FORT MYERS — By recent standards, the heckling the Houston Astros heard at JetBlue Park was rather tame. Some boos during pregame introductions, a chant of “cheaters!” in the ninth inning.
Maybe that’s because Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and the rest of their All-Stars were missing from the lineup against the Boston Red Sox.
Perhaps there was another more pointed reason.
“It could be here, too,” Astros manager Dusty Baker cautioned Thursday. “And then (the Red Sox) got to be careful of the reception.”
Major League Baseball continues to look into allegations that the Red Sox illicitly swiped signs from opposing catchers during their run to the 2018 World Series title. Manager Alex Cora and the team already have split — that was in the wake of his role as bench coach of the 2017 champion Astros and their sign-stealing scandal that rocked the sport and resulted in MLB punishment.
“We’re still waiting for our investigation to be over, so it’s still there,” said Ron Roenicke, who took over the Red Sox after Cora.
“But I think we’re pretty focused on what we’re doing and what we need to do. And then we’ll see what happens with ours. I know (the Astros are) going to have a tough time this year going through what they’re going through. But I hear everything that’s going on."
Jeered earlier this spring on exhibition stops in Lakeland against the Tigers and Port St. Lucie against the Mets, the Astros weren’t harshly targeted by the Boston crowd on Thursday.
The jeers and taunts, such as they were, were not nearly as loud and robust as the Astros have become accustomed to at other road games this spring in the Grapefruit League. Indeed, they were rather lackluster and mild.
Carlos Correa and Josh Reddick were among the other recognizable names absent from the lineup. None of Houston’s starters from the postseason last year made the 2 1/2-hour trip from the Astros’ camp in West Palm Beach.
“When they first announced the Astros, there was some booing then, but the individual players, no, because nobody knows who they are,” said Andrea Dardis, a Red Sox fan from Wakefield, Mass.
Dardis was with her sister, Maria Walsh, from Reading, Mass., and brother, Chris Fasciano, of Lincoln, Mass.
The three were sitting in box seats down the first-base line, in an area with some Astros fans and some Houston players’ family members.
“There are Astros fans out there, for sure, some cute kids in Altuve shirts,” Walsh said. “So, it’s kind of hard to boo them when the little kids are there.”
Some Red Sox fans, in fact, were downright hospitable.
“We’re sitting next to a woman who said that her brother was the starting pitcher for the Astros, Josh James,” Walsh said. “And she kind of let people know that and people were cheering for him.”
James pitched three scoreless innings in Houston’s 5-0 win. Former Plant High standout Kyle Tucker homered, doubled and singled.
“It’s not what I expected,” Dardis said. “I was expecting miniature bats banging on stuff. But I think nobody wants to taunt these guys because nobody knows who they are. But it is a little disappointing that there’s not more excitement, though.”
Baker said he wasn’t trying to protect his players from the wrath of opposing fans. It was simply for baseball reasons that he brought a roster of virtual unknowns.
“When you got Altuve that was sick, you got (Yordan) Alvarez dealing with his knee, Bregman played yesterday, Bregman and Altuve went to Lakeland,” Baker said. “We got three long road trips, so I wanted everybody to go on one. So the fact that these guys are hurt or sick and they played yesterday, I’m trying to play them on an every-other day basis.”
MLB mandates teams take at least four regulars to all road games during spring training. It was difficult to find four players on the Astros’ traveling squad who met that requirement.
“That’s the hardest part, to try to have four regulars, it’s hard,” Baker said. “Especially when, for our team because we don’t have a platoon-type team. A lot of teams have platoon players that count. We were told that (the game’s starting first baseman Aledmys) Diaz don’t count. He’s got four years in the big leagues. I’m like, ‘Goddang, well, who counts?’”
Baker’s traveling squad on Thursday had nothing to do with the cheating scandal for which the Astros were found guilty and punished -- or the reception they would’ve likely received from Red Sox fans.
“No. Hell, no. Put that,” Baker said. “That was the furthest thing from my mind. The furthest.”