Retaliation

K.C.’s Baltimore Jacks Leave Bundy With Hungry Heart

Bundy jacked

I’d like to recall something that happened a couple weeks ago, which serves as a barometer for where baseball is, in relation to where it used to be.

On May 8, Baltimore starter Dylan Bundy gave up a single to Kansas City’s first batter of the game, then coughed up three straight homers, walked two guys, and gave up another jack. Seven hitters, seven runs and 15 total bases surrendered without recording an out. It was by any measure among the worst performances in baseball history.

The question here: Beyond simply pitching better, should Bundy have done anything differently?

Once, the obvious response would have been for Bundy to knock a hitter or two down—if not drill them outright— somewhere amid that chain of carnage. Some small examples:

  • 1944, St. Louis vs. Cincinnati. Walker Cooper, Whitey Kurowski and Danny Litwhiler hit consecutive homers against Clyde Shoun. Shoun knocked the next batter, Marty Marion, on his backside with an inside pitch.
  • After Cleveland scored three runs in the first inning and eight in the second against three Twins pitchers in 1975, Minnesota reliever Mark Wiley opened the third by drilling Rick Manning in the leg.
  • In 1985, Bob McClure gave up two homers to the A’s in the span of six batters, which struck the southpaw as especially egregious given that both were hit by left-handers. His first pitch sent the next batter, Dave Kingman, sprawling.

There was a point to those reactions beyond simple frustration. If a team is clearly comfortable in the batter’s box—as was the case against Bundy, and in all three examples above—it behooves the pitcher to disrupt the emerging pattern. This doesn’t mandate hitting anybody, of course, so much as making an opponent move his feet to avoid an inside pitch. In two of the above examples, this is precisely what happened. Marion’s at-bat ended with a popup to shortstop, Kingman’s with a popup to short right field. The hitter after Manning, George Hendrick, struck out. Bundy, however, kept pumping strikes, even as those strikes were getting hammered, and the result was self-evident.

Hell, Manning’s manager back in ’75 was the man with the reddest ass in the history of baseball, Frank Robinson. What did he think of Wiley plunking his guy? “When you’re getting your ass kicked, you’ve got to do something like that,” Robinson said in Making of a Manager.

That era has passed. Intentionally placed inside fastballs are frowned upon like never before. It does not even occur to many pitchers that disrupting a hitter’s comfort zone is actually a viable strategy. We saw it last year when the Nationals went deep four times in the span of five batters against Milwaukee. We saw it in 2010, when four straight Diamondbacks homered against Brewers right-hander Dave Bush.

For the clearest distinction between then-and-now responses, look to 1963, when Angels pitcher Paul Foytack gave up four consecutive jacks to Cleveland in a game that inspired a passage cut from the final draft of The Baseball Codes:

In a 1963 game, Foytack, a Los Angeles Angels pitcher in his 10th big league season, allowed consecutive home runs to Cleveland’s Woody Held, Pedro Ramos and Tito Francona. They were the fourth, fifth and sixth homers the right-hander had given up on the day. To make matters worse, Ramos was the opposing pitcher, sported a .107 batting average, and it was his second round-tripper of the game. Foytack had had about enough, and decided to knock down the next batter, rookie Larry Brown. But even that didn’t work out too well.

Foytack’s first offering tailed over the plate, and Brown hit the Indians’ fourth straight homer. It was the first of his career, and made Foytack the first pitcher in major league history to give up back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs.

“Today,” said Foytack a few years back, “if you throw close to a guy, they want to take you out.”

There’s a lot to be said for this latest, gentlest iteration of baseball. Some of the things that are getting lost, however, are actually pertinent to the playing of quality baseball. 

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Retaliation

Nolan Arenado Does Not Appreciate Your Message Pitch, Sir

Arenado charges

Remember back in 1990, when Dave Stewart threw a no-hitter—and then had it upstaged only a few hours later when Fernando Valenzuela threw a no-hitter of his own?

Wednesday was kind of like that for mound charges.

Tyler Austin’s assault on Boston pitcher Joe Kelly garnered more headlines, but Nolan Arenado’s charge of San Diego pitcher Hunter Renfro came first. Also, it was interesting.

