Tag Archives: Minnesota Twins

The Fine Art of Negotiation, Baseball Edition: How to Keep Your Hitters From Getting Drilled

win-winBaseball retaliation is generally considered to be a you-hit-my-guy-so-I’ll-hit-your-guy proposition, designed either to curtail unwanted activity from the other team or to make some sort of macho statement. Many decry it as unnecessary, and say that the game would be better if it didn’t exist.

Sunday we saw a story of what it takes for a pitcher—an old-school pitcher with retaliation on his mind—to not only acknowledge that point of view, but to agree with it. The story comes from FanGraphs’  David Laurila, who got it from Astros bench coach and former Orioles manager Dave Trembley.

It dates back to September 2007, and a game in which Baltimore pitcher Daniel Cabrera found himself distracted by Coco Crisp, dancing back and forth while taking his lead from third base. Distracted, Cabrera ended up balking the run home, then grew angry. The right-hander’s next pitch, to Dustin Pedroia, came in head high. This infuriated the Red Sox, and served to clear the dugouts.

When no retaliation occurred the next day under the watch of Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka (or the string of relievers who followed after he was knocked out in the third), Josh Beckett—Boston’s starter for the series finale—decided to take matters into his own hands.

“[Beckett] is old-school, and Cabrera popped Pedroia for no reason, so I knew one of our guys was going to get it,” said Trembley in Laurila’s account. “[Nick] Markakis, [Brian] Roberts … somebody was going to get it.”

Instead, Trembley approached Red Sox manager Terry Francona with a proposition. From FanGraphs:

“I called Tito,” he said. “I said, ‘If I tell you that I’m going to suspend Cabrera, will you tell me none of my guys are going to get thrown at?’ He said he’d get back to me. When he called back, he said, ‘Are you sure you’re going to suspend Cabrera?’ I said that I was. I’d talked to [general manager] Andy MacPhail and Cabrera was going to miss a start—we were going to take his money.

“Beckett pitched the next day and didn’t hit anybody. If I hadn’t called Tito, one of our guys would have gotten drilled, and deservedly so. Cabrera had a reputation and a problem with Boston and New York. Whenever they hit home runs against him, he’d hit somebody. To this day he’ll tell you he wasn’t throwing at Pedroia, but everybody on the team knew he did. An incident like that can get ugly.”

For somebody to work within the system as Trembley did is both remarkable and honorable, not to mention pragmatic. It leads one to wonder why more managers don’t take that tack.

Then again, maybe some of them do, but we just don’t hear about it. Trembley’s story is not so dissimilar from another incident involving Francona and the Red Sox, which was featured in The Baseball Codes. Pick up the action in a 2006 game between Boston and the Twins, which Minnesota led 8-1 in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs and nobody on base, the batter was Torii Hunter, who worked the count against Red Sox reliever Rudy Seanez to 3-0:

The last thing a pitcher wants to do with his team down by a wide margin late in the game is walk batters, which not only suggests unnecessary nibbling but extends a game that players want to end quickly. When a count gets to 3-0, as it did with Hunter, it’s a near-certainty that the ensuing pitch will be a fastball down the middle.

The unwritten rulebook does not equivocate at this moment, prohibit­ing hitters in such situations not just from swinging hard, but from swing­ing at all. Hunter did both, and his cut drew appropriate notice on the Minnesota bench. “After he swung I said to him, ‘Torii, you know, with a seven-run lead like that, we’ve got to be taking 3-0,’ ” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “He honestly had not even thought about it.”

“I wasn’t thinking,” admitted Hunter. “I just wanted to do something. I knew a fastball was coming, and if I hit a double or whatever, we could get something going. I was just playing the game. I got caught up in it.” The incident serves to illustrate the depth of the Code’s influence. Hunter was generally aware of the unwritten rules, and except for rare instances of absentmindedness abided by them—while simultaneously disdaining much about their very existence. “Man on second, base hit, and you’re winning by eight runs, you hold him up at third,” he said. “You play soft, and I hate that part of the game. I hate that you don’t keep playing the way you’re supposed to, but you have these unwritten rules that you don’t run the score up on guys. Well, okay, what if they come back? The runs we didn’t score, now we look bad. We don’t think about that. At the same time, those rules have been around a long time, and if you don’t fly by them, you’ll probably take a ball to the head, or near it.

