Intra-Team Fights

Rat, Racoon Or Bad Blood: Who Cares? The Mets Won

If one is to believe Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil, a four-legged invader found its way into the tunnel behind the Mets dugout at Citi Field on Friday night. Whether it was a rat or a raccoon continues to be a matter of speculation … at least among those who believe Lindor and McNeil.

Why this had to be addressed at all was that in the bottom of the seventh inning New York’s bench virtually emptied, players racing to the stairs to see whatever was happening below. This did not escape the attention of the TV broadcast.

What was happening below, of course, is up for debate.

Despite Lindor smiling through his description of the incident (it was a rat, he said), and McNeil doing similarly (might have been a raccoon), there is ample reason to believe that they’re both full of hooey.

Only moments earlier, Arizona’s Nick Ahmed had hit a ground ball up the middle, with Lindor and McNeil—the shortstop and second baseman, respectively—pausing in deference to the other before Lindor finally corralled it. By then, however, it was too late to get the runner. Something had gone wrong, a detail confirmed after the game by Mets manager Luis Rojas, when he said in a New York Post report, that “It’s happened a couple times where they both go into the same lane and they have to put on the brakes and the ball gets through.”

Despite Lindor faulting himself to reporters and McNeil calling it a miscommunication, it seems likely that emotions grew heated as soon as the inning ended, at which point the pair took their argument to a location hidden from view.

Coming up with alternative storylines is a time-tested method for diverting attention from intra-team squabbles. This very topic is covered in the introduction to The Baseball Codes:

That potential for discord exists within a clubhouse is hardly a secret—any group of twenty-five guys that spends as much time together as does a baseball team is bound to have conflicts—nor is it a secret that any leaks from within spell open season for the media. For proof of this, one has only to look at the rare instance when tempers boil over in the open, such as Jeff Kent pushing Barry Bonds in the Giants dugout, or Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez coming to blows in front of a phalanx of reporters during Mets spring training. Stories deconstructing team strife followed each of those incidents for weeks; years after combat­ants have put their differences aside the press continues to look at any rec­onciliation with skepticism.

Among the stories recounted in the book is a 1973 hotel-room brawl between Davey John­son, then a star second baseman for the Atlanta Braves, and his manager, Hall of Famer Eddie Matthews.

The way Johnson tells it, after an initial verbal disagreement the manager invited him into his room and chal­lenged him to a fight. Johnson, reluctant at first, changed his mind when Matthews wound up for a roundhouse punch, then knocked the older man down. Matthews charged back, and as the sounds of the scrape flooded the hallway, players converged on the scene. In the process of breaking things up, several peacemakers were soon bearing welts of their own.

“The next day at the ballpark we looked like we had just returned from the Revolutionary War,” wrote pitcher Tom House (a member of the team, who, true to the code of silence, left all names out of his published account). “Every­body had at least one black eye, puffed-up lips, scraped elbows, and sore hands. It had been a real knockdown battle.”

This was something that couldn’t be hidden from the press. Matthews called the team together, and as a unit they came up with a story about a game that got carried away, in which guys took good-natured beatings. Flimsy? Maybe. Accepted? Absolutely.

“You can ask Hank Aaron and others on that team,” Johnson said, laughing. “Eddie said his biggest regret [in his baseball career] was not having it out with me again. That one never got out. It never made the papers.”

That Lindor and McNeil did their best to give similar treatment to whatever happened in that tunnel was not appreciated by Mets GM Zack Scott. At least not enough for him to support the ruse.

“You’d have to ask the players that, why they chose to handle it that way,” he said in the Post. “It’s definitely not how I’d go. … The best way to handle these things is be as transparent as you can be without divulging things that people don’t want out there, to address it, to hit things head on. I’m not saying that to criticize what the players did [Friday] night. Wouldn’t be my recommendation, and no one in the organization would make that recommendation to handle it that way, but what’s what they chose to do for whatever reason.”

Well, the reason is obvious. Its utility might be dubious—especially with messaging from team brass running counter to that from players—but things seem to have settled down since that point. Lindor homered just moments after the “rat sighting,” and New York beat the D’Backs 5-4 in 10 innings. Then the Mets won both of the weekend games to put them at 16-13 and one game up in the National League East.  

They already have a faux hitting coach. Maybe the Mets should thank their faux rat for their recent win streak, as well.

Celebrations

Garrett Suspension Shows Exactly What Kind Of Celebration MLB Is Promoting, And What Kind Of Celebration It Is Not

By handing down a seven-game suspension to Amir Garrett, Major League Baseball has thoroughly muddied the waters about what it wants to see from players when it comes to celebrations.

