Tag Archives: Chicago White Sox

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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This is No Way to Kick Off a Season, Fellas

Duffy goes head-huntingThis is what happens when a perennial doormat becomes the defending American League champion. The Royals are all of two games into their season, and already its clear: People are paying attention.

On Monday, White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija hit two Kansas City batters. One of them, Lorenzo Cain, was convinced that his was intentional, and complained at some length to the assembled media afterward. On Wednesday, Chicago’s Jose Quintana continued the assault, drilling Cain with a four-seam fastball on the first pitch he saw in the first inning.

With compounded damages over two games, It’s tough to begrudge the Royals a response. The one they chose, however, left a lot to be desired: Danny Duffy threw a second-inning pitch behind the head of Chicago DH Adam LaRoche.

On one hand, it looked like a clear warning: The pitch was far enough away that the batter barely had to flinch to avoid it. (Watch it here.)

On the other hand, there is no more certain way to fire up a major league ballclub than to place a ball above shoulder level in the vicinity of one of its batters. Duffy should have been ejected on the spot. Instead, both benches were warned against further shenanigans.

There were two outs in the inning and nobody on base when Duffy threw that pitch. He had retired all five men he’d faced to that point. LaRoche, who looked on incredulously as Duffy reset on the mound, then doubled to right, and went to third on Gordon Beckham’s infield single. Tyler Flowers brought them both home with a three-run homer. “It doesn’t take much to get us fired up,” said Eric Hosmer afterward, in an MLB.com report.

Learning no lessons from his counterpart on the mound, White Sox starter Jose Quintana offered a response of his own, drilling Mike Moustakas in the thigh an inning later. (He somehow avoided ejection, despite the prior warning.) Cain followed with a single, and Eric Hosmer followed with a homer of his own. Just like that, a two-run deficit became a one-run lead. Duffy and Quintana each paid for their transgressions by ging up five runs over five innings on the day. Kansas City won, 7-5, on an eighth-inning homer by Cain, no less.

Ballplayers should be allowed a modicum of retaliation. It serves as a tool to enable an aggrieved party to move on from a tender moment. If both sides accept that being drilled in the thigh is an appropriate response for a given infraction, so be it.

Danny Duffy, however, should know better than to put a pitch where he did. These teams will see a lot of each other in the coming season, and a line has been drawn as to where at least one of the combatants is willing to take things. By all indications, we’re only getting started.

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Frustration Bubbles Over in KC … Unless it Didn’t … But Who Cares Because it Looks Like it Did

Cain drilledOne takeaway from yesterday’s opening day is an old favorite, learned the hard way by many pitchers over the years: Hitting a guy with the first pitch after giving up a homer—let alone when that homer that puts you into a 4-0 hole in the fifth inning on opening day—makes you look really, really guilty.

That is what White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija did. That is how Royals batter Lorenzo Cain took it. Did Samardzija mean it? Didn’t matter—perception is everything.

Cain understood that angry, frustrated pitchers sometimes do angry, frustrated things, and offered some choice words to Samardzija as he moved down the baseline. When the pitcher motioned him on toward first base—Shut up, son, and let’s move these proceedings along—things really got heated. (Watch it here.)

Cain barked. Mike Moustakas, who had just hit the homer that may or may not have started this all, emerged from the dugout. Cain let things die down, but his postgame hypotheses portend tension down the road. “I wasn’t sure if he hit me on purpose or not,” Cain said in a CSN Chicago report. “But once he told me to get down, I was sure he hit me on purpose. It’s straight to the point. He hit me on purpose.”

Ultimately, Samardzija went six innings and gave up five runs in a 10-1 Royals victory. Later, he denied everything, reducing the moment to the phrase “Boys playing baseball, no big deal.” He did not comment on the fact that the other batter he hit in the game—Alex Gordon, in the bottom of the second inning—came after Royals starter Yordano Ventura drilled Avisail Garcia in the top half of the frame.

