The backstory behind Mariners-Astros fracas

June 7th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

HOUSTON -- Minute Maid Park has brought out plenty of emotions for the Mariners over the past four seasons, but things reached a fervent level on Monday night, beginning with  being hit by a pitch on his back, continuing with a benches-clearing argument with the Astros and ending with manager Scott Servais ejected for arguing with Houston’s dugout.

Seattle rode an emotional edge to a 7-4 win, punctuated by a two-run homer from Julio Rodríguez immediately after both teams returned to their dugouts. But it didn’t end there. Astros reliever , who was issued a warning after the HBP to France, nearly hit Eugenio Suárez on a 94.4 mph fastball up and in two batters later. Because warnings were already issued, both Neris and Houston manager Dusty Baker were ejected by home-plate umpire Chris Guccione.

France has now been hit by an MLB-high 12 pitches, and he led MLB last year in the category, with 27. Given his elite plate coverage and keen eye, opposing teams typically throw him inside. But Monday’s incident, in Servais’ eyes, felt like more.

“They threw a ball behind Ty France,” Servais said. “Pretty clear. … I don't know. All I know is that our best hitter is in there, there are two outs in the ninth and they throw the first pitch behind him? Pretty obvious.”

The Astros said that there was no ill intent, or any ill will after  threw an inside pitch to Kyle Tucker in the fifth inning that the Houston slugger dodged. Ray was struggling with command for most of the night, evidenced by his season-high-tying three walks and three solo homers on pitches that hung near the middle of the strike zone.

Yet Baker said postgame that “it appears there’s some bad blood brewing, even from last year.” Baker was suspended for one game last year following an incident involving Astros reliever Brooks Raley, who was ejected from a July 26 game in Seattle and was suspended three games for hitting J.P. Crawford.

If that game sounds familiar, it was the one where Dylan Moore hit a pinch-hit grand slam to cap a seven-run comeback in what was arguably the Mariners’ most monumental win of the season. Crawford was hit during the very next plate appearance.

But back to Monday.

Servais pointed out that Neris typically has pinpoint command, with just four walks to 87 batters this year, and separately, one day prior, Astros All-Star Ryan Pressly was ejected from their game at Kansas City after objecting when warnings were issued following a pair of inside pitches to a Royals hitter.

“Coming into this series, whatever happened with them yesterday, we weren't involved in that, and I thought it was clearly that he threw the ball behind [France],” Servais said. “That guy [Neris] had walked three or four guys all year.”

What about France? What was his take?

“So it got me, but I didn't hear the umpire say that it got me,” France said. “So I turned and I told [the dugout] to check. And he goes, 'No, I got it getting you.' And then I asked him, I was like, 'You don't think that was intentional, do you? Because of the pitch to Tucker earlier in the game?' He said, 'No, I don't think so.' And I was like, 'Yeah, one-run game. I didn't think so either.’ Then I looked up and their dugout was running at me.”

No punches were thrown, just some separation from both sides, and the dust settled rather quickly. Players in the Mariners’ clubhouse seemed ready to move on, yet given how often these teams get together, it’ll be worth watching to see how they play each other for the rest of the week -- and beyond.