LAKELAND, Fla. — Jose Altuve insisted he tuned out the hecklers. He couldn’t avoid a pitch that grazed him.
“He was hit in the foot. That ain’t nothing, you know what I mean?” Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker said Monday after an 11-1 win over the Detroit Tigers at half-empty Joker Marchant Stadium. “It wasn’t intentional.”
Altuve was loudly booed when he was introduced for his spring training debut, cheered when he struck out and called a cheater by several fans. Quite a difference from past years, when the diminutive All-Star second baseman was among the most popular players in the majors.
But that was before Altuve and his Houston teammates were implicated in the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked baseball.
“We just heard a lot of noise, and that’s it,” Altuve said.
Altuve and fellow starters Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel all played for the first time in the exhibition season. After Houston opened the Grapefruit League in the stadium it shares with the World Series champion Washington Nationals, this was the first time the Astros were away from their complex — providing a taste of the reaction they might receive on the road this year.
“We were focused on playing baseball. We know that we need to go on the field and get ready and prepared for the coming season,” Altuve said. “That’s what we’re thinking about right now.”
Actually, the reception during the visit to Tigertown USA was fairly tame compared to what it figures to be during the regular season.
“What reaction?” Correa said.
Early arrivals in the announced crowd of 4,891 were discouraged by ushers from gathering near the Astros dugout unless they had box seats along the third-base line.
Hecklers aired their voices after batting practice, booing during lineup introductions and each time Altuve, Bregman, Correa and Gurriel stepped to the plate. Altuve got some cheers, too, when he was charged with an error for dropping a throw by Bregman from third base on a force play.
The quartet was treated to one more round of boos when they left the game and made the long walk up the first-base line to the visiting clubhouse.
“There’s frustration in the fan base and they have a right to voice their opinion. … The Astros are going to have to wear it for a while, and eventually it’ll move on. But fans are going to voice their opinions and they have a right to,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Those guys understand it over there, and they’re going about their business of getting ready for the season.”
Altuve took a called third strike to a round of cheers in his first at-bat, then lined a crowd-quieting RBI double into the left-field corner his next time up.
Altuve showed no signs of being upset when he was grazed with a pitch by Tigers reliever Nick Ramirez after the batter before him, Myles Straw, homered in the fifth inning. The 2017 AL MVP was replaced by a pinch runner.
Baker planned to play Altuve, Bregman, Correa and Gurriel no more than five innings in Houston’s first true road exhibition since a Major League Baseball investigation found the Astros broke rules by illegally stealing signs during their championship season in 2017.
While most of the team made the three-hour trip from West Palm Beach by bus early Monday, Baker said the team’s starting infield traveled the previous day and spent the night in Orlando. Established players rarely make such long road trips in spring training camp.
“That made it easier for them to show up here, and it makes it easier for me to say: ‘Hey, man, do you want to come,'” Baker said before the game, adding he had not tried to prepare Altuve, Bregman, Correa and Gurriel about what to expect Monday.
“No, I don’t tell ’em anything. There might not be any noise,” Baker said. “Everybody keeps anticipating noise, and there might not be noise. It’s hard to warn somebody that something’s coming and it never comes because you’ll be looking out for it instead of playing the game. If it comes, you deal with it. If not, you go ahead and live your life.”
Two other Astros were hit by pitches in the late innings, though Gardenhire stressed it wasn’t on purpose.
Earlier, Detroit starting pitcher Matthew Boyd, who fanned Altuve in the first inning, said it wasn’t difficult to block out the booing and heckling and remained focused on playing the game.
“It’s spring training. Honestly, let’s let it die. What’s done is done. I know how everybody feels, but no one is going to change anything now,” Boyd said. “The punishment’s been handed out, the line’s been drawn in the sand. Hopefully that shuts it down, and it’s just best for everyone to move forward. They’ve got to live with it. That’s more than enough punishment.”