The genesis came on Tuesday, when Rockies pitcher Scott Oberg drilled San Diego center fielder Manuel Margot in the ribs with a 95-mph fastball that pretty clearly lacked intent. (Oberg himself tried to relay as much to Padres coach Glenn Hoffman while he was still in the field.)

Still, the damage was such that Margot was placed on the 10-day disabled list. When it comes to teams harboring grudges, that kind of detail matters.

On Wednesday, the Padres drilled Trevor Story in the first inning, and the Rockies responded by drilling Hunter Renfro in the second. (Both pitches came in two-out situations that would suggest the pitchers had some inclination toward the results they achieved.)

Things came to a head in the third, when Padres right-hander Luis Perdomo ran directly counter to his team’s rock-steady plan of pitching Nolan Arenado away, instead sending a fastball directly at his ribs—as clear a response to Margot’s drilling as could be imagined. Arenado avoided the pitch, barely, then wasted no time in lighting out to get him a piece of pitcher. A backpedaling Perdomo tried to blunt the charge by tossing his glove at the furious batter, which, apart from being highly comical, sort of worked—the glove missed, but so did Arenado, and the fight ended up like so many others, with lots of shoving and not much in the way of actual brawling.

The teams meet again, also in Colorado, on April 23.

 

Retaliation, Slide properly

Fists Fly in Boston After Austin Powers Toward The Mound

Kelly punchesTyler Austin should have known better.

He should have known the pitch was coming as soon as he took out Red Sox shortstop Brock Holt with a questionable slide in the third inning, especially after Holt called him on it when it happened.

He should have known that leading with his foot raised several inches off the ground and well inside the bag, leaping late so that he all but landed on the fielder, would draw the opposition’s ire, even if he intended no malice.

He should have known that wearing one in that situation, even a 97-mph fastball—especially a 97-mph fastball—was his duty as the guy at the wrong end of the previous confrontation. It was on Austin to understand that his play looked bad, independent of whether he thought it actually was bad. Wear it with dignity, and everyone can go about their day.

That’s not what happened.

Boston reliever Joe Kelly held up his end of the bargain, planting a fastball into Austin’s ribcage, at which point the hitter spiked his bat and raced toward the mound. Kelly beckoned him almost gleefully, and proceeded to land multiple blows after Austin’s momentum took him to the ground. The rest of the fight— Austin punching Red Sox coach Carlos Febles by mistake while swinging at Kelly; Aaron Judge seeming to hold off half of Boston’s roster by himself—was no less fraught.

Still, there’s plenty of grey area for quibbling from both sides of the Yankees-Red Sox divide. Austin’s first at-bat following his slide came leading off the fifth, with Boston leading, 8-1. Starter Heath Hembree opted against squaring the hitter’s debt at that point, instead striking the hitter out on four pitches. It’s not incumbent upon Hembree to respond, of course, but were the Red Sox to address Austin’s slide on the field, that seemed like the obvious spot to do so.

By the time Kelly took matters into his own hands two innings later, New York had trimmed its deficit to 10-6. There’s also the fact that Kelly missed on his first attempt, Austin backing out of the way of an inside fastball two pitches prior to the one that ended up drilling him. Austin was correct in his postgame assessment when he said, “I thought it was over after that. They missed with the first one. In baseball, once it happens, it’s over after that.”

It’s important to understand, though, why Kelly did what he did. When an opponent takes liberties with a player’s on-field safety—as Austin did with Holt, independent of severity or intent—pitchers can be compelled to respond. Former Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly elucidated the notion in The Baseball Codes, and though he was talking about it in reverse—using his baserunning to counter a HBP, not the other way around—the logic holds:

“I’ve gotten on first base when I’ve been hit by a pitch and told the first baseman, ‘If there’s a ground ball hit I’m going to fuck up one of your middle infielders, and [pointing to the mound] you can tell him that it was his fault.’ That’s a way you can get them to police themselves. A pitcher drills somebody just because he feels like it, and if one of the middle infielders gets flipped out there he’s going to tell the pitcher to knock it off. Ultimately, that’s all we want anyway—just play the game the right way.”

