Tag Archives: Boston Red Sox

‘What an Idiot!’ Say, Mike Napoli, What do you Really Think?

Napoli's blastMike Napoli had come through with the heroics, but he didn’t seem to believe it. One out away from a complete-game shutout, Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka fed the Red Sox first baseman a 1-2 fastball out over the plate instead of the pitch Napoli expected—a splitter low in the zone, which had already served to strike him out twice on the night. It was a gift. Napoli treated it as such, hammering it over the right-field fence at Yankee Stadium for a game-winning two-run homer.

Napoli’s problems began with his incredulty that Tanaka would throw him anything in that situation but the same unhittable pitch he’d already proven unable to hit. They manifested when he reached his dugout after rounding the bases. Even before he entered, he was shouting at his teammates, “What an idiot! What an idiot!” (Watch it here.)

The comments were picked up by TV cameras, of course, which is why this is a controversy. Napoli oviously did not intend to show up Tanaka; his comments were directed toward his teammates, not toward the field, and were made amid the rush of his success. Also, Napoli was right—Yankees catcher Brian McCann did all he could to have Tanaka throw the splitter, but was shaken off repeatedly. Still, any player in the modern era should know better—especially talking, as he did, from field level at the lip of the dugout, without even the cover of a position deep on the bench.

Such was the impact that Red Sox manager John Farrell was compelled to address it on Sunday.

“The one thing we don’t ever want our players to be is non-emotional,” he said in an MLB.com report. “I’m aware of the comment made last night. I didn’t hear it at the time. But I know this: We’ve got the utmost respect for Tanaka and I know Mike Napoli does.”

It’s reminiscent of a scene from The Baseball Codes, in which a youthful Eric Chavez was being interviewed before his A’s played the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2000 ALDS.

Responding to a press-conference question about his opponents, who had won the previous two titles, Chavez talked about how great the Yankees had been in recent years, what a terrific job they’d done, and how difficult it was to win as consistently as they had. He also added that they’d “won enough times,” and that it would be okay for somebody else to play in the World Series for a change. Chavez was twenty-two years old, wide-eyed and hopeful. There was nothing malicious in his tone.

Unfortunately for the A’s, the press conference at which Chavez was speaking was being broadcast live on the Oakland Coliseum scoreboard for early-arriving fans. Also watching were the Yankees, on the field for batting practice. “So he’s dropping the past tense on us? Did you see that?” spat third baseman Scott Brosius from the batting cage. One New York player after another—Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams—took Chavez’s comments and blew them up further. The Yankees hardly needed additional motivation, but now they had it. Their first three hitters of the game reached base, four batters in they had the lead, and by the end of the frame it was 6–0. The A’s were in a hole from which they could not climb out before they even had a chance to bat.

The Yankees didn’t have any such swing of success against the Red Sox on Sunday—they lost, 8-5—but it underscores the importance of understanding where you are and who can hear you before speaking your mind with anything resembling too much impunity.

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Red Sox vs. Rays, Because of Course Red Sox vs. Rays

Papi pops

Would David Price have had such a long memory had it been anybody but the Red Sox? We’ll never know unless he tells us, of course, but the answer is, of course not.

In last year’s ALCS, Ortiz hit two long homers off of Price (who gave up seven runs in a Game 2 loss), watching the second for a beat longer than the pitcher would have liked. Afterward, Price complained to the Boston Globe about the possibility that Ortiz was just watching to see if the ball went fair. “I saw it and I knew it was fair,” he said. “Run.”

He faced Ortiz for the first time since then on Friday, and wasted little time making a statement, planting a first-pitch fastball into the slugger’s back. It was enough for plate ump Dan Bellino to issue a warning, but not—contentiously—for Price to be ejected. Umpires are known to delay warnings until the other team has a chance to respond (especially under questionable circumstances such as these), but in a series as combative as this one—which saw benches empty less than a week earlier—Bellino was taking no chances.

Neither was John Farrell, who argued his position to the point of ejection.

Already upset by unrequited aggrievence, the Red Sox grew further agitated when Price hit Mike Carp in the right forearm three innings later. That this one appeared to be less intentional did little to slow the rampage; benches emptied, with Ortiz animatedly pointing toward Price, who for the second time in the game managed to avoid ejection. (Watch it here.)

