Astros reliever Francis Martes made history on Sunday with his first major league appearance, making his big league debut as a reliever on Feb. 13, 2020.
However, it was hard not to notice that Martes didn’t exactly have a winning debut. After his name was announced as a pitcher for the Astros, Martes retired pinch hitter Will Middlebrooks.
I expect I'm gonna get some people congratulating me on making a big league debut tonight, but it's real, it's for real 👏 — Francis Martes () February 12, 2016
Then, on the team’s next big league ballgame — which had already been postponed once and is now being played in drizzle with only two hours left in the first inning, given the bad weather in Houston this week — Martes entered in the seventh and gave up three runs to give the New York Yankees the lead.
This wasn’t about a win or a loss.
This was about accountability.
It is the modern and enlightened understanding, more than a decade after Pete Rose was slapped with an eight-game suspension for betting on MLB games, that the major league has become way too soft on all its players and coaches who commit any kind of minor infraction that may be attributed to an ignorance of the rules and just want to get back on the field for a few innings.
That goes especially for pitchers who almost exclusively pitch toward the plate, with intentions of flirting with the catcher’s knees. This is not just about speed; hitters will foul off pitches even in the dirt, and the pitchers’ only recourse is to throw the ball at the foul line.
The original sin for an Astros pitcher would have been to publicly acknowledge having cheated to get back on the field. The Astros should have issued the customary no-hit memo when Martes entered their next game, against the Chicago White Sox, and noted that his no-hitter was ruined by a fastball that’s normally placed where it can’t have caused the damage that came with a slide from a sinker.
But the Astros did nothing. Maybe they won’t win many regular-season games if the union maintains the current spirit of the no-trade and no-no-policy that necessitates pitchers looking over their shoulders while facing batters so they aren’t caught cheating.
Here’s what that looks like, courtesy of published writer John Anderson’s annual reports on the activity around the NHL’s Wild Card playoff race:
This, too, was about holding an athlete accountable for their actions, while creating hope for the Houston Astros.
Martin Kelly, general manager of the Astros, took the high road when the Boston Globe asked about Martes’ no-hit bid. “That’s another matter,” Kelly said. “It’s about going out there and just doing what’s necessary. We want the same things.”
That is exactly the stuff that makes a no-trade and no-no-policy work — it lets the players have their fun while somehow simultaneously setting the tone that whatever they get away with is acceptable and productive. Some punishments are harsher than others, but it’s not up to management to determine what a player’s punishment should be. I don’t even know who deserves what kind of punishment, but I do know the first rule of a no-tobe: Make sure you can.
'DISCLAIMER: I'm a shameless fan of the Astros.' — Ken Rosenthal () February 12, 2019