On Saturday, Garrett punctuated a strikeout of Anthony Rizzo by yelling at the batter, a one-on-one confrontation taken by those in the Cubs dugout as disrespectful. It’s not difficult to understand where they were coming from. It was disrespectful. So disrespectful that Javy Baez vaulted the dugout railing and charged the field.

Given that Garrett was subsequently suspended for seven games and Baez only ended up with a fine, MLB is clear in who it holds culpable. Except that Garrett didn’t put anybody in danger; the physical confrontation was prompted by Baez. MLB ruled similarly earlier in the month when it suspended Nick Castellanos for flexing over pitcher Jake Woodford, punishment that would have almost certainly been absent had not Yadier Molina reacted by pushing Castellanos from behind. For that, Castellanos was suspended for two games while Molina got off scott free.

Garrett’s suspension leads to a question similar to those raised following the Castellanos incident: Had Baez not responded, and had Rizzo returned to the dugout as he was already doing, would the league have handed down any discipline at all? Not damn likely.

So we’re left to guess. Bat flips have recently gone mainstream, in no small part because the league officially adopted them as part of its play-up-the-personalities campaign. A decade ago, however, they were seen as disrespectful. Had an incensed opponent charged the field in response to one, who would the league have held to account? According to the current structure, it’d be the bat flipper himself.

At least the decision to suspend Garrett more or less lines up with the way players see things on the field. Pitchers mostly don’t take offense to bat flips, and hitters mostly do take offense to being yelled at after they strike out. That’s because what Garrett did is genuinely offensive, and bat flipping is not.

People keep talking about how reactions like Garrett’s and Castellanos’ are standard fare in the NBA, and wonder why baseball so breathlessly tries to tamp down such behavior. There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, short of starting a fight there’s no such thing as retaliation in the NBA—not in the sense of a pitcher throwing at a hitter, anyway. Also, action waits for no man, and there’s not much time during a basketball game to consider somebody’s words. Guys can jaw all they want, but by the time the guys they’re insulting have formulated a response they’re already heading back down the floor. In the NFL, end-zone dances have become commonplace, but teams continue to get flagged for taunting should they cross that particular line.

What MLB wants here is obvious: Feel-good celebrations that can be marketed to a baseball-centric crowd. Even Garrett’s own “rock the baby” motion, which he does after getting a big out—putting the opponent to sleep or whatnot—has not been taken too personally by opponents.

What MLB does not want is just as obvious: A turn toward the NBA. How do we know? Because if this was really about guys stoking dangerous situations, then the players responsible for physical confrontations—Baez and Molina, respectively—would be punished in ways similar to or exceeding the revelers. That didn’t happen.

The league office has spoken, so listen up. Keep it clean, baseballers, and celebrate at your own pace so long as you stay on the proper side of the league-designated line.

And if by chance you don’t know where that line is drawn, they’ll be sure to tell you.

Celebrations

As April Ends, Pitchers Take Celebrations To New, Infuriating Level

On one hand, there’s Let the Kids Play, wherein major league hitters are given leeway by the home office to preen and bat flip, free of judgement and repercussion. Pitchers have responded to this informal edict by beginning in increasing numbers to celebrate similarly, particularly following big strikeouts.

The equity of the system is logical, although observing logic has never been a strong suit for ballplayers. The topic has come up several times over the last week alone.

It started with Trevor Bauer vs. Fernando Tatis, which set the bar pretty high. After Tatis doubled down against Bauer, making fun of the pitcher’s previous antics as part of two home run trots in the same game, Bauer credited him publicly for his efforts. (Tatis’ alleged peeking: not so much.)

When the celebrations spun in the opposite direction, however, things got salty.

Start on Friday, when Philadelphia pitcher Jose Alvarado rejoiced after fanning Mets left fielder Dominic Smith to end the eighth inning in what would be a 2-1 Phillies victory. Alvarado spun toward second base and did a couple of low-slung flex pumps, then turned back to the plate and continued the act. Smith took exception and benches cleared.

On Saturday, Cincinnati’s Amir Garrett acted similarly, so angering the Cubs that Javier Báez —who wasn’t even on the field—hopped the railing to approach the pitcher, spurring another dugout-emptying incident.

There is, of course, one notable difference between the Tatis incident and the latter two.

Start with Alvarado, who came into the game irked after being chirped at by the Mets on April 13 for two pitches to Michael Conforto—one of which ended up near Conforto’s head, the other of which hit him. Among the loudest voices in New York’s dugout that day was Dominic Smith.

So when the pitcher fanned Smith in a big moment, he let Smith know all about it. Alvarado shouted at the hitter as they walked off the field, then did a you-talk-too-much pantomime with his hand when Smith responded. At that point, the two approached each other with an abundance of macho posturing and not much will to actually fight. (After the game, Smith did offer to meet Alvarado under the stands “if he really wants to get after it.”)

