SEATTLE – Tensions are always high when the Mariners and Astros meet, and the latest chapter in the feud between these American League West rivals began in the sixth inning of the Astros’ 8-3 win on Wednesday at T-Mobile Park, when Astros reliever Hector Neris allegedly uttered a homophobic slur in Spanish toward Mariners star Julio Rodríguez.
With Houston leading 4-3 in the game and a half-game lead in the AL Wild Card standings, Neris Rodríguez hit three pitches, prompting the right-hander to point and yell at the reigning AL Rookie of the Year honoree, as he strides in his direction.
A video recording appeared to show Neris making the slur in Spanish during the exchange, which was later confirmed by Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez, who was in the on-deck circle during the incident.
“I heard that and that made me mad,” Suárez said. “I was angry and I let him know, ‘Why did you do that?’ Why did you do this to us? “If you want to enjoy your strikeout, enjoy the strikeout and go to your dugout.” Don’t do that, go chase Julio and do all that [stuff] he has. As for me, I’m not taking it. That made me so angry.”
Rodríguez was not available after the game, but said through a Mariners spokesman that “he did not feel there was any animosity” between them on Wednesday and that “he was shocked” that Neris yelled at him. The two have had a relationship for years, as they both trained at House of Athlete in Tampa, Florida during the offseason. And both are represented by Ulises Cabrera at Octagon Baseball.
“It’s part of the game and the emotions,” Neris said of the incident. “This situation today was nothing personal. I tried to do [the] The team tries to play hard.”
In a follow-up question, Neris, who once called Rodríguez “my friend” in his postgame interview, said: “I think he may have been watching me, but he was surprised. “It was nothing personal.”
Suárez added: “From the beginning I thought it was a joke because they have a really good – to this day – a really good relationship. And then he started [saying] bad words in Spanish. He began [saying] something that is not good for people who speak Spanish.”
As Astros first baseman José Abreu grabbed Neris and led him to the visitors’ dugout on the third base line, Rodríguez screamed retaliation while walking toward Neris until he was restrained by home plate umpire Larry Vanover.
And at that point both benches began to clear.
With most of both teams’ players and coaching staff arguing on the field as the dust settled, Neris was the only player in Houston’s dugout. He then returned to the playing field and began yelling toward Rodríguez, who was restrained by several Mariners personnel between the mound and the third base line.
Rodríguez was clearly upset by what Neris yelled after the strikeout, as there were no clear signs of disagreement during the three-pitch sequence.
After Seattle’s 6-2 win on Tuesday, in which Chas McCormick took a 98.7 mph fastball from Andrés Muñoz off his back in the ninth, Houston manager Dusty Baker expressed frustration over the incident.
“There was bad blood here,” Baker said. “It’s hard to accuse someone or prove intent. Only the person who threw it knows the intention. If it was intentional, you’re ruining guys’ careers, especially this late, and ruining guys’ playoff careers. I don’t know.
“I’m tired of our boys getting beat. It makes guys a lot braver when they don’t have to hit, you know what I mean? In the National League, they could do something about it with the guy who threw the pitch.” …with the DH, the guys are getting bolder.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais said Wednesday in relaying Baker’s comments: “It’s a team we’ve battled very hard the last few years. They’re a team that’s been to the World Series multiple times, the team we want to surpass, OK. If someone wants to call that bad blood, then so be it. We want to beat them. This isn’t good blood, it’s bad blood – whatever you want to call it. I respect her.”
Rodríguez and Neris also have a history dating back to another incident while clearing the benches at Minute Maid Park on June 6 last year, but that encounter actually took place after the disagreement between both clubs.
Rodríguez hit a convincing home run off Neris in the ninth inning to lead Seattle to a 7-4 victory shortly after Neris hit Ty France. During the argument, Rodríguez was even seen holding Neris, his fellow Dominican, in good faith. After the home run and after warnings were given, Neris was ejected for hitting Suárez with a 94.4 mph heater.
But that was 2022 and this is 2023, where Wednesday marked the third time a bench swap occurred between these teams. On May 7, a disagreement occurred between Astros catcher Martín Maldonado and Mariners second baseman Jose Caballero at T-Mobile Park, interrupting the game. Then, on August 19 in Houston, Caballero was hit by Astros All-Star Framber Valdez, resulting in a crash in front of home plate.
Baker pointed to “bad blood” that goes back even further, to July 26, 2021, when the Astros manager was ejected and later suspended along with reliever Brooks Raley after Raley hit JP Crawford on the first at-bat following a grand slam by Dylan Moore was perhaps the Mariners’ most significant win of the season, erasing a seven-run deficit.