Retaliation

Baseball in August: Same as in April, it Seems

Jays-RoyalsCheez. A fella heads out of the country for a few weeks, and everything goes straight to hell. A little distance can lend a lot of perspective, however, and coming home to a slew of drama pretty much confirms the points I’ve always made: In baseball, respect is paramount, safety is vital and red-assery is growing thinner—and more noteworthy—than ever.

Some takeaways:

  • Run-of-the-mill bat flips no longer count as showboating, which leaves no space for pitchers to get peeved in response. Although his behavior was marginally acceptable for sixth-graders, San Diego’s Dale Thayer was out of line in tossing his gum at Giants catcher Hector Sanchez following a pimp-heavy grand slam, and Padres reliever Shawn Kelly went full nutter by coming inside twice—with intention—to Sanchez three innings later in further response. (This wasn’t even the first gum-related incident between the teams this season.) Mainstream behavior can not, by definition, be taken personally. Get over it, pitchers.
  • This works in both directions for the Giants, as Madison Bumgarner—owner of perhaps the reddest ass in the big leagues—hollered at Delino Deshields for hollering at himself after he popped out against the lefthander. MadBum has a bit of history with this kind of thing. Fabricated drama is the worst kind of drama.
  • Style points count when it comes to retaliation. Under appropriate circumstances, there is a place for pitchers to retaliate on behalf of drilled teammates, but how they do it counts as much as anything. Rockies reliever Christian Friederich hitting Kolten Wong near his head in response to teammate D.J. LeMahieu being drilled by St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez was patently unacceptable. Like all pitchers, Friederich has some leeway in letting teammates know he has their welfare in mind, but doing it with such little regard for the opposition paints him as a goon. (At least when Arizona’s Dominic Leone drilled Christian Yellich in response for David Peralta being unintentionally hit in the head by Jose Fernandez, he did it appropriately, hitting him—however unnecessarily—in the posterior.)

All of this pales, of course, to Royals-Blue Jays. Because Royals-Blue Jays never disappoints. There was tit-for-tat retaliation, starting when Royals pitchers drilled Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, and brushed back Donaldson in two different at-bats for good measure. Aaron Sanchez hit Alcides Escobar in response, and was summarily ejected. (Watch it all here.) The Royals spent the early part of the season picking fights with seemingly everybody in the American League, but the particulars of the skirmish were far less interesting than the extracurriculars.

First was the back-and forth chirping. Donaldson said afterward that he was happy Volquez was not tossed, what with him being “pretty good hittin’.” Volquez said that Donaldson was “Crying like a baby.” It continued on Twitter, where Jose Bautista said he “lost a lot of respect” for Ned Yost, at which Yordano Ventura called Bautista “a nobody” in a since-deleted Tweet.

The most intriguing part of the action came from plate ump Jim Wolf, who issued warnings after Donaldson was hit. Thing was, he opted not to eject anybody either time Donaldson was brushed back, or when Tulowitzki was hit—with the Blue Jays in the cross-hairs every time—but tossed Sanchez in the only instance of a Toronto pitcher coming too far inside all day. The Blue Jays went to lengths to elucidate that imbalance, but ultimately it was a matter of judgement calls, which, when it comes to the unwritten rules, is a key to quality umpiring. Grant Brisbee broke it down over at SBNation:

* Was Volquez really so mad at Donaldson that he was going to risk ejection in the third inning of a close game? If so, why didn’t he actually hit him after buzzing him around the head, if he had already committed to it? Probably not intentional, unless it he meant it in a move-him-off-the-plate kind of way, not a die-die-die kind of way.

* Why would Ryan Madson wait until the seventh pitch of an at-bat, with a two-strike count and a runner on second in a close game, to hit someone who was never involved? Probably not intentional.

* Madson’s 2-2 pitch to Donaldson in the next at-bat was timed poorly, to say the least. It buzzed his face again, but the situation again suggests it was a pitch that got away. Two runners already on, in a game the Royals still thought they could win? That’s not the place where pitchers want additional runners, especially if there’s a risk of ejection behind it. Especially considering the Blue Jays never retaliated to that point. Probably not intentional.

* Aaron Sanchez came in, waited until there were two outs and no one on, and plunked a Royal. Probably intentional, and he was tossed.

There’s value in umpires having the leeway to judge the merit of baseball actions. Viable strategy exists in making a hot hitter like Donaldson less comfortable in the box, and if a pitch thrown intentionally inside misses a bit and hits a guy, that’s a justifiable cost of doing business. Wolf deserves credit for recognizing this. The rest of his decisions can be similarly defended.

That said, tossing Volquez at the first incident after warnings were issued would have circumvented a lot of the ensuing drama—and there’s value in that, too. Hell, with the abundance of judgement calls going Kansas City’s way in this one, it may have been a preferable tactic from the outset. That’s only in retrospect, of course. In a vacuum,  ejecting a player for an unintentional (if poorly timed) pitch is of little benefit to anybody.

At the very least, it all made for entertaining reading once I returned to the home office. If the Royals and Blue Jays play each other again this season, it’ll be in the playoffs. But there are still nearly two months to go—plenty of time for some quality drama.

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2 thoughts on “Baseball in August: Same as in April, it Seems

  1. Good to hear a neutral perspective on this since, as a Jays fan, I’ve been reading/hearing nothing but Jays-centric indignation about this whole incident. That being said, tossing Volquez after the warning would have stopped the fire before it started. While Wolf recognised whether those actions were intentional, Sanchez wouldn’t have hit the batter if Volquez had been tossed in the first place (but he shouldn’t have yelled out that he was just protecting his teammates when he was tossed… that admission more than anything was what earned him the suspension, IMO).

    On a side note, my father in law wears a KC baseball cap because those are also his initials. I hope he didn’t get a ribbing when he went for his morning coffee!

  2. It’s a really fine line. There’s a sound argument to be made that had Wolf ignored his own inclinations and just tossed Volquez immediately, all the ensuing bad blood would have been averted. In reality, of course, there’s a decent chance that the Jays would simply sit on the memory until they had a chance to retaliate at a later time — as would any team.

    And you’re right — admitting intention is pretty much the most certain path to suspension that a player can take. It’s among the firmest of the unwritten rules.

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