A.J. Pierzynski, Ben Zobrist, Retaliation

Tit-for-Tat . . . for Tit Makes for Interesting Headline, Describes That Which Shouldn’t Have Upset Ken Harrelson Quite so Much as it Did

Robin Ventura and Mark Wegner discuss current events at the Trop.

What’s being talked about is the spectacle. What the spectacle entails is raw, flashing emotion, unconstrained by things like logic or reason. The emotion’s place of origin was the mouth of Ken Harrelson, White Sox broadcaster. Yesterday, it absolutely captivated the baseball-viewing public.

What are you doing? He threw him out of the ballgame? You’ve got to be bleeping me. What in the hell are you doing? What are you doing, Wegner?

Yes, he actually said, “bleeping.” Hear the Hawk rock the rant, everyone. Good times for all.

The money shot involves Harrelson’s homer-centric howls, directed at plate ump Mark Wegner in response to White Sox starter Jose Quintana’s fourth-inning ejection, after the left-hander threw a pitch behind Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist. Like many money shots, of course, it feels kind of empty without some relevant prelude to bring it alive.

Why, for instance was Hawk so riled up?

The answer is somewhat involved, and begins in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s game, also between the White Sox and Rays. A.J. Pierzynski, at first base with one out, was forced at second on a ground ball by Dayan Viciedo. It’s standard procedure for runners in that situation to go in hard at second, trying to prevent a double play. Pierzynski, however, went in late and spikes high, spearing second baseman Zobrist well behind the bag.

“There was no chance for a throw to first base, and he came way over the bag to try and get me,” said Zobrist. “I don’t know what his motivation was in doing that.”

The two shared some choice sentiments after the play, but each eventually went peaceably on his way, and the issue appeared to die there. Pierzynski batted three more times in the game, once with nobody on and two out, another time as the leadoff hitter while his team held a 6-2 lead, and wasn’t so much as brushed back.

You gotta be kiddin’ me. That is so bad. That is absolutely brutal. That is unbelievable. I’ll tell you what—they have got to start making guys be accountable.

Given an evening to think it over, however, the Rays apparently decided that they wanted a piece of Pierzynski after all. In the third inning Wednesday, with one out and first base open, Rays starter Alex Cobb drilled the catcher in the right shoulder blade. According to the Code, Pierzynski offered cause, Cobb retorted with effect, and things should have ended right there.

Except that they didn’t. The next time Zobrist came to the plate—six batters after Pierzynski was hit—Quintana threw his first pitch so far behind him that Zobrist didn’t even have to move his feet to avoid it. This is where Wegner delivered ejections—one each for Quintana and manager Robin Ventura—and Harrelson temporarily lost control of his senses. (Watch it here.)

That is totally absurd! That just tells you—here’s an umpire in the American League that knows nothing about the game of baseball. That’s unbelievable.

When it comes to bloviation such as Harrelson’s, details matter. And in this case, the details validate Wegner. Quintana was making just his second career start, and by appearances had been coached in his actions. Prior to the pitch, Pierzynski set up almost mindlessly over the middle of the plate, and as the fastball sailed wildly inside, the catcher didn’t so much as make a stab at it—almost as if he knew in advance where it was headed. Pitchers usually miss by inches; Quintana’s shot was close to four feet from Pierzynski’s target. Zobrist called it “painfully obvious” in a Tampa Bay Times account.

Ventura expressed shock at the ejection, less for the causality than the lack of warning from Wegner. Quintana offered some odd detail about Pierzynski having changed signs on him and not wanting to mix things up. Pierzynski said he had set up away, but Quintana threw it in. Difficult as it is to believe them, at least it’s the type of thing they’re supposed to say.

Ultimately, the White Sox had taken an extra, unnecessary shot, and a warning from Wegner at that point would have validated their strategy, giving them a freebie by stifling the Rays.

They have got to do something about this, I’ll tell you. They have got some guys in this league who have no business umpiring. They have no business umpiring because they don’t know what the baseball is about. And he is one of them. . . . He ought to be suspended and if they want to keep him as an umpire, send him back to school and teach him what this game is about.

Even as Harrelson ranted, Zobrist simply stood in the batter’s box, a slight smile tracing his lips. It could have been relief at avoiding what might otherwise have been a painful message. Or perhaps he was delighting in the fact that Chicago would be going to its bullpen earlier than expected. Maybe it was simply that justice had been served, and he knew it.

It’s certainly more than one could say for the Hawk at that moment.

This article also appeared, in slightly different form and with an actual photo of Pierzynski’s questionable slide, at Sports Illustrated.com.