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Rob Manfred says he's 'absolutely confident' balls aren't juiced

HOUSTON -- Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred doesn't blame the baseball for all the long balls.

A World Series record eight home runs were hit in the Houston Astros' 7-6, 11-inning win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2, including five hit in extra innings. That followed a regular season that featured 6,105 home runs, 2.4 percent more than the previous record of 5,963 set in 2000 at the height of the steroid era.

Speculation about juiced balls has been fueled by a report claiming the makeup of the league's baseballs has changed in recent years.

"I'm absolutely confident that the balls that we're using are within our established specifications," Manfred said Friday before Game 3. "I think making a judgment based on seeing home runs in a single game just doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel was quoted as saying after Game 2: "Obviously, the balls are juiced."

On other topics:

EXPANSION

Speaking after the presentation of the Roberto Clemente Award to the Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, Manfred said no decision on expansion from the current 30 teams will be made until after the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays get new ballparks.

"Over the long haul, I think we're a growth business, and I'd like to think we're going to expand, but any talk of expansion and the beginning of the process in terms of evaluating cities cannot even begin until Tampa and Oakland are resolved," he said.

The Athletics, who have been playing in the Oakland Coliseum since 1968, said last month their preferred site for a new ballpark is near Lake Merritt on a 13-acre site owned by the Peralta Community College District.

"I think Oakland's determination that they have a site that's workable for them in Oakland is a positive, it's a step forward in the process," Manfred said.

In Tampa, Hillsborough County commissioner Ken Hagan said Tuesday an agreement had been reached for a site of approximately 14 acres in Ybor City for a new ballpark for the Rays, who have played in St. Petersburg since the franchise took the field in 1998.

"I think whenever you have a demonstration of the community's interest in getting a facility built, it's a positive," Manfred said.

When baseball added Arizona and Tampa Bay, it took about four years from the start of the process until the new teams began play in 1998. If a similar process is followed, the earliest year for new franchises to take the field likely would be 2022 or 2023.

PACE OF GAME

Manfred said talks are ongoing with the players' association on rules changes to pace of play. The average time of a nine-inning game stretched to 3 hours, 32 minutes in the postseason through the league championship series, up seven minutes from last year and 18 from 2015. The average of nine-inning games during the regular season was a record 3:05, up from 2:56 two years ago.

Major League Baseball has proposed a 20-second pitch clock and restricting catchers to one trip to the mound per pitcher each inning that rules management can impose unilaterally for 2018. Manfred would prefer a negotiated agreement, and says it is possible changes could be phased in over several seasons.

"We've had really positive discussions with the players, and I hope that we'll make an agreement on some of the changes for next year," he said.

TELEVISION RATINGS

Manfred said he was pleased with the television ratings for the first two games of the World Series, even though they were down from last year, when interest rose as the Chicago Cubs sought and then won their first title since 1908.

Los Angeles' 3-1 win in this year's opener averaged 15,458,000 viewers on the three Fox outlets, down 21 percent from last year, and Game 2 averaged 16,019,000 viewers, down 10 percent.

"We think the ratings are really strong," he said. "They stand up pretty well against even a Cubs situation."

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