Tag Archives: Texas Rangers

The Air is Hot, Smart or Not, Deep in the Heart of Texas

Lewis shoutsSo this is what the ruination of baseball’s unwritten rules looks like. People keep marginalizing them, shunting them to the corner, labeling those who play by their merits as kooks and haters of fun. What we’re left with, at least in part, is this: Ballplayers, both red-assed and traditionalist, playing less by moral imperative than by half-formed opinions based on a system they don’t appear to fully understand.

Case in point: Rangers starter Colby Lewis, who on Saturday lit into Toronto’s Colby Rasmus (in the rare and wondrous Battle of the Colbys) for daring to lay down a bunt late in the game while the Blue Jays sat on a huge lead.

Except that it was only the fifth inning. And the score was 2-0. Oh, Colby Lewis.

The section of the unwritten rulebook that Lewis was attempting to channel was the one that dictates avoidance of running up the score late in games. It’s a simple matter of respecting one’s opponent enough to keep from embarrassing him … but that doesn’t have much relevance to whatever happened in Toronto. Just as Astros manager Bo Porter was ludicrous when he exploded over a first-inning Jed Lowrie bunt back in April, Lewis is ludicrous now.

Rasmus bunted because—here’s the pertinent part—his run mattered. Lewis was upset that Rasmus had taken advantage of a defensive shift designed to stop him from hitting. Now that such shifts are gaining traction even as the Code is losing it, we’re faced with an awkward intersection: Is there a moral component to playing straight-up against the shift with the fact that it presents an obvious weakness (nobody playing down the third base line) to exploit? The closest example I can conjure is the first baseman who plays off the bag despite a runner being on base late in a blowout game, with the expectation that the runner will hold anyway. He wants the defensive advantage of playing in the hole, and expects that his opposition will not take similar advantages of their own.

But those who think that situation is reasonable do so because of the lopsided score. In a close game, if a defense wants to gain the advantage of an extra defender on the right side of the infield, it has no business taking exception should a batter exploit that weakness. Which is not only what Rasmus did, but which is what every hitter with speed should do, at least on occasion.

Lewis had words for Rasmus on the field (watch it here) and after the game explained just what was going on. “I told [Rasmus] I didn’t appreciate it,” Lewis said in an MLB.com report. “You’re up by two runs with two outs and you lay down a bunt. I don’t think that’s the way the game should be played. I felt like you have a situation where there is two outs, you’re up two runs, you have gotten a hit earlier in the game off me, we are playing the shift, and he laid down a bunt basically simply for average.”

Lewis’ criteria for judgment was that once Rasmus reached base, he didn’t try to steal and get himself into scoring position. “That tells me he is solely looking out for himself, and looking out for batting average, and I didn’t appreciate it,” he said, digging himself into a dangerous rabbit hole of inanity. Left unexplained: If in Lewis’ mind the game situation dictated that Rasmus wasn’t allowed to bunt, the question isn’t whether the pitcher’s head would have exploded had Rasums stolen a base, but how violently.

Hell, Curt Schilling didn’t take offense when Ben Davis bunted against him to ruin his perfect game in 2001. That’s because, like the game in Toronto, the score was 2-0 and a baserunner could have made a difference.

Or one could look in another direction: When Jarrod Saltalamacchia bunted to break up a perfect game against Oakland’s A.J. Griffin in 2012, he was barely faulted for it by Oakland manager Bob Melvin, not because the score was close but because Melvin had put on a shift similar to the one Texas used on Saturday. “I probably should have had the third baseman in,” said Melvin at the time.

Ultimately it’s up to players to recognize what is and isn’t appropriate, and to be damn sure they’ve been aggrieved should they get their jocks in a bunch over a given play. The Code is a powerful part of baseball’s social fabric, but only when it’s leveraged properly. Because the facts of the matter don’t back him up, all Colby Lewis is left with is a bunch of hot, angry air.

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Filed under Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Uncategorized

On Successful Homecomings and Misread Grins: The Tale of the Trying Smile, by Ian Kinsler

GrinslerAh, respect. She is a vexing mistress.

Ian Kinsler, reluctantly departed from his career-long home in Arlington after an off-season trade with Detroit, returned for the first time yesterday as a member of the visiting team. He promptly took former Rangers teammate Colby Lewis deep.

