Spring training is fabulous for so many reasons: symbolic renewal, new gatherings of old friends, blossoming hope for the otherwise hopeless.
Plus, message pitches.
The fact that games don’t count frees pitchers to avenge past injustices (as evidenced in the Prince Fielder vs. the Giants episode earlier this month). It also lets them loose their feelings on whoever might be bugging them at the moment. Like, say, Chris Snyder.
Snyder, the Diamondbacks catcher, got tangled up with Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee on a play at the plate Monday. (Neither was actually part of the play; Lee was backing it up and Snyder was in the on-deck circle.) This much is known: Lee was taken to the ground, likely inadvertently, and subsequently battered a bit by Arizona hitters. What’s not known: the dialog between the men as it happened.
Just more than an inning later, Lee backed Snyder up with two high, inside pitches. The second was the more important, for two reasons: it emphasized Don Drysdale’s maxim that the second brushback is vital, because it shows that the first wasn’t an accident; and it came in above shoulder level. (Watch it at ESPN.com.)
The fact that it was so high that Snyder barely needed to duck to avoid it is barely germane; pitchers who throw near a guy’s head expect a response. (One came from Arizona’s Mark Reynolds, who laid it out after the game, saying, “If you’re going to hit somebody, just stay below the waist. Don’t headhunt. Don’t do any of that. It’s a bad reputation to have. It’s bush league. Stuff like that doesn’t need to happen anytime, especially in spring training.”)
On the field, there were two responses. Snyder approached the mound for some words with the pitcher (both benches subsequently emptied, though no punches were thrown), and Lee was ejected.
Lee stuck to the Code after the game, denying all intent to reporters. “I wasn’t sending a message pitch,” he said. “I had one more out and one more inning to go. A couple of pitches just got too far in. I don’t know what happened.”
Among the best results of the incident is that it inspired Larry Stone of the Seattle Times — for my money, the best chronicler of the unwritten rules in the newspaper business — to come out with a fine article on spring training retaliation. (Games not counting is only one part of this particular equation; that the Mariners don’t meet the D-Backs during the regular season might also have been a factor.)
Spring is here, everybody. Enjoy.