A.J. Pierzynski, Felipe Lopez, Joe Maddon, Ozzie Guillen, Retaliation

Lopez Bat Toss Sparks Quick Confrontation, String of Ludicrous Denials and, Ultimately, an Apology

A.J. Pierzynski is less than appreciative of Felipe Lopez's bat toss Saturday.

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.

– Jason

Thanks to reader Russ Buker in St. Petersburg for the heads up.

Mark Buehrle, Ozzie Guillen, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

Buehrle Drills Cuddyer (Yawn), then Almost Admits Intent (Really?)

That Mark Buehrle intentionally drilled Michael Cuddyer yesterday is hardly unusual. White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko had been hit on the upper lip by Carl Pavano in the first, and Cuddyer was Minnesota’s leadoff hitter in the second.

Umpire Jerry Crawford delayed his warnings, Buehrle hit Cuddyer in the shoulder blade, and, as is proper when this sort of thing happens, everybody moved on. (Watch it here.)

Until after the game, anyway, when Buehrle actually talked about his motivation.

“When I’m told to do something I try to go out there and do it to the best of my ability,” he told reporters. “Obviously you got to protect your guys.”

Rare is the instance when a pitcher admits to something like this, even in as roundabout a way as Buehrle. It’s tantamount to public confession, and, although Buehrle’s statement is probably too vague to fall into this category, frequently leads to discipline from the league.

Of course, Buehrle knows a thing or two about following Ozzie Guillen’s orders when it comes to things like this. I’ve excerpted this section before, but it bears repeating. From The Baseball Codes:

In 2006, Ozzie Guillen quickly identified Texas’s Hank Blalock as a target for retaliation after Rangers pitcher Vicente Padilla twice hit Chicago catcher A. J. Pierzynski during a game. That was the plan, anyway. Filling the space between conception and exe¬cution, however, was Guillen’s choice of executioner: rookie Sean Tracey.

The right-hander had appeared in all of two big-league games to that point and was understandably nervous. Even under optimal circumstances he didn’t have terrific control, having led the Carolina League in wild pitches two years earlier, while hitting twenty-three batters. When Tracey was suddenly inserted into a game at Arlington Stadium with orders to drill the twentieth major-league hitter he’d ever faced, it was hardly because he was the best man for the job. To Guillen, Tracey was simply an expendable commodity, a reliever whose potential ejection wouldn’t much hurt the team, especially trailing 5–0, as the Sox were at the time. . . .

When the right-hander’s first pitch to Blalock ran high and tight but missed the mark, Tracey did what he’d been taught in the minors, sending his next pitch to the outside corner in order to avoid suspicion. Blalock tipped it foul. When Tracey’s third effort was also fouled back, for strike two, the pitcher altered his strategy and decided to go after the out, not the batter.

According to his manager, it was the wrong decision. After Blalock grounded out on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Guillen stormed to the mound and angrily yanked Tracey from the game. He didn’t let up after they returned to the dugout, berating the twenty-five-year-old in front of both his teammates and a television audience. With nowhere to hide, Tracey sat on the bench and pulled his jersey up over his head, doing his best to disappear in plain sight. Two days later, without making another appearance, he was returned to the minor leagues, and during the off¬season was released. . . .

Ultimately, Tracey shouldered the responsibility for his actions, saying he “learned from it,” but the lesson was lost on his more tenured teammate, Jon Garland, a seven-year veteran en route to his second consecutive eighteen-win season. Before Padilla’s next start against the White Sox, Guillen launched a pre-emptive verbal sortie, positing to members of the media that if the Rangers right-hander hit any Chicago player, retribution would be fast and decisive. His exact words: “If Padilla hits somebody, believe me, we’re going to do something about it. That’s a guarantee. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but something’s going to happen. Make sure [the Rangers] know it, too.” Padilla did, in fact, hit Chicago shortstop Alex Cintron in the third inning, at which point it didn’t take much predictive power to see that a member of the Texas lineup would soon be going down. The smart money was on the following inning’s leadoff hitter, second baseman Ian Kinsler.

