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The unlucky legacy of the 2018 Houston Astros

Specifically, it will remember the fly ball Jose Altuve hit over the wall in Game 4 of the ALCS, the extraordinary leap Boston’s Mookie Betts made for it, and the way that after the ball had landed, uncaught, it was declared an out. It will remember the debate that ensued over what constitutes interference, from Joe West’s confident ruling on an essentially unknowable call to the flukily blocked camera that might have otherwise saved Altuve’s home run and the Astros’ season. The future will have no trouble remembering that all as, from Houston’s perspective, bad luck.

In baseball, the point is to win the World Series and the tactic involved — the skill involved — is “avoiding outs” and “getting outs.” But we don’t declare the World Series winner based on who avoided the most outs (i.e., who got the most hits). That would be one kind of sport — golf is that kind of sport, and the discus throw, and the 1,500 freestyle, where every stroke, inch or second counts equally toward the final outcome. But baseball is the kind that has added layers upon layers of suspense and variety: Outs avoided make rallies; rallies make runs; runs make wins; wins make standings; standings make postseason series; and postseason series make the World Series winner.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

And, indeed, outs themselves are made up of layers and sequences — strikes and balls, batted balls chased and caught and thrown and tagged. You might even say the point is to win the World Series but the tactics are “throw good strikes” and “hit the ball hard.” The layers in between give it all texture.6

That’s why it’s fun. And the result is that, along the way from “control the count” to “win the World Series,” only some hits count. A hit that doesn’t produce a rally is ultimately no better than an out, a rally that doesn’t produce a run is ultimately no better than an out, and a run that doesn’t win a game is ultimately no better than an out. We measure skill based on those hits, rallies and runs, but we measure success based only on the higher outcomes.

This is true at virtually every level of play, and it’s almost always what we’re actually talking about when we talk about luck. A team that vastly underperforms its run differential? It scored more runs than its opponent in the aggregate, but there is no partial credit for a close loss. A pitcher who has allowed an unsustainably low BABIP? He gives up lots of hard contact, but there is no partial credit on a diving catch.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

On Thursday, in the third inning, the game scoreless, the series still very much undecided, Justin Verlander got two strikes on J.D. Martinez. He threw a perfect 1-2 slider, right on the outside black, just above the knees. It was a pitch that umpires across baseball call a strike 84 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was a pitch that, had it been slightly worse — i.e., slightly more hittable — Martinez probably would have swung at, probably would have whiffed at or hit meekly to the shortstop, or maybe hit for a single. But Martinez took it, umpire Chris Guccione called it a ball, and on the next pitch Verlander threw a hanging curveball — this one, ironically, probably not in the strike zone — and Martinez crushed it for what ultimately would be the game-winning, series-winning home run.