Author Archives: Jason Turbow

Fall Down, Go Boom: Playoffs, Meet A.J. Pierzynski

Did A.J. Pierzynski flop? Of course A.J. Pierzynski flopped. Demean the guy’s character all you want, say that his motivation is outside the boundaries of baseball normalcy, but never say that this man isn’t at all times thinking about ways he could help his team.

The above image, taken during the second inning of Wednesday’s Game 4 of the NLCS, shows the catcher at his evil best. With Hunter Pence on first base and one out, the pitch bounced away from Pierzynski, and Pence advanced to second. The catcher, however, was cagey enough to note that the fortuitously timed backswing of Travis Ishikawa, which clipped him as he sprung up to corral the loose ball, could actually work to his advantage. The blow wasn’t hard enough to impede his progress, but after one step it occurred to him that falling to the ground might benefit his cause.

So Pierzynski tumbled onto his backside, flipping off his mask and helmet in the process in what looked like a belated attempt to make it appear as if they had been knocked off by Ishikawa. What he wanted: Plate ump Mark Carlson to decide that Pierzynski’s path to the ball had been impeded, rule batter’s interference, and send Pence back to first. What he got: Exactly that.

Shrewd. This is the guy who runs across the pitcher’s mound after being retired on the basepaths, just to try distracting the pitcher a smidge. He’ll intentionally get hit by a pitch and then bark at the pitcher, only to rile him up. He’ll act like he was hit by a pitch that didn’t hit him during a no-hitter. If there’s immediate benefit, great, but one gets the idea from looking at Pierzynski’s overall body of work that the guy’s primary goal is to needle his way under the skin of every one of his opponents until they’re thinking about what an asshole he is instead of paying attention to their jobs.

Still, who but an incredibly aware and overly wily player could even consider pulling off something like this, from the 2005 ALCS?:

(More on the fallout from that play here.)

Ultimately, it all makes Pierzynski an asset to whatever team he’s on, for reasons well beyond his ability to play baseball. There’s a reason that his former manager, Ozzie Guillen, once said, “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.” Hate him all you want, but give the guy some credit.

Update: As pointed out by reader RoadDogRuss, this was not even the first time Pierzynski fell down on the job.

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Because, Bryce Harper

Sure, Hunter Strickland said that he’d throw Bryce Harper another fastball. Was that really so incidiary? Harper seemed to think so. Upon taking Strickland deep again on Tuesday, we got all of this:

Fired up and passionate? A total jerk? You be the judge.

 

 

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The Art of Unnecessarily Picking up Other People’s Battles: Adrian Gonzalez, Come on Down!

It was noteworthy because it’s the postseason, and it was noteworthy because there’s some history between these teams, and it was noteworthy because it involved Yasiel Puig and everything that involves Yasiel Puig is noteworthy.

But, Adrian Gonzalez’s insistence aside, there’s no way on God’s green infield that Adam Wainwright was intentionally throwing at Puig in Game 2 of the NLDS on Friday.

It was the third inning. It was a 1-0 game. Puig was leading off. And, oh yeah, it’s the playoffs. Wainright needed to work inside, and he may have done so carelessly but certainly not intentionally. Puig seemed to realize this, understanding that an extra baserunner was precisely not what Wainwright wanted at that moment, and taking his base without protest. But Wainwright had earlier buzzed Hanley Ramirez at the hands, and in last year’s playoff series between these same teams, St. Louis pitcher Joe Kelly cracked one of Ramirez’ ribs.

All of which was likely on Gonzalez’s mind when he stood at the plate, jawing with Cards catcher Yadier Molina, even as Puig took his base. That he was standing up for his teammate was admirable. That he chose to spark a benches-clearing dustup for an HBP that wasn’t even his own? Less so. That moment was Puig’s to do with what he wanted, and when he treated it calmly and rationally, Gonzalez should have, too. That the benches ended up clearing was entirely his fault.

“You guys keep doing this over and over. We’re not going to put up with that,'” Gonzalez said he told Molina, in an ESPN.com report. “They’re going to say it’s not on purpose, but come on. It’s Wainwright. He knows where the ball is going.”

Gonzalez said Molina told him, “You’ve got to respect me.”

“I thought that was out of context, but it’s what he said,” Gonzalez relayed.