The smart money was correct, but the payoff left something to be desired. Garland’s first pitch sailed behind Kinsler, a mark clearly missed. Plate umpire Randy Marsh, well versed in the history between the clubs, opted against issuing a warning, effectively granting Garland a second chance. The pitcher didn’t exactly seize the opportunity, putting his next pitch in nearly the same place as the first. At this point, Marsh had no choice—warnings were issued and hostilities were, willingly or not, ceased. Guillen rushed to the mound for a vigorous discussion about the merits of teammate protection. Kinsler ultimately walked, and after the inning Guillen reprised his dugout undressing of Sean Tracey, spewing invective while Garland listened and the White Sox batted.

Buehrle was with the White Sox at the time, and is all too aware of the repercussions that come with failing to follow his skipper’s orders. (Not that he wouldn’t have done it on his own, anyway.)

He still has to work on keeping these things to himself, but at least Guillen— the league’s poster child for saying far more than he should—has little to hold over him in this regard.

– Jason

Brett Carroll, Ozzie Guillen, Retaliation

Guillen Makes His Case for Early Retaliation

One of the beautiful aspects of the unwritten rules is the huge amount of interpretation involved—the gray area between the boundaries of what opposing managers or players might consider to be appropriate.

Leave it to Ozzie Guillen to stomp right through that gray area, leaving footprints all over the Code in the process.

The situation yesterday: Florida led the White Sox 7-0 in the fourth inning when Marlins outfielder Brett Carroll, who had just been unintentionally hit by a pitch, swiped second. Two outs later, with Carroll on third, Gaby Sanchez stole another base for the Marlins.

Guillen felt obliged to respond.

When Carroll next came to the plate, with one out in the fifth, he was drilled again—this time with purpose.

“This is baseball, you have to respect,” Guillen said after the game, addressing the situation. “We had to do something about it, and we did.”

There are two camps for considering Guillen’s actions.

  • Pro: A seven-run lead is almost universally considered sufficient to shut down the running game.
  • Anti: Most people in baseball consider the fourth inning to be too early for that to happen. The fifth is generally the first frame in which a manager considers a blowout score when plotting his team’s strategy; even then, many push it back to the sixth or seventh.
  • Pro: Guillen made the point that his team was last in hitting and runs scored in the American League. While that’s not quite accurate—Seattle hits worse, and four teams have scored fewer runs—lack of ability on either the offense or pitching staff is a valid consideration as it relates to comebacks. Granted, it makes more sense for the team on the positive end of a lopsided score to invoke this clause as an excuse for continuing to run while holding a sizeable lead than it does  the team trying to dig its way out of a hole.
  • Anti: The retaliatory strike, combined with Guillen’s postgame bemoaning of his club’s offensive struggles, smacks of frustration, not respect. The Code is about the motivation behind the deed as much as the deed itself, and frustration is rarely an acceptable call to action.
  • Pro: From Sox pitcher Freddy Garcia: “It’s 7-0, it’s not a good thing to steal a base. That’s no respect for the other team. Whatever happens happens, but it’s not showing respect. It’s 7-0 when you steal second and third. I think it’s bad baseball.”
  • Anti: Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, to ESPNChicago.com: “We were still holding the guy on base. Usually unless you have a double-digit lead you [can] steal a base.

One thing in Guillen’s favor is consistency. When asked about this very subject several years ago, his answer meshed perfectly with his actions yesterday: “To me the rule is, if you’re up by six, then you stop. If you’re up less than six you should be running, because any team in the American League can score 10 runs in one inning.”

Two innings after Chicago meted out retribution against Carroll, the Marlins responded in kind, drilling White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the right elbow. (Such is the curse of being A.J. Pierzynski; you end up targeted even when you’ve done nothing wrong.)

For his part, Pierzynski toed the line of the Code, denying to the Chicago Tribune that it had been intentional, and that pitcher Dan Meyer just “threw inside and it got away.”

The most true quote about the situation came from Konerko, who said, “As far as the unwritten rule, if you ask five different guys you are going to get five different answers.”

It’s true. And it’s beautiful.

– Jason