Tag Archives: San Francisco Giants

Take That, Atlanta: Cabrera Seizes Every Opportunity to Remind Braves That He’s on His Game

Memories can be long when it comes to failures of the past, and old bitterness sometimes dies hard. There’s little question after Wednesday night’s Giants-Braves game that Melky Cabrera harbors some old bitterness.

He never found his groove during his lone season in Atlanta, in 2010, receiving scant affection from fans, media and the organization itself. Of course, much of it was deserved—he showed up out of shape, hit only four home runs, finished eighth among team regulars with a .255 batting average, and dead last in OBP, slugging and OPS. He feuded with manager Bobby Cox, and the team released him after the season.

When Cabrera returned to Atlanta for the first time since then this week, he wasted few opportunities to make his feelings known. On Tuesday, he gestured (some say rudely) toward fans in the left field bleachers after catching a fly ball, and acted as if he would toss balls to the stands before reversing course and holding on to them. He spent some time admiring his home run off of Mike Minor on Wednesday. (Tater Trot Tracker listed it as the day’s fifth slowest circuit, out of 39.) With Jason Heyward at second on Wednesday, Cabrera caught a flyball and waved at him with his glove as if urging him to test the outfielder’s arm. When Brandon Crawford hit what turned out to be the game-winning homer in the 11th inning on Wednesday, Cabrera left the dugout and skipped up the warning track.

Things had built to such a degree that after he and Gregor Blanco scored on Blanco’s 11th-inning home run Wednesday (shortly following Crawford’s), their standard pelvis-thrusting celebration was taken by many to be inflammatory.

The Braves noticed all of it.

In the eighth inning Wednesday, reliever Eric O’Flaherty threw a high, inside fastball to Carbrera, knocking him to the ground. The gesture elicited a smile from the outfielder.

“That’s Melky, and that’s why he’s not here anymore,” Chipper Jones told the Atlanta Journal Contstitution after the game. “He got a little happy when Blanco hit the home run. It won’t be forgotten.”

(Jones got his own measure of revenge when, after homering in the 11th, he took even longer than Cabrera to round the bases.)

Speculation had Tim Hudson, starting Thursday for the Braves, offering further retaliation, but the score was close throughout, and Cabrera ended up going 2-for-3 with a walk without being hit.

For his part, Cabrera claimed to CSN Bay Area (through interpreter Angel Pagan) that it was all in good fun.

“Just trying to play hard baseball,” he said. “Sometimes when the adrenaline is really high, something might happen. It’s not trying to embarrass anybody. It’s just trying to play hard and competitive.”

Difficult as that may be to believe, Giants manager Bruce Bochy defended his player—although some of it was clearly lip service.

“I don’t think Melky means to [taunt],” he told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m not into trying to show up other clubs and the guys know it. If you know Melky, he’s quiet and goes about his business. It was more about having fun.”

It’s true that Cabrera has been nothing but quiet and professional to this point in his San Francisco tenure, but it’s tough to mistake much of what he did at Turner Field as anything to do with “having fun.”

Atlanta visits the Giants in late August. Mark your calendars.

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Filed under Don't Showboat, Melky Cabrera

Reach Out and Touch Someone … or Not: On Cano’s (Temporary) Lack of Love for Melky

In 1933, National League president John Heydler issued a memo to team presidents recommending against inter-team fraternization. By the end of the decade, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis had turned it into law. Umpires were tasked with sitting in the stands before games and taking names of those players willing to converse across borders, with fines levied against the guilty.

Because those mores were in line with the unwritten rules, not many fines were needed. Heck, in the 1965 All-Star Game, Bob Gibson wouldn’t talk to his own catcher, Joe Torre, because they played for different teams during every other game of the season.

“When I had the uniform on, somebody with the other uniform, I wanted to choke them,” said 1993 AL Cy Young Award-winner Jack McDowell. “I wanted to kill them. I’m sure as hell not going to go shake their hands and talk to them, even warming up before a game.”

These days, that mindset has faded, for one primary reason. “There’s interaction now,” said Dusty Baker. “High school games, section games, college games, Area Code games, Junior Olympic team, Olympic team, Pan Am Games—most of these guys know each other, and for a long period of time before they even get to the big leagues.”

Even with that in mind, Melky Cabrera tried to push the envelope following his fourth-inning homer in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. As San Francisco’s center fielder rounded first, he spied one of his best friends in the game, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. The pair had come up together through New York’s minor league system, and remain close.

