There's no love lost in these DS matchups
Isn’t it great that they’re playing nice with one another this weekend? The Yankees and Rays could hardly be more polite. Same thing for Astros and A’s. And Dodgers and Padres.
We’re focused on winning. There’s too much at stake. We can’t get distracted.
So how about us troublemakers take a deep breath and let the teams settle things on the field? Besides, it’s true there’s enough on the line in the American League and National League Division Series without past grudges getting thrown into it.
(As for the other NLDS, Braves and Marlins, there’s lots of potential for things to get edgy with the stakes as high as these. In October, little things quickly can become big things.)
Besides, this is a game best played with emotion. Some players look for an edge, even if it’s imagined. It could be a home-plate umpire who may or may not have missed an important pitch two months ago (or earlier). It could be something said on television or written in the media.
And that’s an added ingredient in the ALDS. There’s some history here. Let’s run down the four Division Series in order of likely trouble:
Maybe it started when CC Sabathia yelled a few colorful words at the Tampa Bay dugout a couple of years ago. And this season, there was that Aroldis Chapman fastball that ended up near Michael Brosseau’s head that prompted Rays manager Kevin Cash to issue this threat: “I've got a whole damn stable full of guys who throw 98 miles per hour. Period.”
That the Yankees and Rays are sharing the same hotel -- including one common floor -- only cranks up things a bit. “Nobody that I’ll try to avoid on purpose,” Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Nobody that I’m too scared of.”
“So there's already kind of a baseline of tension there as we approach any game at this time of the year,” Gerrit Cole said. “There will be some people playing on edge."
The Astros hit A’s center fielder Ramón Laureano in back-to-back at-bats in August, and after the second one, benches cleared after he and Astros coach Alex Cintron exchanged words.
Cintron was suspended for 20 games. Laureano’s suspension was reduced to four games from six.
That dustup speaks volumes about how these teams feel about one another. The A’s believe the Astros were stealing signs for a few years before they got caught. Virtually every single thing that came out last offseason had been whispered by the A’s.
Only thing is, no one with inside knowledge of what the Astros were doing was willing to speak publicly. And then A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, a former member of the Astros, did what no one else was willing to do.
Before it ended, the Astros had seen their 2017 championship tainted and general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch suspended for the '20 season (and fired by Astros owner Jim Crane).
The A’s believe the Astros might not have won three consecutive AL West championships without cheating. The Astros believe the cheating isn’t why they won.
Now, here the A’s and Astros are again. The Astros are trying for a fourth straight trip to the AL Championship Series while the A’s are trying to get there for the first time since 2006.
Also interesting is whether Fiers will pitch against his former team. The A’s went 7-3 against the Astros in 2020, and Fiers didn’t pitch a single time.
These kids were getting along famously until mid-September when Padres center fielder Trent Grisham homered off Clayton Kershaw, then marked the moment by:
- Admiring the homer and ceremoniously flipping his bat.
- Screaming “Let’s go!” to his own dugout.
- Turning and smirking at Kershaw.
(Whether that smirk was part of the celebration or in response to chirping by the Dodgers is not known and also probably beside the point.)
“It’s their division, honestly,” Padres third baseman Manny Machado said two weeks prior. “But we're comin'. We're definitely comin'."
The Dodgers remember what happened after that: they won the next two games against the Padres and are 12-2 since, including the playoffs.
4) Marlins and Braves
Don’t underestimate this one. There was no inflammatory talk this week, but there’s some serious history here. Rewind to Aug. 15, 2018, when José Ureña hit Ronald Acuña Jr. with a 98 mph fastball in the first inning.
When Acuña recovered enough to walk to first base, he threw his shin guard toward the mound. That plunking seemed to be in retaliation for an Acuña homer and bat flip several weeks prior. Acuña got his revenge with a homer (and another bat flip) against the Marlins eight days later.
And then on May 3, 2019, Braves right-hander Kevin Gausman threw behind Ureña and was ejected.
This week, Braves manager Brian Snitker praised the Marlins for all they have overcome to get to the postseason and said they played the game with an energy and an enthusiasm he appreciated.
Told of those comments, Marlins manager Don Mattingly said: “You fight for respect in this game, especially from within. We’ve been trying to grow. They’ve been beating up on us for a couple of years. Not quite as badly this year. We’re starting to get a little closer.”