Astros, Athletics clear benches as rivals’ tempers flare

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
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OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros apparently were tired of playing nice.

So following two quiet games at the Coliseum, true feelings seemed to come out and tempers flared Sunday, months after Houston’s sign-stealing scandal was brought to light by Oakland pitcher Mike Fiers.

Things got so angry the benches cleared – and the stands emptied, too, during Oakland’s 7-2 victory over the AL West rival Astros.

The Athletics’ ninth straight win was far overshadowed by what erupted in the seventh inning.

Oakland’s Ramon Laureano got hit by a pitch – for the third time in the three-game series – this one by Humberto Castellanos with one out in the seventh, and pointed at the pitcher.

Laureano then began exchanging words with animated Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron, left first base, threw down his batting helmet and began charging toward him in the first base dugout.

Astros catcher Dustin Garneau left the bench to tackle Laureano before the A’s outfielder reached Cintron, and a wild scene ensued.

“I was just trying to stop the situation before punches were really thrown and stuff got out of hand,” Garneau said. “That’s really what my whole goal was for that incident.”

Players rushed out of both dugouts to join the fray. Players who were sitting in the seats, observing COVID-19 social-distancing protocols, also rushed onto the field. Several Astros streamed out from their tunnel area.

Laureano was ejected by plate ump Ted Barrett, and the umpiring crew could easily be heard yelling at the players to “get back to the dugout!” through a ballpark with no fans.

“Ramon’s not going over there for no reason,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, adding of Cintron: “I think the league will know who that is and that person will get suspended. Hopefully that’s the case. Nowadays without fans in the stands and mikes everywhere my guess is they know who it is.”

Oakland batters were hit five times during the series, no Houston hitters were plunked.

A’s catcher Austin Allen was also ejected and Astros manager Dusty Baker was tossed a half-inning earlier for arguing balls and strikes. Houston lost its fifth in a row overall.

Oakland realized Laureano likely faces discipline.

“Look, we understand and you do the best you can with these things,” Melvin said. “Obviously we don’t want to get into a brawl like that and we understand the protocol. Unfortunately, it happened.”

Baker said he didn’t see what happened because, having been ejected, he couldn’t get the game feed on his clubhouse TV.

When asked whether Cintron had crossed the line with his behavior, Baker reserved judgment.

“Who chirped first? Did Alex say something to him first or did Laureano say something?” Baker asked. “I don’t know what happened. I’ve chirped at players before myself. Guys always say, well, is it inappropriate for a coach to chirp at a guy, but are you supposed to just sit there and take it?”

“It’s in the heat in the moment, we’re all men out there, with high pride and anxiety and everything else. These things happen when you’re on the baseball field,” he said.

Ex-Astros player Fiers didn’t pitch this series. He went public to The Athletic in November about Houston’s detailed sign-stealing scam. The Astros have won the past three division crowns, a World Series in 2017 and AL pennant last year. The A’s won 97 each in 2018 and ’19 only to lose the AL wild-card game.

Matt Olson hit a three-run homer in the third and Matt Chapman connected the very next pitch, taking the score from 1-0 to 5-0 on consecutive offerings from Astros starter Cristian Javier (1-1).

Robbie Grossman also homered and Mark Canha contributed an RBI single.

The A’s (12-4) matched the 2013 club for the best record after 16 games over the last 30 years.

A’s rookie left-hander Jesus Luzardo (1-0) earned his first major league win in his second career start. His day was done after allowing back-to-back two-out walks in the sixth.

The 22-year-old Luzardo outdid 23-year-old Javier in a matchup of two top pitching prospects.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: CF George Springer resumed hitting work in the batting cage but was still listed as day to day by Baker. The outfielder missed his third straight game after suffering a sprained right wrist diving for a ball during Thursday’s loss at Arizona.

Athletics: RHP Jordan Weems, on the injured list with a lat strain, will throw to hitters soon at the club’s San Jose alternate site. “I know everything’s progressing well,” Melvin said. … LHP A.J. Puk (strained throwing shoulder) is playing catch out to about 90 feet but Melvin said, “It’s going to be a while before he gets on a mound.”

UP NEXT

LHP Sean Manaea (0-2, 8.03 ERA) tries again for his first victory of 2020 when the A’s open a three-game road series vs. the Angels. RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1, 9.22) pitches as the Astros return home to face the San Francisco Giants.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.