Baseball has an early clubhouse leader in on-field sensitivity, by his own admission no less, a particularly notable event considering that we’re barely a week into the schedule. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Shin-Soo Choo.
Choo’s sensitivity training began on opening day, when he explained his angry steps toward the mound in response to Toronto reliever Luis Perez buzzing him with a head-high, inside fastball as being a lingering function of having his thumb broken by a pitch last season.
“Maybe that’s why I’m sensitive right now,” he said at the time. “But I know it’s part of the game.”
It came full circle on Saturday, when the pitcher who had broken his thumb, lefty Jonathan Sanchez—then with the Giants, now with the Royals—faced the Indians for the first time since the incident. In the third inning, he hit Choo again, this time above his right knee. Choo shouted at the pitcher and, he said in a Cleveland.com report, “told him to throw it over the plate.” (Watch it here.)
It was enough to empty the benches, at which point crew chief Gary Darling issued warnings to both teams.
Choo later confronted his sensitivity in the Kansas City Star, admitting that, especially as it concerns getting drilled by Sanchez, “maybe I am a little bit sensitive.”
In this case, so too were the rest of the Indians. Cleveland starter Jeanmar Gomez drilled the next member of the Royals to come to the plate, Mike Moustakas, again drawing the benches onto the field. Both Gomez and manager Manny Acta were ejected, as was third baseman Jack Hannahan, who tried to get at Moustakas in the scrum.
(Afterward, Gomez insisted that he was “trying to open the inside corner” so as to “work the outside part of the plate.” Of course he was. In the other clubhouse, Sanchez issued a similar—though more plausible—denial: “I’ve got a guy on first—why am I going to hit somebody? You’ve got to be a professional and take your base. He knew it wasn’t on purpose.”)
This is where the balance between appropriate teammate protection and game consideration comes into play. Choo was likely delighted by Gomez’s strike; Hannahan clearly was. Because Gomez chose to stand his ground with a warning hanging over him in the third inning, however, he forced his team into emergency maneuvers. “He was trying to protect his teammates, but I think he went overboard a little,” said Acta. “There was a warning in place. Once you hit a guy, you’re going to be thrown out. That early in a game, you tax the bullpen.”
Ultimately, the best retaliation came from Choo himself, when he laced a two-out, two-run double off the center-field wall in the 10th inning, providing the difference in Cleveland’s 11-9 victory. In so doing, he also proved that he is not prone to being sidetracked by extracurricular distractions.
After the game, Indians reliever Chris Perez—who earned the save on Saturday—kept things alive on Twitter, referencing Kansas City’s team slogan, “Our Time,” in a Tweet: “Huge team win tonight; time for a sweep to tell the Royals it’s not “Our Time”, it’s #TribeTime. P.S. You hit us, we hit you. Period.”
“We’re tried of watching our guys wear it,” Perez said the following day in the Kansas City Star. “It happened (too much) last year, and we’re not going to stand for it this year.”
These are fine claims for a blustery pitcher seeking to send a message, but for Cleveland’s closer—who will virtually never have the chance to follow up on his threat, based on the fact that he appears almost exclusively in close games—such claims set an unenviable precedent for his teammates to follow up on his behalf.
Cleveland won a 13-7, incident-free series finale on Sunday, but the teams face each other 15 more times this season, presenting a very good likelihood that Jonathan Sanchez starts at least one of those games. He should by now recognize the increased combustion factor should he come anywhere close to Choo; for a guy who’s built significant amounts of success on being affectively wild, it’ll be interesting to see how this reality affects him.
Related: Opening Day + Extra Innings = Baseball Drama in Cleveland.
Update (4-18): Gomez has drawn a five-game suspension for his actions. Seems that hitting a guy intentionally is one thing; doing so after an umpire specifically told you not to is something else.
Update (4-20): Perez has been fined for his tweet, .75 large.