La Russa rips Astros' 'character shortage' over Abreu HBP originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
José Abreu got hit a lot in 2021.
And Tony La Russa never reacted like this.
Abreu, the Chicago White Sox' team leader and reigning American League MVP, was hit by Houston Astros reliever Kendall Graveman in the eighth inning of Tuesday afternoon's blowout Game 4 of the AL Division Series. Again, that's not unusual. It happened 22 times during the regular season and once earlier in this playoff series.
But the South Side skipper went off this time, directing his ire at the Astros and accusing them of plunking Abreu intentionally.
"It will be a good test of the character and credibility of the winning team because it was intentional," he said after the 10-1 loss that ended the White Sox' season. "(The) catcher kept looking in the dugout, so they did hit him intentionally. ... They should have the guts to admit that they did it.
"They beat us. They played better. We're disappointed. That was intentional. I don't understand why. I don't understand how they got away with it.
"Just leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and in my gut. There's a character shortage there that they should answer for. It is stupid, too. I'll be interested to see if they admit it. If they don't admit it, then they're really dishonest."
It was a noticeable deviation from the comments La Russa made throughout the regular season, when after every Abreu plunking he railed against the irresponsibility of young pitchers who couldn't control the inside pitches they were throwing to attempt to get Abreu out. While those instances didn't make La Russa happy, either — he famously raced out of the dugout after Abreu took a pitch off the helmet against the Cleveland Indians — he never called out the character of opposing teams.
Astros manager Dusty Baker repeatedly denied La Russa's accusation, that his team instructed Abreu to be hit.
"There's no way we were trying to hit Abreu. If you are going to hit him, you are going to hit him long before that," Baker said. "There was no reason for us to hit Abreu. He hasn't done anything to us.
"Abreu has been hit 20-something times. And in modern baseball, guys don't try to get out of the way of balls. In my day, you hit the dirt or you turned away from the ball, but today guys are just standing there and taking it.
"I beg to differ with Tony. There was no intent, and there was no reason to do that, zero."
Certainly, controversy reigned before Game 4 even started, White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera tying a slight swing-and-miss disparity between Games 1 and 2 and Game 3 to the Astros' cheating scandal and suggesting "sketchy stuff" still happens at Minute Maid Park.
The sign-stealing fallout was a heavy presence during Games 3 and 4 on the South Side, with White Sox fans booing, jeering and hurling insults at Astros players, specifically second baseman José Altuve. Altuve was himself hit by Carlos Rodón in the third inning Tuesday, Rodón immediately showing how unintentional that was with an upset reaction. Altuve came around to score the Astros' first run, making that pitch hurt the White Sox more than it hurt him.
Plenty might have thought the White Sox would attempt to retaliate after La Russa's lengthy and emotional conversation with umpire Tom Hallion after Abreu was hit and no one was ejected. Altuve came to bat against Liam Hendriks in the ninth, and it was Hendriks who said in early September that "if we ever see anything with malice, there may need to be something that happens."
But instead of a pitch hitting Altuve, Altuve sent the first pitch he saw from Hendriks deep into the right-field seats for a three-run homer to cap the blowout and get the last laugh.
Laughing is not something La Russa was doing in his postgame interview, obviously disappointed by the way his team's season came to an end but also mad over the Abreu episode late in the game.
"I don't think there's bad blood between these two teams," Baker said during his denial.
Well, there might be now.