Tempers flared and the benches cleared on Saturday night as the Astros and Rangers squared off in a game eventually won by Texas, 7-6. With the Rangers ahead 5-4 as the game moved to the top of the ninth, harsh words between Astros catcher Hank Conger and Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor brought both teams charging onto the field, ready to ignite the in-state, in-division rivalry.
The Astros scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, but left runners stranded on second and third. As the ninth opened, Odor stood outside the batter’s box taking practice swings. He paused and stood, bat on his shoulder, seeming to stare at pitcher Josh Fields on the mound. Conger, crouching behind the plate and ready for the first pitch, said something and gestured for Odor to get into the box.
Odor’s response got Conger’s attention who, in the words of Astros television commentator Alan Ashby, probably “…had heard one more thing than he wanted to hear from Odor.”
Conger stood and advanced towards Odor with plate umpire Tony Randazzo quickly stepping between the two. On-deck batter Prince Fielder rushed into the scene and shoved Conger aside as Astros third baseman Marwin Gonzalez arrived with pitcher Josh Fields and Carlos Correa close behind.
Within two seconds, players and coaches from both teams swarmed onto the field, with Fielder, still holding his bat, advancing on and pointing menacingly at the nearest Astro. Houston manager A.J. Hinch grabbed Fielder’s arm; the two faced off, with Fielder yanking his arm free and shoving Hinch. Rangers manager Jeff Banister charged into the melee and the two managers stood nose to nose, shouting at each other as players from both sides attempted to intervene.
With both managers shouting, and an irate Banister pointing threateningly at Hinch and other Astros, players and coaches separated them before punches could be thrown. Rangers players managed to move Banister from the scene as Texas bench coach Steve Buechele and Hinch conversed in an obvious attempt to defuse the situation.
The fracas lasted less than four minutes, with no ejections, although it is possible the league could levy fines. Credit should go to players and coaches on both teams for de-escalating the confrontation as quickly as it started. Such a skirmish could easily have led to punches, but it didn’t happen.
When Odor did finally resume his place in the batter’s box, he responded by hitting a triple to center field. He scored when Adrian Beltre singled to center. After Mitch Moreland struck out, Beltre scored on a Josh Hamilton double, bringing the tally to 7-4.
Probably inspired by the confrontation, Conger slugged a two-run home run into the Crawford Boxes in the bottom of the ninth, closing the gap to what turned out to be the final score, 7-6.
Although the sellout Minute Maid Park crowd saw the home team lose, Astros fans got a good look at the spirit of this club. The incident may be the spark they need to stay at the top of the American League’s Western Division. And if fans hadn’t noticed before, they also got a good look at the intensity of the man known on Twitter as ‘Panda Crusher’ – Hank Conger.
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