Tag Archives: San Francisco Giants

When is a Pitch at the Shoetops not a Pitch at the Shoetops? When it’s a Shot Across the Bow, Apparently

A little history can go a long way. All it takes is an ill-timed HBP and a few words in response from either side, and a poorly placed mistake thereafter can blow up into a full-scale bench clearer.

Add to that ingredient list the Giants and Dodgers fighting for the top spot in the NL West, and one’s margin for error gets that much thinner.

First, the history. On May 9, Yasiel Puig homered off Madison Bumgarner and flipped his bat. He flipped his bat because flipping his bat is what Yasiel Puig does. It had as much to do with Bumgarner as it did with Ian Kennedy, Josh Collmenter, Jordan Lyles and Jacob Turner, the four guys Puig homered against prior to taking Bumgarner deep.

It didn’t make a bit of different to the 6-foot-5 North Carolinian, who started hollering at Puig and went so far as to approach him between third base and home plate. From that moment on, coverage of the rivalry seemed obliged to reference the dustup at every available opportunity.

So when Bumgarner hit Puig in the foot with a cutter on Tuesday, it was hardly in a vacuum. The pitch couldn’t have looked less intentional, coming as it did with deep, downward bite on a 1-2 count in the game’s first inning. Considering the pair’s history, Puig and Bumgarner could both have reacted with a bit more suave, which would have immediately relegated the incident to the noted-for-later category. Instead, Puig looked toward the mound in disbelief. Bumgarner said, “What are you looking at?” Puig stepped toward the pitcher. Bumgarner threw down his glove to welcome his opponent. And that was it. Benches cleared, though no punches were thrown and nobody was ejected.

Bumgarner didn’t even want to dignify talk of intent after the game. “He’ll know if it’s on purpose,” he afterward in an MLB.com report. “I’ll make sure of that.”

Matt Kemp avenged his teammate one out later, driving Puig in with a homer to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead (following Justin Turner’s solo shot leading off the inning). Bumgarner responded in kind with a homer of his own in the third, for which he pumped his arm after rounding first base.

This wasn’t Marichal-Roseboro. It wasn’t even Lilly-Posey. But the ongoing acrimony between Bumgarner and Puig is not going away, nor likely is Puig’s showboating that started it all (in the pitcher’s mind, anyway). If benches could clear over something as clear-cut as this, you can bet that it’ll happen again.

The teams meet 18 times next year.

 

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Flipping Out: The Response to What is now Officially a Common Occurrence

Puig-MadBum

So baseball has come to this: the Puig vs. the anti-Puig, forces within the game tugging in opposite directions of what is considered to be acceptable behavior. Puig need not even be present, representing as he does the New World Order of celebration for celebration’s sake, in the face of the game’s long tradition of shunning such displays.

On Friday, in a game at Dodger Stadium, Puig played himself, flipping his bat with no small degree of nonchalance following a sixth-inning home run. The role of anti-Puig was played by Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner, the man who had pitched the baseball.

Mad Bum did not like Puig’s act. Even as the ball flew toward the left field bleachers, Bumgarner strolled down the mound toward the third base line, and waited. When Puig passed, he gave him a piece of his mind. Puig responded accordingly. (Watch it here.)

Bumgarner, it appears, is late to the game on the whole New World Order thing. On the Puig Scale, the bat flip barely registered. The flip didn’t say “I’m so great for hitting that home run against you” so much as simply “I’m so great.” Whether you’re a new-school proponent saying that Puig and his ilk are exactly what baseball needs, or an old-school curmudgeon saying that the likes of Puig will be the ruination of Cartwright’s game, there’s no denying one thing: Whatever he did had nothing to do with Madison Bumgarner.

Puig flips because Puig flips. In the current landscape of home-plate scrums following interleague victories in June, this is simply the way things are. Puig’s actions have not been corrected, because the groundswell to correct them simply does not exist. The Baseball Gods have spoken.

The unwritten rules exist in flux, after all, and adapt to the times. This has always been the case. Once, Don Drysdale could knock down Willie Mays for digging into the batter’s box, and Mays would respond with nothing more severe than, “I better not do that next time.”

A pitcher with Drysdale’s mentality would not survive long in today’s game, shunned for his actions not just by fellow players but by the league itself. Not so Puig.

I am a fan of neither his bat flips, nor his attitude in general. But I am cognizant enough to recognize a shifting tide, and what Puig is doing now falls within baseball’s mainstream. He himself has pushed it there.

