Cole, Astros frustrated in finale defeat

Hinch, Cintron ejected; Houston drops rubber game

April 4th, 2019

ARLINGTON -- There is no way to gauge how much of the mid-game fireworks on Wednesday could be attributed to the Astros' general frustrations with how their season has started, and how much of it was simply isolated ire toward the home-plate umpire.

But it's fair to say that the current state of the Astros isn't doing much to lighten the mood.

The Astros' season-opening road trip ended with a 4-0 loss on Wednesday at Globe Life Park, and it resulted in a 2-5 record. The game was much of the same story: stranded baserunners and no production, especially with men in scoring position.

“We got it shoved hard this road trip,” Alex Bregman said. “We need to figure it out.”

Most of the action from the Astros on Wednesday, in fact, arrived not by way of hits, but by arguments with home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa. He ejected hitting coach Alex Cintron and manager AJ Hinch, in that order, during Tyler White's at-bat in the second inning, and he had several heated conversations with more Astros players over the course of the remainder of the game, most notably Gerrit Cole, who allowed three runs over six innings while striking out nine Rangers.

The Astros were measured with their comments after the game, mostly declining to reveal what was said or what led to the ejections and tense conversations. White was the most candid, categorizing Kulpa’s role in the fracas “pretty unprofessional, the way it went down. It seemed like he wanted a confrontation.”

Cole, who made a beeline for Kulpa after his sixth and final inning for one last conversation, acknowledged that “we maybe disagreed on a call or two,” but added, “That wasn't the major point of issue for me.”

“What he does is out of my control, and I need to do a better job of handling my body language,” Cole said. “As far as what we talked about after the outing, we ended up getting on the same page. I guess that was a positive.”

The tension seemed to begin with two outs in the first inning and Joey Gallo at the plate, though Hinch said the issues started earlier than that. Cole threw what appeared to be strike three to Gallo, but Kulpa called ball three. Cole threw five more pitches in the inning before he struck out Asdrubal Cabrera to end it.

In the next frame, Kulpa called a borderline first-pitch strike on White, raising the ire of most of Houston's dugout. Hinch came out to talk to Kulpa, seemingly to diffuse the situation, but Cintron continued to argue and was eventually ejected. A pitch later, Hinch, noticing Kulpa staring into the dugout, resumed his argument with the umpire and was soon ejected.

“We obviously had a disagreement with the strike zone early in both the top of the first and the bottom of the first,” Hinch said. “Our dugout will always be involved. [When] Cintron got thrown out -- I didn't know what happened, which is why I went out the first time. The next couple pitches later, I'm out of the game. We know when you argue balls and strikes, it's one thing. When you get ejected more aggressively, it's disappointing.”

Cameras showed Kulpa saying to Hinch, “I can do whatever I want,” in an apparent response to Hinch taking issue with Kulpa’s glare into the dugout.

“That's what he said, and that's apparently what he meant,” Hinch said. “He's in charge. You make a scene, I guess so everybody has to pay attention. We'll let the league sort it out.”

Crew chief Jerry Meals spoke to a pool reporter on behalf of Kulpa after the game.

“What I have for you is that after a called strike on White, the dugout basically erupted, and [Kulpa] addressed it and warned them to knock it off,” Meals said. “And AJ was told the same thing when he came out to ask about it, and then succeeding pitch, it happened again, and that’s where the ejection came.”

Though frustrated at the events of this game, and unhappy with the diminished returns so far this season, the Astros were careful not to equate the two.

“We have a lot to worry about, and I do want to separate what happened with the game,” Hinch said. “We're not apologists for, or blaming, anybody. We have to hold ourselves accountable for the game and the stretch.

“We're a week into the season. It's not the week we wanted. But it doesn't define us.”