Alex Rodriguez, Retaliation, Ryan Dempster

Why Does Dempster Hate A-Rod So? Let Us Count the Ways

A-rod plunkedThe reason the unwritten rules dominate baseball like in no other sport is the space within the game for messaging. The idea that if somebody wants to communicate an idea through action, there is sufficient opportunity to do so—be it a well-timed stolen base, some styling to start one’s home run trot or an intentionally hit batter.

The thing about the latter category is that we are rarely certain when a batter has been intentionally hit.

On Sunday, however, we were offered about as much certainty as can be reasonably expected, short of admission from the pitcher. Boston’s Ryan Dempster, facing Alex Rodriguez in the second inning, threw a knee-high fastball behind the batter. He followed that with two waist-high inside pitches, then planted a fastball into A-Rod’s elbow. Not even a hint at subterfuge—Rodriguez was marked. (Watch it here.)

Which is where the messaging comes in.

The immediate assumption was that Dempster, an old-school red-ass if ever there was one, was making a statement about PEDs, expressing his displeasure both at Rodriguez’s usage and his subsequent refusal to accept the punishment handed down by Bud Selig. Just two days earlier, after all, Boston players John Lackey and Jonny Gomes discussed their displeasure with the fact that Rodriguez was being allowed to play while appealing his 211-game, PED-related suspension.

If that’s what Dempster was doing, he has some precedent. In 1990, Bert Blyleven hit Baltimore’s Phil Bradley because of Bradley’s hard-line stance in labor negotiations which, in Blyleven’s opinion, prolonged settlement of the 32-day lockout that delayed the start of the season. Blyleven was concerned about pension time, did not appreciate tactics which stood to cost him financially, and expressed his displeasure from the pitcher’s mound.

Would it be so peculiar for another pitcher to take a similar tack? Maybe not, but then we hear this, courtesy of Yahoo’s Big League Stew: A Canadian hockey writer says that Dempster had different priorities.

A-Rod tweet I

A-Rod tweet II

This may seem so much more petty than PED grandstanding, but it’s also more feasible—and it, too, has precedent. 

One of Tommy Lasorda’s go-to stories is about how, as a star-struck 14-year-old, he approached New York Giants outfielder Buster Maynard after a game in Philadelphia and asked him for an autograph. Maynard brushed him off.

Eight years later, Lasorda was a promising pitcher with the Triple-A Montreal Royals, in the Brooklyn Dodgers chain, when to his surprise he found himself facing a fading former big leaguer trying to hold his job with the minor-league Augusta Yankees: Buster Maynard. Lasorda’s first pitch knocked him down. His second pitch did the same. When Maynard came up again later in the game, Lasorda decked him a third time.

This time it was Maynard waiting for Lasorda after the game, asking what the heck was going on. Lasorda told him the story of saving up his money to go to a baseball game, only to be ignored by his hero. He concluded the sentiment with, “I wish I had hit you, you busher!”

Girardi argues
Joe Girardi: angry.

If this was Dempster’s motivation, it was not apparent from field level at Fenway Park. Yankees manager Joe Girardi lit into plate ump Brian O’Nora for not ejecting Dempster—he was upset that the pitcher was given four pitches with which to work—and then warning both benches, precluding retaliation. Soon, he was himself tossed. On his way back to the dugout he shouted toward Dempster, “Somebody’s going to get hit.”

(In the middle of this came a highly unusual moment, in which the Red Sox bullpen came streaming onto the field as if to fight, despite no indication that Rodriguez would do anything other than take his base.)

Dempster denied everything, of course, and Rodriguez ratcheted up the best possible response when he took Dempster deep for a sixth-inning homer at the center of a four-run rally that proved to be the difference in a 9-6 New York victory. (Watch it here.)

Rodriguez also provided the quote of the night, when asked about whether Dempster should be suspended for his actions. “I’m the wrong guy to ask about suspensions,” he said in the Boston Globe. “I’ve got a lawyer I can recommend.”

The teams play seven times in a 10-game span in September. If there’s more to be said about this, it’ll be said then.

