Home run pimping, Let The Kids Play, Retaliation

Rangers Are The Latest To Have Trouble Letting The Kids Play, And Ramon Laureano’s Bat Bears The Brunt Of Their Agita

We’ve repeatedly discussed the disconnect between MLB’s official “Let the Kids Play” stance and the reality on the ground when it comes to actually letting the kids play. As is frequently the case, the male ego is a complex creature, and memories can be long.

The latest example began on June 8, in Arlington, when Rangers pitcher Adrian Sampson stepped on Ramon Laureano’s bat—with malice aforethought said the slugger and various A’s officials—after striking him out to end the fourth inning. It was likely in response to the home run-watching habits of Laureano’s teammate, Mark Canha, who’d homered off of Sampson earlier in the frame, earning an earful from the pitcher in the process. “There’s no place for that in this game,” Sampson said afterward, calling Canha’s display “just disrespectful.”

Laureano was so angry about Sampson’s bat trodding that he waited an hour-and-a-half after the game to confront the pitcher, though the players’ paths never crossed.

Fast forward to last Saturday in Oakland. Laureano got his revenge, homering off of Sampson, then stared at the pitcher while walking toward first, and got some things off his chest while gesturing to the bat that he had yet to drop. “I said, ‘Do you remember when you stepped on my bat? You can step on it again,’ ” Laureano recalled for reporters. He had some more words as Sampson began to approach, before finally starting to jog toward first even as both teams surged toward the edges of their respective dugouts and t-shirt designers got busy.

“There’s no room in this game for that,” Sampson told reporters after the game.

In the eighth, Rangers reliever Rafael Montero threw two inside pitches to Laureano before getting a mid-at-bat visit from pitching coach Julio Rangel. Two pitches later, Montero drilled the hitter with a 93-mph fastball. Benches cleared, no punches were thrown, and, because warnings had already been issued, Montero and Ranger manager Chris Woodward were tossed.

That’s all just details, though. The bigger picture—independent of whether Sampson intended to step on Laureano’s bat or what Laureano thought of it or whether Montero’s HBP was intentional—is whether players are actually ready to let the damn kids play.

Let’s check in with Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus about that.

“They’re pimping every homer,” an exasperated Andrus said after the game, in an MLB.com report. “I didn’t know about the beginning of everything [in June], but I was like, well, as a hitter, if you start pimping balls after you hit a homer, there are going to be consequences. At that point it’s a man’s sport in here. If I was a pitcher I’d be pretty pissed off if you freakin’ pimp a homer in the first inning. So after that, I didn’t know it was going to get out of hand, but it’s a bunch of men out there, it gets physical, especially later in the game.”

What Andrus was talking about is a bit unclear. Laurano did the opposite of pimping his homer against the Rangers, going so far as to set the bat down softly. He took his time getting out of the box, of course, but that was in service of delivering a message, not celebrating. Whatever exception the Rangers may have taken, it’s inaccurate to call it pimping.

If Andrus was talking about Canha, the home run back on June 8 came in the fourth inning, not the first, so who the hell knows. (For what it’s worth, Canha was also drilled on Saturday, by Sampson, after homering in his previous at-bat, in the second inning. He did not pimp that one, given that it barely cleared the fence.)

It was at that point in Andrus’ discourse that he reached the crux of his message: “The guys that hit a homer, they’re like 30 years old. [The “Let the Kids Play” campaign] counts for like 20-year-olds—that’s a kid to me. If you’re 30, it doesn’t count as let the kids play. It says ‘Let the kids play,’ not ‘Let the old guys play.’ ”

Laureano turned 25 two weeks ago, and is in his second big league season. Canha is indeed 30.  I guess that makes him an old guy.

Never mind that the marketing staff at MLB certainly had no intentions about limiting the scope of its intended demographic. Or that the narrator of the initial TV spot, Ken Griffey Jr., is 49 years old. What we’re left with is another chapter in a persistently developing landscape that has baseball urging its players toward colorful displays on the field, even as an ever-growing bunch of players takes exception to said displays.

Sometimes, that exception results in a trod-upon bat, which cascades downward in a series of you-did-that-so-I’ll-do-this behavior that ends up with Ramon Laureano getting drilled.

Leave the last word to Canha, the 30-year-old spokesman for the Kids. “I just feel like we need to throw all (the unwritten rules) out the window,” he said in an NBC Sports report, “and just play baseball and have fun.”

