Toronto Blue Jays: Ken Giles would surrender his 2017 World Series ring if asked

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 17: Ken Giles #51 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 17, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 17: Ken Giles #51 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 17, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Former Astros closer Ken Giles has no Astrogate culpability. He also takes pity on his former teammates now drenched in the scandal.

Few Houston Astros suffered such slings and arrows as Ken Giles in Game Four of the 2017 World Series. Even fewer than that went from there to followup season frustration that spilled first into a disgraceful ticket out of town to something approaching redemption.

Now the Toronto Blue Jays‘ closer, coming off his second-best season, Giles says he’s willing to surrender his 2017 World Series ring if asked. The request isn’t likely to come no matter who feels or demands what in the continuing Astrogate fallout. And it wasn’t the Astros’ pitchers who drove the Astro Intelligence Agency in the first place.

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“Whatever they ask,” the 29-year-old right-hander told Toronto Star writer Rosie DiManno over the weekend, “I would oblige. Because what was going on at the time was not OK.”

He was as stand-up as the night was long after he was brought in for the top of the ninth in a one-all Game Four tie over two years ago, then surrendered a fisted cue-shot through a shifted infield, a five-pitch walk with a few too many borderline ball calls, then a tie-breaking double to deep left-center.

“I didn’t do my job,” he told reporters after the Los Angeles Dodgers won the game. “Plain and simple. I let my team down.”

Giles’s team stood by their man to the writers in the immediate Game Four aftermath, but manager A.J. Hinch decided he could sooner slip through the eye of the needle than trust Giles again that postseason. By his own admission, Giles understood he hadn’t given much reason for trust that postseason.

He’s notoriously tough on himself, the most jarring evidence being when his 2018 struggles culminated in a July mound meltdown that led to him practically beating the living daylights out of himself for his failure. Admitting much later that he felt trapped in Houston, Giles then received a quintessential slap in the face not of his own making.

There may be few more insulting ways to let you know how unwanted and disrespected you finally are than to trade you, not so much to the rebuilding Blue Jays but for their own closer, Roberto Osuna, who was still serving a suspension over domestic violence while the legal case was yet to be resolved.

The same Roberto Osuna who got that close to costing the 2019 Astros their season when he surrendered New York Yankee first baseman D.J. LeMahieu‘s top-of-the-ninth American League Championship Series Game Six-tying two-run homer. Mitigated only when Yankee manager Aaron Boone neglected to let his own gassed closer Aroldis Chapman put Jose Altuve aboard, despite a man on first, two outs, and comparative spaghetti-bat Jake Marisnick on deck, and Altuve thanked Boone for the gift with a pennant-winning two-run bomb of his own.

The same Osuna about whom then-assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, in full earshot of three women reporters, bellowed he was so [fornicating] glad the Astros got him. Leading to a front office-directed smear of Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein, who exposed Taubman’s whoop, a week worth of uproar over the Astros’ front-office myopia, and finally Taubman’s head on the proverbial plate.

In the interim, Giles spent the rest of 2018 remaking and remodeling himself, then became so effective in 2019 that he was a heavy enough topic approaching last year’s premiere of the single July 31 trade deadline. Until he incurred elbow inflammation for a long enough spell.

No trade arose, of course, and Giles finished his 2019 with a 2.27 fielding-independent pitching rate and a 1.87 earned run average while striking 83 out in 53 innings. He also had 24 saves while blowing only one such chance in a Blue Jays season where save opportunities were almost placed on the endangered species list.

Now he looks back on 2017 with an eye planted somewhere between disgust and pity. Disgust over the Astros’ AIA cheating, pity because no matter how disgracefully his time in Houston ended he still thinks well of his former teammates. He’s uncertain whether the Astros’ early spring exhibition games plunkings are deliberate, but he feels “awful, how the guys are being punished,” regardless.

“They’re great people, they really are, and great ballplayers,” Giles insisted to DiManno. “But I guess sometimes you just have to roll with it. Either be quiet or speak up and tell the truth. Go out there and perform, show them what you’re made of. Competition-wise, it’s going to be harder, in all of baseball, because now they’ll want to show that it’s man to man and not just computer to computer.”

Don’t go there. Giles spending most of his time in the bullpen until or unless he was warmed up and brought in kept him far out of range of the AIA’s bang-the-can-slowly transmission of electronically stolen intelligence to Astro hitters.

After two years of players telling reporters off the record, with those reporters thus unable to get it on the record, and a team or two filing complaints with commissioner Rob Manfred’s office, it took another ex-Astro, Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers, to blow the Astrogate whistle last November. If Giles applauds or resents Fiers for it, he hasn’t said yet.

“It crushed me to learn about the stuff that went on when I was there. I had no idea,” he continued. “I had no clue whatsoever. I was blindsided by the commissioner’s report. Up until then, I honestly didn’t believe it. Just crazy. I was still pretty young. And at the end of the day, I had my own problems in Houston, which were well documented.”

This is the pitcher who followed his Game Four frustration with a struggling 2018 highlighted (or should that be lowlighted) when he landed a right hook on his own jaw after facing the Yankees last May and surrendering a game-ending three-run homer to Gary Sanchez.

He’s also the pitcher who swore at his manager after giving up three straight ninth-inning singles last July. But his apparent “[Fornicate] you, man!” as he left the mound probably meant more that he didn’t need the boss to tell him he’d blown it than a reproach to the boss himself. It still got him tabbed as a certifiable nutbag. It also got him demoted and then traded for a woman beater who got off the hook because his victim refused to testify against him in court.

Now, Giles has become something of a team leader in Toronto. He’s also the pitcher whom DiManno says “unleashed a clutch of loud not-kidding F-bombs” toward fellow pitcher David Paulino when he caught Paulino “dogging it” during a pitchers’ fielding drill last spring. Paulino ended up being released last August and has yet to catch on with another organization.

“It only takes one player to drag down a whole organization,” said Giles, who’s heartbroken about his former teammates dragging the Astros down. And, about the apparent organizational culture in which people came in third or lower on the list of priorities, never mind that its people who play and analyze the game.

“I was eager for a change and I needed a change,” continued the pitcher who’d been dealt to the Astros from the Philadelphia Phillies before the Astros shipped him to the Blue Jays. “Thankfully it happened. I learned from my first trade what I didn’t want to happen in the second trade — to express myself, to communicate with the coaches.”

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Then, hinting even more vividly that Houston’s organizational culture lacked too severely for the human touch in the Jeff Luhnow era, Giles added, “It’s a big thing when [the Blue Jays] want to get to know who you are as a person, other than what you can bring on to the field.”

Luhnow and Hinch, of course, were suspended and then fired on the Astrogate spot. The Astros sit exposed as barely-if-at-all-apologetic cheaters. They face a 2020 season full of boos, brickbats, and maybe even brushback pitches above and beyond the call of sanity. If their owner allows it, they also face a season for re-thinking how smart it was to let technology bury when not corrupting the humans who played, managed, and oversaw the game.

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What Giles brought to the mound after regrouping himself in Toronto has been more than enough, for himself and for the Blue Jays, or for any potential trading partner if his success continues but a Blue Jays rebuild requires more. But would Giles accept it if you tell him it means he’s having the last laugh?