Update (8-20): Dempster has been handled, five games’ worth.

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A.J. Pierzynski, No-Hitter Etiquette

Darvish Nearly Perfect From the Mound. The Guys Behind the Plate, Not So Much

AJP tossedDon’t change anything during the course of a no-hitter. By now, that much should be obvious. Players don’t change spots on the bench between innings. Managers don’t make unnecessary substitutions (except for those who do). The mere appearance of a reliever warming up in the bullpen can be enough to send the superstitious into fits of nervous twitching.

Monday, however, brought us something entirely new in the realm of not mixing things up, and it only makes sense that the delivery person was A.J. Pierzynski.

Yu Darvish, working on a perfect game in the sixth, threw a 2-2 breaking ball to Jonathan Villar, which Pierzynski thought was strike three, but which plate ump Ron Kulpa judged to be too low. The fact that the catcher leapt from his crouch and took a step toward the dugout before hearing Kulpa’s ruling earned him no favors.

Darvish walked Villar on the next pitch, giving the Astros their first baserunner, and Pierzynski was none too pleased. After the game, Kulpa explained what happened. As reported by MLB.com:

“Pierzynski didn’t like the pitch that I [called for a ball]. We had words about the [2-2] pitch. And then [Darvish] walked [Villar] on the very next pitch and [Pierzynski] continued to argue on the pitch before. And so he got ejected.” (Watch it here.)

Talk about changing things up. Game action was interrupted while Ron Washington came out to argue and backup catcher Geovany Soto raced to put on his gear. Suddenly Darvish was throwing to a different target. The right-hander denied that any of this had to do with the home run he gave up to catcher Carlos Corporan two frames later (indeed, Soto has caught 10 of Darvish’s 22 starts this season, so lack of familiarity is not a problem), but history is not on his side: Only twice has a pitcher thrown to more than one catcher during the course of a complete-game no-hitter—Ken Holtzman in 1969 and Larry Corcoran in 1880.

The question now becomes one of blame. Did Kulpa have too quick a trigger finger, especially considering the enormity of the situation? Should Pierzynski have played it cooler, knowing what was at stake?

The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. Had either of them shown just a skosh more restraint, it’s possible that the baseball world would be celebrating Darvish right now even more than it already is.

“Absolutely, you feel bad for the guy,” said Pierzynski afterward. “You feel bad for the pitcher and you feel bad for everybody associated with it. Because they don’t happen a lot and when you get that close, you really want to try to get them done. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”

(For what it’s worth, Darvish came within one batter of a perfect game at the same ballpark in April. Some feel he was jinxed in that one, too.)

Hidden Ball Trick

The High Cost of Not Paying Attention, Juan Uribe Edition

Uribe picked offThe last time we saw two hidden ball tricks in a season was … well, who really knows? Evreth Cabrera tried it against the Giants in July, but was stymied by a lack of execution from his teammates and an ill-placed timeout call.

On Saturday, Tampa Bay was far less subtle in its efforts against the Dodgers—and far more effective.

Shortstop Yunel Escobar, noting that Juan Uribe—who had just pulled up at third following a sacrifice fly—wasn’t paying attention, called for first baseman James Loney to throw him the ball. He then tossed it to third baseman Evan Longoria, who was standing behind the bag.

Longoria watched Uribe quietly, and waited, ball in hand. Despite warnings hollered from Zack Greinke in the on-deck circle, the moment Uribe pulled his foot off the base, Longoria pounced. Third-base ump Angel Hernandez was right on it, and a disbelieving Uribe was out. (Watch it here.)

Thanks to a 5-0 victory, the Dodgers were able to have fun with it, Adrian Gonzalez presenting Uribe with third base—complete with a taped-on cleat—after the game. (See image below, courtesty of @yasielpuig.)

Escobar told reporters that he’d already tried the play four or five times this season, but that this was the first time in his seven-year career it’s actually worked.

No wonder we don’t see it more frequently.

Update (8-14): Even Los Angeles-area youth are getting in on the action.

UribeFoot