Not so for backup Red Sox manager Torey Lovullo, who began his conversation with the umpires by spiking his cap, and ended it by trudging off to the showers. Boston’s third manager of the evening, Brian Butterfield, was tossed in the sixth, along with Brandon Workman, when the Red Sox starter threw a pitch behind Evan Longoria.

(Why wait until then? Well, Longoria is Tampa’s biggest gun, and Workman was not long for the game, anyway—the pitch to Longoria was his 89th, the most he’s thrown since last August. As if there would be any other way.)

After the game, Ortiz pulled no punches.  “That’s means it’s a war. It’s on,” he said in a Tampa Bay Times report. “This guy that hit me better bring the gloves on. I have no respect for him no more.”

Fueling his rage was the fact that the Red Sox absorbed four ejections while hitting nobody with a pitch, while Tampa Bay emerged unscathed, despite hitting two.

At least one player in the Rays clubhouse, however, wishes things were handled differently.

“I wish he would have hit me so it could have been done and over right there,” Longoria said. I just don’t want to get hit in the head, just make sure it’s down below the neck. Hopefully we’re beyond it.”

If the Red Sox are playing by the unwritten rules, it should be over. Butterfield had his shot, and he missed (with the possibility that he threw it intentionally wide with the score 2-1, to avoid unnecessary baserunners).

At this point, however, in the self-sustaining biodome of animosity that is Boston-Tampa Bay, all reactions seem to be on the table. These teams have disliked each other so intensely, for so long, that every slight is magnified and the need for response set in stone. While the rest of baseball seems more content than ever to not sweat the small stuff when it comes to the Code, that’s all these two clubs seem to do.

Update (5-31): Ortiz: Price is “a little girl.” Price: “This is not a war.

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Tropocolipse 2014: Red Sox Anoint Themselves Baseball’s New Code Police

Yuni points

Every day we see new evidence of the degradation of baseball’s unwritten rules, how past forms of moral governance have been swept away in favor of the far simpler ideal of simply letting boys be boys. The game’s few remaining old-school souls periodically remind us of this development, primarily through bursts of outrage at acts that, while once roundly condemnable, are barely even blip-worthy on the modern game’s radar.

Put another way: Baseball has its share of crotchety old men, sitting on the proverbial front porch and grousing about the way things used to be—and they will not be ignored.

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you David Ross.

Sunday at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, Rays shortstop Yunel Ecobar stole third while his team held an 8-3 lead in the seventh inning. Five runs at that moderately late point in the game was once considered punishable with fines up to and including fastballs aimed at the noggin of the next hitter, or Escobar himself, or both.

The game, however, has changed considerably, as has its moral code. There is still gray area when it comes to running up the score, of course—questions about how much of a lead is enough, and when—but the last time anybody so much as blinked at something along the lines of Escobar’s steal, the Rays had “Devil” in front of their name … unless they hadn’t even come into existence yet.

That said, we’ll always have crotchety old men hanging desperately to outmoded morals as places upon which to park their high horses. As Escobar led off third, Ross started barking. Escobar responded in kind, at first with stunned confusion, then anger and finger pointing toward the Red Sox bench. A moment later Jonny Gomes raced in from right field, swings were swung and the scrum became official. (Watch it here.)

It is easy for one side of the confrontation to decry the other: Ross for being too high strung, or, if it’s crotchety old men doing the decrying, Escobar for rubbing Boston’s noses in a sizeable lead. The argument that put it all to rest, however, was delivered by Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon after the game:

“They took umbrage with the fact that Escobar had stolen third base with a five-run lead in the seventh. So that’s not nearly as egregious as last year in the playoffs, correct? Last year in the playoffs, when they had an 8-2 lead in the eighth inning, when Ellsbury led off with a single and stole second base and they ended up winning 12-2. I think that was a little more egregious than their interpretation of tonight. … I didn’t take any exception when they stole on us last year in the eighth inning in the division series. … Our goal is to prevent them from scoring runs, their goal is to score runs—the whole game. That’s always been the goal within the game of baseball. Apparently some of the guys on their bench did not like that. I really wish they would roll back the tape and look at that more specifically. You have to keep your personal vendettas, your personal prejudices, your personal judgmental components in your back pocket. So before you start screaming regarding any of that, understand what happened just last year, and also understand that in this ballpark five-run leads can evaporate very quickly.

Indeed, in Game 1 of last year’s ALDS, then-Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury led off the seventh inning with a single, and stole second while his team held a six-run lead. David Ross was a member of that team. If he ever came out publicly against his teammate’s actions, those comments have not been widely circulated.

