HOUSTON — There are bat flips and home runs celebrations. And then there is what Houston Astros star shortstop Carlos Correa did on Friday night.
Even those who despise the Astros can perhaps appreciate the blend of swagger, showmanship and uninhibited emotion that Correa displayed after he provided the pivotal swing in a 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.
After blasting a ball toward the left-field seats to break a tie game, Correa stood at home plate to watch his handiwork. He tossed his bat aside like an unneeded prop. Then as Red Sox pitcher Hansel Robles watched the flight of the ball and catcher Christian Vazquez hung his head, Correa pointed to his left wrist as he looked toward the Astros dugout.
“When the playoffs start, they always tell me, ‘It’s your time now to go out there, hit homers, this and that.’ They told me to hit the watch,” Correa said of his teammates. He added, “Today they told me if you hit a homer, hit them with the ‘it’s your time.’ It just happened naturally there.”
The man who turns into a hitting machine when the calendar flips to October had struck again. Aided by his longtime teammate and fellow postseason hero, Jose Altuve, and buoyed by reliever Cristian Javier’s key assist, Correa and the Astros outlasted the Red Sox, even as Boston’s Kiké Hernandez continued his October tear.
“Everybody expected this game or this series to be a slugfest, and this game actually there was a lot more pitching involved than hitting,” said Hernandez, whose 4 for 5 night, which included two home runs, raised his average this postseason to .500 (14 for 28). “This is going to be a heck of a series, and it was a heck of a Game 1.”
In the opening act of the matchup of two of the best offenses in baseball, the victors were the team that cobbled together enough pitching to withstand the other’s hitting onslaught. After both team’s starting pitchers were knocked out in the third inning, it was Houston’s lineup and bullpen that held the strongest.
“A good baseball game,” Red Sox Manager Alex Cora said of the four-hour game that featured 16 pitchers, three lead changes and late-game rallies. “Two swings changed the course of the game.”
One of those swings belonged, of course, to Correa. The other, though, was delivered by Altuve in the sixth inning when the Astros were trailing after their starting pitcher, Framber Valdez, stumbled.
His counterpart, Chris Sale, also sputtered, which set the stage for a battle of bullpens. Sale, a seven-time All-Star, continued his inconsistent pitching since returning from Tommy John surgery. He showed enough guile to allow just one run over two and two-thirds innings when it seemed like the situation would unravel on him. And he was rescued by a diving catch by Hernandez with the bases loaded in the second inning that saved two runs.
At the plate, Hernandez provided another boost. He tied the game at 1 with a solo blast off Valdez in the third inning. Then the Red Sox capitalized on more Astros’ mistakes.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts walked and third baseman Rafael Devers singled off Valdez. When designated hitter J.D. Martinez scorched a ball up the middle, Altuve couldn’t field it. Instead of an inning-ending double play, Bogaerts scored and everyone was safe. Right fielder Hunter Renfroe then pushed Boston’s lead to 3-1 with a double that plated Devers.
After Valdez exited, the Astros bullpen kept the Red Sox in check long enough to mount a comeback. And with the Astros offense, the highest scoring baseball during the regular season, it was only a matter of time.
Javier tossed two scoreless innings and struck out four of the seven batters he faced. And in the sixth inning, Altuve atoned for his error. With a runner on, he clobbered a two-run blast off reliever Tanner Houck, who had been a godsend for the Red Sox bullpen of late.
Altuve’s home run not only tied the score at 3 but it re-energized the 40,534 people who had stuffed Minute Maid Park. It also marked a milestone for Altuve: He became the fourth person in major-league history with 20 career postseason home runs. The others in that group are Manny Ramirez (29), Bernie Williams (22) and Derek Jeter (20).
“Derek Jeter is one of the greatest baseball players ever play the game, and just to hit as many homers as him, it means a lot to me,” Altuve said.
Altuve, 31, didn’t flip his bat after his home run. He, of course, has been here before — he has been the Astros’ star second baseman during this five-year run of dominance and won a World Series title during their now tainted 2017 season. And he has a much different personality than Correa, 27.
