So the Houston Astros bumped the Minnesota Twins to one side almost in a blink in their American League wild card series. They swept the Twins in the best-of-three in the Twins’ own playpen. Their 4-1 and 3-1 wins weren’t exactly overpowering but they don’t have to be bombing raids or ground massacres to be wins.
Not only does it make for the Twins losing eighteen straight postseason games they’ve played since 2004, it makes for losing them at home after being the best in Show at home this irregular season. When you beat a team in their house when their irregular season winning percentage was .774, you earn a couple of days’ bragging rights.
What you haven’t earned yet, you Astros who snuck into this overcompensating sixteen-team postseason with a 29-31 irregular season record, is the right to call out your Astrogate critics after this early two-game uprising by asking, as shortstop Carlos Correa—whose home run in the top of the seventh Wednesday busted a one-all tie—did post-game, asking, “What are they gonna say now?”
Let’s see. They’re gonna say the Astros haven’t even reached the World Series yet. They’re gonna say the Astros haven’t even played a division series yet, and don’t know at this writing whether they’ll face the Oakland Athletics or the Chicago White Sox in that set. The A’s regrouped after losing their Game One to beat the White Sox and former Astro Dallas Keuchel, 5-3, Wednesday.
Like it or not, whatever the reasons that got them there, they’re gonna say the Astros are still one of the two losing teams that got into this postseason thanks to Commissioner Nero and his ownership minions deciding the pandemically-irregular season required eight teams per league starting the postseason even at the risk of losing teams winning any of the six designated wild cards.
Like it or not, some of them are gonna say the Astros are still evoking the old maxim that even the worst teams in baseball can heat up, stand up, and iron up to win in a short burst. We’re still waiting for the likewise 29-31 Milwaukee Brewers to show if they’ll do likewise, since I sat down to write before they played so much as a single out against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday.
And, as much as we’d love to see the Astros and the Brewers iron up enough to meet each other in the Series, the better to make Commissioner Nero think twice (if he can think) about making permanent the prospect of losing teams going to the postseason, it’s not going to make Astrogate just an unpleasant memory just yet.
What else are they gonna say now? It’ll take a lot more than one shortstop throwing down such a gauntlet, and one not-yet-likely 2020 World Series appearance, to eradicate the stain.
Don’t even go there, Astros. The Boston Red Sox getting caught sign-stealing with an AppleWatch in the dugout and, in due course, with deciphering signs in the video rooms to relay to runners to signal hitters, isn’t even close to what you did.
The AppleWatch coach was foolish enough to do it in plain sight and get caught by the New York Yankees. That was his own bright idea. But the video rooms were provided all teams by MLB itself. Do I have to say it again? It was Mom and Dad giving the teenagers the keys to the liquor cabinet while they went out of town for the weekend.
The only shock would have been if the Rogue Sox and any other team (including the Yankees, apparently) availing themselves accordingly had resisted the temptation to accept MLB’s gift horses without developing and operating their reconnaissance rings.
So far as we know for dead last certain, those teams didn’t either alter an existing ballpark camera off its mandatory eight-second transmission delay or install a second camera to transmit in real time. Nor did MLB provide second cameras or give exemptions allowing them to alter the first.
Nor did those teams tie such cameras to monitors in the clubhouse for translators to decipher opposing signs and transmit them by banging the can none too slowly depending on which pitch they wanted hitters to expect.
Those cameras, those monitors, and that trash can drumming were the Astros’ own ideas. They were above and beyond boys being boys and figuring out how to get away with unlocking and indulging the liquor cabinet.
What else are they gonna say now? How about that the Astros haven’t yet proven how elite they are at the plate this postseason. They’ve still got the horses no matter how feebly too many of them swung during the irregular season. The one thing they do have in common with the Rogue Sox is that they had (and have) too many talented hitters (still) for them to have needed a surreptitious intelligence agency.
But when they muster a mere seven runs on thirteen hits over two wild card games, they’re not exactly earning an image as this postseason’s Murderer’s Row II just yet. Zack Greinke, Jose Urquidy, and the Astros’ bullpen deserve more credit for stopping the Twins’ thumpers than their bats deserve for delivering close enough to the bare minimum.
Remember, too, that most of the rest of baseball and most of baseball’s fans were outraged not only that the Astros were exposed as extra-legal sign-stealing cheaters but that Commissioner Nero for various reasons saw fit to give the cheating players immunity in return for spilling.
The spilling didn’t outrage people, the getting off the hook did. So did owner Jim Crane and since-deposed general manager Jeff Luhnow trying to blame everyone else for the poisonous organisational culture they brewed that opened the passway through which the Astro Intelligence Agency passed.
A.J. Hinch—the hapless manager, who couldn’t or wouldn’t muster enough strength to do more to stop his high-tech cheaters except smashing a couple of the clubhouse monitors, and maybe telling them if he caught them doing it again he’d be . . . very, very angry at them—is long enough gone. Of any Astrogate figure Hinch, whose Astrogate suspension from baseball ends when the World Series does, probably deserves a second chance the most. But he’s liable to find it elsewhere. Sadder but, hopefully, wiser.
Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, the 2017 bench coach and designated hitter who co-masterminded enough of the Astro Intelligence Agency’s operating apparatus, are also gone. So are all but eight members of the 2017-18 players’ roster.
It’ll probably take the final, complete remake of the roster and overhaul of the organisation for the Astros to lose the entire Astrogate stain. Even that may not remove all of it. Just as history renders the 1951 New York Giants forever not as a daring thirteen-game-out comeback team but as off-field-based, illegal telescopic cheaters (The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!), history renders the 2017 (Astros) and 2018 (Rogue Sox) World Series winners as tainted forever.
Because Astrogate took until late 2019 to expose, this year’s Astros were going to take their lumps no matter what. Their mealymouthed pre-pandemic shutdown February presser just compounded the outrage.
But the Giants got past the ’51 cheaters in due course. So did several other pennant-winning teams whom history has long since exposed as comparable cheaters.
The Philadelphia Athletics got past 1910-14, never mind periodic suspicions that their off-field-based sign-stealing had almost as much hand as economics in Connie Mack’s first notorious fire sale. The Detroit Tigers got past their 1940 cheaters. So did the 1948 World Series-winning Cleveland Indians. So did the 1961 Cincinnati Reds. So, too, will the Astros and the Red Sox in due course.
Just a World Series presence this year—as unlikely as it might still seem now, but achieved straight, no chaser—would be a flood of Febreze removing a lot more of the Astrogate stain. Until it does, Correa may want to remember God gave him two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and only one mouth for a very good reason.