Astros still must offer retraction, apology to Stephanie Apstein

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Late last night, Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated reported that assistant GM Brandon Taubman targeted a group of female journalists, yelling, “I’m so glad we got [Roberto] Osuna!” — the Astros’ closer who was suspended by Major League Baseball last year after being arrested in an alleged domestic violence incident — after the club walked off in the bottom of the ninth inning of ALCS Game 6 against the Yankees to advance into the World Series. Apstein’s report was corroborated by several other journalists including Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle, Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports, as well as two anonymous sources that spoke to The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan. Furthermore, dozens of journalists vouched for Apstein’s credibility and reporting skills.

Apstein offered the Astros the opportunity to comment before publishing her report, but the team declined. Once Sports Illustrated published the report, the Astros responded angrily, putting out a public statement in which they called Apstein’s reporting “misleading and completely irresponsible.” The Astros falsely claimed that “an Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing” and said that “our executive was supporting the player during a difficult time.” The statement ended with the organization expressing disappointment that SI would “attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reported that, according to two eyewitnesses who were present during the postgame celebration, Taubman was “holding a cigar and standing with two or three other men when he yelled his comments.” Furthermore, there were no players in the area and no interviews were being conducted, which directly contradicts the Astros’ claim.

NPR’s David Folkenflik reports that Taubman was indeed targeting the group of female journalists, one of whom was wearing a purple bracelet in support of domestic violence awareness. He was aware of her tweets about domestic violence and complained about them last year.

To further add to this background, before Taubman worked for the Astros, he worked for Ernst and Young, a multinational professional services firm. Ernst and Young was the subject of a Huffington Post report published yesterday in which it was revealed that women who worked for E&Y were instructed on how to dress and act nicely around men. The behavior of Taubman, having come from a sexist business culture, is even less surprising in that context.

Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane offered a statement on Tuesday which still did not offer an apology on behalf of the organization. Taubman did apologize, saying, “This past Saturday, during our clubhouse celebration, I used inappropriate language for which I am deeply sorry and embarrassed.” Sadly, Tabuman’s statement continued which only served to diminish said apology.

Manager A.J. Hinch, put in a nearly unwinnable position by his team’s bumbling front office and P.R. department, spoke to the press on Tuesday to address the issue. He said, “It’s unfortunate, it’s uncalled for. I take everything that happens in the clubhouse to heart. I think we all need to be better across the board, in the industry.”

Here’s where we’re at: Apstein’s report has not only been vouched for by other journalists who were there and eyewitnesses, but Taubman himself admitted to the reported behavior. Thus, it is absolutely true that the Astros lied. They smeared Apstein by calling her reporting “misleading and completely irresponsible” and accused her of trying to “fabricate a story.” They have not retracted their misleading statement nor publicly apologized to Apstein and Sports Illustrated. They must do so. That is the bare minimum requirement and they have yet to meet it.

The Baseball Writers Association of America issued a statement saying that the organization “is alarmed and dismayed by the actions of the Houston Astros and their public relations department in reaction to Sports Illustrated’s report.” The BBWAA insisted on “a public apology to the media outlets involved — particularly Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated, and the BBWAA — should be forthcoming from the Astros, Jim Crane, Anita Sehgal, Gene Dias, and Brandon Taubman.” Sehgal is the Astros’ senior vice president of marketing and communications. Dias is the Astros’ vice president of media relations.

If the Astros aren’t held to account for their nefarious treatment of the press, it will only embolden other teams to act similarly to avoid accountability themselves. It will begin a breakdown of the relationship between teams and the media. That would be immeasurably bad for the sport, but it would be great for the Wall Street and Ivy League types multiplying in front offices across baseball to spread their “profit at all costs” gospel. A schism would justify, to them, their already-established mistrust of the media and a subsequent blacking out. The Astros already tried it this year. Let’s not give 29 other billion-dollar businesses under an antitrust exemption the power to do the same.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.