Presenting Baseball’s Best Retaliatory Escape Artist: Vicente Padilla

Vicente Padilla

Oh, the merits of retaliation.

On April 16, Dodgers right-hander Vicente Padilla broke Aaron Rowand’s face with a pitch, putting him out of action for two weeks. Some feel that a hit batsman, even an unintentionally hit one, merits retaliation, because points must be proved about topics such as willingness to take whatever it is an opponent wishes to dish out, or not.

Padilla’s strike may well have been unintentional, but that doesn’t alter the fact that he holds the distinction of being the game’s preeminent headhunter. That, by itself,  is reason enough for suspicion.

The Giants had an opportunity to retaliate that day. Padilla came to bat the very next inning, Los Angeles led 9-2 at the time and there were two outs in the inning. A perfect set-up.

Instead of drilling Padilla, however, Giants reliever Waldis Joaquin pitched to him, getting him to ground out to end the fifth inning. Dodgers manager Joe Torre pinch-hit for Padilla the next time he was scheduled to bat.

Discussion around the Bay Area mounted a number of theories as to why the Giants chose not to retaliate. It could have been that Joaquin, just 23 years old and with fewer than 15 innings of big league experience, simply didn’t know any better, and hadn’t received specific instructions.

It could have been that the Giants’ braintrust wanted some time to assess the situation, knowing that they’d have other chances during the season to attack their nemesis.

To complicate matters, Padilla broke an unwritten rule after the fact by failing to call over to the Giants dugout to check on the guy he’d seriously injured. By itself, said some, that was justification for a retaliatory pitch the next time San Francisco saw him.

Well, San Francisco saw him yesterday for the first time since the incident and … nothing.

Padilla’s first two at-bats came with a runner on base and nobody out; the score was 0-0 the first time, and the Dodgers led 2-0 the second. Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez can hardly be faulted for his desire to minimize the damage each inning, rather than extend it.

When Padilla came up in the seventh, however, the Dodgers led 5-1. Giants reliever Santiago Casilla apparently attempted to send a message, throwing a fastball behind Padilla that failed to hit him. The intent behind the pitch—whether he wanted to hit him, or to send a message at all—is unknown, as Casilla stuck to the Code afterward, blaming the pitch’s location on a faulty “delivery point.”

It was enough, however, for umpire Tom Hallion to warn both benches, and put an end to Casilla’s endeavor. Padilla skated unscathed, eventually striking out. If there was a message sent, it was a mild one. After the game, Rowand refused to discuss anything that had to do with Padilla.

Interestingly, this exchange signaled a pattern—not with the Giants, but with Padilla himself. It was Padilla, after all, who instigated the series of events that led to White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen berating rookie pitcher Sean Tracey on the Comisky Park mound in 2006.

From The Baseball Codes:

Guillen quickly identified Texas’s Hank Blalock as a target for retaliation after Padilla twice hit Chicago catcher A. J. Pierzynski during a game. That was the plan, anyway. Filling the space between conception and execution, however, was Guillen’s choice of executioner: rookie Sean Tracey.

The right-hander had appeared in all of two big-league games to that point and was understandably nervous. Even under optimal circumstances he didn’t have terrific control, having led the Carolina League in wild pitches two years earlier, while hitting twenty-three batters. When Tracey was suddenly inserted into a game at Arlington Stadium with orders to drill the twentieth major-league hitter he’d ever faced, it was hardly because he was the best man for the job. To Guillen, Tracey was simply an expendable commodity, a reliever whose potential ejection wouldn’t much hurt the team, especially trailing 5–0, as the Sox were at the time.

If the manager knew his baseball history, he might have realized that precedent had already been set in this regard. In 1942, Boston Braves manager Casey Stengel, wanting to get even with the Brooklyn Dodgers for stealing his signs, ordered his own rookie pitcher—greener even than Tracey, appearing in just his second big-league game—to hit Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Faced with an assassin’s assignment, the  nervous lefty tried three times to hit Reese, and three times he missed. The following day, a fuming Stengel shipped him back to the minors, an action he would later call his biggest mistake as a manager. It would be four more years before Warren Spahn returned to the big leagues (a span extended by his service in World War II), by which point he was better prepared to handle the rigors that came with his promotion.

The same probably won’t be said about Sean Tracey. When the right-hander’s first pitch to Blalock ran high and tight but missed the mark, Tracey did what he’d been taught in the minors, sending his next pitch to the outside corner in order to avoid suspicion. Blalock tipped it foul. When Tracey’s third effort was also fouled back, for strike two, the pitcher altered his strategy and decided to go after the out, not the batter.

