Because such thing exists as a pre-emptive strike, it goes to follow that its opposite must be pre-emptive strike avoidance. It’s a term not frequently utilized, especially in Major League Baseball, but it concisely sums up the strategy employed by Mets manager Terry Collins Tuesday at Citi Field.
That there was anything to avoid was courtesy of relief pitcher D.J. Carrasco, who, one pitch after a seventh-inning homer by Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks extended the Brewers’ lead to 8-0, drilled Ryan Braun. Plate ump Gary Darling ejected the right-hander on the spot. (Watch it here.)
The first thing that crossed Collins’ mind appeared to be disbelief that Carrasco, the guy he was probably counting on to eat the game’s final three innings, was gone after only three batters. Shortly thereafter, the ramifications became clear: Braun was Milwaukee’s No. 3 hitter, and his counterpart on the Mets, David Wright, was due to lead off the bottom of the inning.
Factor in that Brewers starter Zach Greinke had to that point given up only four hits over six shutout innings; that the Mets would be lucky to avoid being shut out, let alone win the game; that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has a bit of history when it comes to Code enforcement; that Wright has his own history when it comes to being hit by pitches; that there’s no player less dispensable to New York’s lineup than the .408-hitting Wright; and that if anybody was going to wear one for the sins of his team, it would clearly be the Mets’ third baseman.
Taking all that into consideration, Collins did what he felt prudent: He removed Wright.
If Greinke had feelings about seeing pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin instead of Wright, he kept them to largely to himself after the game, telling the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “I don’t know what would have happened if [Wright] stayed in. They don’t want anyone important to get hurt, just like we don’t want someone important getting hurt.”
Wright, however, was clearly agitated, shouting at Collins in the dugout before turning on his heel and stalking away from the manager. (Watch it here.) Two batters later, Collins removed David Murphy for precisely the same reason.
“In my opinion, why I took him out of the game, he wasn’t getting hurt,” Collins said in a Newsday report. “I’m not accusing anybody for the possibility of retaliation. But I don’t blame the umpires for doing what they do. I don’t blame the other team for any perception they had of what happened, but I’ve got news for you: In this game there are unwritten rules. And one of the unwritten rules, is you hit my guy, I’m hitting your guy. They are not hitting my guy tonight. I’m not exposing him to being hit.”
“Terry’s the manager and I try to go to battle for Terry every day . . .” said Wright, who added that his response looked worse than it actually was. “Whether I agree or disagree with it, he’s got to make the move he thinks is best for the team, and he obviously did that . . . I respect him. I love playing for him.”
Carrasco issued a standard denial, and Braun claimed to have no feelings one way or the other about his opponent’s intent.
As a guy with eight seasons as a big league manager and 10 years of minor league playing time under his belt, Collins probably understands the game’s unwritten rules pretty well. In this instance, however, he may have been upstaged by Wright, when the third baseman told him in the dugout, “If anybody gets hit, I want it to be me.”
“My thinking at the time was, Ryan gets hit and then I go up there and get hit and then everything is settled,” Wright said in a MLB.com report.
In that, he was exactly correct. If it wasn’t the series’ final game, or if the teams’ next scheduled meeting wasn’t four months away, or if Wright was anything but a target of circumstance—were he drilled, it would have been because of where he hit in the lineup, not anything he did on the field—he would have had an air-tight case. Waiting a day to respond to an incident like this is hardly rogue strategy, but Roenicke and his team would have to be harboring a pretty serious grudge to put a target on Wright when they next see him in September.
It will all probably pass without incident, but that may have happened anyway. One thing Collins has assured, however, is that the Mets now have 16 weeks to consider the possibilities before actually seeing the results of this particular experiment.
Update (5/17): The principals have spoken, and the matter has been “handled.”