Start with Bill Hall. Was flying into Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez on a play at second base, as the Astros second baeman did Friday, too much? It was certainly aggressive. Ramirez, firmly planted behind and to the left of second base as he attempted to turn a double-play, provided a stationary target as Hall went out of his way to take him out. (Watch it here.)
That, however, is what players are taught to do—interrupt the fielder at any cost, so long as it’s clean. And Hall’s slide was clean, if a touch late. He went in feet first and spikes down, with one clear purpose: prevent the double-play. That he went out of his way—but not too far out of his way—to do it falls well within the definition of getting the job done.
“Clean play? Dirty play? That’s hard to tell unless it’s very obvious,” said Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez in the Palm Beach Post. “He came hard but he was in range. He was touching the base. That’s the way he plays and that’s the way it should be—play hard.”
Hall ended up going shin-to-shin with Ramirez, knocking them both down for several minutes. Hall returned to the game; Ramirez sat out until Tuesday.
A day prior, Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees took out Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka in a similar play, with far graver consequences. Swisher’s slide—like Hall’s, off the base and intended to break up the double-play—broke the second baseman’s fibula, just six games into his big league career. (Watch it here.)
The reason both infielders were hurt is that neither of them jumped. Ramirez fielded the throw in an awkward place coming from the shortstop position and had to adjust; Nishioka might simply never have learned any difference.
Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden, who spent a year playing in Japan (winning the Japan Series with the Yomiuri Giants in 1994), was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune talking about the dearth of such tactics in that country.
“When I got over there I told them, ‘I don’t slide to the bag. We are taught to break up double plays,’ ” he said. “The coach told me, ‘We expect the Americans to play that way.’ “
Swisher went so far as to visit Nishioka in the X-ray room at Yankee Stadium to offer a personal apology for the inadvertent injury. Nishioka told him there was no apology necessary. And that was it. No retaliatory strikes the following day. No bad blood resulting from a hard, clean play.
The same can not be said for the Marlins. Ramirez was injured far less severely than Nishioka, but despite the fact that he publicly exonerated Hall—“My opinion is he was trying to break up a double play,” he said in the Post. “He told [Marlins infielder Greg] Dobbs that he was sorry but … he was trying to do his job.”—his teammates clearly had a score to settle.
Saturday’s game was too consistently close to consider a retaliatory strike, but on Sunday, with a 6-1 lead in the seventh inning, Edward Mujica drilled Hall in the hip. The intent was clear; Mujica has hit only three guys over the course of his six-year career and walks almost nobody. His control is exquisite. He was quickly ejected.
Ramirez being the face of his franchise certainly had something to do with it. The fact that he has a history of calling out Marlins pitchers for lack of retaliatory response may also have factored in. (Then again, Mujica was with San Diego during that particular tirade, and may have been entirely ignorant of it.)
Had Hall been out of line with his slide, with a barrel roll or some other questionable tactic—in other words, had he deserved the response—it might have ended there. As it was, Houston reliever Anuery Rodriguez stood up for his guy by plunking Gaby Sanchez in the ninth. This one was easy to see coming; Rodriguez is a rookie with a double-digit ERA. His performance on the field is not winning much respect from his teammates, so he felt the need to earn it in a different capacity. He, too, was ejected. (Watch both ejections here.)
The Marlins and Astros meet once more this season, in July. There’s no reason for renewed hostilities at that point—but then again there rarely is. Stay tuned.