Closing out the bottom of the sixth inning Wednesday night, Astros reliever Hector Neris struck out Mariners superstar Julio Rodríguez in what would eventually be an 8-3 Astros victory. For reasons unbeknownst to many -- OK, nearly everyone but Neris -- the pitcher started briskly walking toward Rodríguez while also peppering him with some choice words.
There wasn't any widely known beef before the two heading into this matchup, making the scene pretty bizarre. Neris wasn't just fired up -- celebrations in big moments aren't all too uncommon anymore -- he was moving quickly toward Rodríguez as if it were personal.
On Rodríguez's end, he didn't seem to know why it would be. He told a team spokesperson (via the Seattle Times) that he was "shocked" by what transpired. Rodríguez's teammate, Eugenio Suárez, was on deck and also seemed pretty surprised.
"From the beginning, I thought it was a joke, because before today they (had) a really good relationship," Suárez told reporters after the game. "And then he started talking bad words in Spanish. He started doing something that is not good for people who speak Spanish and understand. I was in the on-deck circle and I heard that. That pissed me off."
Rodríguez did not speak to the media after Wednesday's game. On Thursday, he made it clear he won't speak to Neris again.
Julio Rodriguez refused to comment on the exact words they Hector Neris said. But he made it clear he never plans to speak to him again.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) September 28, 2023
Prior to Wednesday's matchup, Rodríguez was 2 for 4 with a home run against Neris.
Over in the other clubhouse, Neris said Rodríguez is his friend and then, "It's part of the game. It's part of the moment." Neris released the following statement Thursday (per The Athletic):
First, I want to apologize to Julio, his family, and the Mariners organization. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Julio as a person and a player. He means so much to baseball and the communities in the United States and back home in the Dominican Republic. He is a great player and a better person and deserves to be recognized that way.
Secondly, Julio has been a friend dating back to 2020, when we spent the pandemic working out together. We have had a friendly competition when one beats the other on the field, something that is customary in the Dominican Republic and especially among friends. My intent in going towards Julio was to get his attention as part of the friendly ongoing banter that we have had over the years.
I recognize that last night I should not have gone towards him like I did. I did not mean to disrespect him, his family or the Mariners. I do understand how my actions could be interpreted that way.
Last, there were reports that I used a homophobic slur, which are simply incorrect. That did not happen and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong. My mother raised me to love and respect people for who they are and that is how I live my life.
Major League Baseball will investigate the incident, according to The Athletic.
Regardless, the Mariners and Astros are now done playing each other this regular season. The Mariners won the season series, nine games to four, but the Astros took two of three in this last series in Seattle and that might be enough to knock Seattle out of the playoffs.
Should the two teams make the playoffs, it's possible they'll face each other in the ALDS or ALCS. If that happens, there'll be plenty of fanfare around any possible Neris vs. Rodríguez matchups.