One beautiful part of the exchange was that, thanks to Gonzalez’s outburst, Wainwright had the opportunity to approach Puig and explain face to face that he hadn’t meant to hit him. Puig appeared to go along with it.

Another beautiful part was when Ramirez, up three batters later, knocked Puig home with a single, providing the best sort of revenge for which the Dodgers could have asked.

 

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Everybody Needs Somebody, Even in the Center Field Bleachers: Victor Martinez, Chris Sale is Looking at You

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Stealing an opponent’s signs from the basepaths won’t exactly be met with a smile and warm handshake, but neither will it elicit too many bad feelings—especially if the thief knocks it off once the jig is up.

Nipping them from beyond the field of play via spyglass or binoculars, however …well, that’ll get ‘em every time.

On Wednesday it sure did. Chicago’s Chris Sale appeared in every way to be convinced that something was happening beyond the center field wall at Comerica Park. During the course of the game he pointed toward center field in anger and he pantomimed binoculars from the bench and, most notably to the would-be beneficiary of allegedly stolen signs, he drilled Victor Martinez to fully express his dissatisfaction with the situation.

In the cases of hitters being drilled for perceived slights (“I don’t like how you flipped your bat after that home run”), critics of such old-school retaliation are standing on solid ground. This, though, is different. If Sale was correct, Martinez and his team were benefitting at Sale’s expense via shady and illegal practices that would otherwise be beyond discipline. Sale wasn’t talking afterward, but a well-placed fastball is the time-tested and very effective behavior-correction method of choice.

Some pertinent details: Martinez is hitting .517 with three homers in 29 career at-bats against Sale (including a .647 mark in 17 at-bats in 2013). Nobody who has faced the left-hander that much has done better. But those numbers are home and road both, and it’s a safe assumption that Martinez is not getting signs from the stands on the road, at least on a regular basis. (Oh, what a story it would be if he was.) Still, when the pitcher at the wrong end of those numbers is a perennial Cy Young contender, it’s easy to see how he might think something is up.

The thing is, Sale went 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in two starts at Comerica Park last season, and this year struck out 10 while giving up one run in six innings in his only start there. So it’s clearly not a team-wide thing that has the guy riled. And, frankly, team-wide things are pretty much all that’s on the public record when it comes to this kind of activity.

In May, the Braves all but accused the Marlins of signaling hitters via their scoreboard. In 2011, the Yankees said that the Blue Jays were doing it from the Rogers Centre … and so did the Red Sox … and the Orioles. Whatever came of it? Not a whole lot. Even with damning evidence, when Phillies coach Mick Billmeyer was caught training binoculars on Rockies catchers in 2010, it elicited nothing more than a light warning from MLB’s home office.

And so Sale took action on his own. By the looks of it, the rest of his team was keyed to the moment, as well. From an MLB.com report:

In the first inning Wednesday, with Ian Kinsler on second and two outs, Ventura made a rare early visit to the mound. Sale threw two pitches outside of the zone and then intentionally walked Martinez.

Martinez stepped to the plate in the third with runners on first and second and two outs, and struck out swinging. On the last fastball to Martinez, catcher Tyler Flowers set up inside but the deciding pitch landed high and away. That pitch sequence followed two visits to the mound by Flowers and Sale taking a couple of looks back toward center. After the strikeout, Sale turned toward right-center field and tipped his cap. That was followed by a wave in the same general direction.

During the argument in the sixth, Sale appeared to reference Martinez’s “guy out there,” and Martinez said after the game that White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia told his one-time teammate during the scrum that the White Sox suspected sign stealing. Sale claimed postgame Wednesday that his hat tip was to a fan who was wearing him out during his pregame bullpen session, but Sale was unavailable for comment prior to Thursday’s contest. The left-hander was excused by the team for the game for personal reasons.

Perhaps one day he’ll talk about what was tipping him off, and the possibility exists that it was all just an elaborate ruse to throw at Martinez simply because the hitter’s protracted success against him finally got under his skin. Either way, evidence suggests merely that Martinez is just a very good hitter who likes the kind of stuff Sale throws.

Hell, he’s hitting .556 in 18 career at-bats against Colby Lewis, and Lewis hasn’t even bothered to drill him once.