Retaliation, Showing Players Up

Hector Neris Really Doesn’t Like The Dodgers, In The Same Way That The Guy Getting Sand Kicked On Him In That Charles Atlas Ad Doesn’t Like The Guy Doing The Kicking

Hector Neris was unable to get LA’s goat on Tuesday, so he upped his game on Thursday. Head-high beanball not enough? Okay, Dodgers, fuck you.

On Tuesday, Neris entered in the ninth inning to protect a 6-5 lead, and in the span of four batters gave up a walk, a single and a three-run homer to pinch-hitter Matt Beaty. This was especially difficult for the pitcher, given that the last time he faced the Dodgers, on June 1, he’d given up a game-winning home run to Will Smith—the first of the rookie’s career, in just his fourth big league game—during which Smith paused to admire the flight of the ball while statue-posing his outstretched bat.

That type of reaction to a game-winner no longer even registers for most pitchers, but because it was a rookie doing the showboating it may well have gotten under Neris’ skin. What is certain is that he wanted to jam it down the Dodgers’ throats the next time he saw them. Instead, he blew another lead on Tuesday, in an even more painful manner.

That was all it took: The frustrated closer followed Beaty’s homer by delivering a 95-mph four-seamer at the head of the next batter, David Freese. A shrug-and-duck move allowed Freese to deflect the ball with his shoulder, but the intent was so obvious that Neris was ejected by plate ump Chris Conroy and suspended for three games by the league.

Look no further than the reaction of his catcher to judge Neris’ intent.

Fast forward two days. Neris is still playing while his suspension is under appeal. Called upon to protect a 7-5 lead in the ninth, he surrendered a solo homer to Alex Verdugo before nailing down the save—after which he turned to the LA dugout and screamed, “Fuck you!”

The Dodgers noticed. Justin Turner, who’d made the final out, took some time glaring in Neris’ direction. Max Muncy was poised outside the dugout, as if ready to charge. Clayton Kershaw, Russell Martin and Alex Verdugo were caught glaring toward the mound from the dugout. Martin may have challenged Neris to meet him in the tunnel under the grandstand. He also appeared to use some entirely objectionable language in describing the pitcher.

Nothing more came of it, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had some choice words for the media afterward.

“We played this series the right way, played it straight,” he told reporters after the game. “And so to look in our dugout and taunt in any way, I think it’s unacceptable. For our guys, who just play the game to win and play it straight and clean. Last game of the series, to look in our dugout, I think that exceeds the emotion. Look in your own dugout. So I think our guys took it personal. I took it personal.”

“He’s blown about eight saves against us over the last two years, so I guess he was finally excited he got one,” added Max Muncy in an MLB.com report. “Whatever.”

That’s not quite accurate, but it’s not far off. The previous time Neris pitched against the Dodgers prior to June 1 was in May of 2018; he gave up three hits and a run in one-third of an inning. In 2017, Neris yielded three straight home runs to blow a 5-2 lead. Over the course of his career the Dodgers are hitting .365 against him, better than any other team, and his ERA against them is 8.49. LA’s slugging and OPS marks against the pitcher top all National League clubs.

As evidenced by MLB’s suspension, compounded frustration is no excuse for head-hunting. Nor is it an excuse for what happened on Thursday, when back-to-back Dodgers stomped the foot of Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins while running out grounders—possibly in response to Neris’ shenanigans.

Unlike Neris’ beanball to Freese, it’s difficult to discern intent in the plays, and the fact that Neris appears to have acted in a vacuum when it came to his beanball might indicate that his teammates aren’t part of this particular beef. Still, such a thing happens so infrequently that to see it on consecutive grounders from a team that drew heat for a similar ploy only last season will doubtless raise some eyebrows in the Phillies clubhouse.  

The teams are done with each other this season (a possible playoff meeting excepted), but so long as the principals remain where they are, there is no question that all these details will be re-litigated next year should anything questionable arise between the clubs at some point in the future.

Image result for charles atlas sand in face
Retaliation

Jake Marisnick Is Willing To Put Up With An Awful Lot From The Angels If This Entire Affair Would Just Go Away

Jake Marisnick still feels terrible. That’s the prime takeaway from Tuesday’s Astros-Angels game, which featured the culmination of a string of events in which Marisnick played the heavy. This is why, even after a retaliatory pitch to his head for which few in baseball would have begrudged him some outrage, the guy quietly took his base and then implored his teammates to pipe down.

These are the actions of a guy who wants this entire chapter to end as quickly as possible.

