More Mariners bad blood with Astros: Why benches cleared again

May 7, 2023, 3:03 PM | Updated: May 8, 2023, 12:44 am

Seattle Mariners José Caballero...

Umpire Phil Cuzzi separates the Astros' Martín Maldonado and Mariners' José Caballero on May 7, 2023. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Everybody remembers the Seattle Mariners’ melee with the Los Angeles Angels last season, but that wasn’t the first time the M’s cleared the benches with an AL West rival in 2022.

The other team Seattle squared off against is the same one it renewed its beef with Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Park.

Sunday: Seattle Mariners dispatch Astros as Julio, Miller lead in 3-1 win

The Mariners and the defending World Series champion Houston Astros had a brief and luckily tame interaction in the bottom of the fourth inning Sunday after rookie Seattle second baseman José Caballero and veteran Houston catcher Martín Maldonado got in each other’s face in the middle of a Caballero plate appearance.

Once order was restored, and it didn’t take long as the M’s and Astros didn’t exchange any physicality, warnings were issued to both dugouts.

So what happened? There was a lot of initial confusion about what made tempers flare, but Mariners manager Scott Servais cleared it up in his postgame press conference. Turns out it all stems from the pitch clock and Caballero using it to his advantage, which clearly led to some umbrage being taken by Maldonado and Astros pitcher Brandon Bielak.

Here’s what Servais said:

“Cabby’s really savvy on how to use the clock, and he doesn’t like the pitcher out there holding the ball on him. I think (Mariners starting pitcher) Bryce Miller does an awesome job of that – he kind of freezes the hitter as he holds the (ball), and he’s looking at the clock and he’s letting it tick down before he delivers, and some hitters are not comfortable with that. Cabby likes to slow it down, and per rule, (as the hitter) you have to have your head up at eight seconds or earlier, but Cabby doesn’t usually lift his head (until he needs to). He’ll be in the box, but his head is down until he gets to about 10 or nine (seconds left), which is perfectly legal. It’s different, and I think… the Astros didn’t like it, whatever, but I love it. Like I said when Cabby showed up here, he plays with some edge, he plays the game his way. It’s perfectly legal, it’s just different, and I had no problem with it. Others did, but I love the way Cabby’s playing right now.”

Caballero has already endeared himself to Mariners fans as a surprisingly effective player who wasn’t very well known before he was called up from Triple-A Tacoma last month, and being in the middle of a skirmish with the hated Astros is only going to help in that regard. He owns a .273 batting average after Sunday’s 3-1 Mariners win, has played good defense and run the bases well, and even had the go-ahead two-run double in the middle of Seattle’s seven-run outburst with two outs in the eighth inning of Saturday’s 7-5 win over Houston.

The Astros and Mariners cleared the benches last June in Houston, and in that instance there was some shoving and even ejections following Houston reliever Hector Neris hitting M’s first baseman Ty France with a pitch. That was a pivotal moment in Seattle’s playoff drought-breaking 2022 season as Julio Rodríguez homered in the first plate appearance after the fracas ended and the M’s won 7-4.

The Mariners’ all-out brawl with the Angels later in June 2022 was seen by some as the real turning point for the team, though, so perhaps this will be a similar situation for a Seattle squad that got back to .500 at 17-17 with Sunday’s win after a disappointing April. And hey, at least the home fans in Seattle got to see this rare brand of excitement up close this time.

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