According to his manager, it was the wrong decision. After Blalock grounded out on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Guillen stormed to the mound and angrily yanked Tracey from the game. He didn’t let up after they returned to the dugout, berating the twenty-five-year-old in front of both his teammates and a television audience. With nowhere to hide, Tracey sat on the bench and pulled his jersey up over his head, doing his best to disappear in plain sight. Two days later, without making another appearance, he was returned to the minor leagues, and during the off¬season was released.

In his previous game, Tracey had hit a batter without trying to, said Tim Raines, Chicago’s bench coach, “so we figured it’d be easy for him to hit a guy if he was trying. . . . But it’s much harder than it looks. I think it’s harder knowing you’re going to hit a guy. And if the target knows you’re trying to hit him, he’s going to be loose in the box. It’s not something you’re taught. You can’t practice hitting a guy.”

Ultimately, Tracey shouldered the responsibility for his actions, saying he “learned from it,” but the lesson was lost on his more tenured teammate, Jon Garland, a seven-year veteran en route to his second consecutive eighteen-win season. Before Padilla’s next start against the White Sox, Guillen launched a pre-emptive verbal sortie, positing to members of the media that if the Rangers right-hander hit any Chicago player, retribution would be fast and decisive. His exact words: “If Padilla hits somebody, believe me, we’re going to do something about it. That’s a guarantee. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but something’s going to happen. Make sure [the Rangers] know it, too.” Padilla did, in fact, hit Chicago shortstop Alex Cintron in the third inning, at which point it didn’t take much predictive power to see that a member of the Texas lineup would soon be going down. The smart money was on the following inning’s leadoff hitter, second baseman Ian Kinsler.

The smart money was correct, but the payoff left something to be desired. Garland’s first pitch sailed behind Kinsler, a mark clearly missed. Plate umpire Randy Marsh, well versed in the history between the clubs, opted against issuing a warning, effectively granting Garland a second chance. The pitcher didn’t exactly seize the opportunity, putting his next pitch in nearly the same place as the first. At this point, Marsh had no choice—warnings were issued and hostilities were, willingly or not, ceased. Guillen rushed to the mound for a vigorous discussion about the merits of teammate protection. Kinsler ultimately walked, and after the inning Guillen reprised his dugout undressing of Sean Tracey, spewing invective while Garland listened and the White Sox batted. “I make it clear, I won’t wait for two months or until I see you in spring training or until I see you next year,” Guillen told reporters the following day. “When you get it done, you get something done right away. If it didn’t happen that day, we get over it and move on.”

As Raines said, however, it’s not as easy as it looks. A designated driller carries the expectations of twenty-four guys, plus coaches, plus fans. If he tends to internalize things the task can become difficult, with the neces¬sary steps to intentionally hitting someone growing surprisingly involved.

Santiago Casilla can attest to that much.

San Francisco next sees the Dodgers on July 19. The Code says that the Giants had their shot, and they blew it, so the slate should be wiped clean. That’s not always the way things work, however.

Stay tuned.

- Jason

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2 Comments

Filed under Aaron Rowand, Retaliation, Vicente Padilla

2 responses to “Presenting Baseball’s Best Retaliatory Escape Artist: Vicente Padilla

  1. Pingback: Twins-Sox Go Tit for Tat, then Start All Over Again « The Baseball Codes

  2. Rick

    Tracey was requesting a trade the following spring training, he wasn’t released. A.J. dove into a change up the second time he got hit. Retaliation is not just on an off speed hit by pitch. Its funny how Tracey said he learned his lesson in his first interview back in the Bigs a month later when the White Sox played the Yankees on the day where Mariano Rivera got his 400th save. He never went into detail about what he learned. Getting back to the at bat against Blalock, Hank was in the back of the batters box already aware that he was going to be hit. His second pitch wasn’t fouled off, it was a taken strike. The third pitch was another brush back to the lower half. Blalock then swung on the fourth pitch grounding out to second. Sounds like he learned how fast a situation can turn into a huge cover up. Tracey was sent down that night, the unrelated trade was for a guy who was represented by his same agent. Collusion at its finest. Why did Jon Garland missed Ian Kinsler two times a month later? No one in the players union likes how A.J. plays the game. He antagonizes without following through for himself.

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