It began last week, when Marisnick violently collided with Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy after altering his route to the plate. The play left Lucroy unconscious, with a concussion and a broken nose that ultimately required surgery and an extended stay on the IL. Replays looked terrible, and Marisnick spent the ensuing days apologetically trying to explain how it had been his intention to avoid Lucroy, not blow him up. There was no mistaking his emotional distress in having caused such damage. He was suspended by MLB, but is still playing while the decision is appealed.

None of this mitigated the certainty that the Angels would retaliate. It was their guy on the ground. It had been, in their eyes, a dirty play … or at least one worthy of response. And Tuesday was the first time Marisnick had faced them since it all went down.

Had the Angels gone about it properly, it’s unlikely that anybody would have paid it further mind. Instead, reliever Noe Ramirez sent a fastball toward Marisnick’s earhole.

The time of reckoning was obvious even before Ramirez let loose. Marisnick’s first two at-bats came in the second and fourth innings, and even though the Angels had put up an unanswered six-spot in the first, there was still too much risk in targeting him so early. Look no further than a day earlier, when Philadelphia’s Yacksel Rios was tossed from a game for hitting Justin Turner with as unintentional a HBP as can be imagined: an offspeed pitch that broke just a little too sharply. Angels manager Brad Ausmus was unwilling to risk a similar outcome for his own starting pitcher, Andrew Heaney, so early in the game, so Marisnick was pitched to, not at. (It’s rare in the modern game for a manager to explicitly order retaliation, but they’re not shy when it comes to telling their pitchers to situationally avoid targeting a guy.)

Heaney, however, departed in the fifth, in favor of Ramirez. With Marisnick leading off the sixth, the Angels—holding a 6-2 lead—could more easily absorb the loss of a middle-innings reliever. The right-hander sent his first pitch to Marisnick, a curveball, wide of the strike zone, clear subterfuge for the up-and-in to follow. Trouble was, plate ump Stu Scheurwater called it a strike. So Ramirez followed it with another bender, this one even further outside.

At that point, had Ramirez opted to put a fastball into Marisnick’s backside, or even his ribcage, it’s doubtful that anyone in the Astros dugout would have reacted. But that’s not what he did. His next pitch, a 90-mph four-seamer, screamed toward Marisnick’s head, deflecting off his shoulder after a jump and a shrug.

By all rights, Marisnick should have been irate. A mound charge, while hardly encouraged, would at least have been understandable. If ever a pitcher should have been ejected without warning, this was the time. None of that happened.

Instead, Marisnick calmly took his base, refusing to so much as glare at the pitcher. That should have been the end of it. As Ron Washington told me many years ago, describing an incident in which Frank Thomas was drilled intentionally: “We have to wait for the reaction of the guy who it happened to. If Frank had charged him, there would have been a fight. If Frank had raised some hell going down to first base, we’d have raised some hell. But Frank took it calmly and went on down there, the umpire checked everything, and we played baseball.”

That’s not what happened on Tuesday. Marisnick’s calm did nothing to dissuade his teammates’ anger, with the Astros—notably Lance McCullers Jr.—chirping so vehemently from their dugout that Angels first baseman Albert Pujols eventually got fed up and walked over to better engage, even as Marisnick himself urged his teammates to pipe down. The video is remarkable.

Afterward, the Astros were understandably upset—not by the retaliation, but by how it was executed.

“If they felt the need to defend their guy, that’s fine,” McCullers said in a Houston Chronicle report, “but I think the way that it was done was horseshit.”

Astros manager A.J. Hinch alluded to a possible continuation of the beef should MLB fail to punish Ramirez. “It’s a confusing time,” he said after the game. “Either the players govern the players on the field like it’s always been, or we legislate it to where none of this crap happens. They got a free shot at him with no warning, no ejection. We’ll see if there’s discipline. And without discipline, there’s going to be no issue doing it the next time. So, if retaliations are in, cool. We’re well aware.”

That’s not how Marisnick feels. The incident served to distract from the fact that earlier in day, the outfielder was presented with the Astros’ Heart and Hustle Award. By all accounts, he’s a good guy with a good heart who made a questionable baseball decision that ended horrifically. And he’s still upset by it.

“There’s no need for that,” Marisnick said after the game, referencing the situation with Pujols. Then he turned the discussion to actual baseball matters, which is clearly where he’d like it to stay.