And what did he do? He gave a little wave to his pals in the Rangers dugout. He couldn’t suppress a smile as he went around the bases. There was no animosity here; this was friendly stuff—a we’re-in-different-uniforms-but-I-still-like-you-mooks moment. To everybody, it seems, but Lewis. (Watch it here.)

Give the pitcher some leeway—he had just put his team in a first-inning hole and ended up taking the loss with a mediocre outing, and now boasts a 5.94 ERA on the season after missing all of last year due to elbow and hip injuries. His team has as many wins as the Astros. He deserves to be frustrated. But to take that personally? (If anybody possibly could, it would be Rangers GM Jon Daniels. But Lewis?)

“I guess ‘disappointed’ is the best word to describe it,” the pitcher said after the game in an MLive report.

There are lots of legitimate gripes in baseball about improper displays of respect, which can be dealt with in any number of time-tested ways. Lewis obviously wants other players, particularly those he knows personally, to be sensitive to his struggles. But Kinsler himself described the trip to Arlington as “my return home” (which was more than metaphor: his house and family are still there), and talked after the game about being “lucky enough to square one up.” If he lacks any respect for Lewis, he did a pretty good job of hiding it.

There was no showboating here, nothing intended to call extra attention to Kinsler. It was just a guy soaking in a moment. Lewis should have let him have it.

 

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Darvish Nearly Perfect From the Mound. The Guys Behind the Plate, Not So Much

AJP tossedDon’t change anything during the course of a no-hitter. By now, that much should be obvious. Players don’t change spots on the bench between innings. Managers don’t make unnecessary substitutions (except for those who do). The mere appearance of a reliever warming up in the bullpen can be enough to send the superstitious into fits of nervous twitching.

Monday, however, brought us something entirely new in the realm of not mixing things up, and it only makes sense that the delivery person was A.J. Pierzynski.

Yu Darvish, working on a perfect game in the sixth, threw a 2-2 breaking ball to Jonathan Villar, which Pierzynski thought was strike three, but which plate ump Ron Kulpa judged to be too low. The fact that the catcher leapt from his crouch and took a step toward the dugout before hearing Kulpa’s ruling earned him no favors.

Darvish walked Villar on the next pitch, giving the Astros their first baserunner, and Pierzynski was none too pleased. After the game, Kulpa explained what happened. As reported by MLB.com:

“Pierzynski didn’t like the pitch that I [called for a ball]. We had words about the [2-2] pitch. And then [Darvish] walked [Villar] on the very next pitch and [Pierzynski] continued to argue on the pitch before. And so he got ejected.” (Watch it here.)

Talk about changing things up. Game action was interrupted while Ron Washington came out to argue and backup catcher Geovany Soto raced to put on his gear. Suddenly Darvish was throwing to a different target. The right-hander denied that any of this had to do with the home run he gave up to catcher Carlos Corporan two frames later (indeed, Soto has caught 10 of Darvish’s 22 starts this season, so lack of familiarity is not a problem), but history is not on his side: Only twice has a pitcher thrown to more than one catcher during the course of a complete-game no-hitter—Ken Holtzman in 1969 and Larry Corcoran in 1880.

The question now becomes one of blame. Did Kulpa have too quick a trigger finger, especially considering the enormity of the situation? Should Pierzynski have played it cooler, knowing what was at stake?

The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. Had either of them shown just a skosh more restraint, it’s possible that the baseball world would be celebrating Darvish right now even more than it already is.

“Absolutely, you feel bad for the guy,” said Pierzynski afterward. “You feel bad for the pitcher and you feel bad for everybody associated with it. Because they don’t happen a lot and when you get that close, you really want to try to get them done. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”

(For what it’s worth, Darvish came within one batter of a perfect game at the same ballpark in April. Some feel he was jinxed in that one, too.)

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Filed under A.J. Pierzynski, No-Hitter Etiquette

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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Filed under A.J. Pierzynski, Addison Reed, Retaliation

Yu Who? Backpack Season is Upon Us

Rangers backpackWith Yu Darvish’s near-perfect game Tuesday came the inevitable cries of jinx. It didn’t hurt that the TV broadcast included the comment, “Darvish looking for number six, and the second perfect game …” precisely as the right-hander released the two-out, ninth-inning pitch that Marwin Gonzalez would slap to center for Houston’s first hit.

