HOUSTON — Astros manager Dusty Baker was in no mood to talk about the ninth inning of Monday’s 7-4 loss to the Mariners, but he tried to plow through anyway. Angry, tired and frustrated after a tough defeat, Baker spoke in softer tones than usual while trying to rationalize what led to a benches-clearing incident and a series of ejections at Minute Maid Park.
Perhaps the frustration was because it was the second game in a row the Astros saw one of their relievers get ejected in the ninth inning of a game after warnings had been issued to the benches. On Monday, it was Héctor Neris, who elicited warnings from plate umpire Chris Guccione when he threw behind Ty France with two outs in the ninth and then was ejected a few minutes later when he threw a pitch behind Eugenio Suárez.
“I don’t want to talk about it too much more because I’m already kind of pissed off,” Baker said.
Baker and Neris, who were both ejected automatically because warnings had been issued, said neither the pitch that grazed France in the back or the one that sailed behind Suárez were intentional.
“[Guccione] couldn’t say if it’s on purpose or not [the pitch to Suárez], but he said after a warning he had to do it,” Neris said of the ejection.
When asked if the pitch was intentional, Neris said: “I don’t have a comment about that.”
The errant pitch to Suárez came two batters after Julio Rodríguez hit a two-run homer to put the Mariners ahead, 7-4, and scored France, who had been hit by a pitch for a Major League-leading 12th time. He tied for the MLB lead last year with 27 hit-by-pitches.
“In a one-run game, you’re not going to put anybody on by throwing at them,” Baker said. “We don’t do that anyway.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais disagreed, which is why he began yelling across to the opposing dugout after France was struck. Both benches and bullpens emptied as players gathered in close quarters at home plate, but there were no physical altercations. Servais and Astros first-base coach Omar López were ejected at that point.
“He threw behind Ty France; it is pretty clear,” Servais said. “Coming into the series, whatever happened to them yesterday, we were not involved in that. I thought it was clear he threw the ball behind him. The guy walked three or four guys all year [four in 23 1/3 innings prior to Monday].”
France said Guccione asked him if he thought that the Neris hit-by-pitch was intentional, and he said no. Mariners starter Robbie Ray threw a wild pitch that nearly hit Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker in the fifth inning, but that didn’t appear to stoke the flames that blazed in the ninth.
“It got me and I didn’t hear the umpire say it got me, so I turned and told them to check and the umpire said ‘No, I got it getting you,’” France said. “I asked him, ‘You don’t think that was intentional, do you, because of the pitch to Tucker earlier in the game?” And he said ‘No, I don’t think so.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, in a one-run game, I don’t think so.’ Then, I looked up and their dugout was running at me.”
Last July, Astros pitcher Brooks Raley was suspended three games and fined for hitting Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford after Dylan Moore hit a pinch-hit grand slam in Seattle. Baker received a one-game suspension.
“It appears there’s some bad blood brewing, even from last year,” Baker said.
Astros reliever Ryan Pressly was ejected in the ninth inning of Sunday’s win in Kansas City after objecting when warnings were issued following a pair of inside pitches to Michael A. Taylor. Houston wound up using two more relievers — Phil Maton and Rafael Montero — as a result, and on Monday, the club needed Bryan Abreu to get the final out of the ninth following Neris’ ejection.
“It sort of snowballed into bad events for us,” Baker said.