Update (7-17): Ramirez has been suspended three games for his pitch, which is one more than Marisnick got for leveling Lucroy.

Retaliation, Umpires Knowing the Code

Pitcher Tossed For Drilling A Guy, And Even The Hitter Thought That He Should Stay In The Game

So when a pitcher comes into a game with his team trailing 9-1 and immediately gives up a double, and then another double, and then a home run, and now it’s 12-1 and he still hasn’t recorded an out, and then, with his very next pitch, he drills a guy, well that’s as obviously intentional as it gets.

At least umpire Doug Eddings thought so. He tossed the pitcher on the spot, no warning necessary.

The problem was, the pitcher in question, Philadelphia’s Yacksel Rios, didn’t mean to hit Justin Turner. The pitch in question, an 84-mph slider that plunked Turner on his back knee, was so inoffensive that Turner himself argued in the pitcher’s defense. The pitch in question was so inoffensive that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler actually tried to enlist Turner to join in as he lit into Eddings.

Ultimately, Eddings thought he was doing something proper, stemming what by most of the indicators could have been the first blow in a tit-for-tat series of reprisals. He acted decisively and with certainty … an instinct that, in retrospect, he’d have been better served to ignore.

As for Turner, why the hell wouldn’t he argue on behalf of keeping Rios in the game? Forget the pitcher’s absence of malice; the guy couldn’t get anyone out. Turner just wanted his teammates to have a taste of the good stuff that the inning’s first four hitters had already sampled.

As it happened, the pitcher who finished the inning for Philadelphia, rookie Edgar Garcia, gave up a single, three walks (one with the bases loaded) and two more runs. The pitcher who closed things out in the ninth, Roman Quinn, is actually an outfielder, and yielded three more singles, a double and two additional runs for the Dodgers, capping a 16-2 victory.  

The Dodgers will almost certainly avoid retaliation.

Retaliation

How To Stand Up For Your Teammate In One Easy Lesson (Some Assembly Required)

There’s nothing Cody Bellinger can’t do this year. He walks off games with walks. He walks of games with home runs. On back-to-back days, no less. Pertinent to this space, he also appears to have mastered the fine art of the subtle dig.

Travel back a week or so to June 24, with the Dodgers battling the Diamondbacks in Arizona. With the game tied, 4-4, reliever Yoan Lopez put LA down without much trouble in the eighth inning, capped by his strikeout of Joc Pederson. Lopez pounded his chest while descending the mound, then offered a little nod of superiority to Pederson en route to the dugout.

The Dodgers noticed.

So when Bellinger hit his game-winner home run off Lopez on July 3, he saw fit to notify the pitcher that the Dodgers have long memories. First came the bat toss and home-plate celebration. Then came the glare toward the mound. Then game the glare toward the visitors’ dugout. It was all prelude, of course, to a mocking chest-bang as Bellinger approached first base.

Much of this was lost in the ensuing mayhem. Apart from raising his arms before starting his trot—standard fare for a game-winner these days—at first blush, Bellinger’s response looked downright normal.

Still, it said everything he wanted it to. Let The Kids Play might be an official mandate, but that doesn’t mean that the kids’ opponents won’t notice. Disrespect comes in many forms, and that’s exactly how the Dodgers took Lopez’s actions toward Pederson. It was a minor affair, hardly worth a retaliatory pitch, but some of Lopez’s own medicine directed back his way?

Perfect.

Retaliation, Umpire Warnings

Let’s Talk About Umpire Warnings

Before we get into umpire warnings and how they might or might not be useful, let’s start with Wilmer Font.

Font is the definition of a journeyman pitcher, playing for five teams in a five-season big league career, with one Tommy John surgery and a few minor league campaigns in the middle of everything. In May, the Rays offloaded him to the Mets for next to nothing, at which point Font’s career ERA was 6.51.

Still, he throws with decent velocity, employs five different pitches and can be stretched out as a middle reliever. And in New York, things seem to have changed. Over the last month, Font has racked up a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings across seven appearances. The Mets bullpen has been in shambles, and the right-hander looked ready to pounce on the opportunity to gain some organizational trust.

Until yesterday, anyway. Font was inserted into the sixth inning of a game against the Phillies with runners on second and third and one out, and the Mets holding a 5-2 lead. The first hitter he faced, Jay Bruce, brought home a run with a groundout. The next hitter, Cesar Hernandez, brought home another run with an infield single. The next batter, Maikel Franco, gave the Phillies the lead with a two-run homer. The next batter, Brad Miller, extended the lead with another home run, then clowned his way to first base. In the span of four batters, Font’s ERA jumped from 4.58 to 5.50.

