LOS ANGELES — With the Dodgers on the brink of elimination, putting Yu Darvish in front of a microphone before Game 6, the seat usually reserved for the next day’s starting pitcher, was a bold statement on L.A.’s part.
Basically, Darvish was summoned to talk about a Game 7 that may never happen, to operate under the assumption the Dodgers would need him to pitch Wednesday night. But rather than dwell on the hypothetical, it made more sense to ask Darvish about his previous start, in Game 3, that unfortunately didn’t involve his performance.
That night, back at Minute Maid Park, was marred by Yuli Gurriel’s racially offensive gesture in the dugout, along with the term “Chinito,” Spanish-language slang that loosely translates to “little Chinese boy” and can refer to all Asians. Darvish is of Japanese and Iranian descent.
Darvish had not spoken about the incident since Game 3 — other than posting a statement on Instagram — so Tuesday was his first opportunity to speak about it publicly. Darvish said he didn’t know what Gurriel had done until after the Dodgers’ 5-3 loss, when a team official told him, but he didn’t sound angry in describing his immediate feelings.
“To me, I wasn’t that frustrated at that point when I saw it the first time,” Darvish said through his interpreter. “And then, after the game, (Gurriel) contacted us and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to meet you in person and apologize.’ But I told him, ‘You don’t have to do that, because you made a comment, and I’m not that mad.’ So I really didn’t care much about that.”
The L.A. fans weren’t as forgiving Tuesday night. The loud booing for Gurriel began as he walked to the plate in the second inning and grew louder as Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill walked around the mound, giving the crowd even more time to jeer him. The boos didn’t let up until Gurriel popped up foul, when the fans cheered instead.
In that sense, Major League Baseball was fortunate that Darvish chose to keep his emotions in check, because plenty of people, on a few different continents, were outraged by Gurriel’s actions. As bad as it was, on the sport’s most high-profile stage, Darvish’s social-media plea to be positive and use Gurriel’s behavior as a learning experience helped defuse an incredibly volatile situation in the middle of the World Series.
Commissioner Rob Manfred credited Darvish for assisting in the efforts to move forward when he announced the penalty for Gurriel, who will be suspended five games at the start of next season and attend sensitivity training this winter. That punishment didn’t sit well with many people — the main point of contention being that Gurriel should have been suspended during the World Series. While Darvish acknowledged the serious nature of what Gurriel did, he chose to be diplomatic regarding the penalty.
“I really don’t know how to judge having a five-game suspension,” Darvish said. “Like what happened, the racial discrimination, it’s a big deal at this big stage. In the World Series it’s a big deal whenever you do that. And the MLB commissioner decided not to do (the suspension) in the World Series and I get that. But at the same time it’s a big deal, so I cannot really compare like ‘Is it too big, is five games too much or too less?’ ”
The timing seems to be more at the crux of the debate, the number of games secondary. But now that we’re equipped with the benefit of hindsight, how would an immediate suspension have affected Gurriel and the Astros? The next night, in Game 4, Gurriel went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and the Astros had only two hits in the Dodgers’ 6-2 win.
Had Manfred chosen to suspend Gurriel during the World Series, we can’t imagine it would have been for more than one game. But for the sake of argument, and those thinking the penalty should have been two or more, Gurriel went 2-for-5 with a tying three-run homer in the epic Game 5, which the Astros won, 13-12, in 10 innings.
As it stands, Gurriel’s suspension for the first five games of 2018 is not insignificant. The punishment is more than twice what the Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar received in May for yelling a homophobic slur at a Braves pitcher. Gurriel’s ban also will cost him $320,855.62 of his $12-million salary for 2018 — as opposed to zero if during the World Series, because players aren’t paid a salary during the postseason. That’s a very large chunk of cash, regardless.
Manfred always has to work with precedents when it comes to meting out punishment, and that also includes negotiating with a strong players union. But in the end, if Darvish is satisfied by Gurriel’s apology, that should count, too.