In May, Dodgers reliever Ramon Ortiz buzzed Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutcheon, then dropped him with a fastball aimed directly at his head.
Pirates starter Zach Duke had the chance to retaliate directly two innings later, when Ortiz came to bat, but failed to take action, striking his opponent out on four pitches—three of them curveballs. For that, he drew considerable heat from within his own clubhouse.
Yesterday, McCutcheon’s head was again at the wrong end of a fastball, only this time, he didn’t get out of the way. Cincinnati’s Mike Leake drilled the outfielder in the neck, just below his helmet, laying him out in the batter’s box for several minutes and knocking him out of the game. (Watch it here.)
It was almost certainly unintentional (there were two runners on base and Pittsburgh held a 2-0 lead in the second inning), and McCutcheon was ultimately found to have avoided both fractures and a concussion (he returned to action today).
None of that mattered. In addition to his pitch to McCutcheon, Leake had come up and in to Ronny Cedeno just two batters earlier, and a message needed to be sent about just how much the Pirates were willing to tolerate. After the Duke debacle earlier in the year, the answer was clear.
When Leake stepped to the plate the following inning, Pittsburgh pitcher Paul Maholm promptly drilled him in the knee with a fastball. Leake knew what it meant, and didn’t so much as look toward the mound as he took his base. (Watch it here.)
Reds manager Dusty Baker insisted that Leake was simply a wild pitcher who lost control, and not somebody with an agenda. Still, he laid out the purpose for inside pressure, and why it’s valuable.
“There was a thing when you first came up to the league: Let’s see if this kid can hit a fastball — he hit a fastball. Let’s see if he can hit a slider — he hit a slider,” he said on the Reds’ Web site. “Let’s see if he can hit a curveball — he hit a curveball. Then, they would see if he could hit it on your back — if they could intimidate you. And there have been many players that couldn’t handle that part of being knocked down.”
Got that? Intimidation: OK. Drilling a guy above the shoulders: Definitely not OK. Maholm did what he had to do, and both Baker and Leake were right on board with it.
Just like they should be.