Of course he was frustrated. Maybe that’s why he sent a fastball at Scott Kingery’s head.

Kingery’s crime, of course, was merely hitting behind Franco and Miller. A leap and a shrug by the batter managed to help him deflect the pitch with his shoulder, but the intent was clear. Font put a pitch someplace that no pitcher ever should, and the Phillies were furious.

Enter plate ump Joe West, and the discussion about umpire warnings. West saw the pitch for what it was, but instead of tossing Font he opted for warnings to both benches. The umpire no doubt knew about the recent history between the teams, notable for a game back in April in which the Mets threw at Rhys Hoskin’s head in response to an ill-considered stolen base.

Still, issuing warnings to both teams precluded any sort of response from Philadelphia for an egregious act, never mind that, apart from Miller’s antics while heading toward first base, they’d been entirely clean. Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler was commensurately upset and came out to argue. It took West literally six seconds to toss him.

The increasingly vital Jomboy broke it all down:

As pertains to the Mets, West’s decision to warn Font rather than tossing him had no effect whatsoever on the game, given that Mickey Calloway pulled the reliever anyway. For the Phillies, however, it generated some constraints.

Never mind the idea of retaliation; with a two-run lead in the late innings, any possible head-hunting notions they may have harbored would likely have been tabled until another day anyway. The warning did, however, increase concern among Phillies hurlers about utilizing the inside corner. Kapler noted as much after the game, saying in a Philadelphia Inquirer report, “I felt like it was going to put us at a disadvantage throwing up and in.”

So what’s the right answer? Generally speaking, clued-in umpires tend to delay warnings until an aggrieved party has a chance to respond. Also generally speaking, Joe West is not always considered to be clued in. Overly quick warnings, like West’s on Tuesday, simply delay gratification for those with retaliatory tendencies. This means that instead of bad blood being contained to a single game, it spills into multiple days.

We’ll see if that’s the case with Philadelphia. Given that two Mets have thrown at the heads of their hitters so far this season, it’d be shocking if we don’t see some sort of response … maybe as soon as tonight.

Don't Steal with a Big Lead, Retaliation

Unwritten Rules As Revenge: After Warnings Limit HBPs, Rizzo Steals While Up 8-0, Baez Watches Homer To Send Message

There were beanballs galore in Denver this week. On Monday, Rockies catcher Tony Wolters was drilled by Yu Darvish. Kris Bryant was plunked twice on Tuesday, perhaps spurring him to take Wednesday off. Despite Joe Maddon’s public insistence that he didn’t think Bryant’s beanings were intentional, the Cubs grew further steamed on Wednesday when a head-high fastball from Antonio Senzatela forced Javy Baez to the dirt in the top of the third. Intentional or not, that’s an awful lot of inside pitches in a short span of time, even for a team like the Rockies, known for working the inside corner. For Chicago starter Cole Hamels, it was the final straw.

In the bottom half of the frame, Hamels drilled Nolan Arenado near his left elbow, a blow that eventually forced the third baseman from the game. Arenado knew exactly what had happened, and got up steaming. “When we buzzed Baez’s tower …” he said after the game in an Athletic report, “I had a feeling it would be me.”

Though tensions were high, no warnings were issued. This made sense. Colorado had taken several shots, and Chicago responded. The circle appeared to be complete.

That lasted until the seventh inning, when Rockies reliever Brian Shaw plunked Hamels in the ankle. It had every hallmark of intention: Two outs, the bases were empty, and the Cubs led, 8-0. With that, hostilities resumed.

An inning later, Rockies reliever Phillip Diehl, in his second-ever big league appearance, drilled Anthony Rizzo in the backside, again with two outs and the bases empty. This was enough to finally draw warnings from plate ump Roberto Ortiz, which left the Cubs unable to respond directly—an especially unpalatable circumstance given that it was the final time the teams will face each other this season.

So the Cubs got creative. Enter the unwritten rules.

It started when Rizzo, on first after being drilled, stole second. This would have been a clear violation of the Code had not it so clearly born a message of discontent. (So uncontested was the steal—Rizzo was not even being held on by first baseman Mark Reynolds—that it was ruled defensive indifference.) Any other time, somebody choosing to run at such a point in a game with that kind of score would become a target. As it is, by the time these teams next meet, the play will hardly be remembered among the litany of everything else that went down.