 

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When is a Pitch at the Shoetops not a Pitch at the Shoetops? When it’s a Shot Across the Bow, Apparently

A little history can go a long way. All it takes is an ill-timed HBP and a few words in response from either side, and a poorly placed mistake thereafter can blow up into a full-scale bench clearer.

Add to that ingredient list the Giants and Dodgers fighting for the top spot in the NL West, and one’s margin for error gets that much thinner.

First, the history. On May 9, Yasiel Puig homered off Madison Bumgarner and flipped his bat. He flipped his bat because flipping his bat is what Yasiel Puig does. It had as much to do with Bumgarner as it did with Ian Kennedy, Josh Collmenter, Jordan Lyles and Jacob Turner, the four guys Puig homered against prior to taking Bumgarner deep.

It didn’t make a bit of different to the 6-foot-5 North Carolinian, who started hollering at Puig and went so far as to approach him between third base and home plate. From that moment on, coverage of the rivalry seemed obliged to reference the dustup at every available opportunity.

So when Bumgarner hit Puig in the foot with a cutter on Tuesday, it was hardly in a vacuum. The pitch couldn’t have looked less intentional, coming as it did with deep, downward bite on a 1-2 count in the game’s first inning. Considering the pair’s history, Puig and Bumgarner could both have reacted with a bit more suave, which would have immediately relegated the incident to the noted-for-later category. Instead, Puig looked toward the mound in disbelief. Bumgarner said, “What are you looking at?” Puig stepped toward the pitcher. Bumgarner threw down his glove to welcome his opponent. And that was it. Benches cleared, though no punches were thrown and nobody was ejected.

Bumgarner didn’t even want to dignify talk of intent after the game. “He’ll know if it’s on purpose,” he afterward in an MLB.com report. “I’ll make sure of that.”

Matt Kemp avenged his teammate one out later, driving Puig in with a homer to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead (following Justin Turner’s solo shot leading off the inning). Bumgarner responded in kind with a homer of his own in the third, for which he pumped his arm after rounding first base.

This wasn’t Marichal-Roseboro. It wasn’t even Lilly-Posey. But the ongoing acrimony between Bumgarner and Puig is not going away, nor likely is Puig’s showboating that started it all (in the pitcher’s mind, anyway). If benches could clear over something as clear-cut as this, you can bet that it’ll happen again.

The teams meet 18 times next year.

 

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Intent is One Thing, Results are Another: Garza Doubles Down on McCutchen, is Tossed

 

Under the Respect is Earned section of the Code, Milwaukee’s Matt Garza picked some bad timing to drill guys during Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh.

Of course, it was only bad timing if he did it by accident. And technically he only hit batter, singular, but did it twice. Because that batter was Andrew McCutchen—not only the brightest star north of the Monongahela, but the guy at the center of enormous controversy last month for a remarkably similar situation—all eyes were on the Brewers right-hander.

In a vacuum, neither episode looked particularly bad. Garza first hit McCutchen in the back with a fastball in the third inning, on a 1-2 count and with two outs and nobody on in a scoreless game. But this was not a vacuum. The Pirates and Milwaukee went at it earlier this season when Pirates starter Gerrit Cole took exception to some extra exuberance by Carlos Gomez following a triple (result: yelling, punches, four suspensions). Last month, McCutchen was hit by a retaliatory pitch from Arizona reliever Randall Delgado, resulting on his first-ever trip to the disabled list. The ingredients were perfect for a combustion.

Pittsburgh’s Edison Volquez offered a response by sending a belt-high pitch inside to Ryan Braun, leading off the following inning. It wasn’t retaliation so much as a caution. We noticed. Don’t let it happen again. Plate ump Marty Foster agreed, taking the pitch as impetus to warn both benches.

The next time McCutchen came up, in the fifth, there were again two outs and nobody on. Again the count was 1-2. Again, Garza drilled him with a fastball, this time on the elbow. The evidence against Garza when it came to inent: He has has always had good control, before Saturday having hit only two batters all year, in 160 innings. The evidence in his favor: He was throwing a shutout and had little point in hitting an opponent a second time, especially after warnings had been issued, not to mention his team’s increasingly desperate bid to make up ground in the National League wild card race. There was also the fact that McCutchen leaned slightly into the pitch, trying to protect the outer part of the plate.

