When a pitcher clearly has no intention of hitting a batter, the act is unlikely to draw much in the way of rebuke. When it happens three times in the same game, however, to the same batter, you better believe that an eyebrow will be raised.
On Tuesday, Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter hit the trifecta against Arizona. More appropriately, Arizona hit the trifecta against Carpenter. None of the pitches came close to looking intentional.
* First time: Seventh inning, St. Louis trailing by one run and a man on first with one out. Not a situation for a pitcher to make a statement, not to mention that the ball hit Carpenter’s hand as he was squaring to bunt.
* Second time: Ninth inning, one out in a tie game. Again, not a situation for a pitcher to make a statement.Carpenter was hit on the forearm with a pitch that darted inside at the last moment.
* Third time: This looked like the most intentional of the bunch, but drilling somebody on purpose in the 13th inning of a tie game is simply not done. (Watch them all here.)
There was no lingering disagreement between Carpenter and an angry D’Backs pitcher, because each of his HBPs came against a different guy. For each of the pitches the catcher was set up inside.
“That’s what they wanted to do to me and a couple of other left-handers,” said Carpenter, who was hit three times all last season, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I wouldn’t expect anything different. You miss in two spots. Either you miss over the plate or you miss and hit somebody. It’s just the way it is when you pitch inside.”
Still, a three-pack of HBPs is a three-pack of HBPs. The Cardinals, however, were walking a fine line when it came to payback on Wednesday. St. Louis already had a short bullpen due to a doubleheader last week; the 14 innings on Tuesday added additional strain. Also, Yadier Molina dropped his suspension appeal following his recent ump-bumping incident (itself laden with unwritten rules) and sat out Wednesday (which he would have done anyway, following Tuesday’s marathon).
All of which is to say that St. Louis, already undermanned, could hardly afford to have a pitcher or a catcher tossed in the name of fulfilling retaliatory expectations. Were there going to be payback, it had to be subtle.
And it was, right there in the first inning. When Carpenter’s second-base counterpart on the Diamondbacks, Willie Bloomquist, came up for his first at-bat on Wednesday, he was buzzed—a fastball came in just under his armpits—not drilled. The Cardinals left little doubt that they were paying attention.
Cardinals broadcasters Dan McLaughlin and Ricky Horton (a former big league pitcher himself) summed it up nicely on the telecast:
DM: There’s someone from Arizona who needs to properly, professionally get one in the ribs or the back, because Matt Carpenter was hit three times last night.
RH: I think that we just saw it.
DM: That’s not enough if I’m Matt Carpenter. What did that prove? You pitched inside. So what?
RH: Well, he came in way inside, with the idea. I think the message was sent. There was no pain to it, if that’s what you’re looking for.
DM: I want pain. [Laughs]
RH: I thought that’s where you were headed with that.
DM: Pain, Rick.
RH: Well you have the message and you have pain, Dan. You’ve sent the message and maybe you were a little light on the pain.
McLaughlin clarified that he was kidding about the pain, Horton added that a subtle message worked just fine in this situation, and everybody appeared to be happy to move on.
(St. Louis pitchers did hit Bloomquist in the seventh, and shortstop Didi Gregorius twice, but all seemed to lack intent. Gregorius was hit by a 74 mph slider with a runner on second and nobody out in a one-run game, Bloomquist was hit later that inning with two men on in a tie game, and Gregorius was hit again in the eighth with a splitter.)
Questions about delayed payback were answered on Thursday, when the Cardinals faced a 12-2 deficit in the sixth, and opted not to drill any Arizona hitters.
It all adds up to a lot of thought devoted to a series of unintentional events, but that’s the way the game is played.
Serious thanks to Cards fan Chris C. for the heads-up and broadcast transcription.