As Cabrera approached second, he held out his hand to slap five with his pal—who, it should be re-stated, was playing for the other team.

How did it sit? Not well in Cabrera’s own clubhouse, likely. His manager for the day, Tony La Russa, is known to have some feelings on the subject. From Buzz Bissinger’s Three Nights in August: “It drives [La Russa] crazy when a hitter gets a single and starts chatting it up with the first baseman as if they’re distant cousins at a family reunion. He shares the fan’s view that it simply doesn’t look good: Baseball is meant to be a game of competition, not a game of whassup dog?

Whassup dog, however,  seemed to be on Cabrera’s mind. Cano refused to play along. (Watch it here.)

“He tried to give me a high five, and I know this is the All-Star Game, but I don’t want to look bad out there,” Cano said in a CBS Sports report. “It was fun, and if it was a closer game I might be having fun. I didn’t want to upset my teammates. We’re playing to win.”

It’s doubtful that Cabrera would have tried such a thing anyplace but an exhibition, but it was still an odd and awkward sight.

“Take ’em out to dinner,” said pitcher Dick Bosman of such encounters. “Sit in the lobby of the hotel. But whatever you do, you’re not supposed to be doing it out there on the field.”

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Filed under Fraternization, Melky Cabrera

Cain Conquers Code, Overcomes Slew of Jinxes to Reach Perfection

There are some lines Bruce Bochy is willing to cross, and some that he’s not.

Case in point: Matt Cain’s perfect game Wednesday night. Bochy was willing to make some small changes: Emmanuel Burriss replaced Ryan Theriot at second base in the sixth, and in the seventh, Joaquin Arias slid from shortstop to third base, replacing Pablo Sandoval, with Brandon Crawford inserted at shortstop.

The Burriss substitution, said Bochy after the game, was aimed at giving playing time to one player and rest to another during a 10-0 blowout. The seventh-inning switches, however, were made with perfection in mind, Bochy putting the best defense possible behind Cain. Sure enough, the first batter of the eighth, J.D. Martinez, hit a slow roller to third, which Arias charged, gloved cleanly, and threw on a line to nip the runner. And with two outs in the ninth, Arias fielded a sharply hit ball down the line and made the long throw in plenty of time to preserve Cain’s perfection. (Watch it here. Full highlights here.)

“We went against every unwritten rule in the book, I know, but Boch and I just thought we had to have our best defense in there at the end, and it worked out,” said Giants bench coach Ron Wotus. “Panda [Sandoval] would have a tough time making those two plays as easily as Arias made them.”

When it came to warming up a pitcher, however, Bochy was significantly more sly. With a comfortable lead, he wanted a reliever ready should Cain—whose pitch count through seven was 103—give up a hit. The manager was cognizant, however, of the emotional toll the sight of bullpen activity can take on a nerve-wracked starter, so he had reliever Shane Loux warming up “down underneath,” either in the batting cage or in the tunnel below the stands.

“We had somebody ready,” he said. “You couldn’t see him, but he was there.”

Far less tactful was first baseman Brandon Belt, who looked up from his seat in the dugout in the seventh inning, and was startled to see Cain in front of him.

“I sat down and Cainer just stopped and stared at me,” Belt told CSN Bay Area‘s Andrew Baggarly, referencing the superstition that nothing in the dugout order can change under such circumstances. “Yeah, I guess everything was OK until I sat in his seat.”

As if to follow suit, not only was the Giants television broadcast crew more than happy to reference the no-hitter, but prior to the ninth inning showed a “Giants No-Hit History” graphic, featuring each of San Francisco’s five previous no-hitters.

Just goes to show that dominant pitching trumps jinxes every time.

Update (6-15-12): Cain’s family is full of Code adherents.

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Filed under Matt Cain, No-Hitter Etiquette

A Time and a Place for Everything, or: What Was it You Were Retaliating for, Again?

Buster's revenge: Posey takes Sam LeCure deep in the ninth.

In baseball, it’s not difficult to determine what constitutes a retaliation-worthy offense, and what does not. Intent behind that HBP? Retaliate away. Nobody should say a word.