Garrett’s incident was similar. After fanning Anthony Rizzo, Garrett pounded his chest and yelled directly at the hitter. Again, history fueled his decision. Garrett, for whom displays of emotion are commonplace, pulled a similar act with Báez in 2018, and spurred a similar incident with Chicago’s Kyle Schwarber in 2019.

This is where we delve further into the gray area that is Major League Baseball in 2021. Are celebrations to be tolerated? According to the league, as well as to the majority of pitchers tasked with enforcing decorum, they are. So now we must ask what types of celebrations are to be tolerated.

What Tatis pulled against Bauer is apparently kosher, mostly because the pitcher deemed it so. The reasons he did this are obvious: Bauer has long been an outspoken proponent of bringing life to the sport via personal flair, and is even-handed with his opinions about who gets to exhibit said flair, even when he’s on the wrong end of it. Even more importantly, Tatits’ stylings, while aimed at Bauer, were also playful and firmly rooted in memes that the pitcher himself had started.

Alvarado and Garrett, on the other hand, were firmly focused on showing up the opposition. Their intentions were obvious and petty, and the responses they elicited should not have been difficult to predict. Which may have been the point.

Báez, a man known for his own celebratory prowess, laid down the opinion for his caucus after Saturday’s game.

“I’m not going to let [Garrett] or anyone disrespect my teammates or my team,” Báez said in a Chicago Tribune report. “It was not a big situation. I’m going to try to stay professional with this but … he needs to respect the game. If you don’t respect the game and if you don’t respect us, then that’s going to happen. Because he’s doing it to us. He’s not doing it to his teammates to pump them (up).”

So it seems that the answer to the question about where we are, exactly, on this topic is … we still don’t know. The underlying tenet of baseball’s unwritten rules, be they the modern-day version or the buttoned-up overkill from generations past, is respect. The threshold has changed markedly, but it still exists, and lines continue to be crossed. With attitudes shifting so quickly, it’s now mostly a matter of keeping up with where things stand at any given moment.

The Phillies and Reds gave us some clear-cut examples. Hitters have achieved so much celebratory leeway that it’s now pitchers who tend to give us pause. This might be because they don’t have a home run to admire or a trot to enact; their focal point for strikeout success is and will forever be the plate. Frequently their theatrics don’t mean anything more than the theatrics from their offensive counterparts … but sometimes they do. To judge by last week, some pitchers may hav trouble distinguishing bat flips from direct, one-on-one showdowns. (For what it’s worth, MLB agrees that what Alvarado did was not Letting the Kids Play: the pitcher was subsequently suspended for three games.)

In this context, I can’t help thinking that Báez’s response to Garrett sounds remarkably similar to comments from players of previous generations who were busy decrying things like sideburns or pants being worn too long. You know: Kids these days.

The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.

No-Hitter Etiquette

Is It Possible To Jinx A No-Hitter That Won’t Be Official Anyway? Let’s Discuss

So the literature around no-hitter etiquette is expansive and unequivocal: Do not jinx it in any way by mentioning its existence until after the game is finished. There is rock-solid evidence that every late-game no-hitter in the history of baseball has been ruined by somebody, somewhere, talking about the dang thing. (And don’t bring your “but what about all the actual no-hitters that were discussed extensively in progress” nonsense up in here. We don’t have time for heresy in this space.)

What the literature hasn’t covered is the gray area of no-hitterdom in which we find ourselves in 2021—specifically the validity of scheduled seven-inning games, and how it might affect brushes with historical greatness.

As Jayson Stark reminds us in The Athletic, this all started, more or less, when baseball commissioner Fay Vincent responded to a pair of would-be no-hitters by brothers Pascual and Melido Perez that had each been shortened by rain. In 1988, Pascual’s no-hit outing against the Phillies was called after the fifth inning, and in 1990, Melido held the Yankees hitless for six before weather intervened.

The very next year, Vincent established a commission to once and for all delineate the parameters of an officially recognized no-hitter. Its primary conclusion: The thing had to go at least nine innings. Under these auspices, both Perez gems, along with 33 other rain-shortened no-nos, were retroactively wiped off of the books. At the time, this decision did not appear to affect the superstitious among us in one way or another.

Flash forward to last weekend’s doubleheader in Atlanta. In the opener, Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen went into the sixth inning having held Atlanta hitless. On the broadcast, Arizona radio man Mike Ferrin dispensed with caution entirely, saying: “This may pop up with no-hitter alerts on your phone, so if you’re just tuning in because you got one, well, the good news is, Gallen hasn’t allowed a hit. But I have some bad news for you if he does get the next six outs without allowing a hit. Listen, nobody’s gonna like this, are they?”

