Perhaps this is what Cole Hamels was talking about when he proclaimed his drilling of Bryce Harper last week to be “old-school baseball.”
Old-school baseball frequently involves long memories, and a willingness to respond to a situation even if it has long since passed. On Monday, Arizona’s Ian Kennedy did exactly that.
Kennedy was facing Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw for the first time since last season, when Kershaw was unceremoniously ejected for hitting Diamondbacks outfielder Gerrardo Parra with a pitch. Parra’s drilling was itself a response to a home run he hit off Los Angeles reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, after which he loitered in the batter’s box as it left the yard. Parra’s loitering was in response to an earlier Kuo pitch that buzzed him as he was squaring around to bunt.
Cause and response. Response and cause.
Fast forward eight months, to Monday night. When Kershaw stepped to the plate to lead off the third inning, Kennedy brushed him back with a first-pitch fastball. In case the message was still unclear, three pitches later Kennedy sent one behind Kershaw’s back. Kershaw stared into the Arizona dugout in disbelief, and, wrote Nick Piecoro in the Arizona Republic, “had no problem receiving the message the Diamondbacks were sending.” (Watch it here; for a fuller examination, see the recap.)
Kershaw’s turn came in the fifth, when Kennedy stepped to the plate and was greeted with a fastball, high and inside. That was enough for plate ump Marvin Hudson to issue warnings to both benches.
Was Kennedy trying to hit Kershaw? To judge by his follow-up effort, he was, but didn’t get it done either time. Did Kershaw handle things appropriately, dishing out as good as he got without escalating matters? Absolutely.
Also, unlike Hamels, blanket denials were the order of the day.
“[Kershaw] is a good hitter, so I had to throw inside on him,” Kennedy said in the Republic. “The second one I just pulled way too much.” (D-Backs shortstop Willie Bloomquist, however, admitted that “no one was trying to hurt anyone—it was just to prove a point.”)
“It’s pretty strange that he throws two up and in like that and one at my shins,” responded Kershaw. “His catcher is saying he’s missing his spots. It’s pretty obvious what they’re doing. I don’t really understand it. I know their manager over there likes old-school baseball, but old-school baseball means you don’t carry over things from last year.”
Actually, that’s exactly what old-school baseball means. It’s easy to say that Kennedy should have left well enough alone, and that renewing old hostilities ultimately does little good for anybody involved. The only real counter to that is the tenor of the Arizona clubhouse, and the unknown conversations that may have led to Kennedy’s action, be they with Parra, manager Kirk Gibson or some other aggrieved teammates. There is a palpable charge that a pitcher faces in standing up for his teammates, and those found to be derelict in that duty are quick to lose clubhouse support.
Ultimately, of course, nobody was hit, the fact that both pitchers ended up walking in their targeted at-bats didn’t end up hurting the opposition, several messages were sent, and everybody emerged unscathed.