HOUSTON — Baseball was roiled by a new controversy regarding the composition of the balls Sunday ahead of Game 5 of the World Series, with Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander among those claiming the balls being used during the series are slicker than their regular season counterparts.
“The main complaint is the balls seem a little different in the postseason, and even from postseason to the World Series. They’re a little slick,” said Verlander, the 2011 American League Cy Young winner and the Astros’ scheduled starter in Game 6 on Tuesday night. “You just deal with it. I don’t think it’s a case of one pitcher saying, ‘Hey, something’s different here.’ I think it’s as a whole everybody saying, ‘Whoa, something’s a little off here.’ ”
In a story posted Sunday, Sports Illustrated quoted players and coaches from the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers as saying the World Series balls are slicker than those used during the regular season, with speculation that the slickness has had an adverse effect on pitchers who rely heavily on sliders — such as Houston closer Ken Giles and Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish, both of whom have struggled during the World Series.
“Yu noticed the difference,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told SI. “He told me the balls were slicker and he had trouble throwing the slider because of how slick they were.”
Confronted with evidence during the 2017 season that balls were harder and flying farther this year — and speculation that it contributed to the record number of homers hit during the season — Commissioner Rob Manfred consistently said the balls are constantly checked and have remained within a prescribed range of standards.
“World Series baseballs are tested at the time of manufacturing and are made from the same materials and to the same specifications as regular season baseballs,” MLB said in a statement provided to The Post. “The only difference is the gold stamping on the baseballs.”
“I know Mr. Manfred says the balls haven’t changed, but there’s enough information out there to say that’s not true,” Verlander said. “On the one hand, you can have someone who manufactures the balls [say] they’re not different. And on the other hand, you can say people who have held the ball in their hand their entire lives are saying something’s different. You value one [side] over the other. You take your pick.”
Verlander threw 17 sliders in his Game 2 start, only one of which produced a swing-and-miss — equaling the lowest number of swings-and-misses on his slider during any start this season of more than two innings. That dovetails with Darvish’s struggles in Game 3, in which he threw 14 sliders without inducing a single swing-and-miss, the first time all season that has happened to him.
“I just want to know why. Why in the world would the baseballs in the World Series be different?” Astros pitching coach Brent Strom told SI. “Because you can see the difference. You can feel it.”
On the other hand, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw had success throwing his slider in Game 1, generating six swings-and-misses among the 32 he threw, out of 83 total pitches.
Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill, scheduled to face Verlander in Game 6, said he has not noticed anything different in the baseballs used in the postseason as a whole or the World Series specifically, and he suggested weather changes could be behind the perception of slicker baseballs.
“If it’s colder, it’s going to be slicker,” Hill said. “If it’s warm out, or humid, I think you’re going to find you have more moisture to the baseballs.”
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