Moments later, Gallen gave up a hit.

There’s an entire chapter devoted to this unwritten rule in The Baseball Codes, including one of the earliest instances of its invocation during a broadcast:

During the first televised World Series, in 1947, Yankees right-hander Bill Bevens pitched hitless ball into the ninth inning of Game 4 against the Dodgers; with virtually no precedent on which to rely, broadcaster Mel Allen refused to reference the feat. “Obviously, what I said or didn’t say in the booth wasn’t going to influence anything that happened on the field,” he said. “But I’ve always known that players on the bench don’t mention a no-hitter; they respect the dugout tradition. And I’ve always done the same. It’s part of the romance of the game. It’s one of the great things that separates it from the other sports, like the seventh-inning stretch or ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’ ”

For the purists in the audience this was just fine, save for one fact: Allen worked only the first half of the game. The later innings were given to Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber, who wasted no time in altering the tone. Among the first things out of his mouth when he entered midway through the fourth was the line score: “Dodgers: one run, two errors, no hits.” Allen, said Barber, “nearly fell out of the booth.” Barber continued to report the feat throughout the game, his comfort level possibly buoyed by the run Brooklyn scored in the fifth without benefit of a hit, courtesy of two walks, a sacrifice, and a fielder’s choice. In the ninth, long after Barber gave up the goods on the air, Bevens issued two more walks (one inten­tional) and a two-out double by Cookie Lavagetto to score both runners, the difference in an improbable 3–2 Brooklyn victory.

As the winning run scored, Barber’s on-air comment was, “Well, I’ll be a suck-egg mule.” His audience certainly thought so. “There was a hue and cry that night,” said the broadcaster. “Yankee fans flooded the radio station with angry calls and claimed I had jinxed Bevens. Some of my fel­low announcers on sports shows that evening said I had done the most unsportsmanlike broadcast in history.”

Nine years later, as Don Larsen unspooled a perfect game in the World Series, Allen’s new partner, Vin Scully, took careful note of precedent.

As Scully watched the game unfold, the public reaction to Barber’s handling of Bevens’s failed no-hitter was at the forefront of his mind. “In those days people did not mention ‘no-hitter,’ ” Scully said. “And Mel, he did the first five innings, said, ‘He’s retired 10 in a row, 12 in a row,’ so I picked up the thread and in the second half, I was doing the same thing: ‘Twenty-two in a row, 24 in a row.’ . . .

Which brings us back to last weekend’s doubleheader. Having discussed a possible no-no in the opener gave Ferrin some clarity for the nightcap.

“I jokingly said to [broadcast partner Tom] Candiotti, `You know, I think we can talk about this because it’s not going to be an official no-hitter,’ ” Ferrin told Stark. “I’m sure that once or twice I did call it a no-hitter, but it isn’t in the history books as a no-hitter. So do you not call it that because of that? I mean, I think it’s important to have some devotion to accuracy at a time like that, don’t you think?”

As with many unwritten rules, the modern interpretation is a pale reflection of how things used to be. “If you want people to stay tuned, you should proba­bly mention, ‘Hey, hang in there, don’t go anywhere—guy’s throwing a no-hitter,’ ” said longtime broadcaster Steve Lyons, speaking for the majority.

Hell, even Vin Scully—who’d refused to mention Larsen’s perfect game on the air—came around. “Today,” he said, years later, “I would have come on in the fifth inning and said, ‘Hey, call your friends, he’s pitching a no-hitter.’ ”

So, to the superstitious among us, it’s official: If baseball does not consider giving up no hits during a scheduled seven-inning game to be a no-hitter, then such a game is impossible to jinx.

Ferrin, you’re off the hook.

Retaliation, Umpire Warnings

HBP After HBP, The Pitcher Stays In The Game. Welcome To Baseball In 2021

Well, of course Joe Girardi wanted Genesis Cabrera tossed.

With Cabrera’s first pitch of the day, to start the sixth inning, the St. Louis reliever put a 97-mph fastball into Bryce Harper’s face. To judge by the left-hander’s pained response, let alone the fact that it was a 3-3 game with nobody out, there was clearly no intention behind the pitch. Still, it was concerning enough that Cards manager Mike Shildt said later that maybe he should have replaced Cabrera at that point.

But he didn’t. And with his very next pitch, Cabrera punched Didi Gregorius into the dirt with a fastball to the ribs. Again, the pitcher’s body language said it all: this was no grudge-settling moment, only a struggling ballplayer being completely lost on the mound.

