Gut Buster

At first blush, it doesn’t look good. Former big leaguer Humberto Quintero, currently catching with Boston’s Triple-A team in Pawtucket, made a move to throw out a baserunner steaming toward third … except that’s not at all what he was doing. What he was doing was throwing the ball directly into the midsection of the hitter, Durham’s Luke Maile, who made no move to get out of his way in the right-handed batter’s box. The throw was from a distance of approximately six inches. Maile went down in a quick heap.

Quintero has been drawing heat for the act, and justifiably so. The batter is entitled to the box; while Maile did not try to avoid Quintero, neither did he impede him.

Quintero is 35 years old and spent a dozen years in the big leagues with five teams. He presumably knows the drill. If anything, this act smacks as the endpoint of a conversation, one in which requests have been lodged to correct some behavior that has not been corrected. Perhaps the Bulls have made a habit of impeding throws to third. Perhaps that’s why they’re running in the first place.

The move is so over-the-top—including Quintero continuing to beg for an interference call as Maile squirmed in the dirt—that more to the story is the only logical explanation. Otherwise, the catcher is just nuts.

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Bring it, Royals

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Give Adrian Beltre His Due … Down to the Penny

Beltre batGamesmanship is terrific.

In the late 1960s and early-’70s, Rico Carty hit exceedingly well against Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis—a .341 lifetime batting average with four homers in 41 at-bats. In response, Ellis tore a dollar bill in half and gave one part of it to a Braves clubhouse attendant to pass along to Carty. Ellis’ intention: Get another hit off me and I’ll give you the other half. That’s not how Carty took it. The slugger’s response, according to Ellis in Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball: “Rico said he was going to kill me, because I put the voodoo on him. I didn’t know. And dig this: I loaded the bases, and hit Rico on the hand, broke his finger, and he swore that was a voodoo!”

On Friday, Adrian Beltre handled a similar situation so much better. Beltre broke three bats while going a soft 0-for-3 against Angels right-hander Garrett Richards. Afterward, he sent the pitcher an invoice—a bill on an actual invoice form—for $300. At the bottom he wrote, “Cash only, no checks.”

A tickled Richards offered a signed bat in response, his inscription indicating hope that the token covered his obligation.

It wasn’t voodoo, but it was an instant classic.

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Another Start and More Bad Blood: Yordano Ventura Is At It Again

Maybe Yordano Ventura just isn’t a people person.

There was his run-in with Mike Trout. There was his run-in with Brett Lawrie. Yesterday he had a run-in with Adam Eaton. Three players, three teams, three temper tantrums, one full-on brawl and ejections from multiple games. It’s still April.

Things kicked off yesterday in Chicago when Ventura hit Jose Abreu with a pitch in the fourth inning, and Chris Sale “responded” by hitting Mike Moustakas in the fifth. (“Responded” is in quotes because the bullet fired was an 86-mph changeup. The thing about message pitches is that they’re intended to send a message. Changeups do not serve as such. Sale touched 98 mph earlier in the game. That would have sent a message.)

Things started poorly for these teams on opening day. Jeff Samardzija hit Lorenzo Cain, Cain emphatically stating later that it was intentional, owing to it being the next pitch after Samardzija gave up a home run. Two days later the teams traded shots, Jose Quintana drilling Cain and Danny Duffy responding with a pitch behind the head of Adam LaRoche.

The chirping continued on Thursday, with Samardzija—still ticked off about the Cain incident?—apparently offering verbal barbs after Christian Colon lined into a double play (Alex Gordon getting caught off second) in the top of the seventh.

With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Ventura induced a comebacker from Adam Eaton. According to Ventura, Eaton yelled something on contact. Ventura fired back after catching the ball, looking directly at the hitter and saying “Fuck you” before tossing the ball to first base. Eaton took steps toward the pitcher, benches emptied and fists started flying—the most prominent combatants being Samardzija and Cain in an almost certain holdover from opening day. (Watch it all here.)

Ventura, Cain and Edinson Volquez were tossed from Kansas City, Samardzija (who was not pitching) and Chris Sale (who was) from Chicago. Ultimately, though, this is on Ventura. What Eaton may have yelled at him—or whether he yelled at all—is incidental. Had Ventura kept his cool, so too would everybody else on the field. He expressed contrition after the game, but the guy has verbally engaged with hitters in three straight starts, and four starts into his season he has yet to be removed by Ned Yost, despite throwing zero complete games. (Twice he’s been ejected and twice departed with cramps.) Sure, the Royals have been hit 17 times this season, while drilling only five men themselves, but this is no way to go about a course correction.