Then again, last year the Red Sox were on their way to hoisting the World Series trophy. On Sunday they were nothing more than a club with championship aspirations in last place and on its way to losing its 10th straight. Things that slide when one is winning tend not to in the darker hours.

Nothing feeds hypocrisy, it seems, like a healthy dose of frustration.

Of course, Escobar broke an unwritten rule himself by doing the one thing that could trip him up most: He responded. Had he kept to himself and put up with the bench jockeying for just a few moments, all would likely have ended well. Instead he was tossed, Boston is even angrier than it was before, and bad blood between two teams with a considerable history of the stuff is built anew.

Boston manager John Farrell did what he was had to in protecting his player, saying afterward in an MLB.com report: “We’re down five in the seventh so it’s somewhat of a gray area when you shut down the running game.”

Which is completely accurate, except for the part about the gray area. Ross had no business getting involved with Escobar over that particular action; he’s a 13-year big leaguer and should know better.

Take away the punches and the insults and the misplaced claims of moral outrage, however, and we’re left with one thing: a stark example of the degree to which baseball’s Code has changed. Argue all you want whether that’s for better or for worse—just don’t deny that it exists.

 

 

 

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Substance Abuse, NY Style: Yankees Pitcher Puts the ‘Pine’ in ‘Pineda’

So Michael Pineda loaded up his hand with a substance that would only be shocking if it was not pine tar. Why is this of interest? A few reasons:

  • His Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with just a couple people paying attention.
  • He did the worst job of hiding it we’ve seen since Kenny Rogers in the 2006 World Series. (Considering the Detroit-St. Louis matchup that year, Pineda did it on an arguably bigger stage.)
  • He was busted quickly by the BoSox TV crew, who called it quickly and accurately.
  • Despite the fact that Pineda struck out seven over six innings of one-run ball in a 4-1 New York victory, nobody in the Red Sox dugout saw fit to challenge him on his proclivities.

The latter point is the most pertinent. Lots of players cheat, after all, and even more of them fail to see the use of pine tar—employed primarily to improve grip—as even qualifying as cheating.

The Red Sox themselves know a thing or two about the topic. Why, just last October there was speculation about Jon Lester doing some World Series doctoring of his own. Earlier last season, Clay Buchholz raised some eyebrows by repeatedly dabbing at his unnaturally shiny forearm during a start.

Boston manager John Farrell is aware of all of this. It is almost certainly why he chose not to act, despite being made aware of the substance on Pineda’s hand in the fourth inning. (Official lines: Pineda, It was dirt; Girardi, I saw nothing; Farrell, He cleaned it off so we’re cool.)

In 2012, then-Nationals manager Davey Johnson was not nearly so cool when he got Tampa Bay reliever Joel Perralta ejected from a game for secreting pine tar on his glove. Afterward, Rays manager Joe Maddon raged about the impropriety of it all. The Code, of course, says that managers will wink across the field at each other when this kind of thing goes down, because nobody’s closet is devoid of skeletons, and the opening salvo in an accusation battle is rarely the final shot fired.

So Farrrel played this one close to the vest. Lester is still on his roster, after all. Buchholz was on the mound, as the Red Sox starter opposite Pineda.

Similar silence was precisely the course of action taken by Tony La Russa back in ’06, when Rogers was spotted with a palm smudged similarly to Pineda’s: He made sure Rogers washed his hands, and let it go from there.

Joe Girardi is undoubtedly grateful.

 

 

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1972: Pudge’s Boston Blast Buys Bad Blood

Carlton FiskResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest concerns an intramural spat among the Boston Red Sox, and illustrates the idea that its usually a good idea for ballplayers to measure their comments to the media. From the Associated Press, Aug. 9, 1972:

Carlton Fisk is leading the Red Sox in home runs and batting average, and was a member of the American League All-Star team.

The Springfield Union quoted the 24-year-old catcher as saying that teammates Reggie Smith and Carl Yastrzemski have not been hustling, nor have they demonstrated any leadership abilities. The story was picked up by the wire services and blown up by the Boston press.

The Union article quoted Fisk as saying, “(Yastrzemski and Smith) don’t realize the effect they have on the club as a whole. When they aren’t as aggressive in the outfield or when they don’t show desire, the whole team droops.”

Misquoted?

“I was severely misunderstood,” Fisk said last night before the Red Sox defeated the Indians, 4-1.