It was opening day, which means that these division rivals play each other 18 more times this year. Samardzija is new to the division and, apart from 16 starts last season as a member of the Oakland A’s, new to the league. Whether he meant to or not, he’s certainly set things up to be interesting.

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Everybody Needs Somebody, Even in the Center Field Bleachers: Victor Martinez, Chris Sale is Looking at You

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Stealing an opponent’s signs from the basepaths won’t exactly be met with a smile and warm handshake, but neither will it elicit too many bad feelings—especially if the thief knocks it off once the jig is up.

Nipping them from beyond the field of play via spyglass or binoculars, however …well, that’ll get ’em every time.

On Wednesday it sure did. Chicago’s Chris Sale appeared in every way to be convinced that something was happening beyond the center field wall at Comerica Park. During the course of the game he pointed toward center field in anger and he pantomimed binoculars from the bench and, most notably to the would-be beneficiary of allegedly stolen signs, he drilled Victor Martinez to fully express his dissatisfaction with the situation.

In the cases of hitters being drilled for perceived slights (“I don’t like how you flipped your bat after that home run”), critics of such old-school retaliation are standing on solid ground. This, though, is different. If Sale was correct, Martinez and his team were benefitting at Sale’s expense via shady and illegal practices that would otherwise be beyond discipline. Sale wasn’t talking afterward, but a well-placed fastball is the time-tested and very effective behavior-correction method of choice.

Some pertinent details: Martinez is hitting .517 with three homers in 29 career at-bats against Sale (including a .647 mark in 17 at-bats in 2013). Nobody who has faced the left-hander that much has done better. But those numbers are home and road both, and it’s a safe assumption that Martinez is not getting signs from the stands on the road, at least on a regular basis. (Oh, what a story it would be if he was.) Still, when the pitcher at the wrong end of those numbers is a perennial Cy Young contender, it’s easy to see how he might think something is up.

The thing is, Sale went 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in two starts at Comerica Park last season, and this year struck out 10 while giving up one run in six innings in his only start there. So it’s clearly not a team-wide thing that has the guy riled. And, frankly, team-wide things are pretty much all that’s on the public record when it comes to this kind of activity.

In May, the Braves all but accused the Marlins of signaling hitters via their scoreboard. In 2011, the Yankees said that the Blue Jays were doing it from the Rogers Centre … and so did the Red Sox … and the Orioles. Whatever came of it? Not a whole lot. Even with damning evidence, when Phillies coach Mick Billmeyer was caught training binoculars on Rockies catchers in 2010, it elicited nothing more than a light warning from MLB’s home office.

And so Sale took action on his own. By the looks of it, the rest of his team was keyed to the moment, as well. From an MLB.com report:

In the first inning Wednesday, with Ian Kinsler on second and two outs, Ventura made a rare early visit to the mound. Sale threw two pitches outside of the zone and then intentionally walked Martinez.

Martinez stepped to the plate in the third with runners on first and second and two outs, and struck out swinging. On the last fastball to Martinez, catcher Tyler Flowers set up inside but the deciding pitch landed high and away. That pitch sequence followed two visits to the mound by Flowers and Sale taking a couple of looks back toward center. After the strikeout, Sale turned toward right-center field and tipped his cap. That was followed by a wave in the same general direction.

During the argument in the sixth, Sale appeared to reference Martinez’s “guy out there,” and Martinez said after the game that White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia told his one-time teammate during the scrum that the White Sox suspected sign stealing. Sale claimed postgame Wednesday that his hat tip was to a fan who was wearing him out during his pregame bullpen session, but Sale was unavailable for comment prior to Thursday’s contest. The left-hander was excused by the team for the game for personal reasons.

Perhaps one day he’ll talk about what was tipping him off, and the possibility exists that it was all just an elaborate ruse to throw at Martinez simply because the hitter’s protracted success against him finally got under his skin. Either way, evidence suggests merely that Martinez is just a very good hitter who likes the kind of stuff Sale throws.

Hell, he’s hitting .556 in 18 career at-bats against Colby Lewis, and Lewis hasn’t even bothered to drill him once.

