NEW YORK — At least six fans were ejected from Section 238 of Yankee Stadium in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Friday night. That’s the section in the outfield with cold metal bleachers that overlook the visiting team’s bullpen, giving fans there particular temptation to do something ejection-worthy.
I say at least six because when I asked the security guard — who had spent the previous three hours essentially running stairs to tell each row not to stand on the bleachers, not to spray their beer in the air, not to yell profanity — what the final tally was he said, “Six, but that’s not final.”
That was with one out in the top of the ninth and Aroldis Chapman just two batters away from locking up a 4-1 Yankees victory to stave off elimination and send the series back to Houston. So, six, probably. Conservatively. From that one section. And that’s on a good night when almost everything went their way.
Even before the first inning was over, the Astros relief pitchers had abandoned their bench on the raised platform in the bullpen. It’s entirely possible — even likely — that they were just cold. Based on the metric that is how frigid my fingers felt, Friday night was the coldest game yet of the 2019 postseason (I don’t care if that’s not actually true and neither do you). Maybe they’re used to Texas weather and temperature-controlled stadiums. Or maybe — even if it doesn’t really get to them, you know — they were tired of all the abuse.
The first two games of the ALCS that were played at Yankee Stadium didn’t give the crowd much to cheer about. When the Astros scored or the home team left runners on base or the umpires a few miles south in Manhattan overturned a call that had gone the Yankees’ way initially, the fans in attendance took it out on the closest Astros. For the most part that was the bullpen pitchers or the outfielders.
Game 3, the first to be played in the Bronx, got so bad, with right fielder Josh Reddick reporting bottles and souvenir baseballs being thrown onto the field, that Astros manager AJ Hinch went out to tell the umpires that, “it was becoming a dangerous situation.”
“There's no place for that,” Hinch added. “Both teams will agree. And it's really hard to stop fans from doing that. But it's also very dangerous. MLB is aware. We're aware. I will pull the team off the field if we get in that situation again where bottles are being thrown and balls are being thrown and it becomes unruly.”
Two days later, just before Game 4, fans in those bleachers near the bullpen hurled insults down at Astros starter Zack Greinke targeting his well-publicized battles with depression and anxiety, as well as his mother. After the game, Greinke claimed he didn’t hear anything. If that’s the case, he was the only one.
“We are here doing our job, we play baseball, we try to put on a good show out there, you can say anything to us and we’re not going to get offended, but when you bring somebody’s family, mother, I feel like that’s too much,” relief pitcher Roberto Osuna said postgame.
“In the regular season it’s not much, I don’t feel like they really go that hard. But right now, sometimes they cross the line. I feel like MLB needs to do something about it.”
Osuna is in his first full season with the Astros so he wouldn’t know it, but according to longer-tenured members of the Astros’ relief corps, two years ago was even worse.
“Yeah I mean, it’s always like that,” Will Harris said about the heckling in Game 4. “Back in 2017, it was pretty rough.” Harris said nothing really bothers him — “I don’t really have a line, to be honest with you” — but he admitted that after warming up beneath the bleachers this week, “I could smell a little Miller Lite when I was on the mound.”
The fourth fan ejected from Section 238 on Friday was booted in the eighth inning. Here’s how that goes: As the break between half-innings wound down, Brad Peacock prepared to enter the game for the Astros. By then there were half a dozen security guards and NYPD officers patrolling the bleachers plus another handful stationed in the bullpen.
The rules are: no loud targeted use of derogatory language and no throwing anything, liquid or solid. Almost everyone in the section does both of these things — even if it’s just airborne sloshes of beer in excitement — but the hyperlocal law enforcement will act if they can pin specific acts on specific people. Everyone does it, some of them even get caught.
And then it sounded like a "F— Altuve" chant right after that.
— Joe (@JoeRiveraSN) October 18, 2019
The fans had toned it down a little from 2017 when full cans of beer were reportedly lobbed at opposing pitchers, and they even tempered the tenor of the insults (pregame they’d heckled Justin Verlander for “throwing 86,” which is not true, and “running like a girl,” which is not a thing) but as Peacock trotted out to the field someone yelled something that broke through the cacophony of people yelling somethings and caught the attention of one of the policeman in the bullpen. Later, Peacock would say that he “absolutely” heard them yelling, that’s it’s worse at Yankee Stadium than anywhere else, that it’s worse still in October, but that it doesn’t cross a line until “they start throwing beer at us.”
The bullpen policeman signaled for a security official in the stands, who tried to parse exactly which inebriated Yankees fan needed to be removed from the premises based on pointing from someone too far away to talk to. Maybe this would have gone nowhere except that this particular stadium delinquent did something surprising and offered himself up. Waving his hand in the air, a young man who looks enough like whatever you’re picturing yelled to the security guard in the stands, “I called him ‘a stupid bitch.’”
Then he chugged his beer and allowed himself to be escorted toward the exit. Maybe he just wanted to beat the traffic.
It was all very convivial, even the ejection, on this particular night in which the Yankees held a lead from the first inning on. No one threw full cans of beer or souvenir baseballs, there was enough security, and the fans could tell themselves they were just getting behind the home team, doing their tiny part in a sea of nearly 50,000 to give their guys the edge. (Not that the opposing pitchers will ever say that it rattled them.)
As they cycled through middle-school insults, the crowd was exuberant — more focused on how the team survived to play another day than they were on how this still might have been the last game in the Bronx until April.
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