“I guess it’s a lesson to learn,” the easy-going catcher said. “But you have to learn the hard way, I guess. Maybe I’m too naive, I don’t know. I just won’t say anything to anybody anymore. I’m completely disenchanted. The story made it sound malicious when it wasn’t meant that way. I told Carl and Reggie it wasn’t meant like it appeared in the paper.”

Fisk, Smith and Yastrzemski met with manager Eddie Kasko for a 10-minute closed-door session before the game to straighten things out.

“As far as all parties are concerned, it’s a dead issue,” Kasko said. “Fisk explained that he was misquoted and misinterpreted and that he didn’t mean things the way they came out. The explanation was satisfactory to both Smith and Yastrzemski. Both of them know what kind of a kid this is. They know he’s not the type to go popping off.”

Smith was asked about the problem. “There’s no problem,” Smith said. “There never was any problem to begin with.”

Maybe not, but Smith was in no laughing mood after the game. He read an article in a Boston newspaper that said Fisk was correct in his remarks about the two high-priced outfielders. Smith finished reading the article, violently flung the paper across the clubhouse and stormed into the trainer’s room.

Fisk’s comments marked the second time in a little more than a year that Yastrzemski and Smith have been criticized by fellow teammates. Last year in New York, Billy Conigliaro blasted both outfielders, saying they were babied by management. Conigliaro was traded after the season, but the Red Sox were loaded with outfielders then. All-Star catchers are a little harder to find.

 

 

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Why Does Dempster Hate A-Rod So? Let Us Count the Ways

A-rod plunkedThe reason the unwritten rules dominate baseball like in no other sport is the space within the game for messaging. The idea that if somebody wants to communicate an idea through action, there is sufficient opportunity to do so—be it a well-timed stolen base, some styling to start one’s home run trot or an intentionally hit batter.

The thing about the latter category is that we are rarely certain when a batter has been intentionally hit.

On Sunday, however, we were offered about as much certainty as can be reasonably expected, short of admission from the pitcher. Boston’s Ryan Dempster, facing Alex Rodriguez in the second inning, threw a knee-high fastball behind the batter. He followed that with two waist-high inside pitches, then planted a fastball into A-Rod’s elbow. Not even a hint at subterfuge—Rodriguez was marked. (Watch it here.)

Which is where the messaging comes in.

The immediate assumption was that Dempster, an old-school red-ass if ever there was one, was making a statement about PEDs, expressing his displeasure both at Rodriguez’s usage and his subsequent refusal to accept the punishment handed down by Bud Selig. Just two days earlier, after all, Boston players John Lackey and Jonny Gomes discussed their displeasure with the fact that Rodriguez was being allowed to play while appealing his 211-game, PED-related suspension.

If that’s what Dempster was doing, he has some precedent. In 1990, Bert Blyleven hit Baltimore’s Phil Bradley because of Bradley’s hard-line stance in labor negotiations which, in Blyleven’s opinion, prolonged settlement of the 32-day lockout that delayed the start of the season. Blyleven was concerned about pension time, did not appreciate tactics which stood to cost him financially, and expressed his displeasure from the pitcher’s mound.

Would it be so peculiar for another pitcher to take a similar tack? Maybe not, but then we hear this, courtesy of Yahoo’s Big League Stew: A Canadian hockey writer says that Dempster had different priorities.

A-Rod tweet I

A-Rod tweet II

This may seem so much more petty than PED grandstanding, but it’s also more feasible—and it, too, has precedent. 

One of Tommy Lasorda’s go-to stories is about how, as a star-struck 14-year-old, he approached New York Giants outfielder Buster Maynard after a game in Philadelphia and asked him for an autograph. Maynard brushed him off.

Eight years later, Lasorda was a promising pitcher with the Triple-A Montreal Royals, in the Brooklyn Dodgers chain, when to his surprise he found himself facing a fading former big leaguer trying to hold his job with the minor-league Augusta Yankees: Buster Maynard. Lasorda’s first pitch knocked him down. His second pitch did the same. When Maynard came up again later in the game, Lasorda decked him a third time.

This time it was Maynard waiting for Lasorda after the game, asking what the heck was going on. Lasorda told him the story of saving up his money to go to a baseball game, only to be ignored by his hero. He concluded the sentiment with, “I wish I had hit you, you busher!”

Girardi argues

Joe Girardi: angry.

