Houston, you still have a problem

2020-08-10 RamonLaureano

Drilled once Friday night and twice Sunday afternoon, Ramon Laureano (22) also wasn’t thrilled an Astros coach called him something that gets people up to and including shot if aimed at Latino men.

The question before the house to begin is, which was the worst look of the weekend now done. The answer may depend on a fiddling commissioner’s disciplinary response.

Until Sunday afternoon’s rumble by the Bay, the worst look might have been otherwise-touted Los Angeles Angels rookie Jo Adell channeling his inner Jose Canseco, letting a fly ball bounce off his upraised glove (alas, not his head) and over the fence.

Was the worst look now Houston Astros pitchers hitting a pair of Oakland Athletics batters five times total during the three-game A’s sweep? Was it Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron goading A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano into a safety protocols-violating dugout charge and brawl after his third such plunk and second on Sunday alone?

Sunday’s story should have been the A’s winning their ninth straight game with a 7-2 triumph following a one-run extra-inning win Friday and a two-run win Saturday. Thanks to the Astros, at this writing the main story’s likely to be Laureano’s punishment for deciding he’d had enough of being used for apparent Astro target practise.

Fellow A’s outfielder Robbie Grossman got hit twice on Friday night, once by well-established veteran Zack Greinke and once by rookie Enoli Paredes. Laureano got it once Friday night, from rookie Humberto Castellanos, and twice Sunday, the second from Castellanos and the first from another Astro rookie, Brandon Bailey.

The tales will include whether Laureano’s fed-up hollering from first base Sunday—he’d gestured previously to Castellanos in a way suggesting he had more to learn about pitching, indicating Laureano allowed that rookies will be rookies, sort of—didn’t turn into Cintron’s throwing an expletive to the outfielder that’s considered grounds for a beatdown at minimum in Laureano’s world.

We’ll know more soon,” tweeted former Astros beat writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz after Sunday’s skirmish, “but a person I respect has been told that the A’s Ramón Laureano charged toward Alex Cintron because Cintron mentioned Laureano’s mother in a bad way. In Latino culture, those are fighting words.”

Ramón doesn’t go there unless something completely offensive came out of the dugout,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin to reporters after the game. “And I think the league knows who that is. And that person should be suspended. So hopefully that’s the case.”

It probably wasn’t brilliant for Laureano to charge the Houston dugout in his outrage, a charge that provoked no few Astros to pour forth and mill and holler and violate the Show’s protocols on health and safety distancing and against brawling on those grounds.

But it was far less brilliant if indeed Cintron threw Laureano the crude expletive for maternal fornicator. Throwing that toward most Latino men (and no few Latino women, for that matter) usually means you come away fortunate if all you got was beaten into a pulp. People have been stabbed or even shot for it.

Cintron also resembled a craven coward for all but telling the outraged Laureano to bring it only to jump to one side when Laureano brought it. Even as Astros catcher Dustin Garneau tackled Laureano in a peacemaking bid for his former teammate.”I was just trying to stop the situation before punches were really thrown and stuff got out of hand,” Garneau told reporters. “That’s really what my whole goal was for that incident.”

“Cintron shouldn’t be suspended for being a coward; that’s just something he’ll have to live with,” writes an outraged enough San Jose Mercury-News columnist Dieter Kurtenbach.

[Laureano] had a right to be mad at Houston, and that’s beyond the sign-stealing stuff.

But the coaches are supposed to be the “adults in the room” and this “adult” was challenging a kid to a fight.

The sidebars are liable to include a little speculation as to whether even the rookie Astros pitchers who did most of the drilling weren’t counseled toward a little payback over a lot of lingering resentment that an A’s pitcher (veteran Mike Fiers) finally blew the Astrogate whistle last November.

Rookies want to impress their teams. They’re sensitive to orders or at least strong suggestions from their elders and superiors, even those that might get them into a little hot water. Even if acting on them tells their elders and superiors that they’re reliable, dependable guys who’ll go to the mattresses for the team right or wrong if need be.

Don’t discount the prospect that Castellanos, Bailey, and Paredes might have been following orders or taking strong suggestions strongly, too. Might. Managers and coaches will still deny to their deaths that they gave the orders, but they’ve been giving such orders or at least hinting very strong such suggestions as long as there’s been organised baseball.

