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Astros exonerated for twice using a camera to spy on opposition

Astros manager AJ Hinch hits during batting practice

Astros manager AJ Hinch hits during batting practice before Game 4 of the ALCS against the Red Sox on Wednesday in Houston. Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

HOUSTON – AJ Hinch was right about this much:

“I just think it's bigger than us. It's bigger than any team,” the Astros manager said on Wednesday.

Major League Baseball announced Wednesday that it had cleared the Astros of wrongdoing after an investigation of two separate incidents involving the club.

The first involved a club employee getting caught during Game 3 of the ALDS against the Indians aiming his cellphone camera into the Cleveland dugout. The same employee was booted from Fenway Park doing the same during Game 1 of the ALCS against the Red Sox. Each time the employee was in a camera well, a space reserved for the media.

Somewhat oddly, using fox-watching-the-henhouse language in the statement, MLB acknowledged that the Astros were doing something they should not have done, but only because they harbored suspicions of the opposition.

“With respect to both incidents regarding a Houston Astros employee, security identified an issue, addressed it and turned the matter over to the Department of Investigations,” MLB said. “A thorough investigation concluded that an Astros employee was monitoring the field to ensure that the opposing Club was not violating any rules.  All Clubs remaining in the playoffs have been notified to refrain from these types of efforts and to direct complaints about any in-stadium rules violations to MLB staff for investigation and resolution. We consider the matter closed.”

Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox president of baseball operations was not happy with the insinuation against his club, saying, "I don’t like the implication that the Boston Red Sox are doing anything illegal.”

Accompanying the rapid development of technology that has become a part of everyday life — baseball included, obviously — has been rampant paranoia among clubs to protect themselves from other teams trying to gain an edge by stealing signs or other information. Charges and countercharges of spying have become commonplace.

Last season, for instance, the commissioner’s office presided over a dispute between the Yankees and Red Sox, the former accusing the latter of using an Apple Watch to steal signs. The Red Sox, who were fined, then accused the Yankees of using the YES Network to aid in stealing signs, charges the commissioner’s office said could not be verified. As part of the same investigation, the Yankees were fined for having improperly used a dugout phone for communication in a season prior to 2017.

Speaking to reporters before Game 4 of the ALCS, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow conceded the general distrust that exists across the board.

“Well, clearly by us playing defense and observing, we have had instances where we’ve seen things that are suspicious and confirmed to be suspicious, it’s happening out there,” Luhnow said, speaking generally. “I’m not going to talk about which teams or what instances or what it looked like, but it does exist. I think technology is enabling ways of communicating and ways of capturing real-time information that weren’t available to teams 5-10 years ago, and we’re all learning how to operate in this new world, and MLB’s learning how to make sure that there’s rules in place, so this is probably going continue to evolve. But the Astros have prided themselves on following the rules and making sure it’s a level playing field.”

Which is also part and parcel of these occurrences, with teams saying: We’re doing things right; it’s the other clubs operating nefariously.

“It’s probably going to be a topic for the general managers meetings and the owners meetings and MLB and us are going to have to discuss it,” Luhnow said. “As technology continues to evolve, we’re going to have to figure out how it impacts our game, especially to make sure there is no team receiving an unfair advantage due to certain technology.”

No Sale yet

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said lefthander Chris Sale, who started Game 1 and was hospitalized Sunday in Boston with a stomach illness and who didn’t rejoin the club until Tuesday, would not start Game 5.

“He didn't throw a bullpen today,” Cora said before Game 4. “He's feeling better compared to yesterday, but physically he's not there yet. So I think if necessary he'll pitch Game 6. He feels that he'll be ready for that one. And we'll go from there.”

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