The primary thing Ventura has done is expose a glaring weakness in his game. The guy has some of the best stuff in the American League; if an opponent can avoid it simply by riling the pitcher up and getting him ejected, that’s what they’ll do. It’s no different than Ventura exploiting a guy who can’t hit curveballs by feeding him nothing but.

Growing up is inevitable, even for young hotheads. Ventura has accelerated his own timeline.

[Gif via Deadspin]

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Bautista Proves that Grudge Homers are the Best Kind of Homers

With Yasiel Puig’s renunciation of bat flipping dominating the early-season talk about the subject, there’s another function of the tactic that has been largely overlooked—one that is less Look at me and more Look at yourself. It was illustrated to perfection on Tuesday by Jose Bautista.

With the Blue Jays leading 11-4 in the seventh inning, Baltimore right-hander Jason Garcia threw a fastball just behind the slugger, perhaps in response to the teams’ April 12 meeting in which Bautista homered off of Darren O’Day, then skipped toward first base. Garcia’s shot came so close that plate ump Mark Carlson warned both benches about further hostilities.

On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Bautista connected for his fourth home run of the season, a mammoth shot that scored Josh Donaldson ahead of him. Its no-doubt-about-it nature allowed the slugger to stand in the box and admire it before insouciantly flipping his bat away in disgust. It was a pure, cold message for Garcia. You want to play, he effectively asked the pitcher? This is how you play. (Watch it here.)

As he rounded the bases, Bautista got an earful from Orioles infielders, primarily Steve Pearce and Ryan Flaherty. He responded in kind. As he crossed the plate he took a moment to stare down the Baltimore bench.

Things grew further heated as Bautista trotted to his position at the start of the next inning. Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones began hollering from alongside the dugout, at which point Bautista furiously pointed behind his back, reminding the Orioles how the whole thing started. (Watch it here.)

If anything, Bautista has proven adept at finishing things in a way that effectively gets under the skin of the opposition. His homer-‘n-skip act came in response to O’Day doing something similar after striking him out in 2013. His homer-‘n-pimp act came after Garcia’s near miss. The Orioles could barely stand either one.

Whether they take further action is yet to be seen, but if we judge the situation by what’s already happened, Baltimore’s response is almost beside the point. It seems certain that Bautista will get the last word.

[Gif via Baltimore Sports Report]

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On the Merits of Standing Up for One’s Teammates While Simultaneously Understanding When to Leave Well Enough the Hell Alone

Herrera's heat

You get your shot and then it’s done. This is a cornerstone tenet of baseball’s unwritten rules. If an opponent upends you—hits your batter, takes out your infielder—you have an opportunity to make things right. Singular. After that shot, hit or miss, you move on. That’s what makes baseball’s code functional, and its functionality is what has allowed it to persevere.

On Friday, Oakland’s Brett Lawrie took out Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar with a late, awkward—and, say some, dirty—slide. On Saturday, Yordano Ventura planted a 99 mph fastball into his ribs. Ventura had his shot, and it should have settled the score.

It didn’t.

Bad blood lingered in the Royals’ clubhouse, particularly from Escobar himself; the shortstop, day-to-day with a sprained and bruised knee, was outspoken in calling the play below board. (Lost in the errata of the aftermath was the fumbled text apology that Lawrie insists he sent to Escobar via a phone number given to him by Eric Hosmer, which Escobar just as firmly insists he never received. Who knew how differently things might have played out had Esco been appropriately placated to begin with.)

An aggrieved and injured player is enough to motivate disquiet in a clubhouse. The fact that to that point in the season the Royals had been hit by 13 pitches but had only hit three themselves could also have played a part.

There is no need for those numbers—hit batters on your side vs. how many your own team has hit— to be equitable, but a wild imbalance in that ratio can serve as an indicator for position players about whether their pitching staff is appropriately guarding their best interests. Were there ill will on the Royals in that regard, Ventura at least partially righted the ship with one blow.