“You don’t want to embarrass anybody, but what’s embarrassment when you’re trying to compete? There’s no such thing as embarrassment. You’re out there to try to win, no matter what the score looks like. Whether it’s 4–3 or 14–3, you’re trying to win. I’ve seen guys come back from 14–3 and win the game 15–14. If I go out there and try not to embar­rass you and you come back and win, I look like the dummy.”

It’s a powerful system that forces an All-Star to override his competi­tive instincts for a code in which he does not believe. If one wants to avoid retribution, one must embrace the unwritten rules; barring that, Hunter learned, an act of contrition can suffice.

After the game, Gardenhire took the outfielder to the visitors’ club­house to speak to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, trying to wipe away the potential for hard feelings. To abide by the unwritten rule that bars opposing players from the locker room, the meeting took place in a rear laundry room in the bowels of the Metrodome. There Hunter informed both managers that he had swung out of inattention, not disrespect.

“We wanted to make sure [Francona] understood,” said Gardenhire. “I went there to let him know that I know the game too. It’s a manager’s responsibility when a player swings 3-0 to make sure the player under­stands that. I wanted him to know we didn’t give a sign for him to swing away, that Torii just made a mistake. I thought that it was good for Torii to explain it to him, so I took him over.”

Francona brushed it off as no big deal, saying that his mind had been wrapped around devising ways for the Red Sox to come back in the final frame and that he hadn’t even noticed. He did, however, express his appreciation for the visit. And the rationale worked. It appeased the mem­bers of the Red Sox who had noticed—there were several—and no bean­balls were thrown the following day.

“You see those types of things and you know it’s being taken care of internally,” said Red Sox pitching coach Al Nipper. “You say, hey, it’s an honest mistake, it wasn’t something intentional where the guy’s trying to show you up. We all make mistakes in this game. Ron Gardenhire is a class manager, and that was a true coaching moment for him. . . . I guarantee you, that was a moment he probably didn’t relish to have to do with a vet­eran, but he had to do it.”

[Thanks to reader Shawn Y. for the heads-up.]

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Pimping in Twin Cities Sparks Iffy Tiff

Donaldson riled

They showed us what not to do in Minnesota on Wednesday. Then they showed us again … and again.

Oakland’s Josh Donaldson led off the anti-exhibition in the 10th inning by admiring his deep fly ball, which landed just outside the left-field foul pole.

He compounded matters by striking out on the next pitch, a 2-2 slider from Minnesota left-hander Glen Perkins, for the third out of the inning. At the end of his exaggerated follow-through, Donaldson flipped his bat end over end toward the visitors’ dugout, and prepared to take the field. (Watch it here.)

Perhaps Perkins would have tolerated the flip without the foul-ball pimping. Perhaps he would have let the pimping slide without the flip. As it was, he took the time to inform Donaldson exactly how he felt about both ends of the equation, yelling toward the plate as he descended the mound. Donaldson came right back with words of his own, and the benches quickly cleared. No punches were thrown.

“The dude struck me out, pretty good pitch, I flipped my bat and I hear him barking at me,” said Donaldson in an MLB.com report. “I look up and he says something, points his finger. … I don’t feel like I disrespected him at all. I’m out there trying to win a game for our team and he’s trying to win a game for his team. I don’t know what it was all about. I’ve never even spoken to the guy.”

By referencing his own bat flip, it’s pretty clear that Donaldson knows exactly what it was all about. In case there was any question, Perkins put it quickly to rest.

Asked by reporters after the game if Donaldson had admired his foul ball, the pitcher was succinct. “He did—I think everyone saw that,” he said. “He hit it a long way. But I’m strict, too. I’m not big on that.”

It’s unlikely that this will merit further visitation from either of the aggrieved parties, but in case it does, the teams wrap up the series this afternoon.

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Today’s Lesson in Minor League Etiquette: Don’t Pimp if You Play for the Twins

Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano

Regardless of how you feel about baseball’s unwritten rules—and there are many who decry the eye-for-an-eye mentality of retaliatory HBPs—it is difficult to quibble with the sentiment at their core: enforcement of respect on a baseball diamond. Respect for one’s opponents. Respect for one’s teammates. Respect for the game.

In this regard, the Twins are proving to be an exemplary organization.

Big league ballclubs tolerate flashy displays by their players all the time, because picking one’s battles becomes an increasingly relevant pursuit when it comes to emotionally fragile superstars who are locked into multiyear deals. This leaves it up to the opposition to settle the score. Hence, the aforementioned retaliatory HBPs.

The period before these players reach multimillionaire status, however, presents a fertile time during which to instill appropriate work habits. Which the Twins appear to be doing.