Ultimately, Rizzo’s advancement didn’t make a bit of difference when Baez, blasted a 460-foot home run into the left field bleachers. Baez is known for his playfulness afield, but he took his time watching this one, and there was nothing playful about it. First, he stared down Diehl. Then he stared down the ball, lingering in the batter’s box before taking several slow, deliberate steps toward first in the early part of his trot. Between Baez and Rizzo, it was a pair of the most obvious messages of discontent one could imagine short of actually drilling somebody.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chicago reliever Brad Brach hit Wolters for the second time in the series, but somehow was allowed to remain in the game despite Ortiz’s prior warnings. Wolters ended up dishing out some Code-based lessons of his own, taking both second and third on defensive indifference before coming around to score on a groundout by Chris Iannetta. That only reduced Colorado’s deficit to 10-1, however, and even then, Baez, who fielded Iannatta’s ball, considered gunning Wolters out at the plate before making the smart play to first.

The final tally had six Cubs hit by pitches during the six games between the teams this season, the Rockies three. That’s on top of the 96-mph German Marquez fastball that hit Bryant in the helmet last season. (That Marquez hit Bryant again last week at Wrigley Field prior to Bryant’s two HBPs on Wednesday didn’t help matters.)

The only way these teams will see each other again in 2019 will be in the playoffs, which Arenado promised after the game “would be a spicy series.” Would it ever.

Bat Flipping, Retaliation, Showboating

Wednesday’s Lesson In MLB: Try Not To Accidentally Hit Guys With Whom Your Team Is Already Beefing

Perception is everything, and precedent feeds perception. On Wednesday, baseball saw two games with hotly contested hit batters, and while there is a strong possibility that neither was intentional, recent history has led those at the wrong end of the pitches to leap to some obvious conclusions.

Let’s start in Chicago, where the White Sox’ series with Kansas City was already steeped in contention, given that the last time these teams met resulted in a rhubarb over a Tim Anderson bat toss. The Royals have already paid him back for that, so when they did it again on Wednesday—pitcher Glenn Sparkman bouncing a ball off of Anderson’s head—the situation appeared ready to explode.

Except for this: It was the second inning of a 2-1 game, with nobody out and a runner on first. Also, it was a changeup—not the type of heat-seeker ordinarily utilized for nefarious purposes. For what it’s worth, the pitch merely grazed the brim of Anderson’s helmet—a terrible location to be sure, but more indicative of a ball that’s riding up and in than a missile aimed at an earflap.

Anderson seemed to realize all of this. Hell, the pitch didn’t even knock him down. While visibly frustrated, he more or less just stood in the batter’s box, helmetless, staring down Sparkman. Anderson’s lack of response was no doubt abetted by umpire Mark Carlson, who emerged from behind the plate and quickly tossed the befuddled pitcher from the game. (“It was a changeup,” Sparkman can be seen explaining on replays. Even Anderson said later that he felt the pitch was accidental.)

Had the Royals not already targeted Anderson this season, of course, there’s almost no chance that Sparkman would have been tossed. As it is, optics are important and Carlson did not want this game to get away from him. Sometimes it’s hard to be an umpire.

***

In Cincinnati, meanwhile, the game was getting away from the Reds, as Pittsburgh built up a 7-0 lead by the eighth inning. That’s when Pirates reliever Clay Holmes drilled Eugenio Suarez in the hand with a 94-mph fastball. There were some moments of immediate heat—Suarez approached the mound for before being led away by catcher Elias Diaz—but things cooled quickly. X-rays proved negative and Suarez is day-to-day.

“I don’t know if they are going to hit me on purpose,” Suarez said after the game in a MLB.com report. “That’s why I walked up to him and asked him if he hit me on purpose. He said, ‘No. Definitely not.’ I just said I wanted to make sure because I don’t like that pitch up and in, right on my face.”

This is believable. Holmes has walked 15 batters in 15⅔ minor league innings this season, and has issued seven free passes in 13 innings since being called up. Outstanding control does not appear to be his thing.

That didn’t prevent Reds manager David Bell from having a say about what had just gone down. So vehement was he when he came out to argue about the pitch that umpire Jeff Nelson ejected him.

Again, this is where optics matter.

In April, Pirates starter Chris Archer threw a pitch behind Derek Dietrich in response to the slugger taking an unusual amount of time to watch a home run that ended up in the Allegheny River outside PNC Park.