Sure, there were those who tried to jinx it, and those who decried it being jinxed. Of semi-related interest, however, Darvish’s gem allowed the Mickey Mouse backpack worn by Texas reliever Joe Ortiz to be put on televised display as the game ended.

The backpack, of course, is a tradition in which the least-tenured member of a team’s relief corps is forced to lug around the bullpen’s candy supply, as well as finger fixers like nail clippers, frequently in as humiliating a satchel as possible.

If Ortiz thinks he has it bad, however, he has nothing on A’s reliever Sean Doolittle.

I was in the Oakland clubhouse yesterday, where Doolittle was fixing up the greatest candy bag I have encountered in many years on the Rookie Embarrassment beat.

Doolittle is the one doing the toting. That the left-hander appeared in three postseason games for the A’s last year counts for little; he’s still some 80 games behind teammate Evan Scribner when it comes to big league seniority. And he was sick of last season’s beat-up Hello Kitty bag.

Teammate Jerry Blevins acquiesced and purchased a new one—a fuzzy white, google-eyed unicorn, with pink hooves and a gold horn. Unfortunately, the new bag was far too small to hold the necessary supplies. Solution: affix old bag to new. Blevins began the process with safety pins, but left it to Doolittle himself to finish the job—akin, I thought, watching Doolittle struggle with the task, to having a victim dig his own grave. (See the bag in action here.)

“What can I say?” Doolittle said, affixing super glue just so. “I’m just doing what has to be done.”

 

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Filed under No-Hitter Etiquette, Rookie Hazing

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

Bringing New Meaning to ‘Beantown’: Padilla’s Drilling of Beltre Nothing New

Click for GIF

This is what happens when one earns a reputation.

By almost every account, Vicente Padilla’s beaning of Adrian Beltre yesterday was an accident. (Watch it here.) It came in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game, with an 0-2 count and a runner at third. But when a guy has made a career not just of drilling batters—he’s now hit 108 over his 14-year career, third-most of any active pitcher and tied for 64th all-time—but hitting them in the head, one can’t help but think negative thoughts.

Padilla was suspended in 2005 after drilling Vlad Guerrero, then brushing him back in a later at-bat, then drilling Juan Rivera after warnings had been issued—all within a span of two innings. He was suspended again in 2007 for throwing at Nick Swisher. He broke Aaron Rowand’s face with a pitch in 2010.

“I’ve seen him hit people that aren’t even a threat,” said one opponent in 2010. “You get a small, scrawny guy up at the plate and he’ll throw at him just for the hell of it. That’s how he pitches. That’s how he is.”

This is the guy who earned applause from Marlon Byrd when he was released by the Rangers in 2009—and Byrd was his teammate. The release, in fact, came about largely because of Texas players’ demands that Padilla hit fewer opponents, as the tactic frequently ended up members of the Rangers being drilled in response.

Case in point: That June, Padilla hit former teammate Mark Teixeira twice. The first response was Teixeira (cleanly) wiping out Elvis Andrus at second base (“setting off a celebration in the Yankee dugout” according to the New York Daily News). The second was A.J. Burnett coming very up and very in on Nelson Cruz.

Said Teixeria after that game:

The first two at-bats of my career [against Padilla in 2005, when the right-hander was with Philadelphia], I hit home runs. Third at-bat, I got hit. And every time I’ve faced him since there have been balls near my head, near my body. We were teammates for two years. I remember getting hit a lot because he was hitting other players.

Teixera went so far as to ask the pitcher to knock off that kind of behavior. Padilla’s response, according to the first baseman: “Nothing.”

That August, following an intervention by Rangers brass along those same lines, Padilla, facing the A’s, responded to a Scott Hairston homer by hitting Kurt Suzuki. After the A’s retaliated by drilling Michael Young, Padilla was seen laughing on the bench. He was designated for assignment within days.

It’s hardly a stretch to think that no pitcher has been universally less-liked since Padilla came into the league in 1999. All of which is a long way of saying that when it comes to the Code, retaliation is sometimes called for even in response to unintentional actions—but when it comes to Vicente Padilla, it seems merely to be a matter of course.

That Beltre appears to be in fine shape is good news, but probably has no bearing on whatever is to follow. Red Sox and Rangers meet again tonight. Stay tuned.

(Gif via Chad Moriyama.)

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Filed under Retaliation, Vicente Padilla