The Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners met at home plate to exchange angry words and some shoves in the series opener. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker allows that there's bad blood between the Mariners and Astros that dates back to even last season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros bench coach Joe Espada had plenty to say after the little home plate skirmish. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The umpires tried to gain control of this Astros and Mariners series. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is still the heart and soul of these Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
There is also something interesting happening in an Astros game at Minute Maid Park. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez is faster than his big frame might indicate. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Seattle Mariners are desperate to prove that they can stand up to the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Hector Neris is an important bullpen arm for these retooled Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is still hitting big home runs for these Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodriguez is a dynamic force that gives the Mariners at least some future hope. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros reliever Hector Neris has strikeout stuff. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The baseball zooms in at 100 MPH, seemingly headed right for Jose Altuve’s head. The heart, soul and conscience of these Houston Astros hits the dirt, dive falling backwards out of the way. Then, Altuve simply dusts himself off and steps back into the batter’s box, waiting for the next pitch from Seattle Mariners flamethrower Andres Munoz.
The Mariners desperately want to think that they’ve knocked the Astros down a peg and shown the team that looms over the American League West like Tom Cruise looms over the world of action movies that they’re now ready to be the bully. Altuve and Astros shrug and go about their business, seemingly as unbothered by the Mariners’ macho posturing as a veteran cop is by a jaywalker.
Truth is these Mariners still aren’t worth worrying about. Even a little.
Yes, Seattle just took two of three at Minute Maid Park after winning two out of three in Seattle little more than a week earlier. And the Mariners are still 10 games back of the Astros in the division heading into Friday’s action. The Astros fretting over Seattle would be like Usain Bolt concerning himself with the eighth place finisher in a 100 meter finale.
Despite all the noise in this series — the rush-up, meetup, dustup at home plate in the opener, the suspensions that followed, all the hit batters in the series (including Mariners rookie standout Julio Rodriguez getting plunked twice on Wednesday night) and near hit batters (Altuve needing to dirt dive) — the Mariners didn’t come close to proving anything.
The Astros have long owned space in this wanna be challenger’s minds. Seattle’s baseball team is about as legitimately gourmet as Starbucks.
In fact, the largest truth to come out of this series may be that right field is either the best or worst place to be during a baseball fight. Or near baseball fight in this case. Let’s let Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker, the master of the hypothetical question, explain.
“I didn’t really see anything,” Tucker tells PaperCity when I ask about the home plate brouhaha in the series opener. “Coming from right is kind of far. It was over with by the time I got there. Things had cooled down by the time I got there.
“I didn’t hear or see anything that was said or what not. It’s kind of far in right.”
But not as far as the 26-31 Mariners remain behind of the 36-21 Astros. Even the most alarmist government official could not place any threat level from Seattle at anything above the color green.
Despite what Mariners manager Scott Servais and his dugout barking players want to believe.
“We are moving the ball in the right direction,” Servais says. “We’re still chipping away. We’ve still got work to do, but we did exactly what we needed to do on this trip.”
In truth, the Mariners simply took advantage of a Cristian Javier off night and feasted on the Astros worst starting pitcher in Jose Urquidy, who may be the only Houston player who looks at those rather ho-hum Mariners uniforms and somehow sees the 1927 Yankees. While Astros manager Dusty Baker sees some “bad blood” between the teams that dates back to last season, his players don’t exactly seem to be obsessing over this.
“I don’t know,” Tucker says. “I like a lot of their guys. We’ve played against each other for awhile. Obviously, (Abraham) Toro who was here and now he’s there. I don’t think (there’s bad blood). There might be.
“I’m cool with all of them.”
A Seattle Afterthought
If anything, these Mariners are more like an annoying underclassman that the Astros never really even bother to think about. The Astros need to be much more concerned about a team like the Minnesota Twins and maybe even the Cleveland Guardians. The rest of this season will be a fight to secure one of the two top seeds in the American League, which means a bye into the second round under MLB’s new 12 team playoff format.
Right now, a dominant 40-16 New York Yankees team and the 36-21 Astros are the AL division leaders with the two best records, which is how the top two playoff seeds are determined. But assuming that Carlos Correa eventually will start to at least matching Jeremy Pena’s numbers (and taking Gerrit Cole deep Thursday night may have been the beginning of that), the 33-25 Twins or another American League Central team could be the real future threat to Houston.
One division winner in each league will not get a bye. The Astros have to make sure it’s not them.
Yes, Mariners fans are practically throwing a parade because their team is now 6-6 against Houston this season. But it’s an upcoming stretch against the Chicago White Sox (June 17 through June 19 at Minute Maid Park), New York Mets (June 21 and June 22 at Minute Maid and June 28 and June 29 in Queens) and the New York Yankees (June 23 through June 26 in the Bronx and June 30 at Minute Maid) that is much more pressing — and potentially telling — for these Astros.
As for the American League West, the more talented Rangers even may be a bigger threat than Seattle. While still not being much of a legitimate one.
The Astros are once hunting bigger prey than the Seattle Mariners of the world.
“We ran into a hot club,” Dusty Baker says of the Mariners series. “They won two-out-of-three three different times on this road trip, much like we did on our road trip.”
In truth, the Astros suffered from some rare bad starting pitching, sandwiched around arguably Justin Verlander’s most dominant comeback start yet, more than anything. Despite all of the Mariners’ bravado and hopefully talk, nothing much has changed.
The Mariners are still looking far up the standings at the Astros. Seattle still boasts a much more temperate summer climate and a far worse baseball team.
“I don’t think (there’s bad blood). There might be. I’m cool with all of them.” — Astros star Kyle Tucker on the Mariners
Servais’ team can knock Jose Altuve down after sending Kyle Tucker diving a few nights before. And the Astros will just getting up. Keep coming back for more. The Astros still have Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker while the Mariners don’t have anything close. Tucker getting a hit right after his own brushback moment is more telling than anything.
“I just got out of the way and got a hit the next pitch,” Tucker shrugs. “I don’t know what they were thinking.”
Neither do the Mariners. The Astros have long owned space in this wanna be challenger’s minds. Seattle’s baseball team is about as legitimately gourmet as Starbucks. As usual.