Lakeland, Fla. – They filled up Joker Marchant Stadium Monday and a large majority came to boo the Houston Astros and especially Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel – the starting infield implicated in the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked baseball this offseason.
And boo they did, lustily, every time one of those four Astros players came to bat.
“Press the buzzer,” a fan yelled at Altuve.
“It’s going to be a change-up!”
“Take off your shirt!”
It was expected, of course. And the Astros know they need to get accustomed to it.
“No real thoughts on it,” Bregman said. “Nothing on that. Just happy to play the game with my teammates.”
Said Correa: “What reaction?”
It was the first game action of the spring for those four players, and there were rumblings in the crowd that Tigers starter Matthew Boyd might throw a retaliatory pitch or two.
“I hope I didn’t let anybody down,” said Boyd, who allowed a solo home run (to left-handed hitting Garrett Stubbs) and struck out three in two innings of the Tigers’ 11-1 Grapefruit League loss.
The thought of throwing at a hitter never entered Boyd’s mind, nor did it prevent him from trying to establish the inside part of the plate with his fastball.
“You notice it and acknowledge it, but it’s not going to change what I do by any means,” Boyd said. “If I am going to let them dictate my game, I’m going to be done. If I hit them, I hit them, just like anybody else in the league.”
Boyd echoed the sentiments of Miguel Cabrera and several other teammates saying he wished the furor would die down.
“What’s done is done,” he said. “I know how everybody feels but no one is going to change anything now. Punishments have been handed out and a line has been drawn in the sand. Hopefully that shuts it down.
“It’s best to move forward. They’ve got to live with it, that’s more than enough punishment. Let’s just keep moving forward and keep playing the game.”
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said he was bracing for the fans' ire. He said the fans' frustration on this issue was palpable and he understands they are paying customers and they have a right to voice their opinion.
But he also has some empathy for what the Astros are going through.
"When you are in baseball a long time, you get to know those guys over there and they're pretty good guys and good baseball players," he said. "They're caught in the middle of it and they're going to have to wear it for a while.
"Eventually things will move on. ... I just want to get our team in shape, more than anything else."
Boyd threw 33 pitches, 22 for strikes. Encouraging was the effectiveness of his curve ball. He struck out Altuve looking at one and got Ronnie Dawson to whiff swinging. He also fanned Gurriel, after a nine-pitch battle, swinging at a slider.
“We came in with a plan to throw a lot of curve balls and change-ups today,” Boyd said. “It worked out well.”
He threw seven curve balls, a pitch he all but abandoned last year, and three change-ups.
“I’m a four-pitch pitcher and last year I got a little two-dimensional for a good part of the year,” Boyd said. “I have four pitches and that curve ball can be whatever I need it to be – throw it lefties like I did today, get ahead with it, throw it 0-2, whatever.
“It’s just about maximizing every part of my game and whatever the result is, it’s not for me to determine. Just trust the work I put in.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker, whose father grew up in Lakeland, said there was no ulterior motive for bringing his starting infielders 172 miles up the turnpike from their training home in West Palm Beach to play a spring game.
“Mostly, it was their day to play,” he said. “The thing about it, they got here early, spent the night in Orlando. So it made it easy on them to come up here. Easy for me to say, ‘Hey, you want to come?’”
Baker said he didn’t try to warn his players about whatever reaction the fans would have.
“I didn’t tell them anything because it might not be anything,” he said. “It’s hard to warn somebody about something and it never comes. Then you are looking for it instead of playing the game. If it comes, you deal with it.
“If not, you go ahead and live your life.”
The Astros broke the game open with a five-run seventh inning. Right-handed pitching prospect Anthony Castro hit two batters and walked another. Elvin Rodriguez, invited over from minor-league camp, then gave up a grand slam home run to Corey Julks.
... The Astros hit four home runs on the day, including a three-run home run by Jake Baker off minor-league camper Drew Carlton.
... Tigers closer Joe Jimenez, in his first outing of spring, pitched a scoreless fourth inning.
... Right-hander Gerson Moreno, on the rebound after Tommy John surgery, struck out three batters in a scoreless inning with his fastball hitting 98 mph. Moreno, once a top 30 prospect in the Tigers' system, is in camp as a non-roster invitee.
... Third baseman prospect Isaac Paredes is still out with a sore shoulder. Catcher Jake Rogers (back) has begun doing some light work. Outfielder Jacob Robson (concussion) has not been cleared for activity.