This continues to be the winter of the Houston Asterisks.
With each passing day, more and more information is unearthed about the Astros and the extent to which they banged on trash cans to win baseball games. Yesterday, Tony Adams, an Astros fan, went back and watched all of Houston’s home games from the 2017 season in order to log who was getting signs relayed to them and when it happened. The results are, uh, pretty gross.
Astros trashcan bangs by date.
— Tony Adams (@adams_at) January 29, 2020
The longest line on the graph? That belongs to the Toronto Blue Jays, who got shit-kicked 16-7 by the Astros at the beginning of August.
Before I dive into this, I’ll take a quick look at the only member of the Blue Jays who was involved. Derek Fisher received 16 bangs, which represents just 7.6 percent of the pitches he saw that season. The biggest benefactor was Marwin Gonzalez, who received 147 bangs, which was 18.9 percent of his pitches. That would explain why an otherwise pretty shit player posted a .907 OPS out of the blue that season.
The Astros owned a 70-39 record at this point and were running away with the American League West. The Jays were, well, not very good. You may or may not remember because I think 2017 is something a lot of us have tried actively to wipe from our memories, but the Jays had pretty bad pitching that season. In this particular game, Cesar Valdez took the mound to make the start.
Again, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t remember this guy. Valdez didn’t make a start in the Major Leagues for seven seasons after making his debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010. Between 2011 and 2015, he pitched in Venezuela, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, and then, in 2016, started an MLB comeback, ironically, with the Astros.
Valdez pitched the 2016 season for Houston’s Triple-A team and posted a respectable 3.12 ERA. He was granted free agency at the end of the season and signed with the Oakland Athletics. He would post a 2.70 ERA for Oakland’s Triple-A team before getting claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays, who were in desperate need of pitching help.
After making a few relief appearances, Valdez got the start against the A’s, his former club, in Toronto. He tossed six innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits, picking up his first win in the Majors since all the way back on May 3, 2010. It was an amazing moment for a journeyman pitcher who worked incredibly hard to reach the Majors again in his mid-30s. He dedicated the win to his late father.
“I want to thank the fans for everything they did for me when I stepped off the mound,” Valdez said through a translator. “It was amazing, it felt great and I was very emotional. I hope I have the chance again to (start).”
What kept Valdez motivated as he tried to make his way back to the majors? Consider that his only previous victory in the majors came in his debut, when he beat the Astros for Arizona way back on May 3, 2010.
In the past couple of years, it was the memory of his father Miguel, who passed away in 2015, that drove Valdez.
“He was always the guy that would push me and drive me to stay in baseball,” Valdez said.
“When he passed away, everything I do now, it’s on his name. When I win, when I am in the big leagues, when I pitch, everything I do is for him so he keeps me driving even if he is not with us anymore.”
Valdez’s next start wouldn’t go quite so well. He got tagged for six earned runs over just two innings of work against the Los Angeles Angels. The Jays actually ended up winning that game thanks to a seven-run ninth inning capped off by a Steve Pearce grand slam.
The Jays would win their next series against the Chicago White Sox, giving them a 51-57 record for the season. Given how mediocre the American League was at the time, they were right in the thick of the wild card chase. Next up? Houston.
Valdez got the call to take the mound in the series opener. He got the first two batters out and then allowed a single to Josh Reddick and a two-run homer to Yuli Gurriel. In the second, he had a three-up, three-down inning and then he allowed another run in the third. But in the fourth, the wheels fell off. Or, well, the trash can came out.
He allowed a single, a walk, and a double to start the inning and then got pulled in favour of Matt Dermody. He would allow a home run and a single before handing the ball off to Mike Bolsinger who allowed a walk, a double, a homer, a walk, a single, a single, and a walk before finally getting out of the inning.
All told, nine runs for the Astros that inning. They would win the game 16-7, banging the trash can 54 times in the process. Neither Valdez or Bolsinger have pitched in the Majors since.
The Jays would edge out the Astros the next day with a 4-3 win in extra innings. As you can see from the chart above, the Astros were feeling like playing an actual baseball game rather than rolling through on easy mode, so they only used the trash can 22 times against Marco Estrada, Ryan Tepera, and Roberto Osuna.
The trash can was back out the following day for the rubber match. Marcus Stroman took the mound and worked through six-and-two-thirds innings, scattering two earned runs while surrendering 11 hits. The Jays got to Mike Fiers in the seventh inning when Nori Aoki smacked a two-run homer to give the Jays a 4-3 lead. It was a cool moment for Aoki as he’d been traded to the Jays just a few days earlier in the Francisco Liriano deal.
The Jays would add on a couple more runs that inning to take a 6-3 lead. It looked like the Jays were on their way to an impressive series win in Houston, but the Astros spoiled the party with a four-run ninth-inning rally off of Roberto Osuna.
The Blue Jays were three outs away from winning this weekend (and this season’s) series with the Houston Astros, the best team in the American League, but they got 2017’d.
They ended up dropping two of three in Houston, falling to five games back of the second wild card. I think this is an outcome we expected heading into the series, but with four games back of the wild card and an impressive win over the Astros so close, this is a difficult one to swallow.
Looking back on this with what we know now is… disturbing.
It’s aggravating that the Jays lost this heartbreaker largely because the Astros were cheating. But it’s even more fucked up that the Astros felt the need to steal so many signs against a guy like Cesar Valdez and the mop-up crew consisting of other journeymen like Mike Bolsinger. Guys on the fringe of having careers as Major League Baseball players were out here getting shelled because the Astros wanted to pad their stats.
It’s some incredibly pathetic stuff and it makes it all the more infuriating to see the players acting cocky in the dugout after smacking the ball around the park. Just watch these guys keep going and going and going, carrying on like they’re king shit for taking batting practice.
What a bunch of trash. Fire this whole organization into space.