Yankees face Astros for first time since cheating scandal revealed illegal sign stealing in 2019

It seems like a lifetime ago. Months before a pandemic turned out worlds upside down, before a divisive and monumental presidential election and months of protests for racial justice shook the country, there was outrage in baseball.

The Yankees haven’t forgotten.

Tuesday the Yankees — and their fans — will see the Astros for the first time since their suspicions about them being cheaters were confirmed in a commissioner’s report on their illegal, electronic sign stealing. The Yankees, who lost to the Astros in the 2017 and 2019 American League Championship Series, were furious in spring 2020 that the Astros players went unpunished — for cooperation with the investigation — and that they had a tainted World Series title.

“I just don’t think it holds any value,” Judge said back in February 2020 referring not just to the 2017 World Series, but also to Jose Altuve’s MVP that season. “You cheated. You didn’t earn it.”

Because of the pandemic baseball shortened its season in 2020, limiting teams to just regional play without fans in stands. There was no chance for the fans of the Yankees, Dodgers (who the Astros beat in the 2017 World Series) or other teams to express their anger.

But they have not forgotten.

“I don’t know about the time that’s gone by or as far as it being an issue. We all have a memory so we can all remember what happened,” Brett Gardner said. “I think for us, the main thing is to play well against them and to beat them. That’s the ultimate form of trying to get back at them or whatever you want to say is to come out here and continue to play good baseball and beat them and continue to look forward.

“So I’m sure it’ll be a good matchup and obviously, they’ve got a good team this year, they’ve always got a good team,” Gardner said. “We didn’t see them last year, so it’ll be nice to face them this week. And I’m sure it’ll be a fun series.”

So far this year, fans around the league have expressed their animosity towards the Astros. They have been yelled and screamed at. They have had fans banging on plastic containers, mocking how the Astros would relay the pitch coming to hitters in real time. They have even had blow-up garbage cans tossed on the field at them.

“I don’t know what they’re gonna do,” Judge said of the Yankees’ fans’ reaction to the Astros coming into the Stadium. “It could be a mixed bag, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”

But Kyle Higashioka said the Astros won’t be left guessing how the Yankees or their fans feel.

“I don’t think there’s any question about how the fans are going to react to them coming into the stadium here as to whether or not they deserve it,” the catcher said. “I mean, I think the fans will let them know.”

Dusty Baker, who took over in Houston when manager A.J. Hinch was fired and suspended for a year, feels like it’s gone too far.

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“I think that sometimes we need to look at ourselves before you spew hate on somebody else,” Baker said last month. “It’s a sad situation for America, to me, when you hear things — I mean what are the kids supposed to think in the stands? And some of them are kids that are following their parent. It’s sad to me. People make mistakes. We paid for ours, and I wish they’d leave it alone.”

But most people don’t think the Astros did pay for their cheating. The team was issued the maximum allowed fine of $5 million. The owner probably made most of that up when he fired GM Jeff Luhnow and Hinch, who both served a one-year suspension. The commissioner said that he didn’t think taking away the World Series “piece of metal” (his term for the trophy) was meaningful. Altuve still edged out Judge for the MVP in 2017.

The Yankees’ two best chances of ending their World Series droughts over the past 11 years ended at the hands of the Astros. It was documented they were cheating in 2017 and the Yankees will not be convinced they were not cheating in 2019.

While they don’t want to talk about it, the Yankees would like sweet revenge. For now, they’ll let their fans do the talking … or yelling.

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“We got a job to do on the field,” Judge said. “There’s nothing better, nothing sweeter than, you know, going out there and putting up some runs against them and getting some W’s. I think that’s the most important thing, but the fans can do what they want, but we still got a job to do on the field.”

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