So when Madison Bumgarner gets upset with that sort of action, as if that sort of action was somehow directed toward him, he’s simply wrong. It’s Puig being Puig, and, like it or not, it’s now baseball being baseball.

Bumgarner, for his part, already had the best possible response at his disposal. He and the Giants beat Los Angeles, 3-1.

Progress.  

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Filed under Bat flips, Showboating

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: On Making Baseballs Disappear

hidden ballTim Lincecum no-hit the Padres on Saturday, but a day earlier the same teams showed us something that might be even more rare.

After Pablo Sandoval doubled with two outs in the top of the fifth, Padres shortstop Evreth Cabrera ended up with the ball, and while nobody was watching, tucked it away in his glove. Sandoval, preparing for the ensuing pitch, took his lead off second—and Cabrera pounced.

Hidden-ball trick!

Cabrera did everything right, catching Sandoval completely unawares. Problem was, second-base ump Laz Diaz had allowed a timeout request, so the ball was not actually in play. Also, because pitcher Sean O’Sullivan was standing on the mound at the time, the play would have been rendered illegal even had time not been called. Sandoval was allowed to remain at second.

Still, one can hardly fault Cabrera for his effort. “I’m trying to do something to get out of the inning, something different,” he said in an MLB.com report.

Said longtime big leaguer Rex Hudler: “The hidden ball trick is not against the unwritten rules. You’re trying to get an out. I never did pull it off in the big leagues, although I wanted to a few times.”

Cabrera’s effort called to mind a similar effort by Philadelphia shortstop Steve Jeltz in 1986. He had the ball, showed it to the nearest infield umpire, and picked the runner, Curt Ford of the St. Louis Cardinals, cleanly off second base. The only problem was that Phillies catcher John Russell, unaware of what was going on across the diamond, requested time out, which plate ump John McSherry granted just as the infielder was racing to apply the tag. Because the ball was no longer in play by the time Jeltz reached Ford, the runner, like Sandoval, was allowed to return to second.

In 1968, umpire Emmitt Ashford inserted himself even more firmly into a would-be play, obliviously calling time—of his own accord, not because anybody requested it—just as Baltimore first baseman Boog Powell was about to catch Yankee Joe Pepitone off the bag. When questioned by the upset Orioles about his motivation, he said, “Boog’s got the ball and he forgot to call time. I’m just trying to be helpful.”

More on the topic from The Baseball Codes:

“A lot of people thought the hidden ball trick was kind of a chickenshit play,” said longtime big leaguer Steve Lyons, “but my feeling always was, Pay attention.” Lyons’s favorite situa­tion in which to utilize the strategy was on tight double plays, when all eyes were on the first-base umpire to see whether he’d call the runner safe or out. Because many first basemen naturally hop off the bag toward the pitcher, said Lyons, “all you have to do is take three more steps, give [the pitcher] a little nod, hang on to the ball, turn around, and come back to first base. Guys get off the base too early all the time.”

Third baseman Matt Williams was one of his era’s foremost practition­ers of the trick, going so far as to induce runners off the base. With the Giants in 1994, Williams pretended to give the ball to pitcher Dave Burba, then returned to his position and asked the runner, Dodgers rookie Rafael Bournigal, if he “could clean the bag off.” The runner gra­ciously stepped aside, which Williams immediately made him regret. “The intent was not to embarrass anybody or to pick on anybody,” he said after pulling the trick against Royals rookie Jed Hansen three years later. “But you want to win, and we needed to win that game.”

At least he got that much out of it. Lyons said that in the minor leagues he once pulled off the play at first base on consecutive days, against the same baserunner, Carlos Martinez. “He was probably pissed off, but the embarrassment when you actually get caught overrules everything,” he said. “You get caught, you’re embarrassed, you start walking back to the dugout. He was big enough to pinch my head off if he wanted to.”

Lyons once hid the ball so well that baserunner Scott Fletcher wasn’t the only one completely snookered—so was the umpire, who called the runner safe on the play. “I got in a pretty good argument over that one,” said Lyons. “I said, ‘Do you think I’m stupid enough to pull the hidden-ball trick, have everybody in the entire ballpark not know that I have the ball, fool every player on both my team and their team, fool the guy who’s on first base, and then tag him before he’s off the bag? Do you think I’m that dumb?’ And what I didn’t realize until that point was that I didn’t really give the umpire a shot to know I had the ball. In fact, I fooled every­body. It’s a little unfair to have him make the right call on that play if he doesn’t know I have the ball, so after that I tried to make sure that they did. It’s pretty hard to try to hide the ball from everybody in the world and still show it to the umpire and say, hey, I’ve got it here, keep your eyes open—but that’s what I tried to do.”

