As the boos rained down on Yuli Gurriel in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night, Rich Hill walked slowly around the mound at Dodger Stadium. He fidgeted, he stretched, he went up the mound and back down again. Even for a pitcher who deliberately alters his pace to mess with the timing of opposing hitters, this was obviously different.
“I just wanted to let the crowd speak for itself, and I don’t think anything else could have been as loud as that,” Hill said afterward.In all, it took Hill over 30 seconds to fire his first pitch to Gurriel, who is the Houston Astros’ first baseman and was leading off in the top of the second inning. It was Gurriel’s first at-bat in Los Angeles since his racist gesture toward Dodgers starter Yu Darvish in Game 3 of the Series, in Houston, and Hill, who told reporters afterward that he was “extremely frustrated and upset” by what Gurriel had done, had come up with a way to retaliate: just stall.
“That was the way to go about it, not hit him or anything like that,” Hill said.
“Just making sure that things like this shouldn’t happen,” he added. “I think especially in sports, where you are in such a melting pot in the clubhouse and you have so many different guys from all over the world.”
After hitting a home run off Darvish in Game 3 last Friday night, Gurriel, who defected from Cuba last year, sat down in the Astros’ dugout and pulled the edges of his eyes to seemingly mock the appearance of Darvish, who is from Japan. He also used an insensitive term in reference to Darvish’s heritage. Television cameras caught Gurriel doing all of this, and an uproar ensued
Gurriel, 33, apologized for his actions, and Darvish quickly forgave him. But Gurriel was hit with a five-game suspension by Commissioner Rob Manfred the next day. It will be served at the start of the 2018 season.
In a World Series filled with drama and headed to a Game 7 on Wednesday night, it seems almost preordained that the Dodgers will now send Darvish to the mound to start the game, which means he will be pitching again to Gurriel, with everything on the line.
Before Tuesday’s game, Darvish spoke to reporters about Gurriel and said he had sent a message to him stating that a face-to-face apology for what he had done was not necessary, although Gurriel had expressed a desire to make one.“I told him, ‘Hey, you don’t have to do that because you made a comment, and I’m not that mad,’ ” Darvish said through an interpreter. “So like I really didn’t care much about that.”
Gurriel’s gesture in Game 3 overshadowed a jagged outing by Darvish that night. After allowing only one run in each of his previous two starts in the postseason, Darvish coughed up four runs on six hits in just one and two-third innings. It was the shortest outing of what has been a standout major league career. But after a rough 24 hours for Darvish, his teammates huddled around him in the dugout before Game 4 of the Series and told him, “We’re going to win this game for you.”
The Dodgers kept their word in a 6-2 victory. And despite dropping Game 5 — the epic 13-12 slugfest — they beat Justin Verlander in Game 6. So now it’s Darvish on the mound for the Dodgers in Game 7 with Gurriel batting fifth for the Astros.
On Tuesday, the loud boos for Gurriel meant he had replaced Astros right fielder Josh Reddick as the villain for Dodgers fans. Reddick had heard catcalls earlier in the Series for his comments about fans in Los Angeles not supporting him after his trade to the Dodgers midway through last season. But Gurriel’s actions in Game 3 turned Reddick into a footnote.
Instead, the fans booed Gurriel loudly before Hill’s first pitch to him and between each pitch. And when Gurriel popped out, the boos were loud all over again. So it went for Gurriel in every one of his at-bats, including his single in the sixth inning. If the forceful reaction from fans bothered Gurriel, he did not seem to show it. But after the game, he left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters.
The Astros’ designated hitter, Carlos Beltran, had counseled Gurriel after the incident but said he did not feel the need to say anything to him after Game 6.“He asked for forgiveness and there’s not much left to talk about,” Beltran said. Asked about the booing, Beltran said, “Baseball is like that.” And it is likely to be like that again in Game 7.