In the next inning, it showed. Robles pumped 99 m.p.h. fastballs to get the first two outs of the seventh. As he watched, Correa said he visualized the pitches coming at him and how he would swing at them. He aimed his stroke up the middle and over the fence. And just in case Robles threw a changeup, Correa figured could still connect with that approach.
So when Robles did throw a 2-2 changeup high over the plate, Correa unleashed a swing that sent the crowd — and himself — into a frenzy. It also moved him ahead of his favorite player growing up, Albert Pujols, as the active leader in postseason runs batted in (55).
Flying around the bases, Correa waved for the crowd to make more noise. As he rounded third bases, he held his hand to his ear. When he crossed home plate, he looked to the sky.
A sacrifice fly by Altuve that scored first baseman Yuli Gurriel in the eighth inning gave the Astros a cushion to withstand another blast by Hernandez in the ninth.
“When you’ve got the two best teams in the American League going out there, you’re going to get great games,” Correa said, adding later, “I feel like this series is going to be fun to watch just all-around, however many games we play. It’s going to be special, and I feel like baseball fans are in for a treat.”
Bob Blitz Held the NFL to Task Over the Rams’ Relocation
In a separate deposition in October 2020, N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell was pressed repeatedly on the question at the heart of the lawsuit: Did the N.F.L.’s team owners ignore their own relocation guidelines when they voted to allow the Rams to move? Goodell gave elusive responses on whether the owners had considered each of 12 predetermined factors or if they’d voted merely because a Los Angeles deal was available.
“And I will say it again that I think the ownership was very responsible in considering all of the various factors and really understanding the key issues and ultimately made a decision which is in the best interest of the N.F.L.,” Goodell said, according to a partial transcript of the deposition.
The realization that an answer like that was unlikely to satisfy a jury of Missouri residents, combined with the prospect of several N.F.L. owners being called to testify, made settling the case a more pragmatic option than opening a trial on Jan. 10, just weeks before the Super Bowl is scheduled to be played at SoFi Stadium, the splashy $5 billion venue in Inglewood, Calif., that Kroenke built after moving the team west.
In deciding to settle for $790 million, the N.F.L. closed its responsibility to Blitz and a city that has lost not just the Rams, but also the Cardinals, who left for Arizona after the 1987 season. But the league provided precedent for other scorned cities.
“The host cities may actually begin to gain leverage back,” said Daniel Wallach, a sports and gambling lawyer who has tracked the case.
For the N.F.L., the agreement ensures that a public rendering won’t happen and keeps private the juicy details of league business contained in the many documents pertaining to the lawsuit. It also ensures that the backbiting between team owners stays in house.
Before the league opted to settle, Kroenke and the other team owners appeared to be at each others’ throats as he, according to multiple news outlets, attempted to free himself of the indemnification agreement that held him liable for legal expenses and potential damages related to relocation litigation.
Now, Kroenke may have to pay for most or all of the settlement.
China’s Silence on Peng Shuai Shows Limits of Beijing’s Propaganda
When the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former top leader of sexual assault earlier this month, the authorities turned to a tried-and-true strategy. At home, the country’s censors scrubbed away any mention of the allegations. Abroad, a few state-affiliated journalists focused narrowly on trying to quash concerns about Ms. Peng’s safety.
Beijing seems to be relying on a two-pronged approach of maintaining the silence and waiting for the world to move on. The approach suggests that the country’s sprawling propaganda apparatus has limited options for shifting the narrative without drawing more attention to the uncomfortable allegations Beijing hopes would just disappear.
On China’s social media platforms and other digital public squares, the censors’ meticulous work has left almost no sign that Ms. Peng had ever accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual assault. Like a museum to a previous reality, her social media account remains, without new updates or comments.
These tactics have worked for China in the past, at least at home. In recent years, officials have relied on heavy censorship and a nationalistic narrative of Western meddling to deflect blame for issues including the outbreak of Covid-19 and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
This time, though, the #MeToo accusation from a lauded and patriotic athlete implicating a top leader has no simple solution from Beijing’s propaganda toolbox. Any new narrative would most likely have to acknowledge the allegations in the first place and require the approval of top Chinese leaders.
