The recent series between the Angels and Royals put the power of retaliation on full display. It also illustrated the downside of the practice. While a well-aimed fastball can bring a measure of satisfaction to an angry pitcher, it can also bring longer-lasting pain to his teammates, courtesy of an injured box score.
For an example of this, look no farther than Ervin Santana.
If Santana holds no grudge against Kansas City’s Billy Butler, he hides it well. In the first inning of Saturday’s game, with two out and a runner on second—first base open being an ideal situation for a pitcher wanting to drill a batter—he hit Butler with a fastball.
Then in the eighth, he did it again. Butler—who angrily ripped off his batting glove and delivered several withering stares toward the mound—ended up with bruised ribs, but the Royals ended up with a game-winning rally. By drilling Butler, Santana loaded the bases, and Jose Guillen’s ensuing two-run single proved to be the difference in a 4-2 Kansas City victory.
If the double-drilling is more than a coincidence, and insider grumblings say that there’s something behind it, the source is inconclusive. The last time Santana faced the Royals was May 31, and he won, 7-1. “That’s the best I’ve seen Santana,” an effusive Butler said in the Kansas City Star after that game, “and I’ve had quite a few at-bats against him.”
Still, Butler has been known to anger the occasional pitcher. Just last week against Jake Peavy, he slammed his bat to the ground after hitting a flyball in his second at-bat, eliciting a verbal barrage from the pitcher (which might also have had to do with the fact that Butler homered off Peavy in his first at-bat). It ended there, however, as Peavy not only failed to hit Butler later in the game, he passed up the perfect opportunity to do so when he intentionally walked him in the fifth.
The Royals benefitted from Santana’s miscue, then set out the following day to illustrate how retaliation should be properly executed.
On Sunday, Kansas City starter Anthony Lerew hit Bobby Abreu in the first inning with two outs and nobody on base, a clear response to Santana’s manhandling of Butler. Umpire Jim Joyce demonstrated an appropriate understanding of the situation, allowing two inside fastballs to go unchallenged before finally issuing a warning once Abreu was drilled.
Lerew retired the next hitter, Torii Hunter, to escape the inning, and set down Los Angeles in order in the second. While the Angels’ four-run rally in the third—highlighted by Hunter’s three-run homer—wasn’t a direct result of Abreu’s being hit, the moment might have served as inspiration.
“When Bobby got hit—we saw him trying to hit him, three pitches inside, he definitely tried to hit him—I think it kind of woke up the sleeping dogs over here and the guys started swinging the bat,” Hunter said on the Angels’ Web site.
The Angels ultimately won, 11-0, which made Butler’s revenge the likely highlight of the day for Kansas City. Coming up on Friday: Royals-White Sox, just in case Peavy yet has a message to convey.