Shocking absolutely nobody, the Rays activated Evan Longoria from the DL today and designated Felipe Lopez for assignment.
That’s what happens when you throw bats, fail to hustle and hit .222.
It may be over; it may be just beginning.
After the White Sox took notable and on-field exception to the blatant bat flip by Tampa Bay’s Felipe Lopez last week, the teams squared off yesterday for the first time since the incident.
Most of the game was too close to reasonably expect retaliation, were it forthcoming. Through Lopez’s first three at-bats the Rays led by three or fewer runs—not nearly enough for the Sox to give them free opportunities to pad their lead.
When Lopez came to the plate in the eighth inning, however, it was 4-0. And with an 0-2 count, he blasted a pitch from Matt Thornton over the wall in left. (In all he went 3-for-4 with a double and the home run, the stat line of a clearly unmarked man.)
Perhaps 4-0 was too close for Ozzie Guillen’s tastes, or perhaps Thornton opted against furthering the confrontation, especially once he got two quick strikes on the batter. It’s possible that Lopez’s apology after the initial act diffused the situation entirely.
Still, there’s enough gray area here to merit keeping an eye on the situation through the rest of the series.
Most baseball retaliation looks the same: a pitcher throwing a ball as hard as he can at the backside, legs or ribs of an opposing batter.
Sometimes, though, batters get theirs, too. Unfortunately for them, their actions rarely hold the same weight; whereas a vengeance-minded pitcher can be seen as sticking up for his teammates, his counterpart at the plate is often looking out only for himself. Such displays frequently resemble hot-headed reaction far more than they do retaliation.
Case in point: Felipe Lopez. On Saturday, the Rays’ third baseman took an inside pitch in the ninth inning from White Sox reliever Chris Sale that apparently didn’t meet his liking.
Lopez hit the next pitch out of the park, and as part of his follow-through whipped his bat toward the mound. (Watch it here.)
Needless to say, this was not taken well by pretty much anybody on the field. Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski was waiting for him when he crossed the plate, delivering a sternly worded message while gesturing toward the mound. Lopez’s body language looked as if he was trying to deny intent; had he been aggressive, it’s not difficult to picture a fight breaking out.
The Sox weren’t the only ones upset.
“That’s not who we are. That’s not how we play,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said Sunday in the St. Petersburg Times . “I’m not into the end zone demonstration that much. I think we’ve really morphed into this, I believe, very classy group over the last several years and I want to maintain that kind of thought about us. I don’t even want to say image—you think about the Rays, you think these guys handle themselves in a certain way. So we don’t do that here.”
It’s a point that Maddon had to make. Forget the image he’s trying to maintain—outbursts like Lopez’s can lead not just to his own potential peril, but can put his teammates in danger, as well.
It’s difficult to believe that Lopez, who’s in his 11th season, didn’t understand the potential repercussions of his actions. Then again he’s with his eighth team (not counting two stints with St. Louis), and was cut by the Cardinals last year after ongoing bouts of unprofessionalism. With that in mind, selfish behavior shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. (He couldn’t have had much of an issue with Sale, who’s in just his second season and who has now faced Lopez all of twice.)
Such is the power of Joe Maddon that Lopez took the surest available path to absolution, calling Ozzie Guillen after the game to apologize. (Maddon even went also recalled that Roy Halladay once called him to apologize after some inflammatory comments he inadvertently made, and that the gesture was appreciated.)
If any part of this affair went according to the Code, it was the entire array of responses. As in, outside of Maddon decrying the general spectacle of it all, everybody denied pretty much everything.
“It was unfortunate, but I wasn’t trying to do that,” Lopez said in the St. Petersburg Times. “I wasn’t mad at anything. The bat, it slipped, and it went over there. I think if I tried to do that, it wouldn’t happen.”
Pierzynski denied there was a confrontation at the plate, saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I just said hi. He lives down the street from me in Orlando, and I was asking how his house was.”
Guillen, after receiving Lopez’s call: “I don’t think he meant to throw (the bat) to the pitcher.”
Still, in order to give heads some time to cool, Maddon held Lopez out of yesterday’s game. It only buys about a week; the Rays visit Chicago on April 18.
Thanks to reader Russ Buker in St. Petersburg for the heads up.