No matter. The pitcher was tossed, starting a parade of six relievers that eventually secured a 1-0 victory. The ejection likely precluded response from the visibly agitated Pirates, and at the very least kept manager Clint Hurdle in the dugout. (“”If he doesn’t get tossed, then I do,” he said in an MLB.com report. “Somebody is going to leave.”)

Afterward, Garza did not hold back his displeasure with the situation.

“If people think I hit McCutchen on purpose, with a 1-2 count in a game like this, then you’re just an idiot, OK?” he said. “Because a game like this, a starter doesn’t go after a guy like that. It’s a [1-2] count and I’m trying to pitch inside. Guy leans in, it hits him on the elbow, that’s my day.”

After the second HBP, McCutchen—who had thrown his helmet down in anger after getting drilled—tried to exact some immediate revenge of the most lasting kind, by stealing second base. He was thrown out to end the inning.

In the end, the fact that both of Garza’s pitches were uninitentional, in addition to the fact that he’d already been disciplined in an official capacity, likely ended things there. On Sunday,

On Sunday, Pittsburgh reliever Tony Watson hit Aramis Ramirez with two outs and one on in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game, a situation that, like both of Garza’s, would have made no sense to do anything on purpose. Outside of an increasingly unlikely playoff meeting, the teams won’t see each other again until next season.

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When Unwritten Rules Collide: Proper Shift Etiquette During a No-No

You don’t break up a no-hitter with a bunt. It’s a cornerstone of baseball’s unwritten rules. I’m giving you my best as a pitcher, and I expect your best as a hitter, the theory goes, and with this much on the line, ticky-tack small-ball tricks hardly count as anyone’s best.

Except for one caveat: If it’s a close game, everything’s in bounds. If your team needs a baserunner, then by golly you go out and become that baserunner the most effective way you know how.

On Monday, the Padres added another caveat to the list. With Andrew Cashner working a no-no one out into the fifth, Dominic Brown pushed a bunt down the left field line. Nobody came close to making a play, and Brown was on with a single. It was only a 1-0 game, and as the possible tying run Brown had every right to do what he did.

Especially when the Padres put on the freaking shift.

Which brings us to No-Hitter Etiquette Exception No. 2: If You Don’t Want a Guy to Get a Hit, Try to Avoid Making the Process Unduly Easy for Him.  That this is the Padres—at this point known primarily as the only franchise never to throw a no-no—makes it all the worse. Since the Padres came on the scene in 1969, they’ve been at the wrong end of nine of them. The Dodgers have thrown two this season.  The St. Louis Terriers, who played in the Federal League in 1914-15, have a no-hitter to their name. But not the Padres.

And still, manager Bud Black put on the shift. When Brown bunted the ball down the third base line, it was fait accompli.  Alexi Amarista was the closest guy to it as it rolled down the line, and he was playing shortstop. At the very least, Black was defying the baseball gods by ignoring another no-hitter rule: Don’t change anything up—not a spot on the bench between innings, not a guy warming up in the pen, and especially not an overt defensive assignment.

Which brings us to the third rule the Padres broke. That would be, Don’t Complain When Somebody Exploits your Shift During a No-Hitter. Especially When it’s 1-0. Cashner was visibly displeased on the mound, but settled down to end the inning. (He eventually gave up a second hit, to Marlon Byrd.) There was some dugout grumbling and the fans booed wildly. (Which is not to say that everybody in the home clubhouse was crying. “This is baseball,” said catcher Rene Rivera in an MLB.com report. “If you’re going to give a guy that side of the infield, why not take your hit?”)

It brings to mind that only two seasons ago, Jarrod Saltalamacchia also bunted against a shift to break up a no-hitter, which, like this one, was a fine thing to do. It also brings to mind that earlier this season, Colby Lewis got upset when somebody bunted to break up his no-hitter in the fifth inning, despite it being a perfectly acceptable thing to do. What it really brings to mind, though, is the most famous no-hitter-destroying bunt in history, which also involved the Padres, though in 2001 it was one of their own doing the bunting. And Ben Davis didn’t even bunt into a shift when he did it.

As for Brown, he said afterward that he wouldn’t have bunted had it been the ninth inning, but in the fifth all bets are on the table. It showed good awareness of the rules, though it probably won’t buy him any goodwill from the Padres fans who were ignorant enough to boo him in the first place.

 

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