Oh, boy. Grab your popcorn, take a seat and enjoy the 2017 edition of the Lone Star Series. I hear this season is going to be awesome!
You can’t binge-watch, of course, but the tension has been set early and it is making for must-see viewing.
Heck, before the first game of the Silver Boot series featuring the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros tempers were flaring, collars were hot, and players were getting their dander up.
By the sixth inning Monday night, the dugouts were emptied and the bullpens were rushing in from the outfield.
Yes, the Silver Boot is back.
Here’s what happened:
1. Rangers starter Andrew Cashner hits two Astros, Jose Altuve in the first and Yuli Gurriel in the second. Both were protected by pads on their arms. Altuve was hit with two outs and nobody on. Gurriel was hit to leadoff the inning. Cashner had zero reason to hit either. In fact, as he pointed out after the game, why would he want to put the speedy Altuve on with two outs?
2. Mike Napoli launches a solo homer to center in the fourth inning off Astros’ starter Lance McCullers. Most in the stands figured it was going to be a long deep fly out, including center fielder George Springer. He seemed to be camped under it inside the warning track before he put up his arms like he lost track of the ball. Meanwhile, Napoli was rounding second base. Perhaps the Astros thought he admired the 427-foot blast. It sure didn’t look like he did.
3. McCullers faces Napoli for the first time since the homer with two outs and nobody on in the sixth. The first pitch, a 97 mph fastball sails behind Napoli’s head. Napoli had a few words for McCullers and eventually both dugouts were in a scrum in the infield. No punches were thrown, nobody was hurt and nobody was ejected.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Astros rallied for five runs in the seventh to pull away for the 6-2 win. But this is just Episode 1 of a 19-part soap opera.
Here’s the reaction from some of the co-stars after the game:
Rangers 3B Mike Napoli: Obviously, I didn’t like it. I’ve been in the game a long time. I understand how things work. Two of their guys get hit, but all he has to do is put it in my hip and I run down to first base. No one likes 95 [mph] behind their back. It is what it is. I understand the game. I understand two of their guys got hit. My mind wasn’t right when I got up there ... I should know the situation, two outs, nobody on. It caught me off guard. That’s why that was my reaction. Just put it in my hip. There’s no reason to throw it at my upper back, behind me. (On the dugouts clearing) You saw what happened. Some of my teammates weren’t too pleased with it.
Will this carry over to the next game? I don’t know. We’ll wait until tomorrow and see what happens. We’re here to play baseball. It’s a competitive game. This stuff goes on in our sport. It just has to be done the right way.
What did Astros catcher Brian McCann say to you? It’s between me and him. I know McCann, we both have respect for each other, we understand the game. It’ll stay between us. We’re a family in here. Everyone has each other’s back. This stuff happens all the time in baseball. That’s part of it. We protect each other. It’s part of the game.
Is the rivalry getting more heated? Yeah, but what’s not fun about that? That’s how it should be. There’s too much, people that are friends, and talking before the game, buddy-buddy. I remember coming up, if we were playing that night, it was time to get down and play a tough game and do what you have to do to win. It’s what it should be.
Astros RHP Lance McCullers Jr.: I was trying to go in hard. I threw in all game, whether they were lefties or righties. I came in a lot [Carlos] Gomez, a lot on [Shin-Soo] Choo. I threw Napoli a heater on the outer half earlier in the game and he hit it out. So Mac and I kind of say, ‘Hey we’re going to try to go in for effect, for a strike, open up that outer-half of the plate.’ In the first at-bat he got a hit to left field again on a ball on the outer half. I was just trying to go in and it got away. He took some exception to it. It is what it is. We moved on. Great team win.
What did Napoli say to you? He said I smell good. I said, ‘I got some new cologne. Do you want to come smell it? You can smell it.’ That was as it.
On the rivalry: I think it’s great for the fans, I think it’s good for the sport. There’s a lot of mutual respect that goes both ways, but at the end of the day we’re trying to win and do everything we can for the team. It’s no secret they handled us really well last year and we just wanted to go in and play hard and I think we did and we got rewarded with a W because how resilient we were and how we battled today.
They have a good team over there we know they that. They know that. This isn’t a thing like we have to set the tone. We’re not going to win every game after this. It’s going to be a battle every time we play these guys, just like it is when we play everybody else in the league.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch: There’s a ton of emotion, a lot of adrenalin. It’s a nice little rivalry, for all you who want to have one. It’s going to happen.
Do you condone McCullers throwing behind Napoli’s head? I don’t condone Altuve getting hit or Yuli getting hit, either. The inside of the plate when we’re on defense is ours, too. Obviously, he’s not going to let him get extended again. You don’t want balls going behind any hitter, namely your own. But they’re going to get away from time to time, especially when you’re trying to drive a ball inside. It is what it is. Baseball takes care of itself. This way sometimes. We’ve got 18 more with ‘em.
How will this alter the series going forward? There’s specifically a lot of emotion in these rivalry games. Both of these teams expect to be really good. We expect to be in it. We’ve had to answer a lot of Rangers questions. I’m sure they’re answering a lot of Astros questions. Some of them we put on a platter for them to answer today. It’s a good banter. It’s good for baseball. It’s good for the two of us to have to fight for yourself. You don’t want anybody hurt, but you want high emotion. This is fun for us to play with a little bit of edge. We’ll see them tomorrow. We’ll see them 18 more times. It should be a fun summer.
Astros closer Ken Giles: Just a lot of emotion, that’s how this team plays. When you spark the fire, you’re going to get it from us. You’re going to see a lot of enthusiasm, and we’re going to turn it up a notch.
How did you react to the dugouts clearing? Just staying on my toes ready to protect my players by whatever means possible.
Astros 3B Alex Bregman on his Twitter post: I made a rookie mistake. I shouldn’t have tweeted that out. It was just trying to fire up our team. I shouldn’t have put it on social media. They have a great team over there. I didn’t mean to offend anybody. It was poorly worded. I misspelled a word. Another rookie mistake there.
On the rivalry: It’s a fun game anytime we play them. They had our number last year. This is a new year. They have great players over there. Every time we play against them, it’s so much fun. They’ve got a good squad, and so do we. It’s going to be a fun year.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister: I think anytime somebody throws behind a hitter’s head it’s going to create some tension. I get that we’re playing baseball and it’s hard baseball. They had two guys diving [across the plate] and get hit on pads and [McCullers] gave up a home run to Napoli and then throws behind his head. Yeah, I think that deserves a little anxiety and anger.
Did Napoli do anything to annoy them on his homer? He ran hard the whole way. He didn’t even know it was out of the ballpark. I take offense at anybody who thought he did anything other than that. [Center fielder George Springer] acted like he couldn’t even see the baseball.
Was it payback for hitter two Astros batters? Ask [McCullers]. Tell him to grab a bat. I’m not going to put myself in their minds or their thoughts at all.