In April 2018, Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon broke the selfsame Suarez’s thumb with a pitch, costing the slugger three weeks. Later in the season, Taillon hit Suarez again, this time in the elbow. Never mind that none of the pitches appeared to be intentional, or that as a hitter Suarez could do a better job of turning his back toward inside pitches rather than leaning away from them with his hands exposed—a habit that got Jeff Bagwell’s hand broken in three consecutive seasons. Hitting him again looks bad, so it must be bad.

Bell was fed up by the lot of it. He’d previously instructed his pitchers not to retaliate for such things. That stance may have changed.

“We know they’ll do it,” the manager told reporters after the game in a Cincinnati.com report, explaining his argument with the umpires. “I was doing what I could to protect our players. Clearly, we’re not going to get protected. We’ve got to do whatever we can. We’ve got to take matters into our own hands. It’s unfortunate that our players aren’t going to get protected. That’s been made clear, and we know that team will intentionally throw at people. What are you supposed to think?”

He continued.

“When someone is messing with your livelihood, your career, who knows? You’ve got to protect yourself. Clearly, we’re not going to get protected by the umpires or the league. That’s been made clear. Our players need to do whatever they need to do protect themselves. I’ll back them whatever that is. For some reason, we think it’s OK to throw at people. For whatever reason, that was OK many years ago, and we’re still living some rules that I don’t know about—that it’s OK to intentionally throw at our players. The umpires think it’s OK. The league thinks it’s somewhat OK. Somebody’s going to get hurt. We need to take as many measures as possible. Ours need to do whatever they need to do to stick up for themselves, protect themselves. They protect themselves, their career.”

Bell has already proved to be angry about this topic to the point of incoherence. Still, the closest the Reds came to a response yesterday was when reliever Raisel Iglesias threw an up-and-in, 97-mph fastball to Bryan Reynolds with an 0-2 count, before eventually striking Reynolds out.

What we’re left with is increasingly high tension. Bell has thrown down one gauntlet. Pirates broadcaster John Wehner threw down another on Pittsburgh radio, when he came down on Dietrich, of all people, for his homer-watching ways: “I can’t stand him. … I don’t understand why you have to do that. It’s different if you’re a Hall of Fame player, you’re a 60-homer guy, you’re an established guy. Nobody ever heard of him before this year.”

Wehner also referenced Dietrich’s grandfather, Steve Demeter, a longtime minor league coach in the Pirates system, who he said “is rolling in his grave every time this guy hits a home run. He’s embarrassed of his grandson.”

Let’s ignore for a moment the very old-school notion of players earning whatever leeway they’re afforded by the sport’s unwritten rules; Wehner seems completely oblivious of the sea change that’s occurred around baseball as pertains to celebrations.

However much they angered the Pirates and Royals, displays like Dietrich’s and Anderson’s are entering the mainstream, to the point of approval from MLB’s own marketing department. Pitchers have the right to try and put a damper on them, but that tactic does not appear to be working very well as a method of dissuasion.

At least Royals-White Sox and Reds-Pirates matchups, despite the meat-headedness therein, are far more interesting now than they were at the beginning of the season.

Retaliation

Yankees-Rays Blood Feud Continues, With CC Sabathia At The Helm

Finally, we’re seeing retaliation for something other than bat flipping and the like. Agree with it or not, at least the reason feels somehow tangible.

On May 11 in Tampa, Rays pitcher Yonny Chirinos drilled Yankees first baseman Luke Voit on the left arm with a 95-mph fastball, one batter after DJ LeMahieu had homered. Even if it was unintentional, the optics were terrible. It didn’t help that Chirinos hit Gary Sanchez two batters later, or that Gleyber Torres had been drilled the previous night. “It’s the same thing,” said CC Sabathia in the aftermath. “We hit a home run and they throw up and in. It’s stupid.”

Sabathia, of course, has some history with the Rays. He’s already been suspended this season for the way he closed the 2018 campaign, by drilling Tampa Bay’s Jesus Sucre in response to a Rays pitcher throwing behind the head of Austin Romine a half-inning earlier. Some grudges die hard.

Still, Sabathia’s ire didn’t seem to spread to his teammates. The Yankees had a small opening to respond later in the game, after the Rays opened up a 7-2 lead in the ninth, but did nothing. They had another chance the next day after New York scored four in the top of the ninth to build a 7-1 lead. Again, no action. This would likely have gone unnoticed for the fact that Sabathia has a long memory and a thirst for justice.  

