Don't Incite the Opposition

Another Start and More Bad Blood: Yordano Ventura Is At It Again

Maybe Yordano Ventura just isn’t a people person.

There was his run-in with Mike Trout. There was his run-in with Brett Lawrie. Yesterday he had a run-in with Adam Eaton. Three players, three teams, three temper tantrums, one full-on brawl and ejections from multiple games. It’s still April.

Things kicked off yesterday in Chicago when Ventura hit Jose Abreu with a pitch in the fourth inning, and Chris Sale “responded” by hitting Mike Moustakas in the fifth. (“Responded” is in quotes because the bullet fired was an 86-mph changeup. The thing about message pitches is that they’re intended to send a message. Changeups do not serve as such. Sale touched 98 mph earlier in the game. That would have sent a message.)

Things started poorly for these teams on opening day. Jeff Samardzija hit Lorenzo Cain, Cain emphatically stating later that it was intentional, owing to it being the next pitch after Samardzija gave up a home run. Two days later the teams traded shots, Jose Quintana drilling Cain and Danny Duffy responding with a pitch behind the head of Adam LaRoche.

The chirping continued on Thursday, with Samardzija—still ticked off about the Cain incident?—apparently offering verbal barbs after Christian Colon lined into a double play (Alex Gordon getting caught off second) in the top of the seventh.

With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Ventura induced a comebacker from Adam Eaton. According to Ventura, Eaton yelled something on contact. Ventura fired back after catching the ball, looking directly at the hitter and saying “Fuck you” before tossing the ball to first base. Eaton took steps toward the pitcher, benches emptied and fists started flying—the most prominent combatants being Samardzija and Cain in an almost certain holdover from opening day. (Watch it all here.)

Ventura, Cain and Edinson Volquez were tossed from Kansas City, Samardzija (who was not pitching) and Chris Sale (who was) from Chicago. Ultimately, though, this is on Ventura. What Eaton may have yelled at him—or whether he yelled at all—is incidental. Had Ventura kept his cool, so too would everybody else on the field. He expressed contrition after the game, but the guy has verbally engaged with hitters in three straight starts, and four starts into his season he has yet to be removed by Ned Yost, despite throwing zero complete games. (Twice he’s been ejected and twice departed with cramps.) Sure, the Royals have been hit 17 times this season, while drilling only five men themselves, but this is no way to go about a course correction.

The primary thing Ventura has done is expose a glaring weakness in his game. The guy has some of the best stuff in the American League; if an opponent can avoid it simply by riling the pitcher up and getting him ejected, that’s what they’ll do. It’s no different than Ventura exploiting a guy who can’t hit curveballs by feeding him nothing but.

Growing up is inevitable, even for young hotheads. Ventura has accelerated his own timeline.

[Gif via Deadspin]

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Don't Incite the Opposition

Shout it From the Mountaintops, Just Don’t Shout it at Me: The Hunter Strickland World Series Experience

Strickland screams

Prior to Wednesday, Hunter Strickland hadn’t had a good postseason in terms of results. On Wednesday he didn’t do much when it came to composure, either. Calling out the opposition is rarely a good idea this time of year.

Fine. Strickland was yelling at himself after giving up another playoff homer, this one to Omar Infante. But with self-flagellating macho displays of anger must come the understanding that said displays might sometimes be misread by, say, an innocent catcher who just happens to be trotting by on account of he was on base when the homer was hit.

Salvador Perez was incredulous. Strickland was a boor. Perez wondered if Strickland was talking to him. Strickland told him to kindly return to the dugout, sprinkling some less-nice words into the sentiment. Perez’s teammates emerged from the dugout in order to have his back. Strickland’s teammates more or less stayed put, while Buster Posey mostly settled for looking annoyed. Perez’s team won the game, Strickland’s did not. (Watch it all here.)

“He’s a really intense kid,” said Bruce Bochy afterward. “That’s probably an area he’s going to have to keep his poise.” Well, duh.

Internalization is good; considering your own role within a given negative experience can lead to positive behavioral changes and emotional growth. But even though that’s ostensibly what Strickland did, that’s not really what Strickland did. Really, he just turned into a rage monster. It started with himself, but soon enough found purchase in passersby, and collateral damage started to pile up.

This is not a good look for a guy whose stuff has put him in the “future closer” conversation. Closers are the guys who take things calmly, who are able to move on from a situation, good or bad, game to game and moment to moment. Getting into unnecessary shouting matches during the World Series does not exactly fit the bill.

 

 

 

Don't Incite the Opposition

‘What an Idiot!’ Say, Mike Napoli, What do you Really Think?

Napoli's blastMike Napoli had come through with the heroics, but he didn’t seem to believe it. One out away from a complete-game shutout, Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka fed the Red Sox first baseman a 1-2 fastball out over the plate instead of the pitch Napoli expected—a splitter low in the zone, which had already served to strike him out twice on the night. It was a gift. Napoli treated it as such, hammering it over the right-field fence at Yankee Stadium for a game-winning two-run homer.

