TESTING LOYALTY

Paul Muth: Astros decision makes it tough on hardcore fans

The Osuna case is hard on Astros fans. Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Sport is typically utilized by many as an escape from reality. For most, the team logo can do no wrong and it's safe to blindly throw loyalty behind it.

As times change, so to does society's collective morality and code of ethics. We have learned through test cases in recent years, however, that sports franchises aren't as quick to evolve.

It's at this crossroads that the Baltimore Ravens found themselves at in 2014 with running back Ray Rice, who was caught on camera brutally assaulting his then fiancee in an elevator. The NFL levied a whole two-game suspension before the court of public opinion altered the verdict to an indefinite suspension.

The Dallas Cowboys then found themselves under similar scrutiny upon signing defensive end Greg Hardy, who was found guilty of domestic abuse in 2014. “America's team” weathered a firestorm of public ire as a result, and the Cowboys chose not to resign at the season's end.

There have been other instances of accused abusers continuing to remain gainfully employed since then. There’s Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, boxer Floyd Mayweather, and plenty others that may or may not surprise you. The one common theme of them all is that there is a proportional ratio in regards to talent vs acceptable malfeasance threshold. The more talented you are, the more willing a team -- despite its fan base’s majority stance -- is willing to take a chance on you, despite being a despicable human being.

The Houston Astros took one of those very chances on Monday by trading maligned relief pitcher Ken Giles and prospects to the Toronto Blue Jays for Roberto Osuna. Osuna, who looks to compete for the Astros closer role, is currently serving the tail end of a 75-game suspension that was handed down after a domestic violence incident in May. He will be eligible to play Aug. 5. The move has suddenly taken an issue that Houston fans have been able to casually observe and remark upon from a distance and dropped it right in their lap.

Astros-mania, following their 2017 World Series victory, is at an all time high. The stadium is fuller, the lines are longer, and orange shirts and jerseys have become far more prevalent in day-to-day passing. Now new fans and old alike are found in the same predicament: remain loyal to their team logo, or admit that maybe their team shouldn’t hitch their wagon to anything that remotely insinuates a lackadaisical stance regarding premiere athletes physically abusing women.

The issue is no longer one that can be debated from a safe distance. Houston fans were quick to point at the failings of the Cowboys organization for their signing of Hardy. Now that an almost identical situation has been set at the Astros’ doorstep -- on their own volition -- suddenly those same fans have taken a much softer approach.

“Innocent until proven guilty.”

“The front office did their research.”

These are real statements that have been tossed out in order to allow fans to put their ear muffs on and continue blindly watching their team while a massive black eye encircles Minute Maid Park. That type of hypocrisy based on proximity is absolutely unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Winning is important. But winning at the expense of conscience and credibility is worth taking pause over.

You can remain a good, moral human being and still enjoy your Astros. That’s entirely possible and acceptable. In doing so, however, it’s imperative to recognize that no win total or trophy can or should serve as a placeholder for an ethical approach to team-building. Root for your team, but also acknowledge that this move was a mistake, no matter how good Osuna is.

He may turn out great. For all anyone knows, he may be the one piece that moves Houston over the edge this season en route to another World Series victory. If that moment comes to pass, I will certainly be elated. Nothing Osuna accomplishes on a baseball diamond, however, will alter my opinion of him or cause me to defend any of his actions. Develop or maintain a zero tolerance threshold for domestic violence and do not defend a woman beater simply because he joined your favorite team.


 

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Houston drops first of three

Mariners heat up late to take series opener over Astros

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the playoffs just a little over a week away, the Astros started their last week of regular-season games in Seattle against the Mariners. A couple of wins against them would secure Houston's spot as the AL West's second playoff participant, with Oakland all but having locked up the first spot sitting six games in front of Houston with seven left to play. Here is a quick rundown of the opener from T-Mobile Park:

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 1.

Record: 27-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Marco Gonzalez (7-2, 3.06 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA).

Bitter end to an impressive start for McCullers Jr.

Both starting pitchers would take a scoreless deep late into Monday night's game. While the Astros were trying to figure out Marco Gonzalez, Lance McCullers Jr. was repeating the success of his last start, a seven-inning two-hit start against the Rangers.

McCullers Jr. allowed a two-out walk in the bottom of the first inning, then proceeded to retire the next fourteen batters before a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth gave the Mariners their first hit of the night. He would go on to finish the sixth before things unraveled in the seventh.

A leadoff walk would result in a run after an error by Jose Altuve left runners on first and second, setting up an RBI-double to give the Mariners the first run of the night and a 1-0 lead. McCullers Jr. looked like he was going to cap off his night by stranding the runners on second and third after back-to-back strikeouts, but before he could get the last out of the inning allowed a three-run home run to blow the game open at 4-0. His final line: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 102 P.

Mariners take the opener

Despite getting several hits against him along the way, Houston could not get anything substantial going against Gonzalez, who would shutout the Astros over eight innings of work. After Enoli Paredes finished the seventh, Brandon Bielak would take over out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth.

He struggled mightily, loading the bases with no outs, including a hit batter before allowing a two-RBI single to extend Seattle's lead to 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the top of the ninth, getting a two-out double by Carlos Correa, who would score on an RBI-single by Josh Reddick. That would be too little, too late as the 6-1 score would go final as the Mariners took the opener, keeping the Astros' magic number at two.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will be another 8:10 PM Central start on Tuesday. On the mound will be Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA) for the Astros and Ljay Newsome (0-1, 6.35 ERA) for the Mariners.

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