This is when Girardi emerged from the dugout to have his say. He wanted Cabrera ejected not because he felt that Phillies hitters were being targeted, but because Phillies hitters weren’t being targeted, and they were getting hit anyway. And with baseball’s new three-batter minimum mandate in effect, the only way to get Cabrera out of there before he had a chance to drill somebody else was for an umpire to toss him.

What really got under Girardi’s skin, though, was an ages-old dilemma for which baseball has uncovered few good answers: Following Gregorius’ plunking, both benches were warned. Should any flames be further fanned, ejections would come hard and heavy.

The anti-escalation intent behind the warning was obvious. The practicality of the matter, however, was quite different. On one hand, Girardi and his pitchers were banished from any measure of retaliation. Given the rarity of such measures in today’s game, let alone the unintentional nature of the HBPs, it is questionable whether such a warning was necessary. Still, should anybody in the Philadelphia dugout be so inclined, they will now have to wait for an appropriate moment later in the season, at which time fire will emerge from both benches as if it had never been extinguished in the first place.

From The Baseball Codes:

Another downside of the warning system—in which an umpire sensing trouble issues a cease-and-desist order to both dugouts, with immediate ejection for both player and manager should any violation occur—is that it negates the time-tested practice of checks and balances. Once a warning is issued, retaliation is essentially legislated out of the game. This increases the risk of lingering bad feelings without an appropriate way to channel them. Some managers even go so far as to instruct their pitchers to take the first shot in a bad-blood situation quickly, which basically gives their team a free pass before warnings are issued and the business of tit-for-tat is shut down for the night.

“It was a lot better [under the old rules],” said longtime Braves man­ager Bobby Cox. “It was over with and done. Guys knew to expect it, and it was done right. We still do it, but you’ve really got to pick your spots.”

More pertinently, probably, was that the Phillies, who had done nothing wrong, were now playing under the same restrictions as the Cardinals—specifically, any pitcher wishing to come inside had to consider the ramifications should he miss by a hair too much. Such a mindframe is not beneficial to quality pitching.

And so Girardi raved. And plate ump Chris Segal tossed him.

Who Segal did not toss was Cabrera, who made it three pitches into Andrew McCutchen’s at-bat before serving up an RBI single, at which point, quota fulfilled, Shildt yanked him from the game.

Those wondering just how fired up the Phillies were about all of this needn’t look too far. Rhys Hoskins spent long minutes staring daggers toward the Cardinals after Gregorius was drilled, and Sam Coonrod, after pitching the eighth, yelled and pointed toward the St. Louis bench.

In their postgame comments, the Cardinals did their best to smooth relations between the clubs. Cabrera was contrite, saying, “I want to again apologize for all of the action that happened, especially to Harper …The game got away from me at that point. I’m really sorry for everything that happened today. None of it was intentional.”

Shildt went so far as to compliment Girardi’s tirade. “I completely understand their aggressive response,” he said. “Joe handled it appropriately. I can’t speak for him, but he has to stand up for his guys.” The manager went on in respectful and understanding tones about the Phillies’ discontent, and made sure to claim lack of intent behind either HBP.

Notably, Shildt also said that he would have yanked Cabrera immediately after Harper’s HBP had rules not prevented him from doing so. Now umpires have one more wrinkle to consider in the same spirit as bench warnings: Those times when ejecting a pitcher for his own good might actually serve to cool tensions from both sides of the field.

Celebrations, Don't Peek

Tatis Chases Waterfalls, Bauer Responds In Kind

This weekend, the Padres and Dodgers showed us exactly how baseball is changing, and also exactly how it is not. On both counts, they’re right on the money.

Traditionally, baseball has frowned on showmanship, viewing it—particularly as pertains to batter’s box theatrics—as a personal affront to the pitcher. As a result, home run pimping has inspired its share of beanball responses over the years. Those who persisted tended to maintain that their celebrations were entirely about themselves and their teammates, and that lack of respect played no part.

It wasn’t until recent years that pitchers started to believe it.

The first-ever home run pimp may have been Harmon Killebrew, who is counted by many as the pioneer of watching one’s own fly balls leave the yard. No less than Reggie Jackson has pointed toward Killebrew as inspiration in that regard. Still, it took a truly free spirit like Yasiel Puig, who after coming up in 2013 consistently busted barriers around this topic, for the movement to gain its first semblance of legitimacy. During the World Baseball Classic in 2017, when the U.S. got a gander at teams like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, with rosters stocked with big leaguers having the times of their lives, it finally started to settle in that this might be the shape of baseball to come.

Which brings us to Fernando Tatis and Trevor Bauer.

