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‘It’s just like ripping open a scab’ — Dodgers’ sign-stealing anger bursts through

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dave Roberts was watching his players throw bullpen sessions and conduct batting practice while members of the 2017 Houston Astros stumbled through pre-arranged apologies on Thursday morning. Later, while addressing an eager media contingent, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager struck a distinct tone — he was done talking about what may or may not have occurred three World Series ago, and he was ready to move on with the 2020 season. “Our story,” Roberts said, “is moving forward.”

The following morning, before the team’s first official workout of spring training, it was clear that many of Roberts’ players were not done venting, grieving and, in many ways, processing how the Astros might have unfairly beaten them in the championship round.

Cody Bellinger, one of the game’s brightest young stars, went scorched earth on the Astros, saying Jose Altuve “stole” the 2017 MVP from Aaron Judge and that he “lost respect” for that team. Justin Turner, one of the Dodgers’ clubhouse leaders, ridiculed Astros owner Jim Crane for initially stating that his club’s sign-stealing methods “didn’t impact the game.” Alex Wood, who had the foresight to constantly change the sign sequences while starting Game 5 of the 2017 World Series from Minute Maid Park in Houston, said he wouldn’t be surprised if several opposing pitchers threw at Astros hitters this season.

Clayton Kershaw, who might have been among the most directly impacted by the cheating scandal, admitted that he doesn’t know what to think.

“Us in this clubhouse, we’re all going to handle it differently,” Kershaw said. “And I think that’s awesome that everybody’s gonna answer these questions differently. Everybody’s gonna be honest about it, everybody’s gonna move on in their own way, and I think that’s really cool. I think as a team, we can all be individual in how we handle it, and then come together as a team after it and be ready to go. I think the script of this, of what happened in Houston yesterday, it didn’t seem as genuine. And I think over here, you’re gonna feel the genuineness of what we feel. And we’re going to move on a little bit easier from it, I think.”

The process is ongoing, the sentiments scattered. Kershaw believes adding a former MVP in Mookie Betts and a former Cy Young Award winner in David Price — essentially shaking up the core group, an approach Roberts has long believed to be important — “really helps bring a new excitement to this season.”

Turner wasn’t so sure.

“It’s just like ripping open a scab,” Turner said of constant revelations about the Astros’ methods. “It rehashes some things, and you go back, think what if, what happened. And that’s just going to drive us crazy if we continue to do that. You just gotta let them deal with it however they deal with it. Everyone’s gonna have their opinion, everyone’s gonna treat them however they feel necessary. Lucky for us, we don’t play them this year. So we don’t even have to worry about them. The rest of the league can deal with them.”

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Ross Stripling was recently almost traded to the Los Angeles Angels, an American League West team that will open its season at Minute Maid Park and is scheduled to play the Astros 17 other times. He was asked if he would have taken it upon himself to throw at Astros hitters if that had been the case.

“I would lean toward yes,” Stripling said after some thought. “In the right time, and in the right place.”

Wood alluded to a fascinating dilemma with that approach.

“Somebody will take it into their own hands, and they’ll get suspended more games than any of those guys got for the biggest cheating scandal in 100 years,” he said. “It’ll be pretty ironic when that happens, because I’m sure that’s how it’ll end up playing out.”

A group chat began with basically every member of the 2017 Dodgers team that lost to the Astros in seven World Series games shortly after Bregman and Altuve were unrepentant during the team’s fan fest around the middle of January. It was initially an effective outlet for some of the affected players, but the onslaught of text messages eventually died down. As the weeks progressed and spring training approached, some of those players identified their own purpose within the sign-stealing scandal.

Wood, among the most vocal on Twitter, has taken it upon himself to educate fans on why stealing signs the way the Astros did was such a big deal.

“When guys know what’s coming, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Wood said. “This is a game, but it’s also a lot of guys’ lives. It’s how they feed their families.”

Stripling pinpointed a goal — to ensure that the stigma of all this doesn’t die.

“One of the worst things that could happen is that we get through spring and it’s just forgotten about, or that you get pegged for the first two games and it’s just forgotten about,” Stripling said. “It needs to be reiterated.”

In that vein, several Dodgers will attempt to strike a difficult balance — of making sure the extent of the Astros’ crimes is not forgotten, but also ensuring that it isn’t a constant source of internal consternation throughout their pursuit of an elusive World Series championship. They’ll all navigate it differently.

On Friday, the Dodgers seemed consistent with one thought — that the Astros’ apology was not good enough.

Stripling thought it was “as bad as it can be.” Turner, like many others, didn’t go out of his way to watch it, but did catch Crane’s statement, which he later walked back, and said: “It’s mind-boggling to me that you had that much time to prepare for this and you had to retract the first thing you said in the statement.”