 

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1972: Bucking Wood’s Knuckler

Wilbur WoodResearch 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 is from July 4, 1972, in which a future Hall of Famer discusses some possible gamesmanship in Chicago. From the Oakland Tribune:

After his two-hitter against California, Catfish Hunter made some allegations against the White Sox. In his previous start, in Chicago, Hunter was beaten, 4-0, by White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur wood.

“The baseballs are bigger in Chicago when you pitch against Wood,” Catfish charged. “You can tell that when you get the ball in your hand. When you pitch 200 to 220 innings a year, you can tell by just holding one. The seams are a lot higher. I talked to [Angels left-hander] Clyde Wright before the game, and and he said he noticed the same thing pitching against Wood in Chicago. He said he threw six baseballs back and couldn’t find one the right size. All they’ve got to do is wet them and then dry them out. That makes them bigger.”

Larger seams on the baseball would add flutter to Wood’s knuckler.

Wood won 24 games for the White Sox that year, pitching a modern-era record 376.2 innings and finishing second in the Cy Young Award voting.

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Now You See it, Now You Don’t: The Weekend of Phantom Tags

ChiSox dekeWe’ve discussed the concept of deking in this space for some time, under the auspices that improper execution by middle infielders can be dangerous. (A last-minute phantom tag, for example, delivered when a baserunner doesn’t expect it, can lead to late and awkward slides.)

Rarely, however, do we see two perfectly executed dekes in the same weekend that both lead to game-ending double plays.

On Saturday, Michael Cuddyer, representing the tying run for the Rockies, was on first base with one out in the ninth inning, and took off running. The hitter, Nolan Arenado, popped the pitch into short center field, but all Cuddyer saw was Padres second baseman Jed Gyorko acting like he was fielding a throw from the catcher. When center fielder Alexi Amarista made the catch, it took only an easy throw to double Cuddyer off first. (Watch it here.)

On Sunday in Baltimore, the Orioles had runners at the corners with one out in the ninth, down 4-2 to the White Sox. Chris Dickerson, inserted as a pinch-runner at first base, ran on an 0-2 pitch that batter Brian Roberts popped up behind first, in foul territory. Chicago shortstop Alexi Ramirez lit to the bag as if to field a throw, spurring Dickerson into a head-first slide. Second baseman Leury Garcia made the catch while Dickerson was still at second; though he probably had time to run it over himself, he flipped the ball to first baseman Jeff Keppinger for the game’s final out. (Watch it here.)

The similarity on both plays: Neither runner looked in to see where the baseball was going.

”I didn’t peek and it ended up in the one place where you’re not going to get that awareness reaction from the infielders,” Dickerson said in an AP report. ”Especially Ramirez with the deke. That pretty much got me. I assumed there was a ground ball hit behind me, and he was going to first because I was already there.”

Catchers will occasionally deke runners into easing up by acting as if no throw is coming before fielding the ball and making an unexpected tag. Outfielders have been known to act as if they have a bead on a ball that ends up landing nowhere near them, in order to keep a runner near his base. In 1958, members of the Cubs bullpen went so far as to deke Giants outfielder Leon Washington by collectively acting as if a ball hit by Tony Taylor had rolled under their bench, while it was actually some 45 feet away, in a rain gutter. (By the time Wagner realized what was happening, Taylor had circled the bases.)

Infielders, however, hold nearly absolute dominion over the tactic. (For an extended rundown on the idea, focusing primarily on Lonnie Smith’s basepath adventure in the 1991 World Series, see chapter 9 of The Baseball Codes.) Rarely, however—if ever—have we seen such wildly successful execution delivered so definitively in such a short amount of time.

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Pierzynski Drilled, Indignant and Just Maybe Scheming for Future Benefit

AJP (1)It didn’t take long—one at-bat, as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning Wednesday—for the A.J. Pierzynski roadshow, Texas Rangers edition, to roar to life.