On Tuesday, for example, Miguel Sano, playing for the team’s Double-A club in New Britain, hit a long home run, then watched it, then settled into a glacial home run trot that saw him take 29 seconds to round the bases. He did it against a Portland pitcher, Bobby Lanigan, who had until only recently been his teammate.

It was not the first time that Sano, the third-ranked overall prospect in the minor leagues according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, has encountered such trouble. In April, he hit a grand slam while playing for Single-A Fort Meyers, then overtly flipped his bat. Later in the game, the opposing pitcher threw a fastball at his head in response. Sano reacted to that message with more of the same, homering during the at-bat, then pumping his fist and shouting toward his team’s dugout.

It seems that the Twins have seen enough. Sano was pulled from the game following his display against Portland, and has not seen the field since.

“Just a normal player-development decision,” said Twins farm director Brad Steil in the Pioneer Press. “We have discipline for all sorts of things that we do. This is one of them. He’s not going to play for a few games.”

Critics can decry the concept of retaliatory pitches ad nauseum, but if every organization approached things as proactively as the Twins have handled this situation, there would be far less call for them in the first place.

Update (7/28): After four games, he’s back.

(H/T Hardball Talk.)

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Head-Hunting Season in Texas Earns Immediate Consequences

Juuuuust a bit inside.

The real question after Thursday’s head-hunting and Friday’s suspension in Texas is why?

Not why Twins lefty Scott Diamond was ejected, then suspended for six games. That much was obvious: He threw at Josh Hamilton’s head. (Watch it here.)

No, the lingering uncertainty in the wake of it all concerns Roy Oswalt’s motivation for precipitating the affair with a third-inning fastball into Joe Mauer’s back. There were two outs. It was a 3-0 count. There was a runner on second. There was little question about the intent behind it.

Speculation has the runner, Ben Revere, flashing signs, which could understandably perturb Oswalt. Revere had also been on second when Mauer doubled in the first, which may have set some precedent. If nothing else, Mauer has been noted for his proclivity for this kind of activity.

It’s also possible that Oswalt was settling some unknown grudge, or that, with a base open and a 3-0 count, he was simply releasing a bit of pent-up aggression, happy to face the relatively punchless Ryan Doumit hitting next.

That last option is the least likely of the bunch, but still more plausible than Oswalt’s ultimate explanation, offered up after the game:

For some reason, I can’t keep the ball true on the left side. He’s been beating me away, away, away. I was trying to get him out in and just dropped my elbow. I don’t know the reason why the ball is coming back on the left side of the plate. I can keep it true on the right side. The left side I can’t really keep it true and I dropped my elbow and it kind of sailed on me.

A response from Diamond was expected. He probably would have gotten away with a warning had he been better about his execution. Instead of aiming for Hamilton’s hip, he sent a pitch up around the head, forcing the left-handed hitter to duck. Plate ump Wally Bell didn’t hesitate with his ejection.

“Any time in an umpire’s judgment that they go in the head area, we have to take care of business,” Bell said in a statement. “I felt at the time that he had to be ejected for it.”

Ron Gardenhire, who was also tossed, vigorously disagreed with the lack of warning, but it’s difficult to fault an umpire for tamping down immediately on what could be a very dangerous practice—let alone subsequent retaliatory shots. The league backed Bell up on Friday with its suspension.

Hamilton avoided confrontation by claiming later that he didn’t feel Diamond was throwing at him. Gardenhire said that he hopes it doesn’t carry over.

For a series of actions that made increasingly less sense, it seems a fine way to put an end to all of it. Then again two Rangers were hit in the second inning Friday by Minnesota’s Samuel Deduno in the span of four batters. They were part of six straight baserunners allowed that pushed a 1-0 Texas lead to 5-0, so it could have just been a case of wildness. Then again, Deduno walked only one batter over five innings.

Two more games this weekend. Keep your eyes peeled.

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Filed under Appropriate Retaliation, Retaliation, Scott Diamond

Moderation is a Virtue, Right? Or: Did Bruce Chen Really Throw to First 10 Straight Times?

Yesterday, Bruce Chen threw to first 10 consecutive times in an effort to keep Minnesota’s Denard Span close to the bag. (Watch them all here.) Span never ended up taking off, and Yahoo’s Kevin Kaduk wondered whether there might be an unwritten rule to cover situations like this.