On Tuesday, however, Reds reliever Sam LeCure apparently didn’t care for the fact that Joey Votto was drilled in the backside by San Francisco’s Dan Otero during what would become a six-run inning. What he failed to consider: Otero is a rookie with all of 6.2 innings to his name this season, and was in the midst of a full-throated meltdown—all six runs were his, in fewer than two innings—that saw his ERA rise from 2.70 to 8.64. The guy was clearly not hitting his marks.

Which didn’t keep LeCure from putting a ball behind Buster Posey’s knee in the ninth.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy was seen to mouth the words, “That’s fucking bullshit” in the dugout, and was more than happy to expound on that theme after the game.

“The kid (Otero) has got two weeks in the big-leagues,” he told the press. “He’s trying to get through an inning. He’s trying to survive. He’s not trying to hit anybody. He was scuffling out there. I’m sure he was nervous. . . . That’s how people get hurt. Here’s a guy (Posey) we lost for a long time last year and he gets a ball thrown at his kneecap.”

Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle had an interesting take on LeCure’s rationale, going back to Daniel Hudson’s preseason proclamation that Arizona pitchers would no longer tolerate shots at their teammates:

During spring training, Arizonastarter Daniel Hudson articulated a warning to all the pitchers in the National League. Justin Upton is the Diamondbacks’ best player and he was hit by 19 pitches last year, most in the National League. So Hudson made it clear that if Upton continued to get hit, the Diamondbacks would retaliate.

I get that. I also get that sometimes it’s OK for a team to retaliate for a hit batter even if it was accidental, if it keeps happening over and over. At some point, the batter’s team needs to show it will not let opponents continue to use a guy as a dartboard, and there will be consequences.

Thus, when Reds reliever Sam LeCure threw behind Buster Posey in the ninth inning of tonight’s 9-2 Reds win, in obvious retaliation for Dan Otero’s equally obvious accidental drilling of Joey Votto in the seventh, I initially thought it was OK. I figured Votto had been a target lately and LeCure was just doing with the baseball what Hudson did with his language in spring training. So I grabbed the stat sheet to see how many times Votto had been hit this season.

Zero.

The part that makes the least sense is that the Giants’ leadoff batter the following inning was none other than Dan Otero (who was left in to mop up what was by then a hopeless game). Holding an eight-run lead, Reds reliever Jose Arredondo proceeded to strike him out. That was Cincinnati’s best—and some would say, only, as far as justification is concerned—shot at retaliation. That it took another inning and a different pitcher to get it done speaks to darker things. There’s a chance that Arredondo was influenced by Reds starter Matt Latos—so outspoken in his dislike of the Giants that before the game he handed a ball to the Cincinnati broadcasters inscribed with the phrase, “I hate the Giants.” (Latos and San Francisco built up no shortage of animosity in 2010, when the right-hander pitched for San Diego.)

The dugouts were warned, after which Posey got the best kind of revenge: He hit a two-run homer that ended Cincinnati’s bid for a shutout.

Teams play again today. Stay tuned.

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Filed under Buster Posey, Retaliation, Sam LeCure

We Must Be in the Front Row: Not First Time for Ticket Mixup at Busch

The view shared by members of the Brewers' traveling party?

Between the name-calling and the occasional hit batter and the Beast Mode, this Brewers-Cardinals NLCS has not been short on tempestuous fun.

Wednesday, however, things took a bit of a different turn. Whether it’s a bizarre form of institutional retaliation or simply shoddy planning, St. Louis’s decision to forgo the standard seating section for the families of Brewers players and staff—opting instead to spread them out around the ballpark—has been met with considerable anger.

“It’s bush,” said Nyjer Morgan in an ESPN.com report. “Our families, they’ve got to be secured. It’s kind of garbage. We put their [families] in a secure section and then they want to spread ours out. I don’t know why they play the mental games, but that right there, they shouldn’t play the games right there because that’s our family and our family has got to be secure. But that’s just them, that’s how they operate right there I guess.”

Leading to the theory that the decision was directly influenced by the team’s dislike for the Brewers is the fact that St. Louis reserved precisely such a section for its opponent in the NLDS, the Phillies. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak denied that gamesmanship was behind the decision, but at the very least, the club has some precedent on which to build.

During the 1987 NLCS against San Francisco, Giants players were dismayed to find out that their families had been relegated to the far reaches of the ballpark. The incident was referenced briefly in The Baseball Codes; here’s a more robust version of the story:

Giants slugger Jeffrey Leonard introduced the phrase “one flap down” into the American lexicon during the playoffs in 1987. That was the name of the peculiar home-run trot he had devised (but rarely used) the previous season, during which he let his left arm dangle limply at his side while dipping his inside shoulder into the turn at each base. The slugger decided to resurrect the practice after he and teammates noticed that the Cardinals organization placed Giants family members and friends in nosebleed seats for the first playoff game in St. Louis.

