The hubbub surrounding Brandon Phillips’ accusations of racism helped obscure a profound truth about baseball’s unwritten rules: Teams will wait as long as is necessary to respond to events in which they feel they’ve been significantly wronged.
Phillips getting drilled Monday was at the heart of it, but had little to do with the genesis of the situation. It began on Aug. 3, when Reds closer Aroldis Chapman drilled Andrew McCutchen with a 101-mph fastball. The following day, Reds starter Mike Leake hit Josh Harrison, then descended the mound toward him to deliver a follow-up message.
Of concern to the Pirates was the fact that umpire Brian Gorman issued warnings after the latter incident. It was, I wrote at the time, “an unfortunate development that precluded—correction, delayed—any type of Pittsburgh response.”
The delay is now over. In the eighth inning Monday, Pittsburgh reliever Jared Hughes placed a fastball into Phillips’ left leg. It certainly looked intentional, although the surrounding factors—a 3-3 tie with one out in the eighth is not the prototypical moment for retaliation; a hitter like Phillips, who can run, is not an ideal target, especially with Joey Votto lurking two batters later; and catcher Rod Barajas reached out as if to catch a wayward pitch—suggest otherwise. (Watch it here.)
Phillips got in some jabs of his own, first picking up the baseball and tossing it toward Hughes—this is the act that is widely assumed to have precipitated Phillips’ post-game tweet claiming racism—then stealing second. (He did not score, and the game went 14 innings.)
As McCutchen jogged toward his dugout following the Reds’ half of the eighth, a clearly perturbed Phillips engaged him with a clear message for somebody on the Pittsburgh bench. That turned out to be Hughes, but by Tuesday the feuding participants reached an accord. Nobody was hit in last night’s game, and no fireworks are anticipated for the teams’ four meetings through the end of the season.