What is indisputable is that both the Houston Astros and New York Yankees are interested in gaining whatever advantage they can through the accepted practices of sign-stealing and pitch-tipping — and that both teams are sensitive to the perception, or perhaps the reality, that the other is gaining an edge.
“To the Yankees: There’s nothing going on,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said Thursday before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. “… There’s nothing going on other than the competition on the field. The fact that I had to field the question before a really, really cool game at Yankee Stadium is unfortunate.”
As is typical this time of year, both teams have gone to great lengths to hide their signs from the other. The Yankees, especially, have been vigilant about changing their pitch signs frequently, even with no runners on base; Yankees pitchers have sign sequences taped into the insides of their caps and regularly consult them.
“We try to mitigate that and look at it between starts,” Yankees lefty James Paxton, who started Game 2 and will start Game 5 on Friday night, said Thursday in regard to the Astros’ efforts to steal signs or predict pitches. “We didn’t think they had anything, and still don’t. … We took a look at it, and I don’t think I was giving anything away.”
According to a report from SportsNet New York on Wednesday, coaches from the Yankees and Astros engaged in a shouting match during Game 1 Saturday night when the Yankees suspected the Astros were signaling pitch types or locations via a system of whistles. Major League Baseball looked into the allegations and found no wrongdoing.
“When I get contacted about some questions about whistling, it made me laugh — because it’s ridiculous,” Hinch said Thursday. “Had I known that it would take something like that to set off the Yankees or any other team, we would have practiced it in spring training. It apparently works, even when it doesn’t.”
Hinch, however, essentially acknowledged the Astros’ efforts to predict the pitch types of Yankees pitchers by watching their movements and looking for a “tell” as to what’s coming. That is such an accepted part of baseball, it would be malpractice if a team were not doing it.
“Pitch-tipping is a little bit of a different story,” he said. “If you don’t want us to know what pitch is coming, don’t do something that demonstrates what pitch you’re going to throw. But [the Yankees] are doing the same thing.”
MLB has cracked down on sign-stealing in recent years, making it clear that, while it is an accepted part of the game, teams cannot use technological means — including cameras — to aid in the pursuit.
The Astros have been at the center of some of the game’s most visible episodes, including last year’s American League Championship Series, when an Astros employee with a camera was removed from the area near the Boston Red Sox dugout and accused of spying. The Astros insisted the employee was engaged in counterespionage — making sure the Red Sox were not spying on them.
During this year’s American League Division Series, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow was convinced he was tipping his pitches against the Astros during his loss in the decisive Game 5.
“We can put it to rest,” Hinch said Thursday. “That will be the last question I answer about pitch-tipping or [sign-]stealing.”