“We peeked out of the [Busch Stadium] dugout and saw where they were sitting, and we all got angry,” he said. “So I said to myself, if I hit a home run I’m just going to clown this fool out there.”

Leonard had plenty of opportunities to clown plenty of fools in the coming days, as he hit four homers over the seven-game series—a performance so dominating that he was named series MVP, even though his team lost. For each of those homers, his arm hung low to his side, which infuriated the Cardinals and their fans. (As did the fact that Leonard’s teammate Chili Davis called St. Louis a “cow town” to the press, a comment that got considerable run near the Gateway Arch.)

Leonard had come upon his trot by accident during a 1986 game, after he hit a home run against Chicago’s Scott Sanderson. First base coach Jose Morales, who usually met passing runners with an arm raised for a high-five, this time had his hands at his sides. It wasn’t until Leonard was atop the bag, ready to turn toward second, that Morales’ arm shot into the air in a belated attempt at congratulation. Leonard’s instinctive response was to duck under it, dropping his left shoulder in the process and letting his arm dangle as he rounded the base. Then, for reasons he can’t much explain, he held the pose as he continued the circuit.

The Brewers have plenty of ready-built responses of their own to call upon, starting with various permutations of Beast Mode and ending with Morgan’s T-Plush signs.

They should be wary, however: Leonard was drilled for his actions by Bob Forsch in Game 3 back in ’87; a similar response from Tony La Russa’s Cardinals would hardly be unusual.

Update (10-18): Apparently that wasn’t all of it. Now that the NLCS is complete, we hear that Zack Greinke‘s wife, Emily, was none too pleased with her seats, tweeting during a game in St. Louis that she’d been relegated to a spot down the left-field line. The tweet has since been deleted, but Larry Brown Sports saved the accompanying picture, allegedly shot on location.

- Jason

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Filed under Jeffrey Leonard, Jeffrey Leonard, Retaliation, Showing Players Up

Rollins Steals, Ramirez Stews, Victorino Fumes, Polanco Charges. Just Another Day at the Yard

Much of the intrigue in the Code is looking at something like last night’s brawl between the Phillies and Giants and being far more interested in the causation of the event than the event itself.

Images from the fight are vivid: Shane Victorino getting plunked in in the lower back in the top of the sixth, then taking steps toward the mound; catcher Eli Whiteside tackling a charging Placido Polanco around the legs; Victorino charging into the scrum and belting Giants hitting coach Hensley Muellens. (Watch it here.)

But what led up to it?

Well, the pitch from Ramon Ramirez that hit Victorino, for one. It certainly seemed intentional. But why?

Popular sentiment holds that Ramirez was spurred by Jimmy Rollins‘  steal of second base moments earlier, with his team holding an 8-2 advantage. In many cases, a six-run lead in the sixth inning is firmly within the Code’s gray area when it comes to propriety for such a play. But for these Giants, who are last in the National League in runs scored and who had scored more than twice in only four of their previous 14 games, a six-run deficit may as well be 12.

So why wait until after Polanco singled to drill a guy? Simple frustration, perhaps; Rollins advanced to third on the play, and second base was open with two outs.

In the clubhouse prior to today’s game, I asked a number of Giants players about whether Rollins’ steal garnered notice in the San Francisco dugout. While nobody was interested in fanning these particular flames, let alone implicating Ramirez as having intentionally drilled Victorino, the only guy to deny taking note of Rollins’ steal was Jeremy Affeldt, and that was because he was in the bullpen, warming up, when it happened.

“We noticed,” one player told me, referring to Rollins. “I don’t want to speak for everybody, but a lot of us noticed.”

Another player went so far as to say that Rollins’ steal was simply the final factor in a string of things “that you just don’t do in somebody else’s ballpark.” He declined to elaborate, but little happened prior to the steal to draw the notice of the broadcast crew or people in the press box. One guess is that the Phillies were doing their share of chirping, which was enough—combined with San Francisco’s frustration over its recent losing streak, and Ramirez’s frustration over giving up four hits, a walk, a wild pitch and three runs over two-thirds of an inning—to push the pitcher over the edge.

