Osuna’s return to Toronto rekindles uncomfortable questions

Watch as the fans at the Rogers Centre react as the Houston Astros turn to Roberto Osuna to close out the game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

TORONTO – The potential for legal drama when Roberto Osuna’s assault charge is raised in court for a sixth time Tuesday lingered in the air Monday, as the Houston Astros closer returned to Rogers Centre for the first time since his July 30 trade from the Blue Jays.

The 23-year-old declined to speak with media on the advice of his lawyer, according to the Astros media relations department, and he chatted only briefly with a handful of his former teammates along with manager John Gibbons before the series opener.

Osuna stretched with the Astros as if it were any other game, and his current manager A.J. Hinch said he’d use his closer in the ninth inning as needed during the series without reservations, which is what he did to secure a 5-3 victory. One fan wore an Osuna Blue Jays jersey with the name crossed out but the right-hander looked to have mostly been left largely unbothered by the sparsely populated stands behind the right-field bullpen, where he sat during the game, and as he warmed for the ninth.

But boos from the announced crowd of 23,463 greeted him as he ran onto the field from the bullpen and then again before each of his 20 pitches, although that lost steam the longer he was out on the mound.

One man yelled, “How do you live with yourself?”

“Respect women,” shouted another.

He worked around a one-out Richard Urena single to collect his 10th save for the Astros, leaving the intrigue for the Old City Hall courthouse Tuesday morning, when some sort of resolution may be reached or the case could proceed forward to trial.

Osuna was arrested May 8 in the assault of a woman and the case first appeared before the court on June 18, when his lawyer, Domenic Basile, received full disclosure from the Crown and discussions between the sides began. Major League Baseball handed down a 75-game suspension June 22, and court dates July 9, Aug. 1, Sept. 5 and Sept. 19 followed with the defence and Crown continuing talks through the weekend.

Basile has said he’s seeking a Peace Bond for his client, which would lead to the withdrawal of the charge and certain conditions placed on Osuna. That’s the ideal outcome for him because it wouldn’t lead to any visa complications in the future, but to this point, the Crown hasn’t relented.

Osuna could reach a plea agreement but that would impact his visa status, or the case could go to trial. Basile has said Osuna will plead not guilty if that happens.

The whole scenario is far from ideal for an Astros team on the verge of clinching the American League West ahead of an attempt to repeat as World Series champions.

Still, Hinch insisted the baggage that arrived with Osuna hasn’t been an issue for a team that seemed to have walked back from its tough stance against domestic violence following the release of former minor-leaguer Danry Vasquez, who was captured on video assaulting his then girlfriend. Several Astros, including Justin Verlander, strongly supported the move, making Osuna’s integration a potentially awkward one.

“We didn’t really have any preconceived notions about what it was going to be,” Hinch said of adding Osuna to the mix. “I guess we knew that we were going to have to go day by day week by week, until we learned more about him, learned more about his situation. We just showed up to work one day and added Osuna at the deadline. Our team has absorbed a lot of new players over the last couple of years, obviously Osuna came with a large surrounding given the circumstances. We’ve handled it fine. We’ve done a good job of staying status quo as far as having a good team with a good culture with a fun of environment and we’ve incorporated him into that.”

Helping in that regard is that Osuna has pitched very well for the Astros, converting all 10 of his save opportunities while allowing only five runs in 20.2 innings of work.

Astros reliever Joe Smith, Osuna’s teammate last year with the Blue Jays, phoned him after news of the trade broke to check in on how he was doing, and Osuna simply told him, “I just want to play baseball and get this (criminal case) over with.”

To this point, what they’ve seen of him is what the Astros have to judge him on.

“Ultimately, I don’t know what happened, nobody knows what happened, everything has been kept really quiet,” said Smith. “He’s obviously proclaimed his innocence throughout the whole thing and we’ll see what happens with that. Coming over here, there were some people that were worried at first and as they’ve gained more knowledge and just him and his personality, not rubbing people the wrong way, he’s been a good person in the clubhouse.”

Osuna’s return to Toronto rekindled the uncomfortable questions the Astros had to answer time and again immediately after the trade, and once Osuna returned from his suspension Aug. 5.

After the initial focus, “a lot of it has gone away,” said Smith. “Our job is to come here and play baseball. You work with people you’re not always friends with in any environment but obviously knowing O, we’ll see what happens when everything comes out. I hope it turns out for the best and goes away. But we’ve seen it with other players, they come in and it’s a big story at first and then it dissipates.”

The Astros will certainly not want the charge or a trial lingering over their closer ahead of a return to the post-season, while the Crown is obviously seeking justice, whatever that may be.

“He’s been very, very good on the field, he’s been good in our clubhouse, he’s been great on our team as I expected him to,” Hinch said of Osuna. “When we acquired him, John Gibbons gave me a call and told me about him as a player, about how he is around the club, how he handles success, how he handles success, he was spot on, that he can handle any situation.”

Perhaps, if Osuna makes his first court appearance Tuesday, that last part will be put to an entirely new test.

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