If this was Dempster’s motivation, it was not apparent from field level at Fenway Park. Yankees manager Joe Girardi lit into plate ump Brian O’Nora for not ejecting Dempster—he was upset that the pitcher was given four pitches with which to work—and then warning both benches, precluding retaliation. Soon, he was himself tossed. On his way back to the dugout he shouted toward Dempster, “Somebody’s going to get hit.”

(In the middle of this came a highly unusual moment, in which the Red Sox bullpen came streaming onto the field as if to fight, despite no indication that Rodriguez would do anything other than take his base.)

Dempster denied everything, of course, and Rodriguez ratcheted up the best possible response when he took Dempster deep for a sixth-inning homer at the center of a four-run rally that proved to be the difference in a 9-6 New York victory. (Watch it here.)

Rodriguez also provided the quote of the night, when asked about whether Dempster should be suspended for his actions. “I’m the wrong guy to ask about suspensions,” he said in the Boston Globe. “I’ve got a lawyer I can recommend.”

The teams play seven times in a 10-game span in September. If there’s more to be said about this, it’ll be said then.

Update (8-20): Dempster has been handled, five games’ worth.

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Rays, Red Sox Bring Battle Online

Red Sox-RaysIn June, the Red Sox and Rays got into it when John Lackey drilled Matt Joyce.

Last year they got into it when Franklin Morales drilled Luke Scott (among multiple confrontations during a long Memorial Day weekend).

During the decade spanning 2000 to 2010, they were involved in a series of skirmishes significant enough to merit an entire section in The Baseball Codes.

At least yesterday the hostilities were limited to Twitter.

It started with a blown call—Daniel Nava appeared to score what would have been the tying run on a sacrifice fly with two outs in the eighth, but was called out at the plate by umpire Jerry Meals—a decision that helped Tampa Bay to a 2-1 victory over the Red Sox in Boston. The win pushed the Rays into first place by half a game.

Afterward, the team’s official Twitter feed got into the action.

Rays tweet

Not willing to be outdone, the Red Sox shot right back.

Red Sox tweet

Welcome to retaliation in the digital age.

Update (7-31): Reader RoadDogRuss alerts me that this wasn’t the first digital tweaking between the teams.  (The tweet, of course, refers to this incident.)

(H/T Bleacher Report)

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Bad Blood Between the Rays and Red Sox? Say it Ain’t So

Rays-SoxAs soon as John Lackey drilled Matt Joyce in the back with a 90-mph fastball in the sixth inning of Monday night’s game, people were already speculating how far back the antagonism ran.

Did it date back to the second inning, when Joyce connected for a mammoth foul ball to right, then dropped his bat—“styled,” in the words of MassLive writer Evan Drellich—as if he’d just homered?

Did it date back to the first inning, when Joyce actually did homer?

Lackey did some yelling toward the Rays dugout after Joyce’s second-inning pimp show. After being hit, Joyce pointed toward Lackey amid a slurry of what is safe to assume was epithets, then got into a pushing match with Jarrod Saltalamacchia when the catcher cut off his path to the mound. That was when benches emptied, although no punches were thrown. (Watch it discussed on MLB Tonight, complete with clips.)

Joyce actually thought that it was none of the above.

“As far as I understood, he was pretty upset that I dropped my bat on that 3-0 swing,” Joyce said in a Tampa Tribune report, describing the count when he pulled his second-inning ball foul.  There is indeed an unwritten rule about restraint from swinging at 3-0 pitches, but it only applies late in blowout games—never in the second inning.

In case there was doubt about Joyce’s personal view of possible impropriety, it was cleared up by what he said next: “I was actually pretty upset myself I had such a good pitch to hit and missed it. I usually never drop the bat.”

In a close game (the Red Sox would win, 10-8, in 14 innings), Tampa Bay settled for a low-impact response—in the seventh inning, reliever Joel Peralta threw his first pitch, to Dustin Pedroia, high and tight. (Even that is up for interpretation; it was a 79 mph curveball.)

Beyond that, Lackey denied intent and was alternately defended by one manager (his own) and criticized by the other.