The fact that it was Jonathan Sanchez’s first start against Philadelphia since last year’s dustup with Chase Utley in the NLCS could also have raised the tension.

When it came to the fight itself, none of it would have happened had Victorino not started toward the mound. As it was, he quickly reconsidered his action, slowing up after an aggressive first step, then stopping altogether to wipe his mouth with his shirt. This was clearly not a man with violence on his mind.

(“He hit Vic, then he came after Vic. Vic almost has to go unless he wants his teammates to call him chicken,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in an AP report. “I think (Ramirez) was getting hit and he got mad and he was going to plunk somebody. He was going to send a message.”)

Polanco, however, was racing toward the mound until being waylaid by Whiteside. That was the moment at which things got testy. (That Victorino charged into the scrum in a second wave of anger will not play in his favor in the league office, nor will the fact that he pushed aside umpire Mike Muchlinski in his quest to do so.)

One more item of interest from the fight: Giants outfielder Pat Burrell, while abiding by the unwritten rule mandating that all players take the field during a fight, broke an actual rule when he did so. (Players not on the active roster are barred even from the dugout during games.)

Today’s contest was quiet (especially from the standpoint of San Francisco’s offense), and the bad blood appears to have subsided. All it takes, however, is one angry reliever to reignite things as if they had never abated, and to possibly set the Hawaiian flyin’ again.

- Jason

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Filed under Ramon Ramirez, Retaliation, Shane Victorino

Not Among Friends: The Fine Art of Ignoring Hostile Crowds. Or: Nyjer Morgan, Come on Down!

Forget lefty-on-lefty matchups; there’s one battle a baseball player simply can not win: going nose to nose with any segment of the crowd, particularly on the road. One of the first things a player learns, even in the minors, is to avoid negative engagement at nearly any cost. Bleacher bums like nothing better than turning a minor on-field gesture into a mountain of grief.

This particular lesson continues to evade Nyjer Morgan.

On Friday night in San Francisco, Morgan made a series of running catches in the vast power alleys of AT&T Park to rob the Giants of several extra-base hits. With each grab, the jeering from the center-field bleachers got a little louder. Eventually, Morgan bit.

In the seventh inning, after ranging far to his right to track down a drive by Nate Schierholtz, Morgan ended up bouncing off the wall in left-center. As he jogged back to his position, he spun and made several gestures toward the bleachers widely perceived to be obscene. This served to inspire the crowd, which doubled down on whatever it had been yelling. Morgan spun to face them sporadically through the inning, gesturing all the while (though nothing any more conspicuous than arm waving, chest-thumping and head nodding).

He kept it up all the way to the dugout after the inning, bringing fans in different sections of the ballpark into the action. The act was blatant enough for umpire Joe West to have a word with Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke. (Watch it all here.)

These kinds of interactions can end up one of two ways. The first example is from Jose Canseco, who was greeted by Boston fans during the 1988 American League Championship Series with chants of “STER-oids, STER-oids.” Canseco, like Morgan, didn’t let it go. He pulled up his sleeve and showed his bicep to the crowd. Then he hit three home runs over the course of Oakland’s four-game sweep.

On the other side of the equation is David Wells. He tells the story himself, in his book, Perfect I’m Not. The scene: the bullpen in Cleveland, where Wells is warming up as a member of the Yankees, prior to a start.

“You’re an asshole, Wells! You suck! Fuck you!” they shout, hanging over the bullpen like a bunch of drunken, potbellied baboons wearing acid-washed jeans. Standard stuff, really. I barely even notice . . . until they shift gears. “Hey, Wells! Your mother’s a whore!” they shout from above, lauhing, and at that point I can’t help but shoot them a glare. Bad move. They’ve struck a nerve, and they know it. Now the jackasses take it up a notch, laying out a long, steady, completely obnoxious string of mom-centered insults, none of which I’ll reprint for you here. I’m dying to break a nose.

More dick-heads join the glee club. More insults get thrown, and by the time I’ve finished my warm-ups, I’m astonished to find that a bunch of little kids, just eight or nine years old, are now mimicking the older morons, reshouting every bit of filth the alpha mooks dish out. The “adults” all crack up at the sight. Welcome to Cleveland, ass-wipe capital of the USA.

