NEW YORK – Astros manager AJ Hinch took offense to the notion his team was using whistles to steal signs in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. Major League Baseball investigated the accusations levied by the Yanks and has cleared the Astros of any wrongdoing.
That didn’t stop Hinch on Thursday from blasting those responsible for the allegations, which suggested someone in Houston's dugout was whistling to batters to alert them of which pitch was coming. He said those who believe the Astros have been cheating should come forward publicly. Hinch said the allegations are “a joke.”
“It made me laugh because it's ridiculous,” he said. “And had I known that it would take something like that to set off the Yankees or any other team, we would have practiced it in Spring Training. It apparently works, even when it doesn't happen. So to me, I understand the gamesmanship. I understand kind of creating a narrative for yourself or wondering how things are going.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone understands that pitch-tipping and sign-stealing are part of the game, and that everyone tries to gain whatever advantage they can -- within reason.
"Sure, there's boundaries," Boone said. "Yeah. We could have a conversation for days on that. So, yeah, there's boundaries. There's things you're not allowed to do and things that are perfectly within the context of the game. So, yeah."
Hinch pointed out the Astros had only three hits in Game 1, a 7-0 loss, which isn’t really indicative of an offense having an edge. Also, he said nobody has come forward with any audio evidence that any whistling took place near the dugout.
“The problem I have is when other people take shots at us outside this competition,” Hinch said. “When you guys ask me this question, my face, my name is by my quotes. My opinions, my reaction is all for you guys to tweet out and put on the broadcast. But we have people that are unnamed, or you guys have sources that are giving you information. I suggest they put their name by it if they're so passionate about it, to comment about my team or my players.
“There's nothing going on other than the competition on the field. The fact that I had to field the question before a really, really cool game at Yankee Stadium is unfortunate. But we can put it to rest. That will be the last question I answer about pitch-tipping or pitch-stealing.”
The Astros have picked up some pitch-tipping cues at least once in the playoffs, but that’s considered gamesmanship in the context of the sport. Tyler Glasnow of the Rays said he was tipping his pitches in a Game 5 loss to the Astros in the AL Division Series. Houston appeared to have picked up some cues in Game 2 from Yanks starter James Paxton, but Paxton says there was no evidence he was tipping pitches.
“Pitch-tipping is a little bit of a different story," Hinch said. "If you don't want us to know the pitch is coming, don't do something that demonstrates what pitch you're going to pitch or what you're going to throw. But they're doing the same thing. Every hitter wants to know what's coming by virtue of what a pitcher is doing or not doing.”
For his part, Boone does not believe Paxton was tipping his pitches in Game 2.
"We're confident that we're buttoned up in a lot of ways, and I'm not really -- I really don't think it's much of an issue," he said.
Allegations of cheating have followed the Astros in recent years. The Indians filed a complaint following Game 3 of last year’s ALDS after a Houston employee was observed aiming his phone at Cleveland's dugout and taking pictures. MLB later said the Astros were conducting surveillance and not spying. Earlier in 2018, Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer suggested Houston pitchers were increasing spin rates by using foreign substances such as pine tar.
“I mean, it sucks for our players, because those guys are so talented,” said Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, who said he will employ multiple signs when he starts Game 5 on Friday night. “And I don't think anything should take away from what they're able to accomplish. And so, in that aspect, it's disappointing. But I think we know what's going on there. Look at what we're getting accused of. How many runs did we score in that first game? But I understand where the paranoia comes from. We have it. I have it.”