The primary question after Carlos Quentin charged Zack Greinke yesterday was one of situational awareness: Was it incumbent upon Quentin to take action in response to a circumstance in which no right-thinking pitcher would intentionally drill an opponent?
Unless the primary question had to do with motivation: Was there something in the history between hitter and pitcher to inspire action in a situation which did not otherwise appear to call for it?
That is, unless the question we’re asking was one of provocation: Was it Greinke’s post-drilling stance—glove tossed, epithets hurled—that actually served as Quentin’s impetus?
In the end, because Greinke’s broken collarbone will extend the ramifications of this brawl for months, all these questions—and more—will continue to be asked for the forseeable future.
Pertinent details: Quentin, leading off the sixth inning of yesterday’s game in San Diego, was hit in the bicep with a Greinke pitch, dropped his bat, had a brief word with the pitcher, then charged. He threw Greinke to the ground; once the ensuing dogpile broke up, Greinke emerged with a broken collarbone. (Watch it here.)
More details: It was a full-count pitch, with the Dodgers holding a one-run lead, and, had Greinke not left the game, would have forced him to face San Diego’s four-five-six hitters from the stretch. Under no circumstances was this an appropriate situation for vendetta enforcement. (The closest thing to a response-worthy situation earlier in the game was the 0-2 pitch Padres starter Jason Marquis sent toward the head of Matt Kemp in the first inning, but it was easily avoided and tempers did not appear to flare.)
“We’re in a 2-1 game and on a 3-2 pitch to a guy that I see on the [score]board set a record for the Padres by getting hit, a guy who basically dives into the plate,” said irate Dodgers manager Don Mattingly after the game, in an MLB.com report. “In a 2-1 game, we’re trying to hit him, 3-2? It’s just stupid is what it is.”
Another pertinent detail pertains to what Greinke said between his pitch connecting and the batter charging. Quentin did not appear ready to head toward the mound until the pitcher responded to his bristling with what appears to be, based on the video, a solid “fuck you.” Regardless of Greinke’s innocence when it comes to the pitch itself, verbally provoking a guy who outweighs you by 45 lbs. is rarely somebody’s best option.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” said Quentin. “Myself and Greinke have a history. It dates back a few years. You guys can look it up. It’s documented. It could have been avoided. You can ask Zack about that. For me, I’ve been hit by many pitches in my career. I think you guys know that. I can tell you I’ve never responded in that fashion, so you guys can do your homework on that.”
Because Quentin left the details vague, we can only assume that he’s talking about opening day in 2009, when Greinke, then with Kansas City, hit Quentin, then with the White Sox, in the back. Combined with a pitch earlier in the game that nearly hit Quentin in the head, it inspired the batter to step toward the mound, though not much came of it—until yesterday.
Greinke has hit Quentin three times, more than any other player, but Quentin is generally hit more than any other player—he led the National League in HBPs each of the last two seasons, with six top-5 finishes in his career. (From ESPN: Quentin has also been hit four times by Nick Blackburn, and three times each by Erik Bedard and Jon Lester. He’s also been hit twice by 18 guys. ) He didn’t quite lean into Greinke’s pitch, the topic should be well within his comfort zone.
“I’ve never hit him on purpose,” Greinke said. “I never thought of hitting him on purpose. He always seems to think that I’m hitting him on purpose, but, I mean, that’s not the case. I actually thought it was just a ploy to get people to not throw inside to him. I just feel like he’s trying to intimidate people to throw away. But I don’t know anyone who has hit him on purpose. I know I haven’t. Like I said, I hadn’t even thought about hitting him on purpose before.”
This isn’t the first time a pitcher has been injured in such a fashion. Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee was seriously injured after Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles dropped him on his shoulder during a brawl in 1976. (Lee didn’t even spark the fight—Lou Piniella did, by attempting to kick the ball out of Carlton Fisk’s glove in a play at the plate. Fisk responded by tagging the runner again, this time hard on the head, and things escalated from there.) Nettles picked up the pitcher on the outside of the scrum, but unlike Greinke’s injury it was Lee’s pitching shoulder that was injured; it took him years to recover fully. (Nettles was drilled by the Red Sox two days later, but because he was leading off the 10th inning of a scoreless game, it’d hard to think it was intentional.)
Tommy John suffered a similar injury while trying to fend off a charging Dick McAuliffe in 1968. John’s tweaked shoulder forced an alteration in his delivery that eventually led to an elbow blowout—which resulted in the pioneering surgery that still informally bears his name.
Details from Thursday’s fight—Quentin’s body slam, the Dodgers’ drawn-out anger, Kemp going after Quentin in the players’ parking lot after the game—are incidental.
What matters most to the Dodgers is the amount of time they’ll be without one of the game’s best pitchers, signed in the off-season to a six-year, $147 million contract. Mattingly suggested that Quentin be suspended for the duration of Greinke’s DL stay, but that almost certainly won’t happen. (A six-game suspension is likely, especially considering that Greinke’s injury could just as well have been triggered by the scrum of Padres on top of him in the aftermath as by Quentin’s initial throw-down).
The other question is how long this will linger, and to what extent. Quentin said that “for me, the situation is done,” but MLB is bound to have something to say on the matter.
So will the Dodgers. “There probably is [bad blood] now,” said Greinke. “I don’t know if there was before.” This despite the fact that numerous Padres players reportedly apologized to their Dodgers counterparts as the field cleared.
Also in the crosshair is San Diego’s backup catcher, John Baker, whose verbal delight following Greinke’s injury helped cause the skirmish to re-flare before all the players had even left the field.
San Diego visits the Dodgers on Monday for the first of what will be 15 more games between the teams this season.
Update (4-13): Quentin has drawn an eight-game suspension for his inability to read a game situation, or some such.