It really bothers me. I know it shouldn’t., but it does. Insults aimed at me just roll off with no effect. It’s part of the territory. But here, today, with the rifle sights shifting to my mom, I’ve become furious to the point of distraction. Minutes later, hands still balled into tight, homicidal fists, my head still spinning, I sit in the Yankees’ dugout, stewing and staring, barely cracking a smile, even as my teammates are jumping all over a wild Chad Ogea and gifting me with a quick, 3-0, first-inning lead. In just a few moments, I’ll give most of that back.

Taking the mound to my usual chorus of  boos, I’m now raging inside. Sweating, scowling, still looking to fracture a skull, I’m knocked off my game. I’m distracted. My mechanics are off. My delivery sucks, my fastball is up, and I pay for it all through the first. The assholes have won.

In Morgan’s defense, what was first taken to be an indecent gesture was actually a “T” symbol the outfielder made with his arms—something he does regularly to acknowledge his alter-ego, Tony Plush, or T-Plush.

He also flashed devil horns toward the bleachers, which happens to be the hand sign for two outs—which there were once he retired Schierholtz. He then flashed the sign toward the infield. Standard procedure.

“Just fans being fans, and me being an entertainer,” he told the San Jose Mercury News after the game.

Ultimately, Morgan is innocent of luridness and guilty of stupidity. His gestures, innocent though they may have been, were clearly intended to be provocative. Morgan should know better.

But he doesn’t. Last year, remember, Morgan was suspended for eight games and fined $15,000 after he cursed at Marlins fans in Florida, then initiated a fight with Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad. This came on the heels of a seven-game suspension (later waved) after he allegedly threw a ball at a fan in Philadelphia. (Morgan claimed he threw the ball to the fan.)

So never mind the fact that Morgan told MLB.com that he would alter his “T” sign to avoid future misunderstandings, saying that “we don’t want any controversial stories here.” The guy is a loose cannon, and likely always will be.  On Friday, that personality trait guaranteed him that he will not play another grief-free game in San Francisco in the foreseeable future.

Only he can decide whether it was worth it on a personal level, but institutionally it’s clear. The Code says no.

- Jason

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Filed under Fan interaction

One Man’s Celebration is Another Man’s Disrespect, Chad Qualls Edition

The play that started it all.

There’s a reason that baseball doesn’t have the chest-thumping of the NBA, or the equivalent of a football player leaping up after a two-yard carry with a first-down signal.

Baseball doesn’t have much tolerance for that kind of thing. Save for game-winning plays, look-at-me moments are nearly universally frowned upon.

Which is part of the reason that Andres Torres and the Giants aren’t looking at Chad Qualls in a friendly light today.

With the Giants trailing 5-3 in the seventh, Torres won his first battle with Qualls, working back from a 1-2 count to see 16 pitches—fouling off 11 of them in an at-bat that took more than eight minutes—before drawing a base on balls. He then stole second, and advanced to third on an infield grounder.

That’s where he was when a Qualls pitch squirted away from catcher Nick Hundley; after delaying to assess the situation, Torres belatedly broke for home.

Hundley’s toss to Qualls, covering the plate, was in plenty of time. Qualls went into a bit of a slide while making the tag and essentially sat on the plate to keep Torres from touching it; the putout ended the inning with San Francisco’s best hitter, Pablo Sandoval, up to bat and the tying run at second. (Watch it here.)

It’s understandable that Qualls was pleased with the development, especially in light of the frustration he must have felt after Torres’ marathon at-bat. Which doesn’t diminish the fact that he spiked the baseball and yelled at Torres on his way back to the dugout.

“That’s not professional,” Torres told reporters after the game. “I don’t believe in making a show on the field.”

Torres talked about respect, both for the game itself and for one’s opponents. He got passionate when discussing his own protracted path to the big leagues, intoning that he’s come to far, at too great a price, to be disrespected like that on the field. (Watch the entire exchange here.)

Direct payback for Qualls is unlikely, since, as a reliever, it’s a longshot that he’ll come to bat against the Giants. Retaliation against one of the Padres’ hitters isn’t out of the question but is similarly unlikely unless San Francisco breaks through with a passel of early runs today, giving their pitchers a bit of leeway when it comes to things like settling scores.

Then again, these teams face each other 14 more times this year. There is, as the saying goes, a lot of baseball yet to be played.

Update: This just in from Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News, who tracked down Qualls before today’s game: The reliever doesn’t feel good about what he did. “I’m sorry that it happened,” he said. “I meant no disrespect. That’s not what I intended. I play this game with passion and to, me, that situation was as elevated as it gets for my type of inning.”