The short answer: Not that I know of. Winning is paramount, and if it makes sense to a pitcher to go nutty in his efforts to keep a runner from stealing, he’s entitled to it. Had it happened in the middle of a blowout, of course—as opposed to the first inning of a scoreless game, as was the case for Chen—then the pitcher would have to field angry questions from his own dugout, as well as that of the opposition.

Because we’re on the topic, here are some unwritten rule incidents involving pickoff throws, which have nothing to do with the frequency of attempts.

  • Former Giants manager Roger Craig would occasionally order an abundance of pickoff attempts to give guys on his bench additional opportunities to decode the other team’s signs. “I had pitchers shake off pickoff moves,” said catcher Bob Brenly, in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. “I had to give [pitchers] the ‘thumb’ sign—Roger called it—to get them to throw the ball over there.”
  • In a 1997 game, the Mets called for extra pickoff attempts when Roger Clemens, then with the Blue Jays, was on second. Their strategy: wear him out on the basepath. Clemens didn’t take long to figure it out, and warned shortstop Rey Ordonez that the next throw to second would put a target on a New York hitter in the ensuing inning.
  • While pickoffs are generally verboten late in blowout games, Dave Righetti felt justified in picking off Brett Butler in the ninth inning of a game in which the Dodgers led the Giants, 12-1. It was the final day of the 1993 season, and although San Francisco had won 103 games, they needed one more win to tie Atlanta atop the NL West. By the ninth inning, it was clear they weren’t going to get it. So when Butler led off the frame with a single, then took an enormous lead, Righetti was particularly sensitive, reading it as an indicator that the runner was about to take off. “A guy has no business running at that point in a game like that, and it ticked me off that he was even thinking about it,” said Righetti. “Well, his lead was so big that I picked him off—but if he had tried to steal second, I would have gone out there and we would have brawled.”  

Fight pre-emption via Code violation. Seems like as good a reason as any.

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How to Make Friends and Influence People (or Not): Umpire Edition

Things got testy for Denard Span Tuesday.

We know already that there are different ways to deal with umpires—some effective, some not so much. We know already that superstars have more leeway in this regard than the average player. And if we didn’t know already that you may as well go ahead and vent once you have nothing left to lose in a game—say, if you’ve just been rung up on three pitches out of the strike zone as your team’s final out in the ninth inning—we learned about it on Monday.

We’ve learned a lot about umpire relations since Monday, in fact. Three examples (at least), in three different situations, with three different kinds of player. Whether these examples set any sort of precedent when it comes to understanding player-umpire relations is less clear than the fact that they were all wildly entertaining, and gave some insight into the psyches of those involved, players and umpires alike.

Start with Monday’s game in San Francisco, in which Roy Halladay walked Aubrey Huff in the fifth inning on an 88 mph cutter with two outs and a runner on first. Trouble was, Halladay didn’t agree that the pitch was a ball. (To his credit, neither pitch-tracking service Brooks Baseball; thanks to Hardball Talk for the link.)  From the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb:

Halladay snatched the throw from Carlos Ruiz and didn’t flinch. His eyes were focused on (Marty) Foster, the home-plate umpire . . . Foster noticed the death stare. He said something to Halladay, who barked back. Then Halladay pointed to make his anger totally clear. It was a brief exchange, one Halladay later claimed was not directed at Foster. But that was the pitcher’s way of being diplomatic.

The result: Five pitches later, Halladay threw another cutter to Brandon Belt, this one well off the plate. It was called a strike, Belt’s third of the at-bat. Inning over.

“His demands had been heard,” wrote Gelb. Halladay had “conquered the umpire.”

Across the country, more balls were being called strikes, including three of Fernando Rodney’s five pitches to Cody Ross, Boston’s final batter in the final frame of a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay.  (See them in another chart from Brooks Baseball, also via Hardball Talk.)

Ross, suffice it to say, was less than pleased, going off later in the Boston Herald about the ignominy of what had just occurred, calling the judgement of plate ump Larry Vanover “unacceptable.”

“If I’m going up there and striking out every at-bat, I’m going to get benched,” he said. “But it’s not that way with (umpires). They can go out there and make bad calls all day, and they’re not going to be held accountable for it.”

Confronting an umpire apparently made a difference for Halladay. The same might be said for Ross (who did it through the press), but not in a way that held any appeal for the player. It could be coincidence, but the following day, three Rangers pitchers struck out a total of 11 Boston hitters—a team high since opening day, when they struck out 13 White Sox—as Texas cruised, 18-3.

