Don't Bunt to Break Up a No-Hitter

Verlander’s No-No Beaten By Bunt, and Nobody Seems to Mind

Dyson bunts

It’s a convoluted question, so bear with me: Can the circumstances following a clear violation of the unwritten rules somehow alter how that rule is perceived?

In other words, might the end of a play justify the means?

The play in question is Jarrod Dyson’s bunt in the sixth inning of yesterday’s game against the Tigers, which broke up Justin Verlander’s perfect game.

Such a thing, of course, has long been frowned upon by baseball moralists as disrespectful of a pitcher’s attempt at greatness. To challenge a guy fully, the theory goes, one must do so in a straightforward manner, without trickery or deceit.

The most famous example of this, as outlined in The Baseball Codes, was the bunt laid down by Padres catcher Ben Davis against Arizona’s Curt Schilling in 2001. Davis was San Diego’s 23rd batter of the night but the first—after his ill-executed attempt managed to drop between the mound and second base—to reach safely. Afterward, Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly called the play “chickenshit” and said that Davis “has a lot to learn about how the game is played.”

Part of it was the intrusion on attempted perfection. Part of it was that Davis was a slow-footed catcher for whom bunting and speed were hardly part of his repertoire. Part of it was that the attempt came in the eighth inning, with Schilling only five outs from immortality.

One detail, however, served as adequate cover. The score was 2-0, and Davis had managed to bring the tying run to the plate. No matter how much animosity his bunt engendered in the opposing dugout, it is impossible to ignore the prime directive governing baseball’s unwritten rules: Winning trumps everything, and Davis had given his team its best chance on the day to win. Justification.

The circumstances yesterday in Seattle were somewhat different. Dyson’s bunt came in the sixth inning—early enough, perhaps, to validate it on its own merits. Take it from a different Seattle player, Jarrod Washburn—who pitched for the Mariners for four seasons, through 2009—whose own no-hitter was broken up by a bunt from Tampa Bay rookie Ben Zobrist in 2006. Like Dyson, Zobrist did it in the sixth inning, and it didn’t bother Washburn a bit. “If it was the eighth or ninth, maybe that would have rubbed me the wrong way,” he said at the time, “but bunting is just part of the game, and he was just trying to make something happen.”

Also in Dyson’s favor is that, unlike Davis, speed is an integral part of his game. Still, the play occurred while the Tigers held a 4-0 lead, and Dyson hardly represented the tying run. Sixteen years earlier, Davis could have creditably claimed that winning informed his strategy, but down four runs, Dyson’s rationalization was considerably more specious … save for two little words: And then.

And then, pitching out of the stretch for the first time all night, Verlander walked Mike Zunino. And then Jean Segura collected an infield single to load the bases. And then Ben Gamel scored Dyson with a single to center. And then, after Verlander struck out Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz brought home two more with a double. And then it was 4-3 and Verlander’s day was over. After retiring Seattle’s first 16 hitters, he retired only one of its next six, including Dyson’s bunt. Seattle scored four more against Detroit’s bullpen, and went home with a 7-5 victory.

Regardless of how things may have seemed at the moment Dyson laid down his bunt, there’s no questioning that the effort played a significant role in his team’s victory. Justification.

After the game, Verlander said that he had no problem with Dyson’s strategy. The best summation, however, came from Schilling, in reference to his own spoiled no-hitter all those years earlier. “Unwritten rules or not, you’re paid to win games,” he said in The Baseball Codes. “That’s the only reason you’re playing in the big leagues.”

 

Bat Flipping

Herrera’s Bat Flips: Not Just For Special Occasions Anymore

Herrera flips

Odubel Herrera is a guy firmly committed to his bat-flipping lifestyle.

Against the Giants on Saturday, he did it twice—once on a fly out and again on a double—the latter of which happened against notorious hothead Hunter Strickland, and led a reporter to ask in the postgame clubhouse whether Herrera ever considers that pitchers might not appreciate that kind of stuff on hits that aren’t actually homers.

 

 

The outfielder responded by ranking the latter flip as his best ever.

And what, he was questioned, if such actions should lead to an angry pitcher planting one into his ribcage?