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Guzman Takes a Spin Down the Line, Giants Respond

Guzman drilleOn Tuesday, Jesus Guzman belted an eighth-inning, two-run, pinch-hit homer against Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt to give the Padres a 4-3 lead. This excited him.

He watched the blast. He walked down the line. He held his bat. Eleven steps from the plate he spun 180 degrees, still moving toward first, and, with his back to the pitcher, bellowed toward his teammates in the first-base dugout.

Clearly, the Giants were not amused. How clear became evident during Guzman’s first at-bat on Wednesday, when Madison Bumgarner threw his first pitch waist-high and behind the batter. Guzman shouted toward the mound and pointed his bat at Bumgarner, all while taking the slow steps of a man with no intention of trading punches. (Bumgarner, however, veritably tore down the mound to establish a closer confrontation, and was restrained by on-deck hitter Yasmani Grandal and plate ump Tony Randazzo.)

Although dugouts emptied, each bench was warned and order was quickly restored. (Watch it all here.)

“I was enjoying the home run with my teammates,” Guzman said of his Tuesday night blast, in an MLB.com report. “I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful of their team.”

That may well be true, but even the greenest big leaguer, let alone a guy with four years’ experience—who, by the way, came up with the Giants in 2009 and was a teammate of Affeldt’s—should realize that such a display will almost inevitably be taken poorly.

Bumgarner’s response—a warning shot across the bow, as it were—got the point across: Think for a moment before doing something like that against us again. (Bumgarner, for his part, left his postgame response to the phrase, “There’s no need to comment on that.”)

Ultimately, however, it was Guzman who held the retaliatory trump card. Leading off the seventh against Bumgarner in a 1-1 game, he crushed a home run deep down the left field line. (Watch it here.)

This time he faced the appropriate direction, and ran every step of the way.

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Filed under Don't Showboat, Juan Guzman, Retaliation

Kontos Takes Aim, MLB Response is Swift

McCutchen drilledIt’s almost as if the commissioner’s office was warming up for Dodgers-Diamondbacks fallout from Tuesday night’s throwdown at Chavez Ravine.

On Wednesday baseball suspended Giants reliever George Kontos for three games, and manager Bruce Bochy for one, following an incident in Pittsburgh on Tuesday in which Kontos hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch after benches had been warned.

With the Giants down 8-2 in the eighth inning, Kontos threw a ball behind Starling Marte. It was likely a response to an incident an inning earlier, when Marco Scutaro was knocked from the game (and, as was found out later, from the lineup for an extended period) by a Tony Watson pitch, and was enough to draw a warning from plate ump Wally Bell

The lack of contact may not have been enough to satisfy the pitcher, who drilled McCutchen in the backside two hitters later. With warnings in effect, Bell didn’t hesitate to toss him. (Watch it here.)

It was a reasonable response by the umpire. Then again, the pitch in question was a tailing sinker that drifted right, hardly a laser-guided bullet. From MLB.com:

The genesis of McCutchen’s plunking occurred one inning earlier, when he singled leading off against Kontos.

“First pitch of the seventh inning, he put a really good swing on it,” Kontos said, “and they were hacking early and out over the plate, so I was trying to pitch inside. A sinker got away from me a little bit.” 

(To add to Kontos’ woes, he was sent to Triple-A Fresno after the game; he’ll serve his suspension upon being recalled. Also, it was his 28th birthday. Still, wrote CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarlyit could have been worse: Kontos tore his elbow ligament while pitching on his birthday four years ago.)

It’s difficult to fault Bell for his decision, though it’s fair to ask whether Kontos’ actions were suspension-worthy. Ultimately, it’s irrelevant: Between this incident, the one in Los Angeles on Tuesday and Monday’s Red Sox-Rays dustup, MLB must be freaking out just a little bit, and responded accordingly.  

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Retiring Schneider Brings to Mind a Small Slice of Baseball Mayhem

Brian SchneiderBrian Schneider retired yesterday. A backup for most of his 13-year career, he was never a star, but saw enough action to make an impression.