“That’s just wild,” Bellinger said when asked of Crane saying the Astros’ sign stealing “didn’t impact the game.” “I don’t know if he meant to say that or not, but that’s obviously not true.”

“To be honest, I don’t know what to think anymore,” Kershaw added. “Some of those guys seemed remorseful. Some of those guys said the right things, gave a good apology, and that’s great. We’ll move on with that. And then you get the owner up there saying some dumb stuff, and it’s like, ‘What’s going on? How can you be that ignorant to the situation?”

In the midst of his comments, Bellinger brought up how he just met Betts and Price and how excited that made him about what awaits. Turner struck a similar tone, acknowledging that the pain of the 2017 World Series would never vanquish while also expressing the importance of moving on from it.

He hopes others will follow.

“Obviously when you start talking about the beginning of spring training, there’s more opportunities for players to voice their thoughts, and there’s media that wants answers, which is completely fair,” Roberts said. “But I do think that once we get going, it’s got to be in the past. I think that they’re aware of that.”

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Fans heckling Astros spring opener get signs confiscated

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Fans hoping to heckle the sign-stealing Houston Astros at their spring opener were met with quite the coincidence.

They got their signs taken.

In the Astros’ first spring training game since their sign-stealing scandal rocked baseball, some fans brought signs jeering Houston, and ballpark personnel confiscated them before the Grapefruit League opener against the World Series champion Washington Nationals on Saturday night.

In a Series rematch, the Nats got hearty cheers, while everyone in an Astros jersey — including the mascot, Orbit — was booed. Houston did not use any players implicated in MLB’s probe.

Two men in Nationals gear sitting behind the Astros dugout briefly held up crudely drawn signs just before first pitch. One read: “You see my hate?” in large block letters. And another said: “Houston” with an asterisk below it, suggesting the Astros’ 2017 World Series title should be permanently blemished because of the cheating.

The men didn’t get to show off their signs for long. A woman who worked for the ballpark quickly approached to take the signs. The men didn’t argue with the woman, but they did look confused as she walked away with the signs folded in her arms.

The Astros and Nationals share a spring training complex. Houston was designated the home team Saturday.

Matthew Silliman, who held one of the signs, said he didn’t know they were forbidden. He drove to the game from Tampa Bay and said he has been waiting to let the Astros know what he thinks of them.

“I’m a big Nats fan and it’s wrong,” he said. “They’re cheaters.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred concluded last month the Astros violated rules by using a television camera to steal catchers’ signs during their run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season. Manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one season and then fired by the team, but players were not disciplined.

Fans booed loudly every time the public address announcer said “Astros,” and fans behind Houston’s dugout heckled Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. as they stood on the dugout steps before the game. A few fans banged on their metal seats, attempting to mimic the banging on a trash can the Astros used to relay stolen signs to hitters.

One fan in a Nationals jersey yelled: “Hey Altuve, are you scared to play tonight?” Others screamed “You suck!” and “Cheaters!”

About a half-dozen fans wore shirts that read “bang foul poles, not trash cans” in reference to Howie Kendrick‘s decisive home run for Washington in Game 7 of last year’s World Series.

First-year Houston manager Dusty Baker said he didn’t think the reception was “too bad” and said his team will have to get used to it.

“You’ll probably get the same reception most places you go, especially the first go-round,” he said. “So, you’ve just got to put your big-boy pants on and then just try to shut it out and just play baseball and realize this too shall pass.”

Washington ace Max Scherzer, who started Game 7 to help the Nationals to their first title, also started Saturday and pitched two scoreless innings. He was asked if he thought Saturday night’s game would be more dramatic considering what’s going on with the Astros.

“Maybe, I don’t know,” he said. “We won the World Series, so it wasn’t like I have a vendetta to hold. So, for me over here we’re just trying to move forward and get ready for our season.”

Scherzer was a bit disappointed that none of Houston’s starters played Saturday when he allowed one hit and struck out two.

“You want to face the best,” Scherzer said. “They’re a great lineup, but I get it, it’s early in the spring, you’re not going to see them.”

And while Silliman didn’t get to keep his signs, he said it wouldn’t stop him from heckling the Astros with his voice.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “They’re going to get it all.”

He didn’t have long. The game was delayed because of rain after two innings and canceled about 90 minutes later when rain continued.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Fans heckling Astros spring opener get signs stolen

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Fans hoping to heckle the sign-stealing Houston Astros at their spring opener were met with quite the coincidence.

They got their signs stolen.

In the Astros’ first spring training game since their sign-stealing scandal rocked baseball, some fans brought signs jeering Houston, and ballpark personnel confiscated them before the exhibition opener against the World Series champion Washington Nationals on Saturday night.

In a Series rematch, the Nats got hearty cheers, while everyone in an Astros jersey — including the mascot, Orbit — was booed. Houston did not use any players implicated in MLB’s probe.