“Of course it worries me a little bit,” he said in a CSN Philly report. “I don’t want to get drilled. But I’m not going to change the way I play. If I get hit, I’m just going to have to rub it.”

(The latter statement is itself a violation of the macho division of the sport’s unwritten rules. Never acknowledge that the pitcher hurt you, goes the tenet, because You can’t hurt me is a far more effective tone-setter than Ow, that stung.)

Regardless of the stupidity with which Herrera flings his bat all over the yard, one must at least credit him for perseverance. At least he has that much going for him.

 

Gamesmanship

By Any Means Necessary: Pinder Channels Brando In Effort To Reach Base

Pinder bunts

In the greater scheme, it wasn’t much of a moment—an inside fastball that was fouled off on a bunt attempt for the first strike of an inning.

But, oh, the details behind it.

The fastball was thrown on Wednesday by Cleveland’s Corey Kluber to A’s second baseman Chad Pinder, leading off the fifth. Kluber had to that point had struck out seven A’s, so Pinder tried to mix things up and small-ball his way aboard. The pitch ran inside, however, and hit the batter in the hand. Plate ump Tom Hallion awarded him first base.

But then! Replays showed that the ball didn’t hit Pinder at all—his reaction was pure pantomime. The ball had contacted the bat squarely between his hands, but Pinder, who may initially have reacted with shock and surprise, did nothing to deter the umpire from his decision. (Watch it here.)

Because Major League Baseball has become a replay-driven league, the call was overturned, and Pinder returned to the batter’s box with a 0-1 count. (He ended up grounding out to shortstop.)

The obvious question is, did Pinder act appropriately? According to baseball’s code, he did. Free bases are free bases, and far be it from a player—whose goal is to put his team into its best position to win a game—to snub a generous offer. It’s why outfielders who knowingly trap balls act like they’ve caught them. During his days as a catcher, longtime A’s manager Connie Mack would make a clucking sound on check swings in an effort to fool the ump into thinking that the pitch had been tipped. After Willie Stargell and Dave Parker collided while going after a popup in 1976, Pittsburgh second baseman Rennie Stennett reached for the ball—obscured on the ground between their bodies—and, in the guise of checking on his fallen teammates, placed it into Stargell’s glove. (It worked.)

More pertinent to Pinder, this exact scenario took place in 2010, featuring no less a figure than Derek Jeter, who not only acted as if a pitch had hit him, but worked hard to sell it, grabbing his arm and pirouetting out of the box on a ball that connected with the knob of his bat as he tried to spin out of the way.

If the Captain can try to pantomime his way on base, who’s to tell Chad Pinder to knock it off?

[H/T Cleveland.com]

 

Catchers Protect Pitchers, Retaliation

On the Merits of Moving On: Harper and Hunter Try to Make Nice

Harper-Hunter

Harper-Strickland: The Day After played out in San Francisco yesterday, and was noteworthy primarily for just how un-noteworthy it had become. It became that way because the players made it so. Retaliation was nowhere to be found on the field Tuesday at AT&T Park.

In the visitors’ clubhouse before the game, Bryce Harper—fresh off receiving a four-an appeal-reduced three-game suspension—spoke about the hope that both sides could move on from worrying about the past, saying things like, “That’s gonna suck if I get hit again.”

On the Giants’ side, the conversation turned away from pitcher Hunter Strickland (himself suspended for six games) and toward somebody with significantly more effect on the team’s fortunes, a guy who through his own inaction managed to become a focal point of the story.

But Buster Posey didn’t want to talk about it.

His first comment to reporters was, “I just want to focus on playing the game.” Then he ended the interview.

With space to consider the implications, the more it seems that Posey’s actions were deliberate, not delinquent. If that’s so, the primary question becomes whether the catcher knew about Strickland’s intentions in advance, which leads to two primary scenarios:

  • If he did, Posey likely attempted to dissuade the pitcher from hitting Harper, and was subsequently disgusted when Strickland ignored his advice.
  • If he didn’t, Posey was shocked into inaction, less in a too-surprised-to-move sort of way than a let-dude-fix-his-own-mess sort of way.

In the aftermath of the fight Monday night, in the Giants’ postgame clubhouse, Posey sat facing his locker as Strickland approached from the side to talk to him. What they said was private, but Posey never once turned to look at his teammate. It did not lend an impression of understanding or warmth.

