ST. PETERSBURG — Were the Astros still cheating when they faced the Rays in the 2019 playoffs?
Major League Baseball’s official report in January 2020 detailed the Astros’ sins in 2017 and concluded they stopped during the 2018 season. Rays officials did not make any public accusations going into the 2019 American League Division Series, nor afterward, even with pitcher Tyler Glasnow being hit curiously hard in the decisive fifth game.
But a new book by New York journalist Andy Martino, Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing, details just how worried several teams were facing the Astros in 2019. It cites how the Rays “expressed to MLB a list of specific concerns.”
⋅ To be extra vigilant that aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole were not getting balls that had been treated with mud or were different than what other pitchers were using.
⋅ To look out for Astros players using vibrating Band-Aids that alerted them to the coming pitches.
⋅ That the Astros were using some type of signals in their scoreboard to similarly alert hitters.
⋅ That the Astros were using hidden cameras in centerfield to gather information.
⋅ And that the Astros had a secret video room for sign stealing.
MLB officials, per Martino, “looked into the allegations and said it found no proof of any of them.”
The Rays weren’t the only ones with suspicions. The Astros’ ensuing postseason opponents, the Yankees and Nationals, also were concerned.
Martino wrote that before the ALCS “an MLB official approached a member of the Yankees’ front office and posited that the Rays had been so distracted by sign-stealing paranoia that they hadn’t been able to play as well as usual. They had been knocked off their game."
Did the Astros’ actions impact the outcome against the Rays?
This was the series where the Rays lost the first two games in Houston (6-2 and 3-1), won the next two at home (10-3 and 4-1), then went back to lose Game 5 (6-1), with Glasnow hit early and often.
Rays officials said then, and reiterated now, the issue was due to Glasnow tipping his pitches based on the position of his hands.
“Glasnow was throwing a curveball (with his hands down) here and a fastball (up) here. There was a tell,” pitching coach Kyle Snyder said last week.
“If (the Astros) were doing other stuff, I’m not aware of it."
One Rays source confirmed their concerns but said nothing was found, and disputed that the players and coaches were distracted, noting the presence of MLB staff monitors in both dugouts and clubhouses to enforce rules.
“We were concerned,” Rays president Matt Silverman said Saturday. “A number of specific accusations had come our way, and we funneled them to MLB so we wouldn’t obsess about them.”
A few months after the 2019 playoffs ended, when the MLB official report was released, some of what the Rays and others alleged was proven true as the Astros were found to have used an elaborate system, including cameras and video room communications, to cheat, though only in 2017-18.
⋅ Yes, Brandon Lowe, even after Friday’s key homer, is still hitting .194 with 11 homers, 77 strikeouts and a .684 OPS through 59 games this season, and .174 with 15 homers, 105 strikeouts, .626 OPS through 79 if you include the 2020 postseason, with particular troubles against lefties (9-for-100). No, the Rays aren’t worried. Nor are they considering making him a platoon player, sending him down or regretting the six-year, $24-million deal (with $10.5 million and $11.5 million options for 2025-26) they gave him. “He’s a big, big part of our team,” manager Kevin Cash said, “And the last thing we’re going to do is run from him.”
⋅ So if the Lightning end up playing the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final, can we just get the jokes out of the way now? No, they won’t be playing for whether the Rays stay in Tampa Bay or move to Montreal.
Shortstop Willy Adames in 41 games as a Ray: .197, five homers, 15 RBIs, .625 OPS; Adames in 19 games as a Brewer: .294, 3, 13, .862. … Would be surprised if Cash’s pick for his All-Star coach isn’t Indians manager Terry Francona, his longtime friend and mentor. … The estimated cutoff date for Super 2 arbitration eligibility has or will soon pass — though with uncertainty if that even will be a thing in the next labor agreement — but there remains no need or rush for the Rays to promote top prospect Wander Franco, who is hitting .429 in nine June games at Triple-A with seven doubles and three homers. … Latest mock draft from mlb.com has the Rays using the No. 28 pick on Wake Forest right-hander Ryan Cusick. … Tyler Zombro’s mother, Fonda Morris, posted on Facebook how thankful the family was for the extensive support as the Triple-A pitcher recovers from being hit in the face by a line drive. Zombro, who had plates put in his head, was released from the hospital last week and is undergoing speech and occupational therapy. … More signs of normalcy at the Trop: live (though not on-field) anthems, reopening of the Draft Room and Outfielder bars, return of mascot races. …. Sure, people will provide plenty of excuses, but 6,211 fans (second-smallest crowd in the majors) to see the league’s best team on the first Friday night at near full capacity with no Lightning game conflict seems low. … Due to a shipping delay, the Rays won’t have the Lowe bobblehead scheduled for the June 26 giveaway and will move it Sept. 4. A 2020 Tyler Glasnow audio bobblehead (with words his mom is okay with) will be substituted. … Jim Bowden’s early AL All-Star team for The Athletic has Austin Meadows starting and Tyler Glasnow and Rich Hill pitching. … Though Yoshi Tsutsugo was traded May 15, the two staffers who joined the team with him last year, liaison/batting practice thrower Seiya Sano and massage therapist Homare Watanabe, are still with the Rays.
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.