Mariners’ Justin Upton, ex-Angel, shares his take on beef between rivals

Jun 27, 2022, 7:56 PM
Mariners Justin Upton...
Justin Upton of the Seattle Mariners walks against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

No one who was on the field at Angel Stadium on Sunday has quite the same perspective as Mariners outfielder Justin Upton.

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Upton is new to the M’s, having signed with the franchise last month and just joining the team for the first time not even two weeks ago. But before coming to Seattle, the four-time All-Star spent the previous four seasons with the Angels. Needless to say, it was probably a pretty awkward spot for him to be in when the two teams brawled in the second inning Sunday.

“I’m a little different in the sense that these guys are my new teammates, I gotta protect them,” Upton told Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob on Monday. “… I do have a lot of friends on that side but I gotta protect the guys wearing the blue uniforms. So, that was kind of my stance on it and I went in there and tried to do what I could do and ended up on the bottom of the pile. It is what it is.”

OK, but what does he think of the whole situation? For a quick summary, the Angels were unhappy about a pitch in the ninth inning Saturday by M’s reliever Erik Swanson that sailed over superstar Mike Trout’s head. They then changed their scheduled starter to an opener for Sunday’s game, in essence saving their scheduled starter, José Suárez, to come in once he was needed. So the new starter, Andrew Wantz, proceeded to first throw a pitch behind 21-year-old Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez’s head in the first inning, then drilled M’s cleanup hitter Jesse Winker with a pitch to start the second frame, setting off a wild brawl.

“I understand partially their side where Mike’s their guy. The way that you get him out is you go in on him, and you stay in on him. Everybody in the league does it. But they also have to understand that that’s going to happen,” Upton said. “I mean, I was there for four years, people tried pitching in, they lose one – all of a sudden this time they decided they wanted to do something about it. But my problem is the way that they did it. It was blatant by starting an opener, and you throw at a 21-year-old kid’s head, that’s where I have a problem.”

The 34-year-old Upton is in his 16th MLB season, so he understands as much as anybody that “purpose pitches” happen. He still doesn’t think the Angels handled the situation correctly.

“I’ve been around for a long time. The game polices itself, that’s what people say, and they’re trying to get that out of the game but there’s still that little portion of it in the game, but you do it the right way. If you want to pick somebody, first and foremost you pick a veteran, somebody like Winker. You want to hit Winker in his back on the first pitch he saw, none of us would have said a word. OK, we don’t agree with it, but it would have been over with. But you send a rookie out there and he throws at our 21 year old’s head, I think that’s what kind of sparked the whole thing.”

Coincidentally, Upton had been nailed in the helmet by a fastball from the Angels’ Michael Lorenzen just over a week prior to Sunday’s game, which makes the Angels’ reaction to the pitch above Trout from Swanson, who was struggling with his control Saturday night, seem perhaps a bit hypocritical.

“I can’t wrap my head around them thinking there was intent (with Swanson’s pitch),” he said. “… Everybody in the league knows there’s a problem with the baseballs and they’re trying to fix it. If a guy loses a baseball, it’s probably because he didn’t have a great grip on it, and we’re trying to fix that problem. You got to understand the whole situation of where baseball is right now and kind of use your brain. And I think they just felt like this was the right time to protect their guy, and I think it was the wrong time.

“… And, I mean, if you want to bring up (when I got hit) last week, I know the situation and there’s no intent. I have two strikes on me, guy’s trying to finish me off and he misses one up and in. My problem is (they seem to think) it’s OK for your guy to lose one and hit somebody, but it’s not OK for our guy to lose one and miss your guy – that’s where I have a problem.”

You can listen to the full Wyman and Bob conversation with Upton in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

More on the Mariners

Mariners’ Winker, Crawford, Rodríguez suspended for brawl
M’s seemed set up by Angels, put into no-win situation
Roster Move: Luis Torrens to IL, Andrew Knapp up from AAA
Mariners trade for 1B Carlos Santana to help depleted lineup
What They Said: M’s, Angels, umpire crew chief on Sunday’s brawl

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