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Yankees won't be returning to the scene of Astros' crime

Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge reacts after he is

Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge reacts after he is doubled off first base on a throw by Astros leftfielder Michael Brantleyi n the seventh inning in Game 6 of the ALCS on Oct. 19, 2019, at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

There are certain days on the 2020 baseball calendar lost to the COVID-19 pandemic that no doubt sting for Yankees fans more than other days.

Opening Day on March 26, when Gerrit Cole would have made his debut, certainly makes the list as does May 8, when the Yankees would have faced their blood rival, the Red Sox, for the first time this season.

Friday unquestionably makes the list.

That’s when, at Minute Maid Park, the Yankees would have gotten their first crack at the Astros since losing the 2019 ALCS in six games. Jose Altuve’s walk-off homer off Aroldis Chapman ended Game 6 and the Yankees' season.

It also, of course, would have been the first meeting between the franchises since the Astros were penalized by Major League Baseball in January for illegal sign-stealing during the 2017 season, another year Houston took out the Yankees in the ALCS (this time in seven games).

It naturally was Topic A the first couple of weeks in spring training this year, not only in Yankees camp but in big-league camps across Florida and Arizona with player after player taking aim at the Astros.

“They cheated,” Mike Trout told reporters on Feb. 17 at Angels camp in Tempe, Arizona. “I don’t agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything. It was a player-driven thing. It sucks, too, because guys’ careers have been affected, a lot of people lost jobs. It was tough. Me going up to the plate knowing what was coming — it would be pretty fun up there.”

Trout, universally recognized as the top player in the sport, was hardly the lone star to speak unfiltered on the topic. Not surprisingly, some of the strongest language came from the Yankees' clubhouse, with many of those comments surely to have been revisited before, and perhaps even during, the series vs. the Astros that would have occurred this weekend.

“We know that they don’t really care to give an apology and it showed by their response, and as players we know that,” Giancarlo Stanton said on Feb. 19, reacting to the Astros' news conference a few days earlier that generally played to poor reviews by opposing players. “You know the repercussions of doing something like that and you’re only really sorry because you got caught.”

That was the prevailing sentiment pretty much throughout the Yankees clubhouse, as was an element Trout hit on: no player discipline.  

And it was Aaron Judge, speaking the day before Stanton, who most forcefully enunciated that perspective, becoming one of the first players to call for the Astros to be stripped of the World Series title won in 2017.

“Yeah, I just don't think it holds any value,” Judge said. “You cheated, and you didn't earn it. That's how I feel is it wasn't earned.”

Judge used the word “weak” in describing the penalties handed down by MLB, which included yearlong suspensions for Astros manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow (both were summarily fired by owner Jim Crane), a $5 million fine and forfeiture of first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 amateur drafts.

“When it comes down to a player-driven scheme, I feel like the players involved need to be punished,” Judge said. “If I go out there and cheat the game . . . I think [Yu] Darvish was the one that said if you're playing in the Olympics, you win a gold medal and they find out you cheated, you don't get to keep that medal.”

Judge recalled being “sick to my stomach” in November when The Athletic first broke the story of the cheating scandal.

“Once it came out, I was pretty mad, pretty upset to know that we were probably cheated out of the possibility of making it to the World Series,” Judge said. “To hear that you got cheated out of that opportunity, that's tough to kind of let go.”

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