Two men in Nationals gear sitting behind the Astros dugout briefly held up crudely drawn signs just before first pitch. One read: “You see my hate?” in large block letters. And another said: “Houston” with an asterisk below it, suggesting the Astros’ 2017 World Series title should be permanently blemished because of the cheating.

The men didn’t get to show off their signs for long. A woman who worked for the ballpark quickly approached to take the signs. They didn’t argue with the woman, but they did look confused as she walked away with them folded in her arms.

The Astros and Nationals share a spring training complex. Houston was designated the home team Saturday.

Matthew Silliman, who held one of the signs, said he didn’t know they were forbidden. He drove to the game from Tampa Bay and said he’s been waiting to let the Astros know what he thinks of them.

“I’m a big Nats fan and it’s wrong,” he said. “They’re cheaters.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred concluded last month the Astros violated rules by using a television camera to steal catchers’ signs during their run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season. Manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one season and then fired by the team, but players were not disciplined.

Fans booed loudly every time the public address announcer said “Astros,” and fans behind Houston’s dugout heckled Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. as they stood on the dugout steps before the game. A few fans banged on their metal seats, attempting to mimic the banging on a trash can the Astros used to relay stolen signs to hitters.

One fan in a Nationals jersey yelled: “Hey Altuve, are you scared to play tonight?” Others screamed “you suck!” and “cheaters!”

About a half-dozen fans wore shirts that read “bang foul poles, not trash cans” in reference to Howie Kendrick‘s decisive home run for Washington in Game 7 of last year’s World Series.

First-year Houston manager Dusty Baker said he didn’t think the reception was “too bad” and said his team will have to get used to it.

“You’ll probably get the same reception most places you go, especially the first go-round,” he said. “So, you’ve just got to put your big-boy pants on and then just try to shut it out and just play baseball and realize this too shall pass.”

Washington ace Max Scherzer, who started Game 7 to help the Nationals to their first title, also started Saturday and pitched two scoreless innings. He was asked if he thought Saturday night’s game would be more dramatic considering what’s going on with the Astros.

“Maybe, I don’t know,” he said. “We won the World Series, so it wasn’t like I have a vendetta to hold. So, for me over here we’re just trying to move forward and get ready for our season.”

Scherzer was a bit disappointed that none of Houston’s starters played Saturday when he allowed one hit and struck out two.

“You want to face the best,” Scherzer said. “They’re a great lineup but I get it, it’s early in the spring you’re not going to see them.”

And while Silliman didn’t get to keep his signs, he said it wouldn’t stop him from heckling the Astros with his voice.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “They’re going to get it all.”

He didn’t have long. The game was delayed because of rain after two innings and canceled about 90 minutes later when rain continued.



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Jack Flaherty named Cardinals’ opening day starter

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JUPITER, Fla. — Jack Flaherty is getting the ball on opening day for the St. Louis Cardinals.

St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said Saturday the 24-year-old Flaherty will start the season opener March 26 at Cincinnati. It will be the right-hander’s first opening day start and comes after he finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting with a closing surge last season.

“It’s one of of those things you work for and you want it,” Flaherty said.

The nod comes one season after Flaherty pitched the home opener for the Cardinals.

“It’s cool,” Flaherty said. “Just happy I get the ball first, get the first chance to go out and kind of set the tone for the season.”

Shildt gave Flaherty the news on Friday, not a surprise after Flaherty went 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA last season. Seven of those wins came after the All-Star break, when he posted a 0.91 ERA.

He also started three games in the postseason, allowing four earned runs in 13 innings.

Flaherty started three games against the Reds last season, allowing only one run in 16 1/3 innings while earning two wins.

“It’s a nice accomplishment and it’s a well earned one,” Shildt said. “He was excited, but he took it in stride.”

Shortly after Shildt made his opening day announcement, Flaherty took the mound for the Cardinals’ Grapefruit League opener, a 2-0 victory over New York Mets in which he was awarded the win.

Working his scheduled two innings, Flaherty surrendered two hits and struck out three. He threw 20 of his 32 pitches for strikes. His fastball hit 95 mph on the stadium’s radar gun.

“Everything felt good,” Flaherty said. “It felt comfortable. I felt strong.”

Saturday also marked the Grapefruit League debut of left-handed Korean import Kwang-Hyun Kim, known to his teammates as “KK”. The offseason signee walked one and struck out two in a scoreless inning.

“I felt KK was good,” Shildt said. “Good slider. Located his fastball. Showed a little changeup. Nice outing for him.”

Kim is among the handful of pitchers vying for a spot in the Cardinals rotation. Adam Wainwright and Dakota Hudson will join Flaherty as starters. Miles Mikolas would have broken camp in the rotation, but a flexor tendon issue will force him to miss the opening weeks of the season.

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