HOUSTON – Game 7 of the American League Championship Series should be a celebration, everything we love about sports. It will feature everything from Bruce Bochy vs. Dusty Baker to Max Scherzer vs. Christian Javier. But it certainly won’t be, much to the relief of Brian Abreu’s Astros.
Abreu’s absence will cast an unpleasant cloud over the proceedings for Houston, which could resurface as early as the World Series if his suspension is upheld and the Astros advance.
The situation has created anger at Major League Baseball among at least some Houston players and club officials.
An appeal of Abreu’s two-game suspension for an intentional hit on the Rangers’ Adolise Garcia will go to trial on Monday. The result will be announced on the first pitch.
John McHale Jr., MLB’s executive vice president of management, will decide whether to uphold the suspension, reduce it to one game or replace it entirely. Time gives both parties some time to build a case. The league is effectively the judge and arbiter. And based on precedent, the chances of McHale overturning the refs who ejected Abreu from Game 5 and overturning the suspension are slim.
The Astros needed to win Game 6 to avoid losing Abreu in Game 7, but they lost 9–2. Now they’re sure to be at a disadvantage in their biggest game of the season, playing without their second-best reliever because of an infraction they insist he didn’t commit. Even if they win, Abreu could be out for the first game of the World Series if his suspension is upheld.
Several Astros people, speaking on condition of anonymity while Abreu awaits his trial, are stunned by the way things have unfolded.
For starters, the idea that Abreu intentionally threw at Garcia in Game 5 is ridiculous. At that point the Astros were down by two runs in the eighth inning, with nobody out and a runner already on base. Jose Altuve was slated to bat third for the Astros in the ninth. Aldway proved his go-ahead, three-run homer put the game within reach.
Abreu’s ejection from one postseason game and subsequent suspension isn’t the only cause for the Astros to be upset. Many players believe Garcia should have been suspended for coming into contact with Astros catcher Martin Maldonado and acting, in team president James Hoy’s words, as an “aggressor,” but in one incident emptied both the benches and the bullpen. leading to direct combat.
However, the league generally sets precedent on such matters and only suspends a player if he commits an act of actual violence, such as throwing a punch. An example occurred in Denver on May 14, when the Phillies’ Bryce Harbor charged into the Rockies’ dugout and shoved catcher Elias Diaz, sparking a bench-clearing event similar to what happened in Game 5. Like Garcia, Harper was fined, but not suspended.
Some within the Astros suspect the league favors the Rangers because their general manager Chris Young served in the league from May 2018 to December 2020. Young, a former major league pitcher, rose to senior vice president. Joe Torre is the official who decides suspensions and fines for things on the field like intentionally hitting batters.
The league declined to comment. Young did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The blatant favoritism the Astros are suggesting seems highly improbable. However, some within the organization believe their club was unfairly singled out by the league for stealing electronic identities in 2019 when other teams engaged in similar misconduct. The Red Sox were the only other team penalized, and for fewer offenses. No team has been accused of using a system as elaborate as the Astros.
Old grudges die hard, but Abreu’s loss from at least Game 7 of the ALCS opens new wounds. The situation is almost unprecedented. When the league imposed a three-game suspension on the Dodgers’ Jay Howell for having pine tar in his glove during the 1988 NLCS, the late Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti confirmed that the reliever will only miss Games 4, 5 and 6.
“I don’t want to see the LCS go to seven games because of somebody’s mistake — ultimately a championship for the fans and teammates,” Giamatti said in a written statement. “Therefore, if there is a seventh game Mr. Howell will be eligible to pitch.” (The Dodgers won seven games and didn’t use Howell in the clincher).
A provision adopted in the 2017 collective-bargaining agreement created the current landscape. Before that CBA, a postseason disciplinary hearing must be held within 14 days of the appeal. But after an appeal the players and owners agreed to the change Chase Woodley’s two-game suspension It wasn’t until the following March that Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada broke his leg with an aggressive slide in the 2015 NLCS.
Beginning in 2017, an investigation into a post-season incident must take place within 48 hours. Unlike Yuli Kuriel’s five-game suspension for making a racist gesture at Yu Darvish during the 2017 World Series, which was handed down at the start of the 2018 regular season, Abreu’s suspension is effective immediately. His violation is considered a field matter. No Kurial.
The uncertainty surrounding Abreu influenced Astros manager Dusty Baker’s decision-making in Game 6. Baker used Abreu in the eighth inning with the Astros trailing 4-2. Abreu allowed one run, but Baker considered sending him into the second inning, knowing his reliever would miss Game 7. Instead, Baker hedged, wanting to make sure Abreu would be available if he wasn’t suspended somehow.
“You want to make a decision,” Baker said.
Without one, Baker turned to lower relievers Rafael Montero and then ninth-inning Ryne Stanek. The duo combined to allow five runs, four on Garcia’s grand slam, which he struck out in each of his first four at-bats. And with that, a close game turned into a rout.
Managers in Game 7s have traditionally used an “all hands on deck” approach with their pitchers, especially for the Astros without Abreu. Every pitcher, including Justin Verlander, 40, is expected to get two days’ rest after throwing 82 pitches in Game 5.
Had the referees cautioned both clubs instead of sending Abreu off, the chances of this series ending in bitterness would have been far less likely. If the CBA still accommodates a player suspended in the postseason to delay his appeal. If the penalty is pushed to the next regular season.
But no. Instead we have unnecessary drama.
(Photo by Brian Abreu: Stacey Revere/Getty Images)