Give the Houston Astros credit: They are not afraid to lean into their sign-stealing infamy of years past.
And they are poised to rub it in the Yankees’ faces this weekend.
Less than two months after Yankees fans serenaded Astros star Jose Altuve with profane chants for three straight days in the Bronx, the Astros are giving away Altuve jerseys on Sunday with the Yankees in town.
No big deal, you say? Just a coincidence, you think?
Well, consider the other giveaways the Astros have scheduled for the first two games of the series, which happens to be the Yankees’ first visit to Minute Maid Park since they were eliminated in Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS on Altuve’s two-run home run off Aroldis Chapman.
On Friday, the first 10,000 fans will receive a 2019 replica AL championship trophy.
On Saturday, the first 10,000 fans will receive a 2019 replica AL championship ring.
The Astros announced all three giveaways in late June, so they were well aware of the rude welcome they — and especially Altuve — received for three days in the Bronx in early May. That series was Yankees’ fans first chance to see the Astros since their cheating scandal was revealed after the 2019 season.
Remember, the Astros were "convicted" by MLB of cheating in 2017 and 2018, but were not proven to have cheated in 2019. The Yankees and their fans scoff at that and consider Houston’s World Series title from 2017 and their AL championship from 2019 to be illegitimate.
The Astros also ended the Yankees’ seasons in 2015 (in the wild-card game) and 2017 (in a seven-game ALCS).
As if this series doesn’t need another delicious subplot, consider that Gerrit Cole will pitch for the Yankees on Saturday. Cole was a member of the Astros from 2018-’19 before signing a $324-million contract to join the Yankees.
Cole won Game 3 of the 2019 ALCS for Houston with seven shutout innings at Yankee Stadium. It was performances such as that one that convinced the Yankees they needed Cole atop their rotation, no matter the cost.
Yankees fans have forgiven Cole for being part of the 2019 Astros, especially since as a pitcher he had no part in trash-can banging, electronic surveillance, buzzers or whatever methods the Astros were using to steal signs at the plate.
But Cole is now one of the faces of MLB’s crackdown on pitchers using sticky substances. So it’s suspected – although, to be fair, unproven – that Cole was cheating in 2019 by using a sticky substance when he dominated the Yankees in the ALCS.
Whew! It’s hard to know the cheaters without a scorecard.
Astros fans are probably going to express their anti-Yankee vitriol this weekend. Aaron Judge will likely get the brunt of it since he is the highest-profile Yankee and has been the most outspoken about feeling cheated by the Astros’ shenanigans, which is understandable since Altuve beat out Judge for the 2017 AL MVP.
Chapman might hear a taunt or two, especially with how he has struggled of late. Probably Giancarlo Stanton, too, just because he’s a big name with a big contract. That one probably won’t wound Yankees fans since they are always one 0-for-4, three-strikeout game away from booing Stanton themselves.
The fascinating one to watch will be Cole. He will likely be booed mercilessly not because of anything he did that was out of bounds on the mound, but because he left Houston for New York as a free agent.
Astros fans took a long time to forgive Carlos Beltran for leaving Houston for the Mets after the 2004 season. Beltran was booed there for the next 12 years, until he returned to the Astros in 2017 and became one of the veterans on the World Series-winning club – and one of the architects of the sign-stealing scandal.
That revelation cost Beltran his new manager’s job with the Mets before the 2020 season. He is still out of baseball.
Altuve and the Astros are still around. No one took away Altuve’s MVP or the Astros’ World Series title or their 2019 AL championship. The Yankees are going to be reminded of that last fact many times this weekend.