Lawrie took it in stride, ambling to first base without protest, even as the pitcher (already frustrated by having given up five runs in the inning) did his best to spark confrontation by following the runner down the line. Umpire Jim Joyce ejected Ventura on the spot. For the second day in a row the benches emptied. (Watch it here.)

Baseball’s code indicates that at this point the score was even, both teams debt-free. That’s not what happened.

In the first inning on Sunday, Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain in the foot. Both benches were warned, and Ned Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland were ejected for arguing the issue. (Watch it here.) Were the pitch intentional it would have been entirely out of line, and the fact that Kazmir’s control for the rest of the game was spot-on does not reflect well on him in this regard. Still, a foot is hardly the target of choice for a pitcher with retaliation on his mind, not to mention that there was little reason for Kazmir to extend hostilities.

Debate about Kazmir’s motivation lasted until the eighth inning, until Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera wiped away thought of everything that came before, with two pitches that became the talk of the afternoon. With two outs and nobody on—and with Oakland holding a 2-1 lead, no less—the right-hander started Lawrie high and tight with a 100 mph fastball. His second pitch was equally blinding, and sailed behind the batter so close that even on replay it is difficult to see where it missed. Like Ventura a day earlier, Herrera was tossed. As if there was any doubt about the pitcher’s intentions, he began walking toward the clubhouse almost before plate ump Greg Gibson tossed him. (Watch it here.)

It still wasn’t enough. On his way off the field, Herrera looked toward the A’s dugout and pointed at his head. He later said that he was trying to say Think about what happened, but many in the A’s clubhouse took it as a threat to come closer next time. There is no more clear-cut violation of the unwritten rules than to threaten to throw at a player’s head, and if there was anybody in green and gold willing to give the Royals the benefit of the doubt, Herrera’s pantomime effectively cemented their opinions in the opposite direction.

Things could have ended after Lawrie was drilled on Saturday. They could have ended early Sunday, had the Royals ignored Kazmir’s fastball of debatable intentions. Now, though, the bad blood between these teams will be front and center when they meet again in June. It’ll be interesting to note whether the Royals’ HBP ratio will have changed by that point, but it probably won’t matter; the A’s are an outlier to them, and vice versa, and no amount of Royals whispering by Billy Butler is going to change things. This one will play out on the field.

Update (4-21-15): And repercussions have been repercussed. Herrera gets five games, Ventura a fine.

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Down and Dirty: The Different Responses to a Takeout Slide

You hit my guy so I’ll hit your guy. Retaliation is the oldest story in baseball. Friday saw two similar events—middle infielders being taken out by aggressive slides—handled in different ways.

In Boston, Pablo Sandoval went out of his way to wipe out Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop. In Kansas City, Brett Lawrie did similarly with Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar. Both were trying to break up double plays. The primary difference was the response.

The Orioles stayed cool, and two innings later—during Sandoval’s next at-bat—their pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, made it clear that such behavior would not be tolerated, planting a fastball into the third baseman’s shoulder blade. (Watch it here.) Jimenez took it upon himself to remind the aggressor that such actions have repercussions, and that taking liberties with an Oriole—any Oriole—carries repercussions. That kind of HBP may not deter Sandoval or the Red Sox from such actions in the future, but they will at the very least pause to consider it.

Lawrie’s takeout of Escobar with a late, awkward slide was a bit different in that Escobar was injured and had to be helped off the field. (It wasn’t even a good baseball play, as Lawrie would have been safe had he gone directly into the bag. Watch it here.) Rather than wait for a more formal response, benches cleared immediately, though no punches were thrown. That it was a tie game in the seventh inning precluded any notions a Royals pitcher may have had toward responding; similarly, Lawrie next batted in the ninth inning with the Royals protecting a two-run lead.

Headline fodder for the Jimenez incident was his immediate ejection by plate ump Jordan Baker, without warning and while having allowed no hits. The fact that it was only the fourth inning mitigates the latter item, but there is no way around the fact that Jimenez’s ejection was without merit. He handled a baseball play in a peer-vetted baseball way. A warning would have been more prudent, with Baker even holding the option to delay until Boston could itself respond. Regardless, the Orioles had their say, and both teams were able to move on.

In Missouri, things are far less clear. Escobar will likely miss several games, and while players and manager Ned Yost publicly agreed that there was likely nothing malicious in Lawrie’s slide, this will remain an item of potential contention until further notice.

[gifs, respectively, via Deadspin]

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