Tellingly, in Austin’s postgame comments, he seemed about to say, “I play the game the right way,” but caught himself. Instead the phrase he used was, “I play the game hard.”

No matter how one feels about his actions, there’s no denying that.

The Yankees and Red Sox conclude their series tonight.

Retaliation, spring training

Dyson Deals, Davis Ducks: Spring Dustup Has Giants, A’s in Midseason Form

Dyson-Hundley

Intent is everything. If a pitcher wants to hit a batter, and then hits that batter, you can be certain that the batter knows what happened, and why.

When the pitcher didn’t mean to do it, though, things are usually different. Balls slip, plans go sideways, and sometimes hitters have to wear one just because that’s the way the game sometimes works. For the most part, everybody understands this and moves right along without devoting too much energy to the proceedings.

Usually.

Spring training is, by design, a place for players to work the winter kinks out of their games, so it should come as little surprise when the occasional fastball gets away from the occasional pitcher and ends up someplace it oughtn’t. Such a thing happened yesterday, and the A’s weren’t at all pleased.

Giants reliever Sam Dyson didn’t even have to hit the batter, Oakland slugger Khris Davis, to ignite anger. He only brushed him back with something high and tight.

Then again, Dyson had just given up three straight hits, including a double, an RBI single, and a two-run homer to Franklin Barreto, before Davis came to the plate, so perhaps the pitcher was acting in frustration. Ultimately, whether he meant it doesn’t really matter. The plausibility of intent was undeniable, and optics are everything when it comes to this kind of stuff.

Davis immediately had words for Dyson, and Giants catcher Nick Hundley had words for the A’s dugout. Dyson ended up rocked for four runs in two-thirds of an inning.

So a maybe-he-meant-it-but-probably-he-didn’t HBP went from nothing to something based on Davis’ reaction to Dyson, and Hundley’s ensuing reaction to Davis’ teammates. Things grew further inflamed when Roberto Gomez, the pitcher to follow Dyson, hit the first batter he faced, A’s prospect Ramon Laureano, on the hand. At that point intent ceased to matter. The Giants were officially throwing at Oakland, and Oakland felt the need to respond.

The mantle was taken up by right-hander Daniel Gossett, who got into 18 games for the A’s last year as a rookie and is hoping to land a rotation spot this season. After retiring the first four batters he faced, he planted a fastball into the back of Orlando Calixte, inspiring umpire Mike DiMuro to warn both benches against further such displays.* Calixte appeared to want a piece of the pitcher after scoring on Jarrett Parker’s double, but was instead directed to the dugout with no small urgency by teammate Mac Williamson.

Afterward, Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn’t want to talk about the confrontations, and A’s manager Bob Melvin dismissed the entire affair with the sentiment, “Boys will be boys.”

The Giants and A’s face each other six times this (and every) season (and once more in a split-squad game on Saturday), but this kind of thing will almost certainly be left behind in Arizona.

* When it comes to Gossett and Laureano alike, there’s no better way for a new pitcher to earn respect in a clubhouse than by standing up for his teammates. And there’s no more obvious way to stand up for teammates than a well-timed message pitch in response to some perceived injustice.

 

 

Retaliation

Oscar Gamble, RIP

Oscar GambleThe passing of good baseball men is starting to pile up. Just a day after terrible news about Kevin Towers, we learned that longtime outfielder Oscar Gamble has died at age 68.

I spoke to Oscar for The Baseball Codes, during which he told an excellent story about being drilled. It took place on April 18, 1976, when he was with the Yankees, in the third inning of a game against Minnesota. Graig Nettles had just connected for a two-out single against Bert Blyleven to bring home Roy White and give New York a 3-2 lead. Gamble was the next batter:

“Back then, if somebody in front of you hit a home run, you knew you were going to get drilled. I remember a lot of times that happened.

“This one was unexpected because Graig didn’t hit a home run, just a little broken-bat blooper—but I got drilled anyway. It knocked the wind out of me. That happened a lot to me in that kind of situation back then, and most of the time the guy threw at the bottom part of you. They weren’t head-hunting or anything like that. It was accepted in those days.

