SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 27: Hector Neris #50 of the Houston Astros reacts after striking out Julio Rodriguez #44 of the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning at T-Mobile Park on September 27, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. | Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Houston Astros pitcher Hector Neris has released a statement in which he denies reports that he directed a homophobic slur at Seattle Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez during Wednesday’s feisty encounter at T-Mobile Park.

However, Major League Baseball has confirmed it is investigating the incident in the sixth inning which overshadowed the Astros’ victory over the Mariners.

In that moment, Houston was leading 4-3 in Seattle. Reliever Neris struck out Rodriguez and then approached him, shouting angrily towards the 22-year-old, who appeared stunned. The home-plate umpire stepped forward in an attempt to keep the two players apart.

In his statement, Neris apologized to reigning AL Rookie of the Year Rodriguez and claimed that although he was attempting to engage in “friendly ongoing banter”, he should not have approached him in such a way.

Neris wrote in conclusion: “There were reports that I used a homophobic slur, which are simply incorrect.

“That did not happen and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong. My mother raised me to love and respect people for who they are and that is how I live my life.”

Later, Neris took questions from the media in Phoenix, where the Astros beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-1 Friday.

Speaking through an interpreter, he repeated his denial that he had used a homophobic slur.

“I was just as surprised as you guys hearing that report when it came out. Maybe it’s one of those things that was taken out of context. Maybe I should have smiled at the end of it. It looked wrong, obviously, me charging at him. I didn’t say anything else other than what I just said, other than saying ‘coño’.”

According to Chandler Rome for The Athletic, the interpreter was asked what ‘coño’ means and replied: “Like f—. F—ing hit.”

Writing for the Houston Chronicle, Matt Kawahara put it thus: ‘An Astros interpreter said “coño” is an expletive that in this instance was used for emphasis. The word’s meaning can vary based on how and where it is used, according to online language references.’

Several lip readers and linguists on social media had already identified that as the word Neris used and discussed its context.

As for the incident itself Wednesday, the benches and bullpens emptied after the confrontation between Neris and Rodriguez.

Order was eventually restored, and the Astros went on to win 8-3, increasing their advantage over the Mariners in the race for the third and final American League Wild Card playoff spot.

Post-game, Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez had told reporters that he had been angered by what he heard Neris say to his teammate. According to the game story by The Seattle Times beat writer Adam Jude, “Suarez, in the on deck circle at the time, said that Neris yelled a homophobic slur at Rodriguez.”

“He [Neris] started talking bad words in Spanish,” said Suarez. “He tried doing something that’s not good for people who speak Spanish and know the statement. I was in the on-deck circle and heard that and it pissed me off.”

Knowing that Neris and Rodriguez — both from the Dominican Republic — had previously been on good terms, Suarez said he initially thought the exchange was some sort of joke between two friends.

Rodriguez did not speak to reporters immediately after the game, waiting until Thursday to address the incident in quotes carried on the MLB website.

Referring to Neris, Rodriguez said: “As somebody that I had a lot of respect for and that I’ve known for quite a long time dating back to 2020 during the pandemic, I just feel I deserve a little bit more respect.”

As for the slur allegations, he said: “I’ve got no comments on that.”

Neris’ explosion seemed out of proportion given the context of where the teams were at in the game but the two players have history that likely contributed to it.

In June of 2022, Neris hit Rodriguez’s teammate Ty France with a pitch late in a close contest between the two teams. Rodriguez then followed with a two-run home run to blow the game open and pounded his chest in celebration. Shortly thereafter, Neris threw a pitch over Suarez’s head and got himself ejected.

Since Neris pounded his chest in a similar manner immediately after striking Rodriguez out last night, it’s very likely that he’s been holding onto that moment as a personal grudge for over a year.

Immediately post-game, both managers were asked for their take on the confrontation. Recent meetings between the two AL West rivals have often become heated.

“There’s been some bad blood here,” said the Astros’ Dusty Baker, well-regarded for his LGBTQ support. “It’s hard to accuse anybody or prove intent. Only the person that threw it knows the intent.

“If it was intentional, you’re messing with guys’ careers, especially this late, messing with guys’ playoff careers. I don’t know.”

Mariners manager Scott Servais said: “Julio and Hector, they know each other. There were things a couple of years ago.

“I didn’t see all of it. The pitcher said something in Spanish and Julio certainly reacted to it. It happens, it’s a really emotional game.

“Guys are trying, they want to produce… you say something back and neither guy’s going to back down, that’s for sure.”