The following excerpt from The Baseball Codes was reported primarily because I watched it unfold from the press box at AT&T Park, and was duly amazed. The moment involved Schneider, in the on-deck circle, being drilled by a foul ball and knocked out of the game.

That, in itself, is unusual, but the story surrounding it—including the aftermath—brought increasing levels of intrigue. Schneider was only a bit player, but it bears retelling:

In 2006, the Washington Nationals limped into San Francisco with a MASH unit where their catching corps should have been. Starting catcher Brian Schneider suffered a debilitating lower-back strain in Los Angeles a day earlier, and backup Matt LeCroy had been released eleven days previous. That left only one player on the roster with catching experience—Robert Fick, primarily a first baseman who had caught in 132 games over eight previous big-league seasons.

In the fourth inning, however, it all came apart. Fick, on first after sin­gling, tore rib cartilage diving back to the bag on a pickoff throw. Had there been another catching option for Nationals manager Frank Robin­son, Fick would have come out of the game immediately. As it was, Fick’s injury prevented him from swinging a bat, but he was still able to squat and catch, so he stayed in.

The single had been part of a five-run rally that gave Washington a 6–1 lead. But after catching the bottom of the fourth, Fick was in such serious pain that Schneider volunteered to come off the bench, bad back and all, to take over. He made it as far as the on-deck circle, where he was prepar­ing to bat in Fick’s spot with two outs in the fifth. Within moments, how­ever, Nationals hitter Damian Jackson lined a foul ball directly into Schneider’s right wrist, giving him injuries in two places and sending him back to the dugout. There was no other option—Fick had to bat for him­self. Which leads to a question: What does a hitter do when he can’t swing a bat?

The answer: He bunts. It was Fick’s only alternative, short of watching every pitch he saw. There were two problems, however. One was that Fick pushed his first bunt attempt foul, leaving him standing at the plate and awaiting the next pitch from San Francisco starter Noah Lowry. The other was that neither Fick nor anyone else in the Nationals dugout told the Giants what was going on. All Lowry saw was a player bunting after a five-run rally that broke the game open. He drilled Fick with his next pitch.

“I thought it was unbelievable, ridiculous,” said Lowry. “Sometimes during a game, emotions take over. The emotions were already there, and to add that icing on the cake. . . . There comes a point where you have to draw the line and say, ‘Hey, have respect for me, have respect for the game.’ ”

It wasn’t until afterward that the left-hander found out about Fick’s ribs (the injury was enough to send the would-be catcher to the disabled list the next day) and the various maladies of Washington’s other catchers, and he felt terrible. Had there been some communication—Fick telling Giants catcher Todd Greene about his predicament, and Greene relaying that information to Lowry, perhaps—might it have made a difference?

“Yeah, of course,” said the pitcher. “Knowing he was hurt would have been a completely different story. . . . When I heard about why he was doing it I felt like a jerk. But, not knowing, you just play the game the way you know how to play it.”

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Holliday’s Had It: Calls out Cain for ‘Less Than Tough’ Retaliation

For those who think that Matt Cain waited to long to retaliate against Matt Holliday—the outfielder’s questionable slide into Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro occurred in Game 2 of the NLCS, and he was drilled a week later, in Game 7, once the series was salted away—Holliday put that timetable to shame.

Precisely one month after his slide, and three weeks after Cain drilled him, Holliday addressed the topic in an Insidestl.com report, calling it, among other things, “less than tough”:

[The pitch] seems on purpose. I wish that if he wanted to hit me, he would’ve just done it on the first pitch in the next game he had pitched. You know, if you’re going to do it, do it, get it out of the way. But to do it, I don’t remember what the score was but it was out of hand, that’s about it. I thought the timing of it was….I don’t want to get into it. I wasn’t thrilled about it. . . .

If you’re going to do it, I think that is when you do it. I wouldn’t be happy about it anytime. I just thought that in the situation that it actually did happen it was less than tough.

It might seem odd for Holliday to express displeasure with Cain’s delay weeks after the fact, when he could have done it immediately following the game in which it happened. To be fair, he was answering a question, not promoting an agenda, and it’s not like Cardinals players had much media time once they’d packed their bags for the winter upon returning to St. Louis.

It’s unlikely that this will further ill feelings come 2013, but also serves to remind us that another incident—one of Cain’s pitches slips, perhaps, or Holliday again takes out a middle infielder—will not be easily digested by the other side.

(Via HardballTalk.)

 

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Filed under Matt Cain, Matt Holliday, Matt Holliday, Retaliation, Slide properly