Why the Mariners and Astros cleared benches for a 4th time

Sep 28, 2023, 1:10 AM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodríguez Neris...

Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners reacts after striking out against Houston's Héctor Neris. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

For the fourth time in the past two seasons, the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros cleared the benches Wednesday night in a meeting of the bitter American League West rivals.

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While no punches were thrown, as has been the case in all of the previous incidents, this might have been the most tense exchange.

With Houston leading 4-3 in the sixth inning, Houston reliever Héctor Neris struck out Mariners star Julio Rodríguez for the final out of the frame. Neris pounded his chest, shouted and walked toward Rodríguez as the Seattle star was returning to the dugout. Umpires restored order after a few tense minutes of shouting.

After the game, Neris played down any negative feelings that might exist between him and Rodríguez.

“He’s my friend,” Neris said. “Just, it’s part of the game.”

Rodríguez said he was “shocked” by the way that Neris acted toward him.

Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez was angry about the incident, too, saying that Valdez said some “bad words” in Spanish to Rodríguez. According to Adam Jude of The Seattle Times, Suárez confirmed that Neris used a homophobic slur during the exchange with Rodríguez.

“That made me so mad, and that’s why I said what I said to them and to him,” Suárez said. “You’ve got to respect people. I play this game in the right way, and I respect everybody. I don’t want to take that, for me, and I let them know that you’ve got to respect our team, too.”

Manager Dusty Baker worried about the impact on the game.

“I was just hoping it didn’t wake them up,” Baker said. “This is September. Tempers are short.”

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Neris, Rodríguez and Suárez were key figures in the first incident when the M’s and Astros cleared benches, which came during the ninth inning of a July 2022 game in Houston.

That time, Neris hit Mariners first baseman Ty France with a pitch, and amid confusion of whether the ball actually hit France, words were exchanged by the opposing dugouts and both teams spilled out onto the field. In the first plate appearance after order was restored, Rodríguez hit a two-run homer off Neris to push Seattle’s lead from one run to three runs. Two batters after that, a Neris fastball buzzed Suárez’s head, and Neris and Baker were both ejected.

Earlier this year, the M’s and Astros twice had altercations centered around Seattle rookie José Caballero, who has quickly earned a reputation as a frustrating hitter to pitch to.

In Seattle on May 7, Astros catcher Martín Maldonado took issue with Caballero waiting until 8 seconds were left on the pitch clock to get ready in the batter’s box (hitters have to be ready by the 8-second mark or will be penalized with a strike). As the two players jawed, the benches emptied. No ejections were given out that time.

Then in Houston on Aug. 19, Houston pitcher Framber Valdez plunked Caballero in the side on the first pitch after he surrendered a homer to M’s utility man Dylan Moore. Valdez and Caballero exchanged words, the two teams flooded the field, but again, no ejections were issued.

The Mariners won the season series with Astros this year by going 9-4 against Houston, but the two teams have seen the last of each for 2023 other unless they can both find their way into the playoffs. That quest got a lot tougher for the M’s on Wednesday night.

The Astros took control in the game after the incident between Neris and Rodríguez, scoring four unanswered runs to win 8-3 and clinch their first single series win over Seattle of the season. With the victory, Houston pushed its lead over the M’s for the third and final wild card spot from the American League to 1 1/2 games, with just three games left on the Astros’ schedule (at Arizona) and four to go for the Mariners (versus the AL West-leading Texas Rangers).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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