After eight seasons with the White Sox, Pierzynski signed with Texas during the off-season, and in facing his old team for the first time was plunked on the right elbow by ex-teammate Addison Reed. Pierzynski didn’t much try to avoid it (indeed, he threw his elbow into it), and was saved from significant discomfort by the pad he was wearing. Reed appeared upset with himself from the moment it became apparent that pitch would connect with batter.

None of it mattered. The catcher started barking toward the mound as he trotted to first, clearly upset with the development. (Watch it here.)

“I was mad,” Piezynski said in a Chicago Tribune account. “(Reed) threw it up and in and shoulder high. It’s fine if you’re going to pitch me in, but don’t come up and in, shoulder high.” (Reed, White Sox manager Robin Ventura and catcher Tyler Flowers all offered standard denials of intent.)

Ultimately it made no difference, coming as it did with two outs in the ninth. Pierzynski did not score, and Chicago won, 5-2. The real reason any of this is of interest is that it’s A.J. Pierzynski, the man about whom his former White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen, famously said, “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”

In honor of A.J. being A.J., I offer a selection from the original draft of The Baseball Codes, which did not make it into the final edit. It involves Pierzynski, some of the reasons why opposing players hate him, and another pitcher named Reed.

When Pierzynski was catching for San Francisco in 2004, the Giants built a 9-2 lead in the eighth inning of a game at Colorado. With the bases loaded and two out, Pierzynski poked his elbow pad into the path of a Steve Reed fastball, taking a dubious hit-by-pitch and driving in what would be the first of six runs in the inning that turned a Giants romp into a full-fledged blowout. Reed was incensed, saying later that the pitch would have been a strike had the Giants catcher not gotten in its way. There was even some debate as to whether it hit Pierzynski at all, with Reed and Rockies catcher Charles Johnson denying there was contact, and Pierzynski himself going so far as to say he never felt it hit him.

But the only opinion that mattered was that of plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, and when Dreckman sent Pierzynski to first, Reed exploded. He was thrown out of the game during the ensuing argument.

Pierzynski knew he had done wrong—willingly getting hit by a pitch that should not have hit him, in a game in which an extra run did not matter—and that Reed had been ejected as a result. He also knew that there would be a price to pay down the road.

With the game well in hand, Giants manager Felipe Alou offered to pull Pierzynski and save him from imminent retaliatory damage. The catcher, however, understood that if he didn’t get it that day, he’d be waiting—uncomfortably—until the time that the Rockies had a chance to even the score. So he demurred, opting get it over with quickly.

Trouble was, when Pierzynski came to bat in the ninth inning, it was against right-hander Allan Simpson, pitching in just his eighth major league game. With a 7.36 ERA, Simpson was far less worried about sticking up for his teammates than he was about simply getting out of the inning with a minimum of damage. (With Reed in the clubhouse, Simpson  may not even have been briefed about Pierzynski’s lack of propriety, or the appropriate response.)

Seeing a pitch to hit, Pierzynski doubled in the Giants’ 16th and final run of the game.

The catcher didn’t start the next day, the final game of the series, and by the time he made a ninth-inning appearance as a pinch-hitter, the 7-5 score was too close for Rockies pitcher Marc Kroon to take any action. (Also, because Pierzynski hadn’t been scheduled to hit, Rockies management may not have given advance notice to Kroon about what they’d like him to do.)

When the teams faced each other a month later, however, Rockies starter Aaron Cook wasted no time. When Pierzynski stepped to the plate for his first at bat, Colorado already held a 6-0 lead, and with little potential downside to allowing an extra baserunner, Cook hit Pierzynski in the leg with his second pitch.

Pierzynski may be insufferable, but he is also among the game’s wiliest players. He knew what was happening and why in 1992, and he likely knew it again on Wednesday. He may also be the only man in baseball to feign annoyance at an incidental action on the chance that such a precedent could help him or his team in the future.

Unless Pierzynski or somebody on the White Sox cares to discuss Wednesday’s events, of course, we’ll never know. The next time he faces Addison Reed, however, it seems likely that Wednesday’s events will be somewhere in the pitcher’s mind.

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