A kiss is just a kiss—unless it happens in the ninth inning of a playoff game. Then, all hell breaks loose.
Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque put it to the test on Sunday. With the game tied, runners at the corners and two outs, the right-hander was called upon to face A’s slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who he retired on a comebacker to the mound. Before tossing the ball to first, however, Alburquerque planted a wet one on the horsehide. (Watch it here.)
“Did I see what I just saw?” Tigers catcher Gerald Laird, who had been removed for a pinch-hitter a half-inning earlier, recalled thinking. “Obviously,” he said later, “I did.”
So did the A’s. After the game, outfielder Josh Reddick told reporters that he “didn’t appreciate it,” that he “thought that was immature” and “not very professional.” Cespedes said that he may kiss his bat the next time he connects against Alburquerque.
By Monday afternoon, however, during an off-day at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum, the A’s were downplaying the incident as a non-story.
“What am I going to do, yell at them?” asked Jonny Gomes. “That doesn’t take care of anything. Bash them in the media? That doesn’t take care of anything. Just let the baseball gods take care of it. That’s why the baseball gods are there.”
For his part, Alburquerque, 26, said Monday that he intended no disrespect to Cespedes or the A’s, and that his actions were colored by “the emotion of the game.” Regardless, the second-year pitcher, a native of the Dominican Republic, was pulled aside after the game by Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and Octavio Dotel, who explained to him the reality of the situation.
“We just talked common sense,” said Avila. “First, you don’t want to kiss a baseball that you’re about to throw to first base, because if he does that and throws it over Prince [Fielder]’s head, it doesn’t look so good. Also, the last thing you want to do is fire the other team up.” (The rest of the Tigers later took to jibing Alburquerque fairly relentlessly, including asking the flummoxed pitcher if the ball kissed him back.)
While this particular antic isn’t exactly commonplace, it does have some historical precedent when it comes to similar showmanship. Perhaps the most prominent example occurred during Game 7 of the 1982 World Series, when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar fielded a grounder by Milwaukee’s Jim Gantner, then held the ball while watching watch Gantner run until the final possible moment, firing the ball to first base just in time.
Gantner turned and called the pitcher a hot dog (among other things), Andujar responded with a parade of his own curse words at high volume, and the pair had to be separated.
Closer to the tenor of Alburquerque’s display was Sammy Sosa, who in a spring training game in 1999 hit two home runs against Arizona’s Todd Stottlemyre, and bowed to the crowd, Japanese-style, after each. Sosa said afterward that his intent was to show respect to the fans. Stottlemyre didn’t buy it.
“I sure don’t remember Mickey Mantle bowing after home runs,” he told the Associated Press. “I guarantee Joe DiMaggio didn’t bow.”
In neither case did the pitcher retaliate. In fact, the most appropriate form of retaliation is the one utilized by Philadelphia in 1993 against Bryan Hickerson, after the Giants reliever snared a line drive by Wes Chamberlain to end the sixth inning and spiked the ball into the turf.
“That infuriated us,” said Phillies outfielder Milt Thompson. Dusty Baker, then the Giants manager, said that Hickerson’s display was not directed at the opposing dugout, and that if the Phillies wanted to take it personally, it was up to them. They did, and it was; Philadelphia, down 8-3 at the time, came back to win, 9-8, in 10 innings.
This is exactly the type of thing that the A’s, down two games to none, have in mind. “Our best retaliation,” said Brandon Inge,” is to win three in a row.”
Ultimately, Avila had the most concise take on the subject.
“It’s baseball, not a soap opera,” he said. “It’s probably not the best thing to do in a playoff game, but at the same time there are much more important things going on.”