On Friday, in the series opener against the Rays at Yankee Stadium, the lefthander threw a pitch that forced Rays DH Austin Meadows to jackknife out of the way. Afterward, Romine said that he didn’t think it was intentional—a stance that lasted until he saw the video, which left little to doubt:  While walking back to the dugout after ending the inning, Sabathia shouted, “I definitely was trying to hit his ass.” During a tie game.

An inning later, the pitcher yelled at the Rays dugout some more.

“You know CC, he’s been around a long time,” Meadows told reporters after watching the video. “He’s a competitor. He obviously wanted to take a shot there, but it is what it is. Obviously, we had a beef back and forth. It’s part of the game, honestly. Luckily I didn’t get hit. But it is what it is.”

Things continued in Sunday’s series finale, when New York starter Chad Green drilled Daniel Robertson in the head after giving up back-to-back homers. Chance Adams later hit Yandy Diaz in the wrist, knocking him from the game. Robertson said afterward that he did not believe Green’s pitch was intentional, but Diaz was not so certain, saying, in the New York Post, “Maybe it was because I hit two home runs off them [on May 11].”

During the 2000s, the Rays had an extended beef with Boston, eight years’ worth of back-and-forth sniping that led to multiple brawls (all of which was dissected in The Baseball Codes). Now it seems like they’ve picked a new AL East opponent with which to do this particular tango. (Take a look at the above link about Sabathia drilling Sucre to see a rundown of some thorough short-term HBP detritus.)

The teams next see each other June 17 in New York. It would be surprising if things ended here.

Bat Flipping, Let The Kids Play, Retaliation

This Is The New Face Of Baseball Celebrations

Last month, Tim Anderson made clear to us that MLB might not have thought its Let The Kids Play campaign all the way through. It was produced in response to controversy over bat flips both big and little, and other displays of emotion on a ballfield. It was, we were led to believe, institutional approval for players making the sport just a bit more fun.

For that, it worked fine. It just failed to account for whatever’s coming next.

As Anderson showed us, when run-of-the-mill bat flips become routine, players will have to dive deeper, progressing to whatever will grab the most attention next.

We might have seen a preview of that last night.

In the Single-A Florida State League, Royce Lewis of the Fort Myers Miracle—the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft—smacked a ball to the wall in center field for a standup double, and as he reached second base dropped down for some celebratory push-ups. Forget the opposition; even the fans were displeased.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Bradenton Marauders pitcher Gavin Wallace responded later in the game by throwing a pitch behind Lewis’ back, for which he was subsequently ejected.

The Miracle’s official explanation, that Lewis was simply punishing himself for not hitting it out, is about as weak as misguided justification can get. (Batting .233 with no homers in 37 games, perhaps he’s prone to overreach when the rare occasion arises.)

So what does this tell us?

For one thing, at least some of the players who have been crying out for leeway regarding emotional displays are being disingenuous. Even while accepting that tossing one’s lumber can be an expression of uninhibited joy, when the act goes mainstream and players have to up their flip game to draw attention to themselves, that’s exactly what they’ll do. To judge by Anderson and Lewis, they’re already doing it. So it’s not entirely about exuberance. These are type-A athletes who spend their professional lives in the spotlight; Q ratings mean something to many of them.

It should be expected, which is what makes MLB’s failure to expect it especially glaring. Now that the league has embraced showmanship on an institutional level, it’s going to have to figure out how to deal with the aftermath. This is because through it all, pitchers—at least enough of them to matter—haven’t changed a bit. They know better than anyone that some celebrations are simply self-aggrandizement wrapped in a thin veneer of joy, and are commensurately annoyed by them. Guys who pump themselves up at the expense of the opposition continue to be seen as disrespectful, so the reactions of Keller and Wallace should in no way be construed as fringe opinions.

The league ultimately suspended Anderson after his grand bat toss
— not for the toss itself, but for using racially inflammatory language in the aftermath. Perhaps they were trying to send an indirect message. If so, it didn’t take.

“I want to be that guy you don’t want to play against, because I’m a dog,” Anderson told Sports Illustrated. “My team loves it, so I don’t care about anybody else. … I’m bringing something to baseball that’s never been brought, as far as the swag.”

Anderson’s attitude is neither good nor bad, per se. How he brings the swag will make a difference, as will the way his opponents react to it.

This is only the beginning, folks. Settle in for what looks to be a wild ride.

[H/T Bring Me The News.]