There’s also the prospect that the trio picked up enough from their more established teammates that they might, even for mere moments, have thought about sending the A’s messages regarding Fiers. Might.

They do have rather well enough established control issues among them. In four minor league and winter league seasons Castellanos hit seventeen batters. In three college and four minor league seasons, Bailey hit 21 batters. And, in four minor league seasons, Paredes hit thirteen batters.

The Astros aren’t alone in having to lean upon still-shaky rookies in this truncated season. But five plunks in three games, two against one A’s outfielder and three on another one including two in one game, does. not. look. kosher. whether the plunkers are a trio of shaky rookies, a trio of veterans experienced enough to know better, or a combination of the two.

Unfortunately, the Astros haven’t looked kosher for long enough, either.

Their passionate enough fan base has wrestled since with the revelation that the genuinely great team they rooted for turned out to be high-tech cheaters in the season of their otherwise so-far greatest triumph. That fan base has also wrestled with knowing that it isn’t just other fan bases who think the current generation of Astros is tainted, even if only six regular position players remain from the 2017 roster.

Commissioner Rob Manfred let off the hook every Astro player who partook of the Astro Intelligence Agency’s illegal electronic sign-stealing espionage in return for spilling what they knew. Come spring training, the Astros weren’t exactly apologetic about their high crimes and misdemeanors, provoking what seemed seven-eighths of Show players who didn’t wear Astros fatigues to demand where the justice was or threaten to administer what Commissioner Nero wouldn’t.

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly answered those calls a fortnight ago. He decked Alex Bregman and dusted Carlos Correa twice each, in the same inning. It made him a Los Angeles folk hero and a nationwide object of empathy when he was hit with a severe suspension. (It’s still under appeal.) Even those Astro fans admitting their heroes were grand theft felons may think Kelly got burned a little too deep.

Astro batters have been hit nine times since this truncated season finally began. (Third in the league, incidentally.) Of those batters, five were 2017-18 Astros including 2017 World Series MVP George Springer getting it twice. In case you’re curious, A’s batters have been hit fourteen times on the season so far. Grossman’s been drilled four times, Laureano five. There isn’t a jury on the planet who’d say either was unjustified for harbouring lustful thoughts of murder.

The Astros’ new manager, Dusty Baker, has tried playing peacemaker with the rest of the game while trying to shepherd his Astros past the Astrogate stain. Elder though he is it’s not as though Baker has an easy time of such things, all things considered. In a managing career that has taken him to great enough heights and equivalent disaster, Baker this season must surely think there are times when hell would seem a tropical vacation by comparison.

But he’s old school enough to provoke speculation. Would you be shocked upon seeing any speculation, specious though it might be, that Baker or another coach ordered their rookie lancers to give those snitch-sheltering A’s a little something to think about?

(Codicil: Fiers—who actually faced death threats over his whistleblowing—didn’t face the Astros all weekend; he pitched against the Texas Rangers last Thursday and his next scheduled start is tonight against the Los Angeles Angels. The A’s assuredly were not trying to keep him from facing his one-time team over the weekend.)

On the other hand, of course, you wouldn’t necessarily be shocked if Baker knew or was told reliably that Cintron had indeed leveled at Laureano a phrase virtually guaranteed to raise a Latino temperature to nuclear level, and that Baker decided thus that there was no place in an already self-bedeviled Astro clubhouse for such a provocateur.

Especially when the provocation put both sides afoul of the safety protocols the Show tightened up after the Miami Marlins and, especially, the St. Louis Cardinals wrestled en masse with COVID-19 crises canceling games and throwing this Hitchcockian season into further reasonable doubt.

Baker says he doesn’t know if Alex Cintron mentioned Ramón Laureano’s mother while yelling at him before Laureano charged him,” Ortiz tweeted. “But Baker says he learned the hard way how different it is when you mention a Latino’s mother. He vowed to check on the matter.”

Baker might also be reminded that the A’s didn’t get anywhere near hitting a single Astro all weekend long, even when Astro arms hitting Grossman twice on Friday and Laureano once Friday and twice on Sunday might have given any A’s pitcher all the reason on earth to return the disfavour.

Trusty Dusty can be forgiven if he starts wondering just what the hell he signed up for in the first place.

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