Yesterday, Bruce Chen threw to first 10 consecutive times in an effort to keep Minnesota’s Denard Span close to the bag. (Watch them all here.) Span never ended up taking off, and Yahoo’s Kevin Kaduk wondered whether there might be an unwritten rule to cover situations like this.
The short answer: Not that I know of. Winning is paramount, and if it makes sense to a pitcher to go nutty in his efforts to keep a runner from stealing, he’s entitled to it. Had it happened in the middle of a blowout, of course—as opposed to the first inning of a scoreless game, as was the case for Chen—then the pitcher would have to field angry questions from his own dugout, as well as that of the opposition.
Because we’re on the topic, here are some unwritten rule incidents involving pickoff throws, which have nothing to do with the frequency of attempts.
- Former Giants manager Roger Craig would occasionally order an abundance of pickoff attempts to give guys on his bench additional opportunities to decode the other team’s signs. “I had pitchers shake off pickoff moves,” said catcher Bob Brenly, in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. “I had to give [pitchers] the ‘thumb’ sign—Roger called it—to get them to throw the ball over there.”
- In a 1997 game, the Mets called for extra pickoff attempts when Roger Clemens, then with the Blue Jays, was on second. Their strategy: wear him out on the basepath. Clemens didn’t take long to figure it out, and warned shortstop Rey Ordonez that the next throw to second would put a target on a New York hitter in the ensuing inning.
- While pickoffs are generally verboten late in blowout games, Dave Righetti felt justified in picking off Brett Butler in the ninth inning of a game in which the Dodgers led the Giants, 12-1. It was the final day of the 1993 season, and although San Francisco had won 103 games, they needed one more win to tie Atlanta atop the NL West. By the ninth inning, it was clear they weren’t going to get it. So when Butler led off the frame with a single, then took an enormous lead, Righetti was particularly sensitive, reading it as an indicator that the runner was about to take off. “A guy has no business running at that point in a game like that, and it ticked me off that he was even thinking about it,” said Righetti. “Well, his lead was so big that I picked him off—but if he had tried to steal second, I would have gone out there and we would have brawled.”
Fight pre-emption via Code violation. Seems like as good a reason as any.