“Obviously,” Manfred said, “World Series games are different than regular-season games.”
Among the other reasons Manfred cited for delaying the suspension, this stands out: “I felt it was unfair to punish the other 24 players on the Astros roster,” he said. “I wanted the burden of this discipline to fall primarily on the wrongdoer.”
Denying Gurriel a chance to help his team in the World Series would have severely affected him. It would also have allowed a fleeting gesture — an ugly one, for sure, but one that was done in the dugout, not on the field, and that did not appear to be premeditated — to unduly influence the World Series.
And yet, given that reasoning by Manfred, these tough words from him on Saturday — “There is no place in our game for the behavior or any behavior like the behavior we witnessed last night” — seem somewhat contradictory. Gurriel, after all, is still playing.
But Manfred was right in saying that World Series games are far more significant than a midseason game for the Oakland A’s or the Toronto Blue Jays. Maybe that sounds crass, but there is no disputing it. And while Manfred would not declare five games as the new standard price for intolerant words or actions during a game — he said he would deal with each situation on its own merits — the penalty for Gurriel does exceed all recent punishments, including the three-game ban given to Yunel Escobar, then of Toronto, for wearing eye black inscribed with an anti-gay slur in 2012.
Gurriel, for his part, said after Friday’s game that he was surprised by the furor over his gesture. He mentioned his experiences in Japan — he played for the Yokohama BayStars in 2014 — and said that he respected Japanese people.
“I did not want to offend anybody,” he said through an interpreter.
As for his characterization of Darvish as a “chinito,” a word that can be demeaning to Asians, Gurriel said that in Cuba, the term applies to anyone who is Asian, not just to Japanese people, although that did not amount to much of an excuse.
In any case, he added that he understood he was wrong. In a statement on Saturday, Gurriel apologized to Darvish and called his gesture “indefensible.”
Not surprisingly, both managers in the Series were asked to comment on Gurriel and his punishment.
“We support everything that’s right about this game, and we’ll move forward, if everyone will allow us to,” Astros Manager A. J. Hinch said. “Knowing Yuli, knowing what he will do to convince everyone that this incident was not in his heart, will be key.”
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts, who was born in Japan and whose mother is Japanese, said he approved of the way Manfred had handled the incident.
Gurriel, who was batting .340 in the postseason and was in the starting lineup for Game 4, has delivered on his promise since the Astros signed him for five years and $47.5 million after he defected last year. He made a smooth transition from third base to first while batting .299 with 18 homers, 75 runs batted in and 43 doubles this season.
“He’s a great hitter,” said Jose Altuve, the Astros’ star second baseman, “one of the best I’ve ever seen, to be honest with you.”
It was, officially, Gurriel’s rookie season. But at 33 years old, after playing professionally for 15 seasons in Cuba and Japan, Gurriel is a rookie in name only. He comes from a prominent baseball family in Cuba, and spent most of his prime years there.
“I could have left at 22 or something like other players and spent their entire careers here and maybe that would have been better,” Gurriel said in Spanish at a workout in Los Angeles on Monday. “But no, I don’t regret it. I had the chance to play my entire life in Cuba and enjoy those great moments, and the chance to play in Japan. God wanted me to be here in this moment now, and I’m enjoying this.”
The Astros have such a deep offense that their leader in runs batted in, Marwin Gonzalez, batted eighth in Game 3. That suits Gurriel, who said he felt pressure to carry his Cuban teams but does not have the same feeling here.
“In Cuba, if I didn’t hit, I lost,” he said. “If I did hit, it was normal and what I was supposed to do. So it was really hard to please people. It’s been different here in this lineup.”
At the same group interview in which he made those comments, Gurriel was asked a question by a Japanese reporter. He answered with a few words in Japanese before continuing in Spanish.
“I identified a lot with the Japanese public,” Gurriel said. “It was a really great experience.”
Yet with one gesture on Friday, Gurriel turned what should have been an experience to celebrate into something much different. And left Manfred to untangle it.