Rosenthal: Did Astros intentionally hit Atolis Garcia in key ALCS moment? Hard to believe

ARLINGTON, Texas – People will see what they want to see. Brian Abreu apparently did not throw at Adolis Garcia on the FS1 broadcast. Maybe it was too strong.

The umpires ruled that Abreu’s pitch was intentional. Many Rangers players believe the pitch was intentional. But manager Bruce Bochy said, “Who knows?” It says that he will not go so far as to say that.

Bochy knew very well that a winning batsman was the last thing to guarantee a match situation. He was most upset by a nearly 12-minute delay in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series as the umpires sorted out the confusion, which led to the ejections of Abreu, Garcia and Astros manager Dusty Baker.

Bochy said the delay affected Rangers closer Jose Leclerc, who got the final out of the eighth inning, and eventually Jose Altuve’s go-ahead three-run shot in the ninth, the decisive blow in the Astros’ wild. 5-4 win.

One can only imagine Garcia jogging to first base after drilling a hole in the front shoulder with a 99-mph fastball before settling the fumble.

That universe doesn’t exist, because even Astros catcher Martin Maldonado said, “I think every hitter in baseball would have taken that.” Garcia hit a go-ahead, three-run shot in the sixth. Abreu hit him on the first pitch of his next at-bat. In the heat of the moment, Garcia is going to react, especially considering past incidents between these teams.

“He could have hurt me,” Garcia said.

But here’s the thing: if Garcia had gone first, the benches and bullpens wouldn’t have been destroyed. A chance to add to their 4-2 lead with the Rangers runners on first and second with nobody out. They didn’t end up scoring in that situation, mind you. But there was a delay due to an argument. Maldonado, an early target of Garcia’s ire, said the incident fired his team.

“Yes,” Maldonado said. “Of course it did.”

Leclerc gave up pinch-hitter Yanner Diaz’s first hit in 11 postseason at-bats to lead off the ninth. He then walked pinch-hitter John Singleton, who made his first plate appearance in 19 days. And then Alduve did what Alduva does, his — gasp — 26th postseason home run.

After that, the Astros took a three-to-two lead in the series as the Rangers failed to close out a game they controlled and, yes, hit Abreu Garcia.

However, what would have been Abreu’s motivation for intentionally throwing at Garcia? Justin Verlander, who allowed Garcia’s homer, said the Astros weren’t upset as the slugger walked down the first-base line, then raised his bat, saying, “I don’t think anybody’s mad about him pimping the homer, which is huge. The homer of his life, quite honestly.” Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe suggested that Abreu might have retaliated for Aroldis Chapman’s hit to Yordon Alvarez in the eighth, but that also seems like a stretch.

While players occasionally do dumb things, Abreu would have been completely dumb to put the Astros further behind in a key game of the ALCS. Revenge pitches occasionally occur during the regular season, though much less frequently than in the past. But in the postseason, when the Astros were three games away from losing, would that have seriously compromised their chances of defending their World Series title?

Here’s Lowe:

“Putting on this jersey, having Adolis as my teammate, it feels very intentional. There’s a history between these two teams. I’m sure Alvarez doesn’t like the high and tight ball either. But in today’s game we were throwing fast balls. You get emotional about something like that, and three If you want to take it from a guy who hit a run homer, that’s too bad. I don’t really stand for that.

But what about the game situation? Isn’t it a weird time to attack Abreu Garcia?

“It’s a lovely excuse, isn’t it?” Lowe asked. “That’s how I see it. When half your bench is depleted in a hurry, when guys on the injured list want to run their mouths and non-committed starters want to get involved, it seems like more emotions are tied up than the game itself.

Catcher Jonah Heim, more restrained than Lowe, said, “It was bad. That’s all I can really say. We don’t know if it was intentional or not. But it wasn’t the best look. Another Rangers player, who granted anonymity in exchange for his honesty, basically said Maldonado orchestrated the whole thing. Accused.

“Has one of baseball’s best relievers suddenly lost command?” the player asked, referring to Abreu. “Maldonado is smart. They got exactly what they wanted and Adolis was furious. Crazy coincidence, right?”

Maldonado is definitely smart. He can also be an annoying person. And apparently, he’s inside the Rangers’ head.

If Maldonado plays the kind of three-dimensional chess the Rangers player suggests, some team should hire him as player-manager immediately. If Lowe said it was OK for Chapman to throw a fastball high and tight to Alvarez, the same logic applies to throwing a fastball high and tight to Abreu Garcia, right?

Abreu emphasized what he was trying to do — “My plan was to try to get the ball up. I missed the pitch,” he said. However, Maldonado offered a different perspective. He said the pitch was supposed to be away and was set up accordingly. His contrasting account will provide further fuel for conspiracy theorists.

After the pitch, Garcia asked himself, “Why is that?” Maldonado said he heard that. Maldonado replied, “Why what?” He replied. Abreu said Garcia was exaggerating. “I walked in and said, ‘Hey, my bad, it wasn’t intentional.’ He said, ‘Hey, bull—-.’ I was like, OK, I’m done, you’re hot. I tried to back off.”

Abreu struck out just three batters during the regular season. Could he have tried to embarrass Garcia, just as Chapman tried to embarrass Alvarez? Surely. That’s what angered the Astros about Abreu’s exit. Baker said, “I haven’t been mad in a long time.”

Dusty Baker said after the game: “I haven’t been mad in a long time.” (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today)

Garcia’s homer off Verlander, Baker said, was a mistake, a pitch that was down and inside. “We pitch him up and in,” Baker said. “Anytime you throw a projectile at 97 miles an hour, some of them are going to get away. I don’t care if you’re in the big leagues, the Hall of Fame, who you are.”

Baker was still in his office a good hour after the game saying, “You can’t prove intent.” “Nobody’s trying to hit anybody in that situation,” said Astros closer Ryan Pressley, who replaced Abreu and survived first-and-second jams in both the eighth and ninth.

The umpires disagreed, taking the unusually bold step of ruling both Abreu and Garcia out of the postseason. Committee president James Hoey told a pool reporter that all six umpires judged Abreu’s pitch to be intentional. Garcia was ruled out as the “aggressor” and tried to go through plate umpire Marvin Hudson to get to Maldonado. Baker was fired for advocating Abreu’s dismissal.

The delay that most frustrated Bochy? Hoey said the umpires took their time because they didn’t want to make a mistake. According to Michael Hill, the league’s senior vice president of on-field operations, further discipline is possible for those ejected. No suspension will be served until next season. During the 2017 World Series, the league suspended then-Astros first baseman Yuli Kuriel for five games after he made a racist gesture toward then-Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish.

This incident will be debated for years. People will see what they want to see. But the bottom line is this: The Astros are on the verge of going to their third straight World Series. It seems hard to believe that in a game they badly needed to win, they were willing to fall further behind for the sole purpose of vigilante justice.

(Top photo of Adolis Garcia being hit by a pitch in the eighth inning: Stacey Revere/Getty Images)

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