“The central propaganda bureau does not dare go out on its own about a former Standing Committee member,” said Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a Communist Party newspaper, referring to Mr. Zhang’s position in the body that holds ultimate power in the party. “It would have to be approved by Xi Jinping.”
“For them, this is not just a propaganda matter, but also an issue of national security,” continued Mr. Deng, who now lives in the United States.
The level of censorship Beijing deployed to shut down discussion of Ms. Peng’s allegation has little precedent, said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.
To the Chinese authorities, the plan of action for now appears to be one of inaction. On overseas sites like Twitter and Facebook that are blocked in China, the response has been muted and fragmentary. When Beijing-backed journalists have addressed Ms. Peng on overseas social media sites, they have studiously avoided mentioning the nature of her accusations, or their target.
Instead, they have sought to put an end to the questions about Ms. Peng’s whereabouts, releasing photos and videos of the tennis star that seemed designed to show that she was safe despite having disappeared from public life. Ms. Peng also appeared in a live video call with the leader of the International Olympic Committee that only raised more concerns.
To some, the apparent stage-managing of Ms. Peng was a reminder of the authorities’ use of forced confessions and other video testimony from detainees for propaganda. In 2019, a state run news service ran a “proof of life” video of Abdurehim Heyit, a prominent Uyghur folk poet and musician, to quell international concerns that he had died in an internment camp.
When Peter Dahlin, a Swedish activist, was detained by the authorities in 2016, he was forced to speak in a Chinese propaganda video about his so-called crimes. He said in a recent interview that he saw the state media’s gradual release of photos and videos of Ms. Peng as evidence that Beijing was monitoring her movements mainly to silence her while waiting for the outcry to die down.
“She is obviously under custodial control,” Mr. Dahlin said. “Everything she does will be scripted from beginning to end; she will be told exactly what to do, how to act, how to smile.”
A waiting game has helped Beijing defang attacks from individual critics in the past, be they dissidents or sports stars. When Hao Haidong, a retired Chinese soccer star, called for the downfall of the Chinese Communist Party in 2020, officials purged records of his career and waited as he faded from memory. Though Ms. Peng brings more international backing, Chinese officials may be betting the social media cycle of shock and anger will eventually dissipate.
For Beijing, the concern is that the blowback could interfere with the upcoming Winter Olympics, which China is hosting.
“They have to placate not just the usual critics in the West, but also decidedly apolitical tennis stars and sporting associations overseas, while at the same time burying all mention of Ms. Peng’s original charge,” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia and author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.”
Understand the Disappearance of Peng Shuai
“It’s no surprise that the propaganda system is floundering,” he said.
In a strange turn, the only recent post about Ms. Peng that remains on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, is from the French Embassy in China. It calls on Beijing to respect its commitments to combating violence against women. But the seemingly curated comments on the post accused France of meddling in China’s affairs. Along similar lines, some Chinese journalists took to Western social media sites to question the motives of those who expressed concern about Ms. Peng.
“Can any girl fake such sunny smile under pressure? Those who suspect Peng Shuai is under duress, how dark they must be inside,” Hu Xijin, the editor of the nationalist Global Times tabloid, wrote on Twitter.
The narrative that Ms. Peng is being used by hostile foreign forces to undermine China has been echoed by other state media employees on Twitter. The posts have done little to appease concerns outside China.
“There’s no narrative even to really distract; there’s nothing substantive beyond character attacks on the West and Western media,” said David Bandurski, director of the China Media Project, a research program in Hong Kong. He added, “This is really the best they’ve been able to come up with.”
Within China, it remains unclear how many people are aware of the controversy. On Baidu, a Chinese search engine, queries for “Peng Shuai” spiked to nearly two million on Nov. 3, the day after she posted her accusation, but have since fallen to the tens of thousands. Ms. Peng’s frozen Weibo account, which does not appear in search results for her name, has gained 59,000 followers since her post — a blip in a country where top celebrities have tens of millions of followers.
Mr. Xiao, the research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, is the founder of China Digital Times, a website that monitors Chinese internet controls. His group has tracked hundreds of keywords, some with only the faintest connection to Ms. Peng, that had been blocked from posts and searches. Only the most sensitive topics — like Xi Jinping, China’s leader; and the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 — have such long lists of blocked terms, he said.
