As far as retaliation goes, it was awkward, it was ugly and if it wasn’t embarrassing to more than one party, then by all rights it should have been.
But at least it got the job done, within the boundaries of reason.
In the bottom of the seventh inning last night, Cardinals reliever Jason Motte wanted to deliver a message to Milwaukee. Brewers reliever Takashi Saito had drilled Albert Pujols a half-inning earlier, in his tender left wrist. It was clearly unintentional, as the rising fastball hit Pujols only after the hitter pulled his hands in to his chest and was spinning toward the backstop.
Sometimes intent doesn’t make a lick of difference. When Pujols goes down, reparations are frequently in order.
Never mind that it was a 7-7 score; when Ryan Braun led off the home half of the inning, Motte got right to it. And whiffed. Braun evaded Motte’s 98 mph inside fastball, which should, for practical purposes, have ended the hostilities. The pitcher had his shot and missed his mark.
This was plate ump Rob Drake‘s moment to step in and put an end to things. Players frequently appreciate some leeway when it comes to umpires’ warnings, at least to the point that each side is allowed their due shot. Drake, however, missed that mark by a mile.
Allowed a second chance, Motte drilled Braun in the ribs with a 97 mph four-seamer. Braun looked stunned after the first effort; when the second one found purchase without a peep from Drake he was downright flabbergasted.
Even at that point, Motte failed to get booted. (He did end up hitting the showers, but only because Tony La Russamade a pitching change. Based on La Russa’s history with these things, it seems likely that Motte started the inning solely because has the best fastball on the team, with the plan being to pull him after one hit batter. “We threw two balls in there real good just to send a message,” the skipper said afterward, in a semi-denial. “If he ducks them, it’s all over and we don’t hit him.”)
Only after Milwaukee skipper Ron Roenicke came out for a chat with Drake—presumably to fill the ump in on all he was missing—were warnings issued to both benches. (It was odd timing on Roenicke’s part; unless he was looking to get Motte retroactively bounced from the game, his discussion served little purpose beyond costing his own pitchers a chance to respond on Braun’s behalf.)
“That was ridiculous,” said Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We didn’t hit Albert Pujols on purpose. Are you kidding me? In that situation? If we wanted to put him on base, we would have walked him. That’s ridiculous. . . . We shouldn’t get punished for something we weren’t trying to do on purpose. Look at the situation. If we were getting beat by a lot or we were beating them by a lot and that happens, maybe we did it on purpose. I mean, come on. We weren’t trying to hit anybody. It’s unbelievable.”
Lucroy is entitled to his opinion, but it’s tough to fault a pitcher for protecting his superstar. That Milwaukee’s best player led off the next inning made the timing perfect. That Motte was given two chances by an apparently clueless ump, however, is worth getting ticked off about. If the situation has anything working in its favor, it’s that, unlike Jered Weaver and Carlos Carrasco, Motte came nowhere near his target’s head.
The teams meet again today, then again at the end of the month.