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MLB drops the ball by upholding yet delaying Bryan Abreu’s suspension until 2024

The hard-throwing righty was initially suspended for his role in the benches-clearing brawl toward the end of Game 5 between the Rangers and Astros.

Bryan Abreu of the Houston Astros pitches during Game 6 of the ALCS between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Sunday, October 22, 2023 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Houston Astros reliever Bryan Abreu had his two-game suspension upheld by MLB in a hearing on Monday afternoon — but he’ll still be available for Game 7 of the ALCS against tonight and every postseason game Houston might play after that, as the suspension has been postponed until the start of the 2024 season.

The Astros are no doubt thrilled to have one of their best high-leverage arms available in a do-or-die spot. Abreu has been the team’s most reliable relief pitcher not named Ryan Pressly pretty much all year; he had a 1.75 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 100 strikeouts over 7s innings in the regular season and has been very solid in October as well. The series of decisions that have resulted in him being eligible tonight, however, will rightfully leave a lot of fans and observers scratching their heads.

Abreu was first hit with the suspension for his role in the benches-clearing incident between these two teams toward the end of Friday’s Game 5. Abreu hit Texas Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia — who had thrown his bat down and taken his sweet time rounding the bases after hitting a go-ahead homer two innings prior — on the first pitch of the at-bat, prompting Garcia to get in the face of Astros catcher Martin Maldonado.

After some deliberation, the umpiring crew decided that the pitch had in fact been intentional and tossed Abreu from the game. MLB agreed with that assessment, suspending the righty for two games following a review of the incident on Sunday. A neutral arbitrator said the same thing during Abreu’s appeal hearing on Monday ... and yet, somehow, he’ll be pitching uninterrupted for the rest of the Astros’ run this postseason.

To be clear, I have no idea whether Abreu threw at Garcia intentionally. I can see arguments for both sides, But here’s the thing: It doesn’t really matter what I or you or anyone else thinks. Six umpires, the league office and an arbitrator have all ruled that he did, and that’s what’s pertinent here. Throwing at some intentionally is outlawed for a reason; it’s incredibly dangerous, and MLB has (rightfully) decided that it doesn’t belong in the game. It’s hard to imagine the suspension getting deferred had Garcia suffered an injury from the pitch, which is precisely the point — this is a safety issue, and one that deserves to be taken seriously.

But how is that culture shift supposed to happen if the league refuses to attach meaningful consequences to it? Calling missing the first two games of a 162-game regular season a slap on the wrist is an insult to slaps on the wrist; there isn’t a single pitcher or team who looks at that as a future deterrent to do something similar in a playoff game down the road, meaning the league has managed to kneecap its own rulebook. If you want to argue that Game 7 of an ALCS is too grand a stage to hold someone out for this kind of infraction, what you’re really arguing for is that it should be functionally legal.

Likewise, if you want to argue that there’s way too much gray area here to suspend a player for such an important game, well ... the league and the arbitrator had an opportunity to consider said gray area. If they thought there were room for reasonable doubt, they could simply have ruled that Abreu didn’t hit Garcia intentionally and not handed out a suspension in the first place. Honestly, I wouldn’t have raised much of an objection. But that’s not what they decided. Instead, the path they’ve chosen is somehow the worst of both worlds, both feckless and gutless, and it’s likely tick off just about everyone to some degree — but especially Rangers fans.