Astros, Athletics clear benches as rivals’ tempers flare

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
10 Comments

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.

A’s running out of time to find home in Oakland, Las Vegas

oakland athletics
Brandon Sloter/Getty Images
1 Comment

LAS VEGAS — The Oakland Athletics have spent years trying to get a new stadium while watching Bay Area neighbors such as the Giants, Warriors, 49ers and Raiders successfully move into state-of-the-art venues, and now time is running short on their efforts.

The A’s lease at RingCentral Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and though they might be forced to extend the terms, the club and Major League Baseball have deemed the stadium unsuitable for a professional franchise.

They are searching for a new stadium in Oakland or Las Vegas, but they have experienced difficulties in both areas. The A’s missed a major deadline in October to get a deal done in Oakland, and there has been little indication they will receive the kind of funding they want from Las Vegas.

“I think the A’s have to look at it in a couple of ways,” said Brendan Bussmann, managing partner at Las Vegas-based B Global. “Obviously, they have struggled in Oakland to get a deal across the line. It isn’t for a lack of effort. . You have an owner that’s willing to pony up money, you have a club that wants to sit there and figure out a way to make it work, and you keep running into obstacles along the way.

“It’s time to fish or cut bait. Oakland, do you want them or not? And if not, where are the A’s going to get the best deal? Is it Vegas? Is it somewhere else? They’ll have to figure that out.”

What the A’s are thinking is a little bit of a mystery. Team President Dave Kaval was talkative earlier in the process, saying the A’s are pursuing two different tracks with Oakland and Las Vegas. But he went silent on the subject several months ago. A’s spokeswoman Catherine Aker said mostly recently that the club would withhold comment for now.

The A’s have been negotiating with Oakland to build a $1 billion stadium as part of a $12 billion redevelopment deal.

Newly elected Mayor Sheng Thao said reaching a deal is important as long as it makes economic sense to the city. Her predecessor, Libby Schaaf, led prior efforts to reach an agreement, but after the city and the A’s missed that October deadline, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed reservations a deal will ever get done.

“The pace in Oakland has not been rapid, number one,” Manfred said at the time. “We’re in a stadium situation that’s really not tenable. I mean, we need to do something to alter the situation. So I’m concerned about the lack of pace.”

Recent California history justifies his concerns. SoFi Stadium in Southern California and Chase Center in San Francisco were built with private money, and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara was 90% privately financed.

“And then I think there was some contagion where around the country people realized these deals could be done well privately and could generate a return on investment to those investors,” said David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California. “Why are we throwing public money at it at all?”

That’s also a question being asked in Las Vegas, even though the Raiders in 2016 received $750 million from the Nevada Legislature for a stadium. That then was the largest amount of public money for a sports venue, but it was surpassed last March by the $850 million pledged to construct a new stadium for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Another deal like the one for Allegiant Stadium, where the Raiders play, appears unlikely in Nevada. T-Mobile Arena, which opened in 2017, was privately financed. An arena planned for south of the Las Vegas Strip also wouldn’t rely on public funds.

Las Vegas, however, has shown financing creativity. Its Triple-A baseball stadium received $80 million in 2017 for naming rights from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Room taxes fund the authority, so it was public money in a backdoor sort of way.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, who is on the board of the convention authority, has spoken with A’s representatives about their interest in Las Vegas and said he is aware of the club’s talks with other Nevada officials. He said the A’s are taking a much different approach than the Raiders, who identified Las Vegas early as their choice landing spot after many years of failing to get a new stadium in Oakland.

“When the Raiders decided to come to Las Vegas, they had a clear plan,” Naft said. “You had a clear body that was tasked with assessing the worth and the value, and they committed to the destination. I have not seen that from the Oakland A’s at any level, and it’s not really our job to go out and beg them to come here because we have earned the reputation of the greatest arena on Earth. We have put in both the dollars and the labor to make that the case.

“I think I’ve made myself clear, but from conversations with others, I don’t think I’m alone on that.”

New Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo “will not raise taxes” to attract the A’s or any other team, his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Ray, said in a statement. But she said the club could qualify for other ongoing “economic development programs,” which could mean tax breaks similar to what Tesla received in 2014.

Manfred said in December that the A’s relocation fee would be waived if they move to Las Vegas, a savings to the club reportedly of up to $1 billion.

“We’re past any reasonable timeline for the situation in Oakland to be resolved,” Manfred said then.

Naft said Allegiant Stadium filled a hole that went beyond landing an NFL team. It allowed Las Vegas to attract major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four and major concerts such as Garth Brooks and Elton John that “in many cases we would not otherwise have.”

He said he doesn’t believe a baseball stadium would accomplish that, and sports economist Victor Matheson agreed.

“I think there’s a real question about how much people are willing to watch baseball in Las Vegas,” said Matheson, a professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It’s not like locals don’t have a huge number of entertainment options right now, and it’s not clear exactly how much people might travel to watch baseball in Vegas, either.”

If the A’s truly want to be in Las Vegas, Naft said they need to make that clear.

“I just believe you can’t play destinations against each other,” Naft said. “If you want to come here and you want to be met with open arms, you’ve got to commit.”

Should the A’s fail to reach an agreement in Oakland or Las Vegas, they could consider other destinations such as Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville; and Portland, Oregon. Whether they would have the time to explore such options is another question.

Oakland has already shown it will watch the Raiders move to Nevada and the Warriors go across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.

Las Vegas, Matheson noted, is hardly in a desperate situation. He also expressed caution that Las Vegas could go from being among the largest metropolitan areas without a major professional sports team to among the smallest with three franchises.

“So you’ve gone from kind of being under-sported to being over-sported in a short period of time if the A’s were to go there,” Matheson said.