The general question of the day: When is retaliation necessary?
The specific question of the day: Is retaliation necessary when none of your batters have been hit on purpose?
The more-specific question of the day: Is retaliation necessary when lots of your batters have been hit, even if none of them were intentional?
The White Sox answered that question yesterday after Cubs starter John Lackey drilled four among their ranks—three of them in the fifth inning alone. Jose Abreu was hit twice, staring down Lackey after the second one until plate ump Lance Barksdale stepped between them.
There was almost certainly no intent behind any of the pitches, given that they clipped their targets rather than bore into them, not to mention that the fifth-inning spate loaded the bases. It mattered little to the South-siders. In the bottom of the frame, Sox reliever Chris Beck missed Cubs second baseman Ian Happ with his first pitch, and drilled him in the thigh with his next one.
It was enough for Barksdale to issue warnings, which effectively ended retaliation for the day. (Watch it here.)
So the answer, as evidenced by this game, is that, yes, retaliation is an option, even when nothing intentional has gone down. But why?
The Cubs’ scouting report had Lackey pitching aggressively inside, especially against free swingers like Matt Davidson, one of Chicago’s four HBPs, who already has 115 strikeouts on the season. After the game, Lackey himself said, “You look at numbers, it’s a pretty extreme-swinging team. You’ve got to go to some extreme zones.”
The White Sox were being abused, and Beck planting one into Happ was their most unequivocal method of indicating an unwillingness to take any more. After Barksdale’s warning, pitches ceased to be thrown recklessly inside. (It didn’t hurt that Lackey was pulled one pitch after hitting his final batter.)
Lackey himself agreed with the retaliation (“If I’m pitching on the other side, I’m probably hitting somebody”), as did Cubs manager Joe Maddon (“Their retribution was obvious. I had no argument.”)
Ultimately, Lackey is responsible for the well-being of his teammates when he’s on the mound. If his actions inspire an opponent to take a shot at one of them, he has to weigh the merits of continuing his course, and what kind of cost that might exact within his own clubhouse. Then he has to deal with Happ or any other Cub that wears one as a matter of recourse. This is the crux of much retaliatory strategy.
After the game, Lackey went so far as to apologize to his teammate, offering to buy the rookie something to make up for it.
What, really, could Happ do? “Hopefully it’s something nice,” he said in an MLB.com report.
And the cycle continues.