Not Socially Distant: Astros get closer to the A’s physically and verbally than with their play in a 7-2 loss

By Morris Phillips

Just to be clear: no masked men or well-to-do baseball players were seriously injured in Sunday’s un-socially, close-up basebrawl at the Coliseum. Combatants got face-to-face–a no-no in 2020 in itself–and choice words were exchanged, clearly audible in an empty stadium. But both sides were fully aware their actions will draw suspensions and hefty fines. More than bearhugs, the likelihood of penalties prevented things from escalating.

The dustup grabbed the headlines, but the bigger takeaway was that the A’s dealt the Astros a technical knockout with a sweep that gives them a sizeable, division lead in a pandemic-truncated season.

Simply, the A’s are hot, and that’s changing things in the AL West.

A 7-2 win completed the three-game sweep over the Astros, giving the A’s a 5 1/2 game lead (5 games ahead of second-place Texas) over their rivals. The A’s have won nine straight, and have their best record after 16 games since 2013.

“It doesn’t damper anything. We swept these guys, and that was our intent,” manager Bob Melvin said of the brawl. “That won’t damper what transpired.”

Jesus Luzardo pitched five plus innings to earn the win in just his second-ever, big league start. The 22-year old allowed two runs on five hits and outpitched 23-year old Cristian Javier in a matchup of up-and-coming arms.

Rex Grossman, Matt Olson and Matt Chapman homered off Javier as the A’s built a 5-0 lead after three innings. The A’s have homered 21 times in 16 games, the needed counterpoint to their 164 strikeouts and .214 team batting average.

Juli Gurriel’s two-run homer in the fourth put the Astros on the board, but they would be shut out the rest of the way. The A’s added on with Mark Canha’s infield single in the fifth that scored Marcus Semien, and Chapman’s RBI double in the seventh.

Laureano was hit in the back by rookie Humberto Castellanos’ pitch in the bottom of the seventh which prompted a jawing session between the batter and Houston coach Alex  Cintron who was yelling and gesturing on the dugout steps. The incident marked the second time Laureano was hit in the game, and the fifth time an A’s batter was hit by a pitch in the series.

Of course, these teams didn’t figure to be buddy buddy after A’s pitcher Mike Fiers blew the whistle on the Astro’s sign stealing scheme that aided their run to the World Series in 2017 and 2019. But the A’s somehow avoided confrontation with the earlier plunking, but not in the seventh inning with Cintron and Laureano yelling at each other as the batter moved toward first base.

“Ramon doesn’t go over there unless something completely offensive came out of the dugout,” Melvin said. “I think the league will know who that is. That person should get suspended. Hopefully, that’s the case. Nowadays, without fans in the stands and mics everywhere, my guess is they know who it was.”

“Everybody wants you to just control your temper, which you should, but sometimes things flare out of control,” Astros manager Dusty Baker admitted. Ironically, Baker was thrown out in the previous inning for verbally disputing balls and strikes’ calls made by home plate umpire Nick Mahrley. Baker departed without confronting Mahrley.

Laureano charged the Astro’s dugout, but was tackled and never reached Cintron, then Olson, from the on-deck circle, and Chapman arrived quickly in their teammate’s defense.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has promised heavy punishment for all on-field confrontations given the additional complications of the Coronavirus. Manfred delivered on that promise two weeks ago when Dodgers’ pitcher Joe Kelly was suspended for eight games after he threw a pitch in the vicinity of batter Alex Bregman’s head.

But no one charged the mound–or the opposing dugout–in the Dodgers-Astros’ bench-clearing incident. Laureano did. That probably will cost the valuable centerfielder five games or more.

The A’s travel to Anaheim for a three-game series with the Angels that starts Monday evening with Sean Manaea getting the start. Julio Teheran will pitch for the Angels.

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