- Jason

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Filed under Andres Torres, Chad Qualls, Showing Players Up

Sabean Goes Off, People Freak Out

Wow. That’s pretty much the reaction du jour after Brian Sabean unleashed his verbal vengeance on Scott Cousins yesterday. Perhaps it’s that general managers don’t usually talk that way. Perhaps it’s that, more than a week after the incident in which Buster Posey was lost for the season, a guy in a position usually reserved for settling volatile situations has instead served to inflame this one.

A brief recap. In an interview on Giants flagship KNBR yesterday, Sabean said the following:

  • “He chose to be a hero in my mind, and if that’s his flash of fame, that’s as good as it’s going to get, pal. We’ll have a long memory. Believe me, we’ve talked to (former catcher Mike) Matheny about how this game works. You can’t be that out-and-out overly aggressive. I’ll put it as politically as I can state it: There’s no love lost, and there shouldn’t be.”
  • “If I never hear from Cousins again or he never plays another game in the big leagues, I think we’ll all be happy.”
  • “If you listen to the kid’s comments after the fact, he pretty much decided and it was premeditated that if he got a chance, he was going to blow up the catcher to dislodge the ball, And if you watch frame by frame from different angles, he does not take the path to the plate to try to score. He goes after Buster, right shoulder on right shoulder, and to me, that’s malicious.”

(Listen to the entire thing here.)

By referencing Matheny, Sabean was essentially promising retaliation. (Matheny, a catcher whose career was ended by a spate of concussions after too many collisions at the plate, was widely quoted as saying that situations such as this should be settled on the field.)

By calling the play malicious when it clearly was not, by wishing ill upon Cousins, by unleashing what by almost every account is an over-the-top tirade, Sabean has in the minds of most pundits gone too far.

Which may have been precisely his point.

The Giants don’t face the Marlins again until August, at which point Cousins—currently batting all of .159—might not even be on the team. Meanwhile, Sabean has sent an unequivocal message—not just a warning that one takes liberties with the Giants at one’s own risk, but that this type of play is drawing both notice and response.

Since the accident, Sabean has advocated for a reexamination of the rule that allows home plate collisions, especially those such as the one that injured Posey, in which the catcher cedes the baseline in an effort to avoid unnecessary contact. (Sabean, in fact, is not the first GM to get involved with the issue this week; Billy Beane has already instructed Kurt Suzuki to get out of the way and employ sweep tags.)

Baseball will probably opt against enacting any sort of rule change, at least in the short term, so the Giants’ GM is taking the law into his own hands. His volley was a clear message to would-be catcher stalkers: You better be damn sure that’s your only way of scoring, because if it’s not, we’ll be watching.

Sabean will likely be disciplined by MLB for his comments. Sabean likely does not care.

This issue is bigger than the Giants. In this regard, Sabean is taking one for the team—all those within baseball who share his views on the topic.

Did he go too far in his assessment? Absolutely. But did Sabean—who, while notoriously frank, is no dummy when it comes to public relations—feel that was the best way to get his message across?

Almost indisputably.

Update (June 3): The Giants just released this statement (note the explanation sans apology):

This is a very emotional time for the Giants organization and our fans. We lost for the season one of our best players to a serious injury and we are doing everything we can to support Buster Posey through this very difficult time. We appreciate Scott Cousins’ outreach to Buster Posey and to the Giants organization.

Brian Sabean’s comments yesterday were said out of frustration and out of true concern for Buster and were not meant to vilify Scott Cousins. Brian has been in contact with Florida Marlins General Manager Larry Beinfest to clarify his comments and to assure him that there is no ill-will toward the player. He has also reached out to Scott Cousins directly.

The issue of catcher safety is a complicated one. There are a number of differing opinions around the circumstances of last week’s collision and about what baseball should do to prevent serious injuries in the future. This issue goes far beyond last week’s incident as there have been a number of recent collision-involved injuries.

We have been in contact with Joe Torre, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president for baseball operations, and have asked for a thorough examination of this issue for the health and safety of all players.

We intend to move beyond conversations about last week’s incident and focus our attention on Buster’s full recovery and on defending our World Series title.

- Jason

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Lights, Rain and Radar: How to Get into your Opponent’s Head, an Introductory Course in Gamesmanship

When the lights go down in St. Louis . . .