Agent Scott Boras says MLB draft limits send ‘wrong message’
Agent Scott Boras believes the agreement reached between Major League Baseball and the players’ union “sends the wrong message” when it comes to possibly shortening the draft and limiting the financial pool for amateur players.
Under terms of the agreement, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has the discretion to shorten the 2020 draft from 40 rounds to as few as five rounds, sources told ESPN. And he also has the right to shorten the 2021 draft to as few as 20 rounds.
“For owners to do this to these young men, who are so passionate about baseball, is something that they need to examine their conscience,” Boras told USA Today Sports in a story published Friday. “More kids will have to go to [college]. And anyone not taken among the top 200 players will have to go back to school.”
Sources said players drafted in 2020 will get only $100,000 of their bonus this year. The remaining amount will be split into payments made in July 2021 and July 2022.
“I’m a big proponent of college, so I want these kids to get their education, but what really bothers me is that kids outside the fifth round deserve their bonuses,” Boras told USA Today Sports. “And now they’re freezing their [bonuses] for the next two years, and are paying them late.”
He later added: “I just think in this climate and this environment, you should keep the status quo. You’re sending a message to drafted players you are major league baseball’s step-child. It’s unconscionable to me for that small amount of money. We’re talking about a whopping $6 million savings over the whole damn draft.”
Boras said that by cutting the draft, teams will suffer.
“In reality, you are going to be surrounding [established] players with less-caliber players now,” Boras told USA Today Sports. “They need 10 rounds to fill their minor-leagues teams with talent. A sixth-round high school talent is a good player. An eighth-rounder out of college is a good player. They can be All-Star players. Now, they’ll be back in school.
“Really, we’re not giving them much of a choice.”
Tim Kurkjian’s baseball fix – Mom’s birthday, and how she almost cost my brother a home run
You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1924, my mother, aptly named Joy, was born. Today is her birth and she turned 96.
She really had no chance in our house against her three boys, who loved and played the game, and her husband, who loved it more than anyone I have ever known. My mom was born in Bournemouth, England, and lived there until her early 20s. My dad loved my mom so much, the only time I saw him disagree with her was when she said that a bowler in cricket throws harder than a pitcher does in baseball.
“Joy, stop!” my dad said at the dinner table in 1968, soon after the historic Game 1 of the World Series. “No cricket player throws harder than Bob Gibson!”
My mom and dad went to all the games played by my brothers at Catholic University. The baseball and football team shared the CU Stadium in the 1970s. The right field stands were 250 feet from home plate. The ground rules were unique: any ball that landed no more than halfway up the stands was a double, any ball that landed beyond that was ruled a home run.
So my beloved mom was standing on the dividing line of the stands in 1974 when my brother Andy, who broke all the home run and RBI records at CU, hit a line drive into the stands. The ball hit my mom in the shoulder, and fell into the doubles area.
The umpires conferred. The ball had landed in the doubles area, but if it hadn’t hit that woman (who was the mother of the hitter), it would have been a home run. It was ruled a homer.
My dad, who knew my mom was physically tougher than he was, made sure my mom’s shoulder was OK, then jokingly told her, “What are you doing? You almost cost the kid a home run!”
Other baseball notes from March 28
In 1958, Hall of Fame outfielder Chuck Klein died at age 53. He is the only 40-40 player in history. In 1930, he hit 40 home runs and had 40 outfield assists.
In 1970, Ron Fairly hit a home run in the All-Star Game. He would finish his career with the most career homers (215) by anyone who never hit 20 homers in a season.
In 1986, in the last significant trade made between the Yankees and Red Sox, the Red Sox sent DH Mike Easler to the Yankees for DH Don Baylor. Easler was an ordained minister. The deal was agreed to on Good Friday.
‘What even is that pitch?’ An oral history of Kerry Wood’s 20-K day – Chicago Cubs Blog
Editor’s note: This story originally ran on May 6, 2018 for the 20th anniversary of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game
It was an otherwise nondescript day. In fact, it was a forgettable one. Overcast and rainy, the Cubs were hosting the Houston Astros in an early May matinee. School was still in session, so just 15,758 fans were in attendance. How many stayed to see history is unknown, as the rain picked up throughout the day.