In the weeks since, censors have begun to fine-tune their approach. Some broad keywords, like “tennis,” have been restored in searches. Still, Mr. Xiao said, the wide gulf between what can be said outside China and what can be said inside the country could continue to plague attempts to control the topic.
“They know they cannot feel secure. The Great Firewall leaks,” he said, using a term that refers to China’s blocks and filters that keep out foreign social media. “Millions of people jump the wall to read about it.”
Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.
Brian Kelly Leaves Notre Dame for LSU
Brian Kelly will leave Notre Dame to become the football coach at Louisiana State, the latest in a series of changes at some of the country’s most storied college football programs.
The news was confirmed Tuesday morning by L.S.U.
The hiring follows the move of Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to Southern California. Both shifts surprised the college football world, where coaches do not regularly leave elite programs voluntarily, and created enticing vacancies at the universities Riley and Kelly left behind.
The Fighting Irish finished the regular season 11-1 this year and, if a top team loses, could earn a berth in the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame was ranked sixth in the most recent rankings for the four-team playoff. The new rankings will be released on Tuesday night.
Kelly had seemed like an institution at Notre Dame after 12 years in the top job. He had a national championship game appearance in the 2012 season and a 113-40 overall record. (The wins in the championship game season were later vacated by the N.C.A.A. after a trainer was found to have done coursework for players.) This season, Kelly surpassed Knute Rockne with the most wins as a coach for the university.
As unusual as it is for a head coach with Kelly’s success to leave a program that is still in the playoff hunt, his move could potentially position him to finally win a national championship, something he could not do at Notre Dame. Kelly lacks a top tier bowl victory, with losses in the Fiesta, Cotton and Rose Bowls, along with the national championship game loss.
And Notre Dame, despite Kelly’s elite recruiting (he has produced a top-20 class every season since taking over the head coaching job in 2010), appeared severely outmatched in its recent playoff appearances, losing to Alabama and Clemson by a combined 44 points.
Louisiana has one of the most ripe recruiting grounds in the country. L.S.U. has had a class outside the top 10 only twice since 2010. Kelly will have access to as much talent as he has seen.
L.S.U. won the national championship after the 2019 season, only to fall to 5-5 in 2020. Coach Ed Orgeron announced this would be his last season in October, when his team was 4-3. The Tigers currently stand 6-6. Like his predecessor, Les Miles, he found that not even a national title guaranteed long-term job security in Baton Rouge.
L.S.U. reported that Kelly would be paid $95 million over 10 years, plus incentives, a significant increase from a salary believed to be in the $3 million range at Notre Dame.
“I could not be more excited to join a program with the commitment to excellence, rich traditions, and unrivaled pride and passion,” Kelly said in a statement that L.S.U. released Tuesday morning. He added: “I am fully committed to recruiting, developing, and graduating elite student-athletes, winning championships, and working together with our administration to make Louisiana proud. Our potential is unlimited, and I cannot wait to call Baton Rouge home.”
Scott Woodward, the university’s athletic director, called Kelly “the epitome of a winner.”
Reports had initially linked L.S.U. with Riley, who over the weekend denied he would take the job before he moved to U.S.C. There also had been in-state support for the University of Louisiana coach Billy Napier, but he chose to go to Florida.
Luring Kelly from Notre Dame, though, was an even bigger surprise.
Kelly started his career at Grand Valley State in Michigan, where he won two Division II national titles. He then spent three years at Central Michigan and four at Cincinnati, culminating in an undefeated regular season. That landed him the Notre Dame job.
The hiring of Kelly at L.S.U. helps keep the Southeastern Conference at the center of the college football universe: The conference has recently added the powerhouse teams Texas and Oklahoma, and its members Alabama and L.S.U. have won four of the seven national championships in the playoff era.
Another Southeastern Conference team, Georgia, is undefeated and No. 1 in the country this year. It will face Alabama (11-1), third in the playoff rankings, in the conference championship game on Saturday in Atlanta.
Alan Blinder and Alanis Thames contributed reporting.