“When you get the wind knocked out of you, you can’t move. I was out there leaning on the bat—the bat was holding me up. It was one of them situations where you might charge the mound, but you couldn’t because you couldn’t breathe. It hits you right in the upper part of the stomach, where all that wind is. A lot of guys on my team knew it was intentional and were hollering, ‘Go get him! Go get him!’ I’m going, ‘I can’t even move. Hold me from falling . . .’ ”

Gamble eventually made it down to first base, and played the rest of the game. Blyleven and Minnesota won, 5-4, but the Yankees eventually made it to the World Series that season, where they lost to Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine.

RIP, Oscar Gamble.

Retaliation

Kevin Towers, RIP

Kevin Towers
                                                                                                                                               Photo: Mark Sobba

Kevin Towers, longtime GM of the Padres, lost his battle with thyroid cancer at age 56. Despite winning four division championships and the National League pennant in 1998, Towers is more recently remembered for his general managerial tenure with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2011 to 2014. Notable to this space, it was there that he publicly made his mark as an overt champion of old-school retaliation tactics.

It started following the 2013 season, when Towers went on his weekly radio show in Phoenix and talked about how his club was going to adopt “an eye for an eye” mentality when it came to retaliation, and warned that pitchers who “don’t feel comfortable doing it … probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

The following spring, Arizona pitcher Wade Miley—who was notably on the mound all three times that first baseman Paul Goldschmidt had been drilled the previous season, and who had failed to respond to any of them—went out of his way to hit Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in obvious retaliation for Mark Trumbo getting plunked. The move had Towers written all over it.

During the regular season that year, Pittsburgh right-hander Ernesto Frieri clipped Goldschmidt on the hand—a clear mistake, but one for which Towers’ team opted to respond, given that it fractured a bone. The next day, Arizona pitcher Randal Delgado slung a fastball into Andrew McCutchen’s spine.

At the end of the season, Tony La Russa canned the GM.

Agree or disagree with Towers’ inclinations—in the modern game he was a distinct outlier—there’s no question that he gave us all some stuff to talk about. RIP.

 

Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Retaliation

Pham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am: Cards Slugger Upset Over Cub Comments, HBP (Maybe Not in That Order)

Phammed

Losing to the Cubs offers indignities aplenty for St. Louis.

Yielding the pennant-clinching victory to Chicago, as the Cardinals did on Wednesday, is downright mortifying. Doing so at home only makes the suffering worse. Having what seemed like half the stadium cheering for the visitors was downright brutal.

Hearing Ben Zobrist talk beforehand about how the Cubs “intend to clinch there” and how “it’s going to be very satisfying” was enough to make at least one player angry.

Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham was especially pointed in his response to Zobrist’s comments. “He better not ask me how I’m doing on the field,” Pham told reporters. “I don’t want to be his friend. He said he’s going to come here and pop bottles or all that stuff. Don’t say hi to me on the field then.”

It would have been easier to brush aside as surface drama had Pham not been drilled in the ribs on Tuesday, then talked after the game about how “it was definitely on purpose.” The HBP had less to do with his comments, he said, than with Kris Bryant being drilled earlier in the game by a Carlos Martinez fastball that approached 100 mph. (The only thing keeping him from charging the mound, Pham said in a CBS report, was that “I don’t make enough money right now to face a suspension.”

 

He might be right about the motivation. Pham himself had hit a monster homer an inning earlier to give St. Louis a 5-1 lead, and when Bryant came up, two were out with a runner at third. Avoiding the reigning NL MVP with a base open is rarely a bad option.

Then again, Bryant was hit with a 2-2 pitch, which brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate. Moreover, Martinez was all over the place. The pitch before the one that drilled Bryant went wild, allowing Mike Freeman to advance. Then Martinez walked Rizzo to load the bases. Then he walked Wilson Contreras to bring home a run.

The teams played yesterday with little drama beyond Chicago’s champagne celebration (as Zobrist had predicted). With St. Louis battling for the NL’s final wild-card spot, nothing funky should go down when the teams meet tonight for the final time this season, except maybe in the case of a blowout.

Still, drama sure is fun.

[H/T: Christopher C.]