On Saturday, Tatis drilled two homers against the Dodgers star and leveraged both moments to the hilt, sending messages in direct response to prior theatrics Bauer had visited upon the Padres. Irresistible force, meet immovable object.

After Tatis’ first homer, he covered his right eye with his hand while rounding the bases, in reference to a gimmick Bauer pulled during spring training in which he pitched the better part of three shutout innings against San Diego with one eye closed, then made sure that everybody knew it.

The Padres did not take major issue with this, but you better believe they noticed. Thus, on Saturday we got this:

Five innings later, Tatis did it again, hitting a quality 3-2 pitch from Bauer over the center field fence. This time, in addition to a bat flip and his standard backward shuffle while approaching third base, he included an imitation of the Bauer strut, which is actually the Connor McGregor strut, which the pitcher pulls out on occasion after a big strikeout.

Only a few years ago, the frequency of these displays, and their volume, would have elicited an on-field response. Now, however, we’re Letting the Kids Play, and Trevor Bauer is unlike other pitchers in oh so many ways. To his credit, he encourages this kind of stuff, going so far after the game as to use the word “soft” in reference to pitchers who retaliate for such things. “If you give up a homer, a guy should celebrate it,” he said. “It’s hard to hit in the big leagues.”

Bauer went even further on his YouTube channel, breaking down Tatis’ actions in a complimentary way. “It makes me feel good because they’re aware of my one-eye celebration,” he said. “My clip went viral, his clip can go viral—it’s good for baseball.” Bauer called Tatis’ bat flip on the second homer “tasteful,” and noted that the entire shtick was directed toward the San Diego dugout, not at Bauer or other Dodgers, “so, highest of high marks on that.”

Which brings us to the second part of the story. The part about which Bauer is less zen.

On the pitch that Tatis hit for his second homer, he appeared to look backward as catcher Will Smith was giving his signs. Tatis’ peek came too late to see Smith’s fingers, which he’d already folded back into his palm, but just in time to see the catcher lean to his right, a subtle clue that he was preparing to receive an outside pitch. This might be how the hitter was able to lean into a cutter that ended up well into the opposite batter’s box, and still managed to pull it over the wall in left field.

There are lots of ways to explain this. Bauer had been living on the outer edge against Tatis throughout the at-bat, placing four of his six pitches wide of the strike zone, so it didn’t necessarily take a magician—or a cheater—to discern what was happening. During his look back, it’s possible that Tatis was just scratching his nose and didn’t see a thing.

But the hitter’s body language—stepping toward the pitch even as Bauer was releasing it, and easily handling what should have been ball four by a considerable margin—said plenty. We’ve addressed the issue of peeking on a number of occasions in this space, like that time in 2017 when the Angels suspected various Oakland players of looking backward. Early in the pandemic, we also offered a host of examples from throughout history.

Whether Bauer noticed Tatis doing this in the moment is unclear, but he certainly did after the game. In the same YouTube clip, Bauer addressed the issue directly:

“If you start looking at signs, if you start pulling this bush-league stuff, that’s when people get pissed off. …. That’s the type of stuff that would get you hit in other games. Now, I’m mild-mannered about it. I’m going to send a message this way [via video] and say, hey, that’s not okay, and if you keep doing it something will have to happen.”

Bauer said that while “there’s no rule anywhere that says [Tatis] can’t look back,” there’s also “no rule that says I can’t stick a fastball in your ribs.”

This is classic unwritten-rules policing, albeit via video and not with a message pitch. You got caught, the other team let you know about it, and now you have to knock it off. It’s next-level code enforcement, and while many people have thoughts about Trevor Bauer, pro and con, he comes off as entirely reasonable in the above clip.

How Bauer reacts the next time Tatis (or any Padre, probably) does something similar will be something to see. Having publicly threatened to drill a guy, even obliquely, the pitcher is certain to draw notice from the league office should he ever decide to act on that impulse. The Padres, knowing this, might be further inspired to elicit such a response. And ever does the gamesmanship spiral continue.

In summary: Bat flipping and crazy trots around the bases are, for most people—and certainly for Bauer and Tatis—part of baseball’s mainstream. Peeking at a catcher’s signs is certainly not.

Both developments have been logged and noted, to be built upon the next time something like this goes down. We’re counting the days.

Retaliation

Non-Contact Suspension Leads To Questions About What MLB Has In Store

MLB has suspended Cubs reliever Ryan Tepera three games (and manager David Ross for one game) for throwing behind the legs of Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff on Thursday. On one hand, it’s an admirable effort to tamp down on-field animosity between teams before things spiral out of control.

On the other hand, it’s ludicrous.

