LOS ANGELES — Grant Dayton, the Dodgers’ lefty reliever, got a nice harmless popup the other night from the Mets’ Michael Conforto.
Or so he thought.
He turned and watched the ball refuse to descend, like so many in 2017. For a second, Dayton was beginning to wonder if gravity itself had been hacked. The ball relented and fell to Chris Taylor, but all pitchers know that all the skies are unfriendly.
Going into Friday night, teams were averaging 1.28 home runs per game, a significant spike over 1.15 in 2016. That was third-most in baseball history, behind 1.17 in 2000, when the game was besotted with performance enhancers.
You don’t hear the same whispers this year, primarily because players look normal, also because there is a drug-testing program that everyone wants to think is working. But maybe those drugs weren’t the total culprit in Barry Bonds’ day either.
“We’ve been talking to the Pirates and the Brewers, their pitching coaches,” said Mets manager Terry Collins. “The seams on the ball are definitely lower. I think that’s why everybody is having blister problems all of a sudden. And there’s no question that the ball is harder.”
That would certainly do it. In a game preoccupied with power, with exit-velocity numbers on the scoreboards as well as pitch speed, a harder baseball would promote bigger numbers and draw more fans and viewers. The helium will intensify in the upcoming summer heat.
Dayton is familiar with major and minor league baseballs.
“The ones down there are sewn by machines,” Dayton said. “The seams are raised more than the ones here, but the main thing about them is they’re all the same. The ones here vary from ball to ball, and they’re hand-sewn. You really don’t know how they’re going to reach or what you’ll get. But they’re harder than they used to be.”
Eleven pitchers went on the disabled list between 2011 and 2016 with blister problems, most famously the Dodgers’ Rich Hill. This year the…