On Tuesday in New York, Minnesota’s Denard Span was tossed by plate ump Greg Gibson for arguing balls and strikes. Actually, he was tossed for the fact that he did so in an obvious fashion, swiveling his head backward as he stood in his batting stance to face the ump during the course of the conversation. (See it all here.)

It’s well-known that such a move is widely taken as disrespectful by umpires, and few are willing to tolerate much, if any, of it. This became clear when Span was caught by on-field microphones saying, “I didn’t disrespect you,” shortly before he was tossed.

Said Span in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “It went from Level 1 to “Level 10 in like two seconds.”

“You don’t want to turn on an umpire, to show him up,” said longtime catcher Ron Hassey, discussing the general concept, not Span specifically. “If you’re going to talk, talk straight out. He knows what’s going on. He can hear you.”

Ultimately, what do all these interactions tell us? Unfortunately, not a heck of a lot. Every ump is different, as are players’ relationships with them. Halladay’s ability to stare down an umpire certainly had no bearing on Span’s inability to try to talk sense to one.

None of the three players, of course, had anything on former Yankees pitcher Ryne Duren, long noted for his combination of blazing fastball and lack of control. Jim Bouton recounted in his book, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally, the time that Duren walked three straight hitters on 12 neck-high fastballs. Wrote Bouton:

Finally he walked across a run and he stormed up to the home-plate umpire. “Goddammit, where the hell are those pitches?”

“Right up here, Ryne,” the umpire said, pointing to his neck.

“Well, goddammit,” Duren said, “I’ve got to have that pitch.”

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Liriano’s No-Hitter Rife with Unwritten Rules

As you may have heard, Franciso Liriano threw a no-hitter this week. And of course, the Code was involved—because the Code is always involved in no-hitters.

Like many of his no-hit-pitching brethren, the Twins left-hander insisted that he wasn’t even aware that he hadn’t allowed a hit until late in the game. It was only when he became a dugout pariah in the eighth inning, he said, his teammates avoiding him at any cost, that he grokked what was going on.

“When everybody was walking away from me and nobody was talking to me, I was like ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said in USA Today.

(When told that Liriano said he didn’t realize he had a no-hit bid until the eighth inning, Twins catcher Drew Butera said, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “He’s lying. I think they all realize it.”)

* * *

Elsewhere on the field, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire stuck to the unwritten rule mandating ultimate respect for a feat like Liriano’s. Despite the fact the right-hander’s pitch count was at 116 with one out to go, and despite the fact Liriano hadn’t thrown more than 97 pitches in a game this season, and despite the fact that he had never thrown a complete game in more than 200 professional starts, and most of all despite the fact that the winning run was at the plate in a 1-0 game and Liriano was clearly tiring, Gardenhire left him in.

“I wasn’t walking out there to the mound, I’ll tell you that,” he said in the Star Tribune. “He looked like he was doing fine. It was cool night. It was his ballgame the whole way.”

Asked if he was prepared to stick with Liriano all the way, Gardenhire said: “How far is all the way? He can only load the bases and then probably something’s gotta happen.”

Gardenhire didn’t show nearly that much restraint last season, when he pulled Kevin Slowey from a game in which he had similarly given up no hits. The difference: Slowey was battling an elbow so sore that he had missed his previous start, and after seven innings had already thrown more than Garendhire was comfortable seeing. Eight days later, Rangers manager Ron Washington did something similar with Rich Harden.

Also last year, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he was ready to pull C.C. Sabathia from his early-season start even before he gave up his first hit of the game, in the eighth inning.

The standard-keeper for yanking pitchers from the midst of perfection is Preston Gomez, who did it twice, with two different teams. If nothing else, the guy was clearly a man of conviction.

* * *

One more Code-based moment occurred during Liriano’s gem, when umpire Paul Emmel ruled that Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau tagged Chicago’s Gordon Beckham as the White Sox second baseman raced by him in an effort to beat out a double-play grounder.

Had Morneau tagged him? Of course not. Did he sell it as if he had? Of course he did. That’s what ballplayers do. If the game is willing to tolerate the great lengths to which players will go to gain an advantage—bat corking and ball scuffing and sign stealing and etc.—it’d be a tall order to expect a player to give up a free out granted him by an unsuspecting umpire.

It’s why diving outfielders act as if they’ve caught balls that they know they trapped, why hitters facing three-ball counts will sometimes lean toward first after the next pitch, trying to influence ball four even if they felt it was a strike.

It’s all part of baseball. Now enjoy that no-hitter.

- Jason

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Filed under Francisco Liriano, Gamesmanship, No-Hitter Etiquette, Ron Gardenhire