On Tuesday, Strickland tried to put it behind him, saying, “I never once questioned or had to question Buster or anyone on this team. We’re here to win ballgames and I don’t look at it any further than that.”

Discussing the fight itself, Harper expressed some relief that Giants players didn’t get to him more quickly, with particular appreciation for San Francisco first baseman Michael Morse, Harper’s teammate in Washington in 2012, Harper’s rookie year. “I’m thankful that Mikey Mo and [Jeff] Samardzija collided, because Samardzija saw blood a little bit, I thought,” he said

Harper used the phrase “I’m very thankful for Mikey Mo” twice more in the conversation.

As for Morse, he said his intention, had he not collided with his teammate (resulting in a concussion that landed him on the 7-day DL), was to grab Harper and pull him the hell away from the pile. He likes the guy—went out of his way to protect him, not hurt him. How that sits with guys like Strickland or Samardzija, both of whom did see blood a little bit, is unknown.

Ultimately, focus on the situation grew so absurd that Harper even went so far as to suggest that baseball might be better off were players more emotionally in-tune. “If [Strickland] did have a problem,” he told reporters, “he could have talked to me during BP about it, said, hey, I don’t like the way you went about it.”

Then, realizing the folly of his suggestion, he sighed, “That’s not human nature, I guess.”

Let’s leave the last word, though, to Posey, with a sentiment that was, literally, his last word before shooing the gathered media away from his locker before Tuesday’s game. “Funny world we live in, isn’t it?” he said.

Indeed.

Catchers Protect Pitchers, Retaliation

Hats Off To (Bryce) Harper: Ill-Considered HBP Spawns Ill-Considered Response to Ill-Considered Mound Charge

 

Harper charges

The guy to watch is Buster Posey.

In the wake of yesterday’s headline-grabbing free-for-all between Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland, one can learn volumes by watching the Giants catcher.

Sure, Strickland drilled Harper in the hip with as intentional a fastball as can be thrown by a grudge-carrying pitcher.

Sure, his reason—Harper did some staring and some yelling after homering off of Strickland for the second time during the 2014 playoffs—was thin.

Sure, Harper acted like a punk in his own right, throwing his helmet at the pitcher before charging the mound, a decision made all the worse by his wild inaccuracy.

Sure, the fight was intense, at least by baseball standards, with Harper and Strickland getting in at least one shot each, even as Giants Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija cinematically tackled each other while going after Harper.

It all provided some darn good theater on a lazy Memorial Day afternoon. But the person to watch was Posey.

In situations like yesterday’s, a catcher’s primary role is fight-preventer, his duty being to bear-hug an angry batter from behind before damage can be done to the pitcher. Not Posey. Not yesterday.

Harper took four-and-a-half angry steps before deciding to charge the mound. He took five more, plus a whole bunch of pitter-pats, once he started to run. Also, he threw his helmet.

Yet it wasn’t until Harper and Strickland began trading punches that Posey thought to approach the fracas, far too late to stop anything, or to even slow it down. That’s him, mask on, on the outside of the scrum looking in.

Why didn’t Buster do anything from the outset? Probably because he was nearly as annoyed at Strickland as Harper was. Because Strickland was redressing an issue from three seasons ago, in which the only injury was to Strickland’s ego, during a series the Giants won. (“I don’t even think [Strickland] should be thinking about what happened in the first round [of the playoffs],” Harper said after yesterday’s game. “He should be thinking about wearing that ring home every single night.”)

Posey may have been upset because Strickland decided that the time to do something was in the eighth inning of a game in which the Giants trailed by only two runs. (Given Strickland’s short-relief role, he doubtless felt that he had to seize any available opportunity. Harper’s postseason homers off him in 2014 represented the first two times the players ever met. Monday’s was the third.)

Sure, two were out and the bases were empty, but following Harper in the batting order were Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon—not exactly the cast you want to face out of the stretch. Sure enough, singles by Zimmerman and Murphy brought home pinch-runner Brian Goodwin to extend the Nats’ lead.

It was foreseeable. Posey foresaw it. And he knew that if the Nationals are to respond at some point during the series, he will likely be the one wearing the target. And he wasn’t pleased. So he stood there.