While the easy answer is that hostilities started with Joyce’s second-inning swing, the reality is that whenever something happens between these teams it’s almost expected. Their relationship over the last decade-plus has been testy enough to have inspired an entire section in The Baseball Codes; between 2000 and 2008, it seemed like every one of their meetings added another chapter to their collective book of spite, and things have hardly slowed from there. A condensed excerpt:

* August 2000: Boston’s Pedro Martinez hits Ger­ald Williams on the hand with his fourth pitch of the game. Williams charges the mound, shoving the much smaller Martinez to the ground and lands a glancing blow to his face. Benches empty, during which Boston’s Brian Daubach dives into the scrum, where Tampa players accuse him of taking cheap shots. The commissioner’s office eventually rules that Daubach acted appropriately, but by the time the game ends, Daubach has been thrown at by a succession of Devil Rays pitch­ers, starting with Dave Eiland—who wants to hit him so badly that, with two on and nobody out in the third inning, he sends his first pitch spinning toward Daubach’s head. The hitter manages to avoid that one, but can’t get out of the way of Eiland’s next pitch, which drills him in the body. Shortly therafter Eiland hits Nomar Garciaparra and is tossed from the game. His replacement, Cory Lidle, is himself ejected after throwing a pitch behind Daubach. Lidle’s replacement, Tony Fiore, lasts all of two pitches before finishing the job, drilling Daubach with his third offering and spurring another confrontation between the teams.

* September 29, 2000: Tampa Bay eliminates the Red Sox from the AL East race with an 8–6 victory. From the mound, Rays closer Roberto Hernandez waves a sarcastic bye-bye to the Tropicana Field visitors’ dugout.

* 2001: Over the course of the season, Devil Rays pitchers hit eleven Boston batters; Red Sox pitchers tag nine Tampa hitters.

* May 5, 2002: Devil Rays pitcher Ryan Rupe hits both Garciaparra and Shea Hillenbrand in the first inning, a day after each was instrumental in helping Boston overcome a 5–2, ninth-inning deficit. Boston’s Trot Nixon lets go of his bat on a swing, sending it flying toward the mound. Red Sox pitcher Frank Castillo responds by hitting Tampa’s Randy Winn. Both Castillo and Nixon are suspended.

* July 18, 2002: The day after Manny Ramirez scorches the Devil Rays with a home run and a double, he’s hit by Tampa starter Tanyon Sturtze. Boston’s Frank Castillo hits Tampa Bay second baseman Brent Abernathy in the third, and reliever Tim Wakefield hits him again in the fifth. In the ninth, Devil Rays reliever Esteban Yan just misses Ramirez’s head as the slugger ducks, and the ball glances off his shoulder. “You can’t act like what happened never happened,” says Derek Lowe in the Boston Herald. He also says, “Every year, why is it always this team?”

* September 9, 2002: Lowe keeps wondering after being ejected for hitting Devil Rays shortstop Felix Escalona with a pitch. The follow­ing night, Tampa Bay reliever Lee Gardner, pitching in the eighth inning of an 11–1 Boston runaway, is ejected for hitting second base­man Lou Merloni.

* September 27, 2004: Red Sox starter Bronson Arroyo keeps relations testy by hitting both Aubrey Huff and Tino Martinez in the third inning. Devil Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir retaliates by hitting Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar in consecutive at-bats an inning later, emptying the benches. Kazmir is ejected.

* April 22–24, 2005: Five batters are hit in the first two games of a three-game series between the teams. In the third game, Arroyo hits Huff—7-for-10 lifetime against him—for the second time in as many seasons. An inning later, Devil Rays reliever Lance Carter throws a pitch behind Ramirez’s head, eliciting warnings for both benches. One pitch later, Ramirez belts a home run. Carter then throws at the head of the next hitter, David Ortiz, who has to be restrained by catcher Toby Hall. Dugouts empty, and Carter, Trot Nixon, Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella and pitcher Dewon Brazelton are ejected. In the sev­enth, Arroyo hits leadoff batter Chris Singleton on the thigh, earning his own ejection. In a radio interview on WEEI after the game, Boston pitcher Curt Schilling blames Piniella: “Play­ers on that team are saying, ‘This is why we lose a hundred games a year, because this idiot makes us do stuff like this.’ ” A day later, also on the radio, Piniella says, “I have forgot more baseball than this guy knows.”

* March 27, 2006: After tagging out Tampa’s Joey Gathright at the plate during a spring-training game, Boston reliever Julian Tavarez stands on the baserunner’s arm, he says, so that Gathright couldn’t “throw a punch at me right away.” Tavarez then hits Gathright in the jaw while the outfielder is down on one knee. Gathright later says that Tavarez “hits like a woman.” Devil Rays outfielder Carl Crawford subsequently chal­lenges the pitcher to a post-game fight in the parking lot.

