No Fiers, No Fireworks as Astros Visit Athletics in a Series that Could Have Been

John Hickey

There were big plans in the East Bay for the arrival of the Houston Astros for the first time.

A’s fans who normally populate the right field bleachers were inspired.

“It’s kind of sad, because we had all this stuff planned for the Astros,” A’s loyalist Bryan Johansen said when word first came out that the fans wouldn’t be allowed in the ballpark for games this year.

What the Astros would have run into was in direct reaction to the trash-can banging, sign-stealing scheme that didn’t cost any of the Astros players employment, but did lead to manager A.J. Hinch, a former A’s catcher, and general manager Jeff Luhnow being fired.

James Sanos, who is a regular in the right field bleacher drumming corps, says he makes signs from time to time when inspired. Having the Astros in town to jeer would have been special.

“I was just waiting for when the Astros got here,” he said.

Johansen, a regular habitué of the left-center field bleachers at the Coliseum, is a big fan of banners. Before the ban on in-person attendance, Johansen and two of his cohorts, who refer to themselves as the “propaganda team,” commissioned six banners for when the Astros would come, including one with a trash can wearing an Astros cap.

He said that the crew in right field had a scandal banner that he wasn’t willing to describe, but which he said was long enough to stretch most of the way across the right field bleachers.

“We had a huge lineup of stuff,” Johansen said. “We had custom made cheer cards that we were going to pass out that said `Hey Astros: Try to Steal This Sign.’ We had some inflatable trash cans. We had costumes. It was going to be fun.

“One banner was going to be called `The Battle of the Bang.’ It’s going to show a trashcan battling a drum. We had so much stuff planned; it was unbelievable.”

Now the stadium will be filled only with cutouts. But never ones to pass up a good thing, one of the cutouts the Astros will see is a picture of Orbit, the Astros mascot, stuffed in a trash can.

The A’s player most associated with the Astros’ fall from grace is pitcher Mike Fiers. He was on the 2017 Astros staff, and it was his revelations during the 2019 offseason of signs being sent by banging on trash cans during the 2017 season that led to the fines against the clubs by Commissioner Rob Manfred, which in turn led to the firings of Luhnow and Hinch.

Fiers is pitching Thursday afternoon against the Rangers, which means he won’t see the Astros this time around. There will be two more series, including one in Houston, where he might square off against Houston, one in late August, another in September.

He said the A’s will get by, even without fans to cheer them on and to razz the Astros.

“That’s fine; we’re not really worried about outside sources like that,” he said. “We’re just worried about playing the game. We’ve been winning, stringing together wins. We’re trying to keep on this roll we’re on.

“Obviously, you know, Houston’s hurt right now. They have guys who are not pitching for them or in the lineup right now. So, we’ve just got to take care of business. We’ve got to go out there and play our style of baseball. And do everything the right way.”

Defending Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander is out with a forearm problem; it’s up in the air if he will pitch again this season. Closer Roberto Osuna struggled early, then went on the injured list with a right elbow problem. Reliever Chris Devenski (elbow) is out. Center fielder George Springer and left fielder Michael Brantley are day-to-day, Springer with knee issues and Brantley with a quad problem. Right-handed starter/reliever Brad Peacock hasn’t pitched all year, out with an undisclosed injury.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

Click the "follow" button in the top right corner to join the conversation on Inside the Athletics on SI. Access and comment on featured stories and start your own conversations and post external links on our community page.