In baseball, retaliation is expected. Ill-timed stolen bases, drilled teammates, questionable slides: They all qualify for reciprocal strikes.
In the case of Melky Cabrera, showboating fits this particular bill. The Royals outfielder hit a grand slam against the Indians on Friday, then admired it in a manner battle-tested to effectively get under the skin of opposing pitchers. (Watch a little bit of hit here.)
At this point in the story, Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco had three options: wait for the next time he faced Cabrera, when he could teach him a lesson; drill the following hitter, Billy Butler, because pissed-off teammates are frequently even more effective than direct retribution; or ignore the matter entirely.
Carrasco chose none of the above. What he did sort of resembled the second option, but although he threw at Butler, in so doing he violated an unwritten rule that holds far more weight than Cabrera’s theatrics.
The Cleveland right-hander threw at Butler’s head. It was a reaction borne of clear frustration: Cabrera’s blast served as the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh runs Carrasco had given up in 3.1 innings. Two of those runs had come in the first, courtesy of a Butler home run.
That the pitch didn’t connect—Butler ducked underneath it—saved Carrasco even more trouble than he’d just earned, but not much. (Watch it here.)
Plate umpire Scott Barry immediately ejected the pitcher. Indians catcher Lou Marson cut off Butler in case he had thoughts of settling things then and there, and the benches quickly emptied. No punches were thrown, but as players filtered back to their dugouts, Carrasco got into a shouting match with Jeff Francoeur, who angrily pointed toward his hip, indicating where the pitch should have gone.
“I understand the game,” said Francoeur afterward in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “If he thought [Cabrera] pimped the home run, fine. Hit [Butler] in the side. Don’t hit him in the head. That’s why I was yelling at him.”
Francoeur’s opinion was spot on. Several Royals indicated that an appropriate drilling of Butler—in the hip or thigh, well below the shoulders—would have been readily accepted. (“Be a man—throw at his back, not his head,” said Alex Gordon in the Kansas City Star.)
Even more importantly, just as such an action could have served to set Cabrera straight by angering his own teammate, Carrasco’s stupidity has put a similar onus on the Indians. Kansas City has every right to retaliate, but because of the DH it’ll be another member of the Indians who wears one on Carrasco’s behalf. There will likely never be a mention of it in the press, but when it happens it won’t be met kindly within Cleveland’s clubhouse.
After Carrasco’s display, Indians pitching coach Tim Belcher cornered him and elucidated the repercussions of what he’d done.
“We don’t condone those types of things,” said Cleveland manager Manny Acta after the game, in the Plain Dealer. “Whether the ball got away from him or not, we don’t condone throwing at people’s heads. That’s a dangerous situation.”
For his part, Butler responded in the best way he could; five innings later, he hit his second homer of the day. (The poor guy seems to be a magnet for this kind of thing; earlier in the week Butler was drilled by Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves, possibly in response to a brushback pitch thrown earlier to Dustin Pedroia.)
“I barely got out of the way,” he said after the game in the Star. “It was right at my head, and there was no way around it. I usually don’t react that way. If I get hit, I get hit. I don’t have anything to say. But in that situation, I’m going to open my mouth.”
The Indians, shockingly, perhaps felt further need to respond to Cabrera; when he came up with the bases loaded in the fifth, reliever Chad Durbin greeted him with a high, inside fastball. Even in the Royals clubhouse, players acknowledged that the center fielder will be instructed to speed up future home run trots.
Both the initial parties issued standard denials, with Carrasco saying the fastball got away from him (although he did admit to having noticed Cabrera’s pimp work), and Cabrera insisting that disrespecting the pitcher was the furthest thing from his mind.
That, of course, is hogwash. The Royals will almost certainly notify him of that at the next available opportunity.