There is much to criticize when it comes to the frontier-justice mentality of baseball’s unwritten rules, especially as pertains to pitchers drilling hitters. Tepera, though, picked a well-traveled middle lane, sending a message while offering no actual threat of harm.

This has been a trusted tactic in the major leagues since pretty much forever. Some recent examples:

Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer used it to protest a home run pimp job by Derek Dietrich that led to some on-field fireworks in 2019.

LA’s Joe Kelley used it to express his displeasure with the Astros’ sign stealing against the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series.

The Rangers did it to Manny Machado following Fernando Tatis’ infamous 3-0 swing in 2018.

Noah Syndergaard threw behind Chase Utley in 2016 to protest Utley’s takeout of Ruben Tejada during the previous season’s playoffs, bringing us the effervescent “ass in the jackpot” comment from umpire Tom Hallion. (Syndergaard was ejected due to the high-profile nature of the situation, but that’s very different than a league suspension.)

Sure, the rationale behind some of these events—particularly the one involving Tatis—is inane, but the idea holds: Pitchers standing up for their teammates by sending a non-impact message. No harm, no foul, right?

Not according to MLB. Tepera’s tactic has officially been put onto the no-fly list, sending a message to every team that even the small stuff will no longer be tolerated. It’s admirable in theory, but it sets baseball up for at least two scenarios in which things will get hinky:

  • It removes the power of response. Kneecapping a team’s ability to answer to liberties taken by the opposition—especially when it comes to responses that do not actually put players into harm’s way—seems rife with unintended consequences. Instead, teams might explore other avenues that fall more firmly into the gray area of accountability. Extra-hard tags? Takeout slides that adhere to the league rules while being extra vicious? Or will we simply enter the era of the extra-saucy revenge home-run pimp? We’ll find out.
  • Given the league’s willingness to put the hammer down on non-contact pitches, MLB will now be faced with dilemmas over how to respond to actual hit batters in situations where the pitcher has a degree of plausible deniability. More than ever baseball will have to judge intent via punative action that to this point it been extremely hesitant to engage, for good reason. The moment that pitchers start getting suspended for pitches that inadvertently run too far inside is the moment that pitchers stop pitching inside altogether, and baseball changes fundamentally.

It’ll be interesting to see how MLB handles yesterday’s incident in Chicago, in which Cleveland pitcher Aaron Civale hit Adam Eaton after Eaton’s minor dust-up with middle infielder Andrés Giménez, who he felt pushed him off the bag during a play at second base.

Maybe this is a whole lot of nothing, an anomalous blip on baseball’s disciplinary radar. In a world in which MLB is checking baseballs for pine tar and embracing rules changes the likes of which would have been unfathomable a decade ago, however, anything is possible. Look out.

Retaliation

Contreras Responds To Inside Pitching With Bat And Attitude Both

The Willson Contreras saga continues. What to make of a guy who gets hit so much and is willing to spark a benches-clearing incident over it despite leaning out over the plate like nobody’s business to the point that he led the big leagues with 14 HBPs last season?

Pertinent among those plunkings were four from the Brewers, who have hit Contreras more over the last two seasons than any team has hit any batter. The trend continued in unfortunate fashion last week, when defending NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams fired a fastball into Contreras’ helmet. When the Brewers drilled Contreras again a day later—this time the batter all but leaned into an inside fastball—it reached the limits of the hitter’s tolerance, Contreras approaching the mound to deliver a verbal warning to the pitcher.

Yesterday it was more of the same, with Contreras being hit by the Brewers again. This time he rotated into an inside fastball from Brandon Woodruff to such a degree that Milwaukee argued he swung at the pitch. As clearly unintentional as it may have been, the Cubs were finally inspired to respond, with reliever Ryan Tepera throwing a 95-mph fastball behind Woodruff’s legs in the fifth inning. Woodruff was pissed, and benches were warned.

The real response came from Contreras himself, who in the eighth hit a key two-run homer off of reliever Brent Suter in what would be a 3-2 Chicago victory. And oh, the ensuing celebration.

There was the spin and disdainful underhanded toss of the bat toward the Cubs dugout. There was the finger raised skyward most of the way from first base to second. There was the series of finger-to-the-lips shhhhhh’s delivered to the crowd between second and third. There was the arms-wide-to-the-sky just steps past third, and then the hand clap, and then the crossing of the chest, and then literally walking the last five steps to the plate.  

In case the message wasn’t clear enough, Contreras spelled things out for reporters after the game. “It feels good to shut [the crowd] up,” he said. “We sent a message. I think they picked the wrong guy to throw at. That was a message sent.”

