarter carries. Gurley did not.

As the Rams prepare for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears at the Coliseum, McVay has given no indication that he plans to stray from how he has deployed Gurley, a player who before the 2018 season received an extension that includes $45 million in guarantees.

McVay has insisted that there is no “pitch count” or workload management plan for Gurley and his much-scrutinized left knee. But the Steelers game was the latest example that told another story.

Brown, who sat out the previous two games because of ankle injury, played the first two series of the fourth quarter. The Steelers then masterfully took eight minutes off the clock during a drive that ended with a field goal.

“Not to take anything away from Malcolm — but if you knew that that was going to be the last possession you get until 2 1/2 [minutes] left, you probably would say, ‘I would’ve preferred to have Todd get into more of a rhythm and maybe get some touches there,’ ” McVay said Monday. “There’s nobody to blame there but me.”

The Rams got the ball twice with a chance to win the game. Gurley never touched it.

“Like anything else, when you want to be reflective as a coach, you say, ‘Could there have been some things that you wish you had done to maybe keep him in that rhythm?’ ” McVay said. “I wouldn’t argue with that. I would say, ‘You probably should have done that.’ ”

USC FOOTBALL

Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr, who’d been the Trojans’ top two running backs at the start of the season, returned to practice Tuesday. Neither is guaranteed to play against California on Saturday but appear to be trending in that direction.

“I thought it was really positive,” coach Clay Helton said of their return. “There were no setbacks. They looked explosive, but we have to see. Is there no flare-up after practice? How sore are they? We’ll go through the week. But it was positive today.”

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Golden State at Lakers, 7:30 p.m., ESPN, Spectrum Sportsnet, 710 ESPN

Clippers at Houston, 4:30 p.m., ESPN, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

BORN ON THIS DATE

1911: Baseball player Buck O’Neil (d. 2006)

1928: Baseball player Steve Bilko (d. 1998)

1932: Discus thrower Olga Connolly

1941: Baseball player Mel Stottlemyre (d. 2019)

1943: Golfer Jay Sigel

1950: Hockey player Gil Perreault

1963: Football player Vinny Testaverde

1966: Basketball player Rumeal Robinson

1979: Former Laker Metta World Peace

DIED ON THIS DATE

1998: Basketball coach Red Holzman, 78

2013: Former Raider Todd Christensen, 57

2014: Baseball player/manager Al Dark, 92

2017: Baseball player Bobby Doerr, 99

AND FINALLY

Buck O’Neil discusses Ty Cobb and prejudice. Watch it here.

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. If you want to subscribe, click here.


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