That didn’t stop 20-year-old Kerry Wood from a magical performance. He produced the highest game score in baseball history, posting a pitching line of 9 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 20 K’s. He did it with a dynamic fastball and a slurve, which the Astros would call unhittable. Here are the memories of some of those involved, including Wood. Current Cubs pitchers Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks add their two cents as well after watching the highlights in arguably the greatest-pitched game in Wrigley Field history. It was May 6, 1998 — 20 years ago.
Kerry Wood: “I remember specifically having low energy that day. I don’t know why. Maybe it was a day game or the overcast skies. I was dragging at the ballpark. It wasn’t jumping right away, the way I wanted. I felt sluggish.”
Cubs manager Jim Riggleman: “I do remember him saying that after the fact. He didn’t have a great warm-up.”
Astros second baseman Craig Biggio: “Our minor league [scout] said, ‘Hey, he has a good fastball, OK curve and be patient with him.’ We watched him warm up, and it was like, ‘OK, no big deal.’ Then the game started, and the kid put on his Superman costume, and the next thing you know, he struck 20 of us out.”
Wood: “I was all over the place in warm-ups. I was erratic. Every other pitch in the bullpen, I was getting another ball because I was throwing it to the screen or bouncing it in. I didn’t throw one strike. The first pitch of the game, it didn’t change. I hit [plate umpire] Jerry Meals in the mask. I didn’t have the feel.”
Plate umpire Jerry Meals: “To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen again. It’s the first pitch of the game, so things start going through my head. ‘Is there something I need to be addressing? Is there some bad blood? How do you get crossed up on the first pitch? What the hell is going on here?'”
Wood: “I went to 2-0 on Craig Biggio, then struck out the side. I absolutely surprised myself. After the first I felt great, but I had zero of those feelings warming up.”
Biggio: “He had a nice, smooth delivery. The ball was electric. I could relate it to [Craig] Kimbrel. He’s got that ball where he throws it and it pops in the glove, and it’s heavy and hard and firm. He was on.”
Jon Lester: “In that game, it wasn’t a lot of long at-bats. You see a lot of swings-and-misses and takes, not a lot of foul balls. Nowadays, you know the spin rate and all this stuff, that would have been plus-plus. That’s the biggest thing, the way those pitches broke.”
After four innings, Wood had eight strikeouts. An infield hit by Astros shortstop Ricky Gutierrez ruined any chance of a no-hitter, but by then, he was locked in and thinking about a complete game.
Wood: “Bagwell’s second at-bat, I know I get to 3-1, and I throw hook-hook and buckle him back-to-back. After that, I knew I had a chance to finish this.”
Meals: “He had everything working. He had a good-hitting team just baffled. They were flailing on the breaking stuff and couldn’t catch up to the fastball.”
Kyle Hendricks: “The movement on his pitches was incredible. What even is that pitch [the slurve]? I don’t know how you snap that off. No clue. You can just see how much spin is being created. Those guys didn’t have a chance.”
Biggio: “We didn’t have the technology they have today. Now you know everything about a guy. What he throws, how hard and stuff like that. You got everything. And you can go look at your at-bats as the game is going on.”
Lester: “The only information you had back then was facing the guy.”
Riggleman: “Somewhere around his 13th strikeout, [third-base coach] Tom Gamboa said, ‘You know how many strikeouts he has?’ It became interesting. … I didn’t know 20 was a record.”
Meals: “The weather turned crappy in the sixth. The grounds crew did a good job.”
Wood: “My goal was not to walk anyone. That’s what I heard my whole minor league career and my short time in the big leagues: Just don’t walk anyone. In a 1-0 game, I was just focusing on not putting the tying run on base.”