“Those are some big guys tumbling around on the ground …” Posey explained after the game in a San Jose Mercury News report. “It’ll be a little dangerous to get in there sometimes.” Uh huh.

Posey had every right to be angry with Strickland. Drilling Harper was a stupid decision at a stupid time. Still, it comes down to this: players are obligated to protect their teammates, no matter how much they may disagree with said teammates’ actions. They can offer chastisement in private, of course (one can only hope that Posey took such a tack with Strickland), but over the course of a season, any decision that frays a ballclub’s brotherhood is markedly unhelpful. When it comes to fights, the prevailing notion is: Protect your guys and sort out the details later. 

To that end, Posey failed. He failed not only Strickland, but every other Giants pitcher who might one day wonder whether Buster might have his back when things get weird.

The thing is, Posey wasn’t even alone. Look at Brandon Crawford trotting in from shortstop in the above clip, as if trying to delay his arrival. Maybe Crawford’s just not a fighter. Or maybe it’s a collective anti-Strickland sentiment, almost as if the guy had been making clubhouse pronouncements about his intention to get Harper, even in the face of veteran teammates advising him against it.

Which, given Strickland’s reputation, wouldn’t be surprising.  It all jumbles together in one inane stew that, no matter which angle one chooses, doesn’t look good for the Giants.

Posey watches

Update (5/30): Fox’s Ken Rosenthal suggests that Posey and Strickland may have had an understanding wherein Posey intentionally lay back to let things play out. This would explain a lot of things. Still, it doesn’t account for Posey’s complete lack of movement (were he prepared to act engaged while not actually engaging, one would expect that he’d try to sell it at least a little), nor the fact that Harper’s charge was decidedly unlikely in the first place.

 

Sign stealing

Can Sign Stealing That’s Not Really Sign Stealing Still Be Counted As Sign Stealing?

Cabrera signs

Standard practice when a team catches an opponent sign stealing is to inform said sign stealers that the jig is up and that it’s time to knock it off. The details therein are up for debate (verbal warnings frequently suffice, though some pitchers prefer to use inside fastballs to deliver the message), but the parameters are fairly universal.

In Houston last weekend, Texas caught Miguel Cabrera, at second base, signaling to the hitter about pitch type. The wrinkle was not that Cabrera was caught, but how he was caught. The guy lacked so much subtlety that he may as well have been shouting across the diamond to hitter J.D. Martinez.

That’s because Cabrera wasn’t stealing signs, he was offering a scouting report.

Cabrera, the first hitter to face Rangers reliever Sam Dyson, was surprised by the number of changeups he saw as Dyson warmed up. That’s because the Tigers had been informed that Dyson is not a changeup-heavy pitcher.

So after Cabrera doubled (having seen only fastballs during his three-pitch at-bat), he let his teammate know what he’d learned, as clearly as possible, repeatedly flashing a changeup sign over his head.

That Cabrera wasn’t picking specific signs lends a patina of innocence to the entire affair. Texas’ middle infielders Elvis Andrus and Roughned Odor—like Cabrera, Venezuelans—helped calm the situation in the moment, and the Tigers burned some calories in the postgame clubhouse explaining that whatever Cabrera was doing out there, he was decidedly not stealing signs.

“If he was stealing signs, he certainly wouldn’t be that blatant about it,” said Detroit manager Brad Ausmus in a Detroit Free Press report. “Miggy was just trying to let the bench know that (Dyson) has a change-up—that was all it was. It was a misunderstanding. He wasn’t stealing signs. I just think Dyson, for some reason, thought he was.”

Well, of course Dyson thought he was. Because that’s what somebody who steals signs looks like.

Yet and still, despite his innocence on that particular charge, Cabrera was nonetheless signaling helpful information to his teammate during game action. He was trying to give an advantage, from the basepath, that a teammate would not have otherwise enjoyed. (For what it’s worth, Martinez struck out swinging … on a changeup. So did the next hitter, Justin Upton.)

Had Cabrera opted simply to wait until either he scored or the inning ended, he could have informed the entire Tigers bench of his realization without so much as an eyebrow being raised in response.

Of course Dyson is allowed to take issue with it. Just because Cabrera’s action was the more innocent of two options doesn’t make it normal.