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Stealing signs, pitch-tipping? Houston Astros clean as a whistle, says manager

A.J. Finch calls the accusations, including one of his team signaling by whistling, a “joke.”
Astros manager A.J. Hinch answers questions during a news conference before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. [FRANK FRANKLIN II | AP]
Published Oct. 18

NEW YORK — Astros manager A.J. Hinch blew his own whistle Thursday on sign stealing and pitch-tipping: He has had enough of allegations about his hitters going out of bounds to decipher what’s coming at the plate.

Hinch eagerly weighed in again on an issue that won’t seem to go away this postseason. He was asked before Game 4 of the AL Championship Series about reports that indicated the New York Yankees suspected the Astros of whistling from their dugout during the opener to communicate pitch selection to their batters.

Major League Baseball looked into it and concluded Houston didn’t break any rules, the Associated Press reported.

“Man, I’m glad you asked that question, and I thought it would come up today,” Hinch said at the start of his Yankee Stadium news conference. “In reality, it’s a joke. But Major League Baseball does a lot to ensure the fairness of the game. There’s people everywhere. If you go through the dugouts and the clubhouses and the hallways, there’s like so many people around.

“And then when I get contacted about some questions about whistling, it made me laugh because it’s ridiculous. And had I known that it would take something like that to set off the Yankees or any other team, we would have practiced it in spring training,” he added. “It apparently works, even when it doesn’t happen.”

The issue first came up this postseason during the Astros’ victory over the Rays in Game 5 of the AL Division Series. Rays starter Tyler Glasnow later acknowledged it was “pretty obvious” he was tipping his pitches during the rough four-run first inning en route to a 6-1 loss.

Glasnow gave up hits to the first four Astros, and five of the first six, in the first. After the fourth hit, Glasnow said he started to think something was “a little weird.’’ Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said they were unaware that Glasnow was tipping his pitches.

“Pitch-tipping is a little bit of a different story," Hinch said Thursday before Game 4. "If you don’t want us to know the pitch is coming, don’t do something that demonstrates what pitch you’re going to pitch or what you’re going to throw. But they’re doing the same thing. Every hitter wants to know what’s coming by virtue of what a pitcher is doing or not doing.”

Hinch said he understands the “gamesmanship” and “creating a narrative for yourself.” But he’s bothered by the anonymous accusations.

“The problem I have is when other people take shots at us outside this competition,” Hinch said. “When you guys ask me this question, my face, my name is by my quotes, my opinions, my reaction is all for you guys to tweet out and put on the broadcast. But we have people that are unnamed, or you guys have sources that are giving you information. I suggest they put their name by it if they’re so passionate about it to comment about my team or my players.”

Houston made headlines last year after suspicions of illegal sign stealing when a man associated with the Astros was caught pointing a cellphone into opposing dugouts.

“I understand where the paranoia comes from. We have it. I have it,” said Astros ace Justin Verlander, scheduled to start Game 5 on Friday in New York.

“I’ll be using multiple signs here tomorrow night. There’s just so many cameras and there’s so much video now, it just kind of evolved a few years ago. You’ve got teams studying what signs you use at second base before you even step on the mound. ... You just have to be extremely diligent about it and pay attention and try to do the best you can to not help the team know what’s coming.”

Hinch pointed out that during the game in question this time, the Astros were shut out on three hits by Masahiro Tanaka and three Yankees relievers.

“So nobody heard it. You guys have audio, video, people in places, and nothing. There’s no evidence of anything,” Hinch said. “So to the Yankees, there’s no — nothing bad going on. Pitch tipping is a little bit of a different story. If you don’t want us to know the pitch is coming, don’t do something that demonstrates what pitch you’re going to pitch or what you’re going to throw. But they’re doing the same thing. Every hitter wants to know what’s coming by virtue of what a pitcher is doing or not doing.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone declined to comment about the whistling allegations, but he acknowledged all teams are always looking to gain an edge — and they try to get into each other’s heads.

“It’s part of the game,” he said. “Sure, there’s boundaries. Yeah. We could have a conversation for days on that. So, yeah, there’s boundaries. There’s things you’re not allowed to do and things that are perfectly within the context of the game. So, yeah.”

“There’s nothing going on other than the competition on the field,” Hinch said. “The fact that I had to field the question before a really, really cool game at Yankee Stadium is unfortunate. But we can put it to rest. That will be the last question I answer about pitch tipping or pitch stealing.”

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

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