Biggio: “We’re one swing away from tying the game, so we’re not thinking about the strikeouts. But when you go out there, you see the fans throwing up the K’s, and you’re like, ‘Holy shoot, how many strikeouts does this guy have?’ You start counting them up. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 … I think they ran out of K’s.”
During one stretch, Wood struck out five in a row looking.
Wood: “With two strikes maybe they thought I was trying to trick them with off-speed, so a lot of those fastballs were them not pulling the trigger, thinking off-speed.”
Hendricks: “The fastball is obviously electric. It rides up in the zone. A few of these breaking balls to a lefty, it goes up and in to him. The spin rate would have been unbelievable. It makes it more fun to watch, without all those stats on the screen.”
Biggio: “We had 102 wins that year. That was no weak lineup. He carved us up like we didn’t belong there.”
Riggleman: “This is probably a little bit of an indictment of everyone that managed in that period, I was probably thinking like 135 pitches for him. I have to let him try and finish this thing.
“I didn’t want to take him out with men on base. That’s when you give life to the other club. Maybe at the end of the inning. I’m not sure we ever got anyone up though.”
Wood: “Being from Texas and following Roger Clemens, I knew he had the major league record, but it’s not one of those numbers you think is attainable. … I didn’t know how hard I was throwing or how many pitches I had thrown. We didn’t have that back then.”
Riggleman: “There were games [in which] after six or seven [innings], he had 13 or 14 strikeouts, the pitch count was high, and we would take him out. I would get booed like crazy for taking him out. Later, when he was hurt, it was, ‘Oh, you pitched him too much.’”
Wood: “In the seventh inning, I thought the umpires might call it for a moment due to rain. And I knew at that point, if there is a delay, I’m done. I remember thinking, ‘Don’t call that game.’”
The Cubs scored an insurance run in the eighth, giving them a 2-0 lead. Wood had 18 strikeouts yet still did not know he had a chance at a record.
Wood: “I remember thinking in the eighth inning I just wanted to get back out there and finish this up. We scored another run, and I know I just wanted the inning to end. A young player should want his team to score as much as possible.”
Lester: “That would be so hard now. I don’t know if you’ll see 20 again in the future. With bullpens and specialization. … He was very unique. How big and tall he was and he had the levers working. When you think of Kerry Wood, you think of someone special.”
Biggio: “He hit his spots and made his pitches that day. It was just a man amongst boys right there.”
Wood (on getting strikeout No. 20 against Derek Bell): “His first swing in that at-bat, I knew I could throw the rosin bag up there and he would swing at it.”
Meals: “I was thinking about almost calling a no-hitter. The crew chief pointed out he had 20 strikeouts. I had no idea. I wasn’t paying attention to the fans holding up the K’s.”
Wood: “My fist-pump on the mound was about no walks and completing the game. I hugged [reliever] Terry Adams and say something to him, because before the game, he said, ‘Hey rook, why don’t you pitch more than five innings. You’re killing us.’ But no one said anything about 20 strikeouts.”
Meals: “[Umpire] Terry Tata was at first base. He says, ‘You had 19, I had one.’ Because he rang one up on a check swing. That was when I realized 20.”
Wood: “Thirty seconds after it’s over, they bring me over to the camera, and my hands are shaking. My adrenaline is racing. That’s when I found out I struck out 20 and tied the record. I didn’t have anything to say, though.”
Biggio: “You’re bummed out you lost, but 20 punchouts is pretty amazing.”
Riggleman: “You meet a lot of people that say they were there that day, but it was a rainy day in May. Maybe it was 18,000.”
Hendricks: “And to do it that young. He must have been in one of those once-in-a lifetime zones.”
Riggleman: “[Former Cubs] Billy Williams and Ron Santo were at Wood’s game that day and said that it was even more dominating than Sandy Koufax’s perfect game [against the Cubs in 1965]. They were at that one, too. You could make a case, as old as that stadium is, that could be the greatest game anyone has ever pitched there.”
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