* June 5, 2008: The highlight of five hit batters on the night is Boston outfielder Coco Crisp’s charge of the mound after being drilled by right-hander James Shields of the Rays, who by this time have dropped the “Devil” from their name if not their attitude. Shields is responding to Crisp’s hard slide into second baseman Akinori Iwa­mura the previous night, which was itself a response to Tampa Bay shortstop Jason Bartlett using his leg to block Crisp’s headfirst slide into second. Shields misses with a roundhouse right, and Crisp— with 17 knockouts to his credit in 17 amateur boxing matches as a youth—is able to land one shot of his own before being overwhelmed by a scrum of Rays, primary among them Crawford and Johnny Gomes, who shower blows upon him. (After the game, Crisp says that the Rays were like “little girls, trying to scratch out my eyes.” Shields had already hit Dustin Pedroia in the first inning, and Boston’s Jon Lester responds by hitting Crawford, then Iwamura. Tampa Bay reliever Al Reyes closes the festivities by drilling Kevin Youkilis in Boston’s final at-bat.

* October 10, 2008: In Game 1 of the ALCS, Rays reliever Grant Bal­four sends a fastball toward the face of Boston outfielder J. D. Drew, which catches the slugger’s shoulder as he spins to avoid it. Barking ensues, and the seven-game series is so tight that even four more hit batters (two from each team) over the remaining games do little to raise the tension.

Things hardly ended there. There were the three times Tampa Bay’s Luke Scott was hit by Boston pitchers over a three-game span in 2012—the last of which ended up in a brawl. (Red Sox reliever Franklin Morales threw a fastball behind Scott’s back, then two inside, then finally drilled him in the leg. Earlier, Pedroia had been drilled, and a pitch thrown over Daniel Nava’s head.)

There were words last March, when Alfredo Aceves drilled Sean Rodriguez in the shoulder, one at-bat after he had homered.

All of which gives some context to Monday night’s dustup. Just another day at the office, it seems.

Update (6-12-13): The Rays still have opinions.

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Arm Butter Accusation Storm Builds in Toronto

buchholz arm

Sportsnet’s Buchholz graphic

It started last week when Dirk Hayhurst—ex-pitcher, sometimes author and current broadcast analyst for the Toronto Blue Jays—unleashed some damning suspicions on Twitter about Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz, who’s currently setting the American League afire with a 6-0 record and 1.01 ERA:

Forget the hair, I just saw video of Buchholz loading the ball with some Eddie Harris worthy slick’em painted up his left forearm. Wow.

It continued when Hayhurst’s colleague, ex-Tigers great and current Blue Jays broadcaster Jack Morris, piled on, telling ESPN Boston that “it was all over his forearm, all over the lower part of his T-shirt, it’s all in his hair,” while in the next breath stipulating that he has no actual proof of impropriety.

It really picked up steam when the video crew at the Rogers’ Centre unleashed some video from Wednesday’s Jays-Sox game, in which the right-hander allowed only two hits to Toronto over seven shutout innings, of Buchholz’s left (non-throwing) arm, glistening with what appears to be something other than sweat. (Hayhurst went on to say that it might be sunscreen mixed with rosin. The Jays’ crew added some talk about Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa possibly doing something similar.)

To be expected, Buchholz subsequently denied everything (“Definitely no foreign substances on my arm,” he told MassLive.com), as did Red Sox catcher David Ross (“I know when a pitcher is messing with the ball, he said. “He’s not putting anything on it”).

People came out for Buchholz. Dennis Eckersley told Morris to “zip it,” and Jerry Remy defended him on the air. Cliff Lee discussed his own innocent accumulation of sweat and rosin. Tim Hudson had some fun with the situation.

People came out against Buchholz. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci discussed details about what he feels is a fishy situation, and ESPN’s David Schoenfield compared the break on Buchholz’s pitches to those on offerings nearly 30 years ago from notorious ball scuffer Mike Scott. (He also quoted from The Baseball Codes, so credit to him on that one.)

What does it all mean? Nothing, almost literally. The Blue Jays haven’t accused Buchholz of impropriety. Neither has any other team. Umpires have yet to check him. The accusations are based on TV footage that can be realistically explained any number of ways.

