Regular-season day one of the Houston Astros’ post-Astrogate era came in with a bang. Not the kind that indicates transmitting signs stolen off an illegally-installed camera by way of a clubhouse monitor, but the kind that means a five-run inning and an 8-2 win over the Seattle Mariners.
Their fellow sign-stealing criminals, the Boston Red Sox, saw and raised on day one of their post-Red Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring era. Even if, considering their opposition, you could accuse them this time of doing it the easy way, blowing the Baltimore Orioles out 13-2.
The best news for the Asterisks other than their Opening Day win? Not a single batter faced a knockdown pitch. The best news for the Rogue Sox likewise? Not a single batter got plunked, either—but Red Sox relief pitcher Phillips Valdez did hit two Orioles, one each in the eighth and the ninth. Quite unintentionally.
Neither the Astros nor the Red Sox looked good when they were exposed and affirmed as high-tech cheaters during the seasons of their recent World Series championships and barely brought themselves to own it, man up, and apologise properly this past winter. Leaving many, even their own die-hards, wondering whether retribution would be swift and sure.
The coronavirus world tour that suspended the Show until delayed “summer camp” training opened up may or may not have knocked those thoughts out, even if three Astros got hit very unintentionally during an exhibition game against the Kansas City Royals last week. Baseball in the age of pandemic isn’t very likely to put cheaters’ retribution high on its priority list.
Don’t even think about it, conspiracy theorists. Whatever the origin of the virus that launched out of China, it wasn’t anybody’s idea of giving either the Asterisks or the Rogue Sox cover for their crimes, either. Public humiliation sometimes beats a pestiferous pestilence for humbling the formerly haughty.
Just ask Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. His pitching staff was so futile Friday night that social media wags suggested the Orioles needed (and were about) to sign Dr. Anthony Fauci. The epidemiologist whose stiff-armed ceremonial first pitch, before the Washington Nationals’ season opener against the New York Yankees, sailed far enough past the home plate circle that the same wags also said controversial home plate umpire Angel Hernandez called it a strike on the corner.
“For me,” Hyde said balefully after the carnage ended at last, “I’d like to flush this one.” He’ll need the Ty-D-Bol Man to clean the commode after that one.
In a way, the Astros could have been accused of winning the easy way too on Friday night. They met the Mariners nineteen times in 2019 and won eighteen. For the Astros, no matter what they’re coming away from, competition like that is the next best thing to summer camp.
Justin Verlander, their future Hall of Famer starting pitcher, worked six innings, struck out seven, walked only one, and surrendered both Seattle runs by way of the solo long ball, from Kyle Lewis in the second and Korey Seager in the fourth. Just another night at the office.
But he was in a sober mood after the game, and not because of the two long balls he surrendered after surrendering 36 last season. (He averages 23 homers surrendered per 162 game lifetime, by the way. Turn off the alarm bells, there are Hall of Famers who surrendered a little more. Robin Roberts lifetime surrendered two fewer  than Eddie Murray hit. [505.])
“Obviously guys are risking a lot here,” Verlander said post-game, “myself included with a young daughter at home, to bring America’s pastime back to people and hopefully cheer them up and give them a little bit of a reprieve from a lot of the stuff that’s been happening.”
Peculiarly, considering the net result, Michael Brantley was the only Astro to collect more than one hit on a night that only George Springer and Yuli Gurriel went hitless for them. And they were down 2-0 when the fifth inning arrived and the fun began for them.
Aledmys Diaz opened with a base hit to somewhat deep center field, then took third as Martin Maldonado’s shot to third was thrown off line enabling Maldonado himself to have first on the house, before taking second on Springer’s ground out back to Seattle starting pitcher Marco Gonzales.
Jose Altuve dumped a single to left to send Diaz home and chase Gonzales in favour of Zac Grotz. The new and dubious three-batter minimum rule bit Grotz and the Mariners right in the kishkes right off the bat, when Alex Bregman singled Maldonado home and Brantley drove one into the right field seats, before Grotz got Gurriel to ground out to third and Carlos Correa to pop out to second.
The Astros tacked single runs on in the sixth and the seventh and let the bullpen finish what Verlander started. No muss, no fuss, and no known shenanigans. And it was nothing compared to what the Red Sox detonated against the Orioles. Their 10-0 lead after five innings was enough to tempt the Orioles to petition the Hague lodging human rights violations charges.
The Red Sox scored four in the third and six in the fourth, and their starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi—who opened the game with a 100-mph fastball to Austin Hays—found himself in the unusual position of having such a comfort zone he could have let each Oriole batter know what was coming and still gotten rid of them fast enough.
Three RBI doubles including a two-runner by Kevin Pillar hung up the third-inning four-spot. Well enough into the Oriole bullpen in the fourth, Andrew Benintendi walked the fifth Red Sox run home to start that inning’s fun and prompt a pitching change. Fat lot of good that did the Orioles. J.D. Martinez promptly scored Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Jose Peraza with a ground-rule double.
Rafael Devers then hit into the first Red Sox out of the inning. That relief lasted long enough for Xander Bogaerts to single Benintendi home, Pillar to single Martinez home, and Christian Vazquez to single Bogaerts home. And Bradley and Peraza had more destruction to offer the Orioles in the sixth, Bradley hitting a two-run double and Peraza hitting a single-run double right after that.
Somewhere, the Orioles snuck two runs home on a sixth-inning double (Renato Nunez) and a seventh-inning homer. (Rio Ruiz.) They may still be trying to figure out how those happened, when they’re not trying to figure out just how the Red Sox mustered the burial without Mookie Betts, who’s now the Los Angeles Dodgers’ $396 million man after the Sox sent him and David Price out west in an unlikely salary dump.
For the Astros’ new manager, Dusty Baker, it was his 3,500th game as a major league manager. “That,” he said about Friday night’s flogging, “was the strangest opener of my career.”
Maybe playing in their home playpens helped, and likewise the lack of live fans in the stands, but the only thing trolling either the Astros or the Red Sox over their high-tech cheating scandals was in the Oakland Coliseum, where the Athletics—whose pitcher Mike Fiers (a 2017 Astro) blew the whistle on Astrogate last November—hosted the Los Angeles Angels to open the season.
One of the fan-financed cutouts in the Coliseum seats showed Oscar the Grouch in an Astros hat in a trash can marked with the Asterisk logo that went viral as Astrogate unfurled last winter. The Astros travel to Oakland for the first time for a series beginning 7 August. Bet on Oscar the Astrogrouch being among the cutouts then. That should be the least of their problems.