HOUSTON - Why? That was the simple question asked of Yuli Gurriel after the Astros’ 5-3 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night.
But it didn’t refer to his laser-beam home run in the second inning or the leadoff double in the seventh, two more displays of his immense hitting ability.
No, everyone who surrounded Gurriel’s locker — and a worldwide TV audience, by the way — wanted to know why he would make a racist gesture, slanting his eyes with his forefingers, from the dugout bench shortly after launching that homer off Dodgers starter Yu Darvish, who is of Japanese and Iranian descent.
Problem was, Gurriel didn’t provide much of an answer as to why he did it, other than to say that he never had much success against Darvish until Friday night. A poor excuse, but that’s the best he could do.
“I did not want to offend anybody,” Gurriel said, as translated by Astros coach/interpreter Alex Cintron. “I was commenting that I did not have any good luck against Japanese pitchers in the United States.’’
But that wasn’t all. Gurriel also was spotted saying the Spanish word “Chinito” while making the gesture, which he also didn’t deny. Gurriel explained that the word is not meant to be derogatory — the translation is “little Chinese person” — and refers to Asian people in general. He also knows, however, that it can be a volatile phrase.
“I don’t want to offend anybody in Japan,” Gurriel said. “I have a lot of respect. I played in Japan. In Cuba, we call everybody who is from Asia ‘Chino.’ We don’t call them Japanese. We call them ‘Chino.’ Plus I know in Japan that offends to them. They don’t like that, but I didn’t mean to do it.”
That explanation is not going to help him avoid punishment. As of late Friday night, MLB officials were reviewing the incident, and a source indicated that disciplinary action is almost certain. Although this is the World Series, a suspension remained on the table, with the lesser option being a significant fine.
Darvish, to his credit, took the high road, trying to let his opponent off the hook with a statement on Twitter. “No one is perfect,” he tweeted. “That includes both you and I. What he had done today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love.”
Darvish’s forgiveness shouldn’t bail out Gurriel. But the Astros slugger did say he would like to speak to Darvish about it.
“I want to apologize to him,” Gurriel said, “and tell him I did not mean to offend him.”
For all his remorse, we never got to ask Gurriel specifically if he knew what he did was wrong. As far as not meaning to offend anybody, that doesn’t matter. He can’t have it both ways, and at age 33, he needs to know better if he’s going to be playing in the majors.
Maybe he doesn’t. It certainly seemed that Gurriel — a Cuban defector who signed a five-year, $47.5-million contract with the Astros — failed to grasp the magnitude of what he did. Afterward, he said he was surprised when someone approached him in the dugout and reported the widespread fallout.
And it was immediate. Shortly after the incident, video clips of Gurriel were multiplying on social media sites, and the outrage was exploding. On MLB’s biggest stage, their premier event was being overshadowed by a racist episode.
Why does stuff like this keep happening in 2017? Instead of celebrating a momentous win and a 2-1 lead in the Series, the Astros were consumed with damage control, and it still was smoldering long after the final out.
The Astros kept their clubhouse doors shut for longer than usual, and when they opened, the decision was made to have Gurriel face the media at his cramped locker rather than bring him into the interview room, where an apology could have been more easily facilitated. That turned out to be a poor choice, as Gurriel’s interview was cut short after five minutes, with plenty of questions still requiring answers.
Including what punishment should await him before Saturday night’s Game 4.