Tensions flared between the Oakland A’s and Houston Astros on Sunday.
In the 7th inning, A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano was hit by a pitch from Astros reliever Humberto Castellanos. It was the second time Laureano had been hit by a pitch in the game, and the third time in the series. Laureano was visibly upset at yet another plunking, taking a slow walk to first base and barking at the pitcher the whole way, but he reached the bag without physical incident.
And then, in a move not often seen in the majors, he charged the dugout.
Laureano wasn't happy with the Astros after he got hit by a pitch pic.twitter.com/ysiXICstKb— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 9, 2020
Alternate angles show that Laureano was exchanging words with Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron. The coach appears to be inviting escalation, even as Laureano waves him off, and Cintron then advances out of the dugout, at which point Laureano breaks position to run toward him. Laureano was intercepted on the way by former teammate Dustin Garneau, now a catcher for Houston.
Laureano charges the Astros dugout and the brawl breaks out pic.twitter.com/CQ2K8kFnlb— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 9, 2020
Laureano was of course ejected from the game, as was A’s catcher Austin Allen for his own involvement in the ensuing scrum. No Astros were tossed, including Cintron, although Houston manager Dusty Baker had already been sent away a few minutes earlier for unrelated reasons.
There are several pieces of background here. The Astros are the tainted champions, an elite club who is currently the league’s villain after a cheating scandal was exposed during the offseason. That has a target on their back in the eyes of fans, at the very least.
Furthermore, the A’s are now beating them on the field, after years of playing second fiddle to the Houston juggernaut. Oakland was just two innings away from a sweep when the brawl broke out, which would put them 5.5 games up in the AL West division just 16 games into the season. Any division rivalry like that has the potential for heightened emotions.
Finally, Laureano himself has a history with Houston, as he was drafted by the Astros before being traded to Oakland and breaking out into a star. The player he was traded for, middle reliever Brandon Bailey, faced him in this game and was the pitcher who hit Laureano the first time, in his previous at-bat in the 5th inning.
Brawls are always frowned on by MLB, but they’ve been an especially touchy subject for the league this year as they grossly violate every aspect of social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Suspensions are sure to follow this incident. As noted by Jayson Stark of The Athletic:
Fighting and instigating fights are strictly prohibited. Players must not make physical contact with others for any reason unless it occurs in normal and permissible game action. Violations of these rules will result in severe discipline consistent with past precedent, which discipline shall not be reduced or prorated based on the length of the season.
Everyone is happy to see anyone stick it to the Astros right now, especially when they’re actively being jerks above and beyond their past transgressions. But fans of the other 28 teams don’t have to live with the consequences.
Laureano will surely be suspended for this. However many games it costs him, it will count like 2.7 games in the short season. Considering he’s the team’s best hitter right now, off to an outright MVP start, that’s going to seriously impact them on the field.
While I can’t imagine how frustrating it is to get hit twice in a row and then get goaded by an opposing coach, this is a prime example of when keeping it real goes wrong. The A’s are on an absolute roll, wrapping up their ninth straight win — their streak now covers over half the games they’ve played this season. This isn’t the time to let barbs get under your skin and interrupt that flow.
Perhaps in another situation there could have been an inspiring, galvanizing effect to this passionate moment, but the sweep was already in the bag and the division lead is mounting. The A’s had already fully humiliated the Astros on the field, holding 110% of the momentum coming out of the weekend, and there was nothing else to be gained. All it did was turn a thorough trouncing into a Pyrrhic victory, by removing a star performer from some amount of future triple-games.
Laureano is an intense player who goes full-bore at all times, and that’s one of the things we love about him and that makes him so great on the field. It’s easy to sit here and suggest that he learn to tone that down at the proper moments while still maintaining full aggression during plays, and I won’t pretend like anything is that simple. But that would be the goal to aim for.
Bob Melvin says Ramon Laureano does not charge the Astros dugout "unless something completely offensive comes out of it." Says everyone knows what was said and who said it, and he expects the league will deal with it.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) August 9, 2020
Meanwhile, let’s not let the Astros’ 41-year-old coach off the hook here. Cintron’s behavior was unacceptable and unbecoming of a big league coach, and I’m surprised he wasn’t ejected. I would hope we’ll hear of some sort of discipline, not that it will make up for the A’s losing Laureano for even one inning.
In all my years watching baseball, I have never seen a bench coach start a fight like that...and then hide behind his players...— Coach Adam Kadourhe (@AdamKadourhe) August 9, 2020
That's an all-time weak move.
Stay tuned to find out how much this episode will cost the A’s. Interesting side note: The Astros hit the A’s with five pitches in this series, and the A’s hit the Astros zero times.
Updating with a couple more takes. This kind of bad image is exactly the thing that Dusty Baker was brought in to change, as the respected professional skipper. But he’s out of the dugout for about 10 minutes after being ejected, and it all goes wrong.
Weak performance by Astros coach Alex Cintron especially with the manager gone after getting ejected earlier. Dusty Baker doesn’t want this behavior representing his staff, and this should be an opportunity for management to allow Baker to bring in his own coaches.— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) August 9, 2020
Sam is an old friend of mine, and he’s not wrong here after seeing how light the Astros got off for their cheating scandal. What will it take for Houston to be properly disciplined for their actions? It’s already unreal that they had nobody ejected for this incident.
Astros getting their ass kicked, throw at Ramon for second time today AND then their bench coach talks shit to him. I look forward to manfred doing nothing to them and randomly suspending more a's than just Ramon— sam esfandiari (@samesfandiari) August 9, 2020
Our colleagues at Seattle Mariners site Lookout Landing have similar thoughts.
at some point MLB is going to have to deal with the fact that players across baseball are mad at the Astros, and will only get angrier as they, not the Astros, pile up punishments— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 9, 2020
And a prominent national media member is not happy with Cintron, deservedly so.
In 2020 more than ever, umpires, managers and coaches MUST be the adults in the room. Thus, unless there is a mitigating circumstances not shown in film clip, MLB should come down very hard on #Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron for the provocation in this altercation. https://t.co/7EwX2qNygc— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) August 9, 2020
Finally, Jomboy has an excellent rundown of the whole episode, as usual, which you can watch below. While I’ve criticized Laureano for letting himself get drawn in, I have to say he did make me laugh by teaching Castellanos how to throw a slider on his way to first. That was masterful trolling and would have been a great substitute to a physical altercation.
If you don’t like Laureano’s taunting, but also want to insist that the same pitcher hit the same player a second time on accident (Castellanos was the one who hit him on Friday too), then you have to be willing to accept some frustrated ribbing from the guy on the receiving end. Laureano may have messed up with Cintron, but he’s still absolutely the man.