For a full accounting, it was also a message sent to Contreras’ teammates, who haven’t exactly been setting the basepaths aflame this season. Through their first 10 games the Cubs accumulated a total of 49 hits—their fewest over any 10 game span since 1901. Prior to Contreras’ homer on Tuesday, Chicago’s only run had scored on a sacrifice fly.

For now, things appear to be even, though with Contreras leaning over the plate and the Brewers having publicly stated their willingness to attack his weakest offensive zone—up and in—there’s a very real chance that things will ratchet up again before too long.

“There’s a lot more games coming up,” Contreras said after Tuesday’s contest. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”

The teams meet again today, and again for a three-game series in Chicago later next week.

Retaliation

Complaints Fly After Weekend Of HBPs

Tired: Dealing with an opposition’s tendency to pitch inside by having your pitchers offer warning shots of their own, risking a beanball war and cyclical escalation.

Wired: Complaining about it publicly.

On Sunday, New York’s Jordan Montgomery hit Austin Meadows. Twice. A day earlier, Yankees reliever Justin Wilson hit Joey Wendle. On Friday, Nick Nelson drilled Rays catcher Mike Zunino.

At which point, Rays manager Kevin Cash leveraged the power of the press, saying after the game that this pattern “continues to roll over,” and was “so grossly mishandled by Major League Baseball last year.”

Cash was talking about a lot of things.

Bad blood has been flowing between these teams since 2018, during which time a series of Yankees pitchers has drilled a series of Rays hitters, results of which include a fractured foot for Kevin Kiermeir. In response to it all, Tampa Bay reliever Andrew Kittredge threw a fastball at the head of New York catcher Austin Romine, and it was officially on. (Whether Kittredge was aiming for Romine’s helmet is up for debate, but the batter was a clear target.) CC Sabathia then drilled Rays catcher Jesus Sucre (costing himself $500,000 in the process), and things have tumbled downhill from there.

Most notable among those moments was when Masahiro Tanaka drilled Joey Wendle with an extra-oomph fastball last September, and Aroldis Chapman nearly hit Mike Brosseau in the head with a 101-mph fastball later in that same game. (Chapman was suspended, but not until this season, and Tanaka wasn’t disciplined at all. Thus Cash’s “mishandled” comments about MLB’s response.)

Since 2018, the Yankees have hit 24 Rays (not wildly out of line with their numbers against other AL East opposition), while Tampa Bay has drilled 16 Yankees.

“Do I personally think [Montgomery] was trying to hit [Meadows]?” said Cash. “I do not. But this continues to roll over.”

To make matters worse, Montgomery nearly hit Montgomery in the head, a pitch sketchy enough to earn immediate warnings for both dugouts from plate ump Marty Foster. (Despite the warning, Montgomery was not tossed after hitting Meadows again four innings later.) Toward the beginning of this run, it was actually the Yankees complaining that Tampa Bay was coming up and in with far too much frequency. Things change.

Give Cash credit for forcing the issue. His protestations will likely have no impact on MLB’s official position, but whoever umpires the remaining games between the teams this season will certainly be on notice.

The Yankees and Rays meet again in New York on Friday.

The Baseball Codes

Willson Contreras Would Like To Inform You, Good Sir, That He Is Tired Of Being Hit By Pitches

Sometimes things accumulate.

Willson Contreras getting plunked by Milwaukee reliever Brad Boxberger last night should not have been a big deal. It was clearly unintentional, a pitcher who had just been activated trying to protect a 4-0 lead against the leadoff hitter in the ninth. The pitch barely ran inside to a batter known for leaning over the plate, and didn’t even hurt, plunking off of Contreras’ arm guard.

It would likely have gone unnoticed had Contreras not been hit in the helmet a night earlier.

Contreras was mad, but not mad enough for a full charge. Still holding his bat, he took several steps toward the mound, I guess so that Boxberger could more clearly hear whatever it was he was shouting, but never threatened physical contact. Catcher Omar Narvaez was coolly escorting Contreras to first base when benches emptied in an entirely unnecessary fashion, resulting in a whole lot of nothing.

In a general sense, people should be upset by head-high, inside fastballs. Also in a general sense, Contreras has now been drilled six times in his last 12 games against Milwaukee.

More specifically, however, is the reality of Contreras’ approach. The guy crowds the plate and leans into pitches, which had little to do with his helmet shot from a night earlier but quite a bit to do with the triggering pitch from Boxberger. Contreras led all of baseball in HBPs last season, for good reason.

The response wasn’t great, but it is better than a Cubs pitcher taking things into his own hands and drilling a Brewer in retaliation. Then again, this dustup came in the bottom of the ninth, after Cubs pitchers were finished for the day. The teams conclude their three-game series this afternoon, then meet again in Milwaukee next week. Here’s to cooler heads prevailing.