When the lights went out in St. Louis last night, there were two outs in the 11th inning and San Francisco’s Brian Wilson was on the verge of closing out a 7-5 victory.

Instead, the teams sat for 16 minutes while the sound guy at Busch Stadium played Journey’s “Lights” and somebody tried to deal with the electrical system.

The chatter after Wilson finally returned to record the game’s final out had to do with the possibility of malfeasance on the part of Tony La Russa. Did the Cards’ manager manipulate the power grid in an effort to cool down the opposing closer?

Of course he didn’t. Or at least he probably didn’t. Still, the coincidental timing was enough for Bruce Bochy to quip afterward that it was “pretty good gamesmanship” on La Russa’s part.

The Giants’ skipper was joking, but there’s a reason La Russa’s name comes up during moments like this.

Earlier this year, for example, he was accused of selectively distributing weather information when the Cardinals were hosting Cincinnati, then pitching reliever Miguel Batista instead his scheduled starter, Kyle McClellan. Batista threw all of six pitches before rain halted the game for more than two hours.

Afterward, McClellan, fresh, took his rightful place on the mound.

Dusty Baker, meanwhile, claiming an information inequity between the teams, had his starter, Edinson Volquez, warm up from the get-go. The right-hander never got a chance to pitch, however; when play resumed, Baker had to turn to Matt Maloney rather than risk having Volquez get hot twice.

“It’s really a tough start,” Baker said in an MLB.com report. “The information that we received was probably not the same information they received, or else we wouldn’t have started [Volquez] in the first place. We were told there was going to be a window of opportunity there. That window lasted about three minutes.”

Maloney gave up three runs in three innings, and the Cardinals won, 4-2.

La Russa, of course, is hardly alone when it comes to gamesmanship. In April, Livan Hernandez accused the Pirates of doing much the same thing.

Weather reports, however, are far less interesting than the other tally on Pittsburgh’s gamesmanship scorecard. That came when Clint Hurdle appeared to dupe Rockies skipper Jim Tracy with two outs in the 14th inning of a tie game. With a runner on first, Andrew McCutchen stepped into the on-deck circle as Jose Tabata batted.

That had been McCutcheon’s spot in the order earlier in the game, but the outfielder was removed as part of a double-switch. The guy actually scheduled to hit next was relief pitcher Garrett Olson, whose last plate appearance had come in 2009, and who has collected all of one hit in his five-year career.

Had Tracy been paying better attention, he might have realized that the Pirates’ bench was empty, leaving Olson to fend for himself at the plate.

It never came to that. Seeing McCutchen, Tracy had reliever Franklin Morales pitch to Tabata—who promptly lashed a game-winning double. (Watch it here.)

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Asked if the move was a decoy to get the Rockies to think McCutchen was up next … ‘No, come on, why would we do that,’ Hurdle said with a sly chuckle.”

* * *

Rain delays and decoys are one way for a home team to gain an advantage. Radar guns are another.

Earlier this season, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers admitted to the Arizona Republic that when he held the same post with San Diego, the Padres took to manipulating their ballpark’s radar gun to get into the heads of opposing pitchers.

“I know for a fact that every time Brad Penny pitched for the Dodgers in San Diego it was probably the lowest velocities he ever had,” he said. “He liked velocity. He’d stare at the board. He was throwing 95-96, but we’d have it at 91 and he’d get pissed off and throw harder and harder and start elevating.”

Hardball Talk’s Aaron Gleeman checked, and—lo and behold—Penny is 1-5 with a 6.47 ERA in 10 career games pitched in San Diego.

(The subject was initially raised when fireballing Aroldis Chapman, after topping out at 106 mph earlier in the season, dropped nearly 15 mph off his fastball in San Diego, then magically regained his velocity during Cincinnati’s next series. Towers’ comments could themselves have been a form of gamesmanship, as his new club uses the non-manipulatable Pitch-f/x system, and the Padres—and all their secrets—are now the enemy.)

The tactic works both ways. During the 2002 postseason, when Robb Nen was throwing pus with a shredded shoulder during what would be the final innings of his career, the folks at AT&T Park shut off the radar gun altogether when the Giants’ closer entered the game. It might not have fooled anyone on the opposing team, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

- Jason

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Filed under Clint Hurdle, Dusty Baker, Gamesmanship, Jim Tracy, Kevin Towers, Tony La Russa