Rodríguez addresses bench-clearing incident; Neris apologizes

September 29th, 2023

SEATTLE -- One day after a bench-clearing incident between the Mariners and Astros, Julio Rodríguez said on Thursday that he still feels disrespected by the gestures and comments from Houston reliever Hector Neris, who issued an apology separately via a statement from the Astros.

“I feel like you've always got to keep it respectful,” said Rodríguez, who did not address the media following Wednesday’s game and was making his first comments on the incident. “And as somebody that I had a lot of respect for and that I've known for quite a long time dating back to 2020 during the pandemic, I just feel I deserve a little bit more respect.”

The Astros were off on Thursday traveling to Arizona, where Neris is expected to address the media on Friday, when Houston opens a critical three-game series against the D-backs.

“There were reports that I used a homophobic slur, which are simply incorrect,” a portion of Neris’ statement read. “That did not happen and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong. My mother raised me to love and respect people for who they are and that is how I live my life.”

Major League Baseball is looking into the matter.

Rodríguez preferred not to address the allegations that Neris used a slur.

“I’ve got no comments on that,” Rodríguez said.

Rodríguez indicated that Neris had reached out to him, but that he doesn’t intend to respond. The Dominican Republic natives became close acquaintances during the COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020, and both are represented by Ulises Cabrera of Octagon Baseball. They also played together for the Dominican Republic in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Each had called each other “a friend” at separate points since Wednesday’s kerfuffle, Neris in the present tense and Rodríguez in the past.

Their history is why Rodríguez was so bewildered at Neris’ aggressive pacing toward him following a three-pitch strikeout that ended the sixth inning on Wednesday.

“I was honestly just so confused,” Rodríguez said. “I even watched the video, and you can clearly tell that I was not expecting that. ... I [understand] getting excited. I get getting fired up in a big situation like that. But to just come down basically to home plate and kind of like let me know, it's just kind of something that I really didn't appreciate.”

Added Neris, via the statement: “We have had a friendly competition when one beats the other on the field, something that is customary in the Dominican Republic and especially among friends. My intent in going towards Julio was to get his attention as part of the friendly ongoing banter that we have had over the years.”

These two were front and center amid a separate incident between Seattle and Houston at Minute Maid Park on June 6, 2022, when the benches cleared after Neris hit Ty France, before being ejected after nearly hitting Eugenio Suárez. In between, Rodríguez ripped a game-sealing homer and held his bat well down the first-base line before sprinting around the bases. It was among the most amped that Rodríguez was for any homer last season.

But he indicated on Thursday, unprompted, that the moment detailed above was unrelated to what carried over to Wednesday's events.

“That does not have anything to do with it,” Rodríguez said. “Because even after that, we talked, like all this stuff. We never mentioned it. We never, never talked anything about that. ... I was celebrating, but I was celebrating with myself and my team. I never once looked at him. I never once tried to let him know, ‘I hit a home run against you.' I was more celebrating the situation.”

“I feel like that's something that I've always had ... like everybody kind of raised me into this game,” Rodríguez continued. “I feel like I'm always talking about having that respect. I feel like that's something that I've never tried to cross. Even though if I do something good in a big-time moment or anything like that, it's always celebrating with me and my team for something good, and not to kind of put anybody down.”

Separate from the incident in June 2022, the Mariners and Astros have cleared the benches three times in 2023, with Houston manager Dusty Baker saying this week that there’s “bad blood” between the American League West rivals. Houston ended Seattle’s season in last year’s AL Division Series and put its 2023 season in peril by winning this week’s series, pushing the Mariners to 1 1/2 games back of the final playoff spot.

One of these teams figures to be left out of the postseason, based on the standings, meaning that they won’t meet again until next May 3-5 in Houston.