Benches clear as Astros-Mariners battle for a Wild Card spot gets heated

September 28th, 2023

SEATTLE -- Tensions always run high when the Mariners and Astros meet, and the latest feuding chapter between these American League West rivals commenced during the sixth inning of Wednesday’s 8-3 Astros win at T-Mobile Park, when Astros reliever Hector Neris allegedly called Mariners star Julio Rodríguez inflammatory names in Spanish.

With Houston clinging to a 4-3 lead in the game and a half-game edge in the AL Wild Card standings, Neris struck out Rodríguez on three pitches, after which the right-hander pointed and shouted at the reigning AL Rookie of the Year Award winner while pacing in his direction.

Neris aggressively taunted Rodríguez after the strikeout, and it appeared he used derogatory words in Spanish during the exchange, which was what Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez, who was in the on-deck circle during the incident, said he heard.

“I heard that and that pissed me off,” Suárez said. “I was mad and I let him know, like, 'Why did you do that? Why did you do that to us? If you want to enjoy your strikeout, you enjoy the strikeout and go to your dugout.’ Don't do that, walk and chase Julio and do all that [stuff] he did. For me, I don't take that. That made me so mad.”

Added Suárez: “From the beginning, I thought it was a joke because they've got a really good -- before today -- they've got a really good relationship. And then he started [saying] bad words in Spanish. He started [saying] something that is not good for people who speak Spanish.”

Rodríguez was not available postgame, but relayed through a Mariners spokesperson that “he didn’t feel like there was any animosity” between them entering Wednesday and that “he was shocked” that Neris shouted at him. The two have a relationship dating back years, having both trained in the offseason at House of Athlete in Tampa, Fla. And both are represented by Ulises Cabrera at Octagon Baseball.

“It’s part of the game and emotions,” Neris said of the incident. “This situation today was nothing personal. I tried to make [the] team try to play hard.”

In a follow-up question, Neris, who at one point called Rodríguez “my friend” during his postgame interview, said: “I think maybe he watched me, but he got surprised. It wasn’t anything personal.”

As Astros first baseman José Abreu grabbed Neris and ushered him toward the visiting dugout on the third-base line, Rodríguez then shouted in retaliation while walking towards Neris, to the point where he was restrained by home-plate umpire Larry Vanover.

And by then, both benches began clearing.

As most of the players and coaching staffs from both teams remained arguing on the field while the dust settled, Neris was the only player in Houston’s dugout. He then returned to the playing surface and began shouting in the direction of Rodríguez, who was being held back by multiple Mariners personnel between the mound and the third-base line.

Rodríguez was clearly upset at whatever Neris had shouted after the strikeout, as there was no clear indication of a disagreement during the three-pitch sequence.

After Seattle’s 6-2 win on Tuesday, during which Chas McCormick took a 98.7 mph fastball from Andrés Muñoz off his back in the ninth, Houston manager Dusty Baker expressed frustration over the incident.

“There's been some bad blood here,” Baker said. “It's hard to accuse anybody or prove intent. Only the person that threw it knows the intent. If it was intentional, you're messing with guys' careers, especially this late, messing with guys' playoff careers. I don't know."

The Mariners have hit five Astros batters this season, while the Astros have hit 10 Mariners batters.

"I'm tired of our guys getting hit," Baker said. "It makes guys a lot bolder when they don't have to hit, you know what I mean? In the National League, they could do something about it with the guy who threw the pitch … with the DH, guys get bold."

Mariners manager Scott Servais, when relayed Baker’s comments on Wednesday, said: “It is a team that we've competed very hard against over the last couple of years. They are a team that has been to the World Series multiple times, the team that we want to climb over, OK. If somebody wants to call that bad blood, then so be it. We want to beat them. That's not good blood, it's bad blood -- whatever you want to call it. I do respect them.”

Rodríguez and Neris also have a history dating back to another benches-clearing incident at Minute Maid Park on June 6 of last year.

Rodríguez hit a punctuating homer off Neris in the ninth inning to lead Seattle to a 7-4 win, just after Neris hit Ty France. During the quarrel, Rodríguez was even seen, in good faith, restraining Neris, his fellow Dominican Republic native. After the homer, and after warnings were in place, Neris was ejected for hitting Suárez with a 94.4 mph heater.

But that was 2022 and this is 2023, where Wednesday marked the third benches-clearing situation between these teams. On May 7 at T-Mobile Park, there was a disagreement between Astros catcher Martín Maldonado and Mariners second baseman Jose Caballero that stopped play. Then on Aug. 19 in Houston, Caballero was hit by Astros All-Star Framber Valdez, which led to a kerfuffle in front of home plate.

Baker referenced “bad blood” going back further, to July 26, 2021, when the Astros manager was ejected and later suspended, along with reliever Brooks Raley, after Raley hit J.P. Crawford in the first at-bat following a go-ahead grand slam by Dylan Moore in what wound up being perhaps the Mariners’ most defining win of that season, one that erased a seven-run deficit.