For whatever reason, Houston Astros reliever Hector Neris had an axe to grind with Seattle Mariners star Julio Rodríguez as the regular season ended. It wound up being costly.
MLB fined Neris an undisclosed amount of money for his in-game actions that led to benches clearing Sept. 27, according to The Athletic’s Chandler Rome. The right-hander avoided a suspension as the Astros prepare for the American League Division Series against the Minnesota Twins, which begins Saturday.
The incident in question saw Neris strike out Rodríguez to end the sixth inning of a game that held massive implications for the AL West and wild-card races, which eventually saw the Astros win the division title and the Mariners eliminated. After getting Rodríguez swinging on an inside splitter, Neris aggressively approached the young outfielder and had to be held back by first baseman José Abreu as both teams charged onto the field.
More than a week later, Astros general manager Dana Brown reportedly confirmed that Neris would be fined but not suspended:
“I think at the end of the day, they handed down maybe a fine or something, but I don’t think he’s going to be suspended,” Brown said, “I think Neris acknowledged he got a little emotional. These things happen. It’s sports. It’s competitive. I think what came out was the fine.”
Neris is a key reliever for the Astros, ranking second on the team among relievers with 68 1/3 innings pitched this season with a team-best 1.71 ERA, a 1.054 WHIP and 77 strikeouts.
The exact nature of what was said between pitcher and hitter remains unclear. Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez claimed after the game that Neris used a Spanish anti-gay slur toward Rodríguez. Neris strongly denied doing so in a statement the next day:
“That did not happen and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong. My mother raised me to love and respect people for who they are and that is how I live my life,” Neris said in the statement.
Neris also apologized to Rodríguez, who wasn’t very receptive. The two players share the same agent and were known as friendly before the incident, but Rodríguez indicated afterward that the friendship is over:
“That’s somebody that I had a lot of respect for,” he said. “I just feel I deserve a little bit more respect than that.”
MLB clearly viewed Neris’ actions as more than an innocent celebration as well.