Napoli’s problems began with his incredulty that Tanaka would throw him anything in that situation but the same unhittable pitch he’d already proven unable to hit. They manifested when he reached his dugout after rounding the bases. Even before he entered, he was shouting at his teammates, “What an idiot! What an idiot!” (Watch it here.)

The comments were picked up by TV cameras, of course, which is why this is a controversy. Napoli oviously did not intend to show up Tanaka; his comments were directed toward his teammates, not toward the field, and were made amid the rush of his success. Also, Napoli was right—Yankees catcher Brian McCann did all he could to have Tanaka throw the splitter, but was shaken off repeatedly. Still, any player in the modern era should know better—especially talking, as he did, from field level at the lip of the dugout, without even the cover of a position deep on the bench.

Such was the impact that Red Sox manager John Farrell was compelled to address it on Sunday.

“The one thing we don’t ever want our players to be is non-emotional,” he said in an MLB.com report. “I’m aware of the comment made last night. I didn’t hear it at the time. But I know this: We’ve got the utmost respect for Tanaka and I know Mike Napoli does.”

It’s reminiscent of a scene from The Baseball Codes, in which a youthful Eric Chavez was being interviewed before his A’s played the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2000 ALDS.

Responding to a press-conference question about his opponents, who had won the previous two titles, Chavez talked about how great the Yankees had been in recent years, what a terrific job they’d done, and how difficult it was to win as consistently as they had. He also added that they’d “won enough times,” and that it would be okay for somebody else to play in the World Series for a change. Chavez was twenty-two years old, wide-eyed and hopeful. There was nothing malicious in his tone.

Unfortunately for the A’s, the press conference at which Chavez was speaking was being broadcast live on the Oakland Coliseum scoreboard for early-arriving fans. Also watching were the Yankees, on the field for batting practice. “So he’s dropping the past tense on us? Did you see that?” spat third baseman Scott Brosius from the batting cage. One New York player after another—Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams—took Chavez’s comments and blew them up further. The Yankees hardly needed additional motivation, but now they had it. Their first three hitters of the game reached base, four batters in they had the lead, and by the end of the frame it was 6–0. The A’s were in a hole from which they could not climb out before they even had a chance to bat.

The Yankees didn’t have any such swing of success against the Red Sox on Sunday—they lost, 8-5—but it underscores the importance of understanding where you are and who can hear you before speaking your mind with anything resembling too much impunity.

Alex Rodriguez, Dallas Braden, Don't Incite the Opposition

Braden Tries to Make Nice with A-Rod; A’s Fail to Follow Suit

Dallas Braden takes these things seriously. When he first called out Alex Rodriguez in April for running across the Oakland Coliseum pitcher’s mound, many—especially those who knew nothing of him—assumed that the outspoken young pitcher was merely a hot-head, looking for attention.

Now: not so much.

The A’s, looking to capitalize on the mound controversy in advance of the Yankees’ return to Oakland on Monday, printed T-shirts for sale in the Coliseum, reading, “Get Off My Mound,” with the silhouette of a left-handed pitcher that can be assumed to be Braden.

The A’s were no doubt hoping that the shirts would be hot sellers while raising some ire in the visitors’ clubhouse. What they didn’t figure on was catching heat from the home team.

It was Braden himself who found the shirts most offensive.

“I think we all understand where they are coming from, but it’s just a serious, gross, lack of tact,” Braden told Jeff Fletcher of FanHouse on Monday. “At the end of the day, I hope I do not become associated with that kind of approach.”

Braden said that his opinion on the shirts was not solicited, and that the Major League Baseball Players’ Association twice denied approval for them.

For Braden, the issue was about respect—of the league’s highest-profile player on the league’s highest-profile team overestimating his ability to take liberties on a baseball diamond, especially against a little-known pitcher on the small-market A’s.

The T-shirt has nothing to do with that.

Secondly, Braden and the rest of the A’s understand the meaning behind the cliché “let sleeping dogs lie.” The issue had faded, if not disappeared entirely once it became apparent that the injured Braden would not pitch against the Yankees. The shirt brought it roaring back to headlines around the country.

“That’s probably not smart,” said Oakland’s Jack Cust in the San Francisco Chronicle. “We don’t need to fuel anything with A-Rod, not with his ability.”

“There isn’t a guy in this locker room that wanted those T-shirts made,” added A’s reliever Brad Ziegler in the FanHouse report, reiterating the fact that it’s rarely in a team’s best interest to unnecessarily incite the opposition.

Braden took things a step further, sending an assortment of memorabilia from his perfect game to Rodriguez, including a ball, a T-shirt and a poster, inscribed, according to the Chronicle, “Dear Alex, here’s the poster you requested. I think you’re right, it will look great over your mantel. … I know you realize it’s all in fun.”

Still, the Yankees took notice of the T-shirt (the one made by the A’s, not the one delivered by Braden). Although A-Rod said all the right things—joking that he hoped for a cut of the profits, and that one of his teammates went so far as to put one on—the fact that the shirt permeated the New York clubhouse only increases the possibility that it could be used as extra motivation against the A’s.

That’s something even Oakland’s marketing department probably wouldn’t appreciate.

– Jason