It started when Giants lefty Jonathan Sanchez drilled Chase Utley in the shoulder blade. It was clearly unintentional—there was already a man on first and nobody out in a 2-2 game—but that wasn’t the issue.
The ball bounced off Utley and up the line toward first base. The hitter, moving in that direction, caught in on a hop and tossed it back to the mound.
This did not sit well with Sanchez. He yelled, “That’s bullshit,” at the startled runner, to which Utley quizzically replied, “What’s bullshit?”
Within moments, both benches had emptied. (Watch it here.)
At issue for Sanchez: disrespect from Utley.
“You don’t throw the ball back to the pitcher,” he said in an ESPN report. “You’re a professional. You don’t do that. And when he did it, he had this smile on his face, this look that said, ‘You’re nothing.’ And I didn’t like that at all. So I told him.”
There is, of course, the fact that Sanchez was struggling and clearly frustrated, and, if not looking for a confrontation, at least prone to embracing one.
Utley might have been telling Sanchez, “You can’t hurt me.” He might have been saying, “Here’s what I think about you and your tactics.” He might not have intended anything at all, and was simply returning the baseball he unexpectedly held to its place of origin. Not only did he not attempt to stare down the pitcher as he tossed the ball, he barely looked in his direction.
We don’t know what he meant, because he isn’t talking. “It’s just part of the game,” he told Jeff Fletcher of FanHouse. “You’ll have to ask (Sanchez).”
No matter the answer, there’s little doubt that Sanchez over-reacted. His was the response of a pitcher clearly on the ropes, with little left to lose. Although it’s improbable, the notion arose that he might be trying to get both himself and Utley tossed from the game, because he wasn’t going to last long, anyway. (Although Sanchez didn’t know it at the time, Bruce Bochy had already started toward the mound to remove the pitcher when the bad blood started to go down.)
Should Utley have reacted as he did? Probably not. Were his actions meritorious of the response they received? Absolutely not. The pitcher, in that situation, should have without question risen above such a level of perceived slight.
Clearly, Sanchez was not on his game, in pretty much any capacity.
* * *
As Sanchez was having his mini-meltdown on the mound, another suspect Code violation took place on the opposite side of the field.
As the benches emptied to surround the would-be combatants, the bullpens followed. The Giants’ pen, a level above Philadelphia’s, put San Francisco’s relievers a few steps behind their counterparts in the race to the field. One of them never made it at all.
Jeremy Affeldt, who had begun warming up moments earlier, made a move to join his teammates. Instead, bullpen coach Mark Gardner grabbed him, and issued an order.
“He said, ‘You stay here. You need to lock it in right now,’ ” Affeldt told the San Francisco Chronicle. ” ‘We’ve got a long game ahead of us, and you need to stay focused.’ “
So the lefty stayed put, much to the delight of Phillies fans, who derided him for his failure to join the on-field scrum. He entered the game when the field cleared, and threw two scoreless innings—including working out of the two-on, no-out jam he inherited from Sanchez.
This is the only instance on record I’ve encountered of a player able to avoid any negative clubhouse repercussions for failing to join his teammates in an altercation.
It couldn’t have been more appropriate.