It appears to be a Kenny Rogers-Tony La Russa-type situation. When  the Fox TV crew spotted Rogers with an unusual brown spot on his palm during his start in the 2006 World Series, it became national fodder—especially when video evidence showed the same brown spot during his previous postseason appearances. Instead of having the umpires check Rogers, however (knowing that if they found a foreign substance, he’d be ejected and likely suspended), Cardinals manager La Russa merely asked them to make sure he washed his hands. From The Baseball Codes:

In the face of this World Series controversy, the Gam­bler did the only thing he could reasonably do—he cleaned his hand and continued to pitch well. Fifteen postseason shutout innings with an obvi­ous foreign substance were followed by seven shutout innings without it. Alleged pine tar or no alleged pine tar, the Cardinals, who scratched out only two hits against Rogers in eight innings, fared no better than the Yan­kees or the A’s had in earlier rounds.

The primary question was, why did La Russa not come down harder? A variety of theories surfaced, one of which gained particular traction: Pitchers cheat in Major League Baseball. Not all of them, but enough to touch every clubhouse in some way. La Russa’s own pitcher, Julian Tavarez, had been busted for using pine tar only two seasons earlier, and suspended for 10 days. La Russa called it “an example of bullshit baseball.”

La Russa, the theory held, had kept quiet because he was reluctant to travel this particular road on behalf of his own pitchers, who would undoubtedly come under increased scrutiny. No less an authority than Buchholz accuser Jack Morris weighed in, telling the Detroit Free Press that “Tony’s been through a lot himself, so I don’t think he wanted to push that enve­lope.” (An entire chapter was devoted to this particular situation in The Baseball Codes.)

So even if the Blue Jays did recognize something askew about Buchholz on the mound, they may well have opted (and continue to opt) to keep it to themselves. This could be equally true for every other team in the league, regarding every other pitcher in the league. Rare is the guy like Davey Johnson, who just doesn’t give a crap.

Chances are that Buchholz will dial back whatever it is he’s doing (even if it’s legal, he’ll likely strive to make it less suspicious), and that the entire situation will blow over within the week, assuming he does not get uncharacteristically blown out of his next start.

Which is as it should be. Most folks around the big leagues view cheating as largely acceptable, so long as the cheaters knock it off (at least for a while) once they’re caught. Buchholz’s arm butter, legal or otherwise, is no exception.

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Filed under Cheating, Clay Buchholz

Et Tu, Pedro? Well, Yeah, of Course Et Tu.

First, Lance Armstrong admitting to doping, and now this. Remember all those guys Pedro Martinez intimidated with inside fastballs over the years? (He hit 141 hit batters over 18 seasons, finishing in the top three in the category five times; only one man ahead of him on the career HBP list from the modern era, Jamey Wright, hit more batters per nine innings.)

Turns out that he meant almost every one of them.

Pedro Martinez

Yesterday, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe tweeted that “Pedro just admitted that 90 percent of the guys he hit were on purpose.”

Well, of course they were. During Martinez’s heyday, no American League pitcher was close to him in terms of command. He complemented a darting fastball with the game’s best changeup and an array of devastating breaking pitches—and didn’t stop there. He also took a page from Nolan Ryan’s playbook, turning the brushback, the knockdown and the hit batter into valid parts of his repertoire. As if trying to adjust from a low-90s fastball to a changeup in the mid-70s wasn’t tough enough, hitters also had to deal with the idea of staying light on their feet.

Sometimes, of course, this reputation was detrimental—Martinez engendered no shortage of opponents who much didn’t care for him, as this excerpt from The Baseball Codes will attest:

Take Reggie Sanders, who charged the mound in 1994 after being hit by Pedro Martinez. That the pitcher was trying to protect a 2–0 lead in the eighth inning was one clue it might have been unintentional; that it was an 0-2 count was another. That Martinez was in the middle of throw­ing a perfect game should have put to rest any lingering doubts. Without a shred of hyperbole, Sanders was the most obviously unintentionally hit batsman in the history of the game.

Still, it wasn’t enough to keep him in the batter’s box. Martinez had been brushing back Cincinnati batters, including Sanders, all afternoon. After one such pitch in the fifth inning, Sanders gave the pitcher a long, angry glare, which Martinez returned in kind. After he plunked Sanders three innings later, Martinez even went so far as to raise his arms in frus­tration before realizing that it would be a good idea to defend himself.

It takes a special kind of pitcher to pull off something like that. Martinez has just rejoined the Red Sox as a special assistant to General Manager Ben Cherington, where he will hopefully continue to lend insight into the machinations that made him such a force of nature. Welcome back to the big leagues, Pedro.

(Via Yahoo.)

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Filed under Intimidation, Pedro Martinez