Don't Showboat

Whether ’tis Nobler in the Mind to Suffer the Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune, or Just to Act Like an A-Hole Closer

Pujols arrowAt his very best, Fernando Rodney is ludicrous. His pre-scripted bow-and-arrow routine following saves—during which he pulls an imaginary arrow from an imaginary quiver and shoots it with his imaginary bow—is one of the sorriest sights in the sport. He says he does it for the fans, but is there a bigger cry for attention in the big leagues? More pertinently, is anybody short of those who would be cheering for him anyway entertained by his hack act?

Still, it’s easy enough to ignore. He does it after games have ended, when people are either celebrating or walking somberly off the field. On Sunday, however, Rodney took things a step farther, bow-and-arrowing not toward his usual spot in center field, but toward the Angels dugout (or, he said, the fans sitting above) … and not at the end of the ninth inning, but after protecting a one-run lead at the end of the eighth. In so doing, he broke new ground in the art of closer show-boatery.

Suffice it to say that the Angels weren’t pleased. “He woke up our dugout,” said Grant Green in an report.

When Rodney came back out for the ninth, Mike Trout greeted him by drawing a walk, then scored the tying run on Albert Pujols’ follow-up double. Pujols responded by shooting an imaginary arrow at Trout, and Trout returned fire right back at Pujols. It was as fine an in-your-face moment as can be found on a big league diamond short of actual game play. (Two singles and two intentional walks later, the Angels took care of that, too, with a walk-off, 6-5 victory, courtesy of Green’s game-ending single. Rodney did not reach for his quiver again at that point.)

It must be accepted that closers have their shtick. Sergio Romo does a little dance. Rafael Soriano untucks his shirt. Jose Valverde just kind of loses his mind. One time, Aroldis Chapman even rolled. It goes all the way back to Brad “The Animal” Leslie’s crazed yelps following saves in the early 1980s.

Closer to the Rodney situation was when Brian Wilson did his typical arms-crossed-point-to-the-sky move against the Dodgers in 2009, after which Los Angeles third baseman Casey Blake mocked him for it in the dugout … then took it back when he found out it was a tribute to Wilson’s late father. If you’re going to do it on the field, however, it’s gonna be in play.

All of which is a leadup to some simple advice: If as a closer you’re going to act like a goon, save it until the game’s actually finished.


Albert Pujols, Firsts

For Pujols, Silent Treatment Taken to New Extremes

Hey, where’d everybody go?

Albert Pujols finally hit a home run for the Angels on Sunday, 27 games and 110 at-bats into his career in Anaheim. A drought like this is noteworthy for baseball’s best hitter, let alone a guy trying desperately to justify his new $240 million contract.

It’s also noteworthy for his teammates. So noteworthy, in fact, that they took to celebration in a unique, yet very traditional, fashion.

When a player achieves a noteworthy “first”—usually the player is a rookie, and usually the event in question is his first career home run—his teammates will occasionally freeze him out, sitting on the bench as if nothing eventful has happened before leaping up en masse to congratulate him. Detroit’s Will Rhymes earned such a response after his first career round-tripper in 2010.

Pujols is hardly a rookie, but his blast was sufficient to earn special treatment from teammate Torii Hunter. While the slugger was rounding the bases before a rapturous crowd at Angel Stadium, Hunter quickly herded everybody on the bench—including teammates, manager Mike Scioscia, the trainers and the entire coaching staff—into the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. Pujols received congratulations at the plate from Mike Trout, who had been on base, and the on-deck and in-the-hole hitters, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo, but when he returned to the dugout he found nothing but empty paper cups and the possible tumbleweed. (Watch it here.)

“I thought that would be cool,” said Hunter in an Associated Press report. “I always wanted to do that, and it worked. I just said, ‘Let’s get off the bench and go to the tunnel.’ He was excited about it and we were, too. We had to think fast. When I have a day off, man, I do stupid stuff.”

It worked because Pujols was delighted. It worked because the superstar made a beeline for the tunnel and jovially extracted his teammates, who proceeded to mob him. It worked because it gave the scuffling Angels a rare moment of genuine levity on the field.

If that seems like a bit much to celebrate he 446th career homer for the best player in baseball, Pujols has nothing on Don Drysdale. In 1959, the Hall of Fame pitcher was at the beginning of a long road trip with the Dodgers, in the dining room of the Chase Park-Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, when he received word of the birth of his daughter, Kelly. He took the call not far from the table he had been sharing with Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Don Zimmer, and felt certain that his teammates had overheard the good news. Yet when he went back to join them, Drysdale encountered nothing but baseball talk, nothing but Dodgers and the previous night’s box scores. Like Pujols, Drysdale was no rookie (this was his fourth season), but like Pujols it didn’t matter.

It wasn’t quite the same as hiding in a ballpark tunnel, but it worked. Before long, of course, his teammates cracked and congratulations became the order of the day.

Clubhouse meetings

Albert’s Clubhouse, Albert’s Way: Pujols Calls Out Hatcher

The first rule of clubhouse meetings: Do not talk about clubhouse meetings. This is the sanctity of the clubhouse at its most pervasive, where players—unburdened by the presence of media and sometimes their own coaches—are allowed to speak freely in an effort to right a reeling ship. Things can be said, tempers can flare, fists can fly; none of it matters beyond the clubhouse walls, because the doors are closed.

So when Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher talked about Albert Pujols’ sentiments at a recent such meeting with his teammates—saying that he “essentially stood up and told his teammates that he won’t be flailing as he is all season,” according to CBS Sports’ Scott Miller—it rubbed Pujols the wrong way.

“Mickey should have never told you guys that,” Pujols said, after finding out about it. “That stuff needs to be private. He should have never told the media. What we talked about at the meeting, not disrespecting Mickey, but that stuff should stay behind closed doors.”

Never mind that everything Hatcher relayed was positive. (Pujols reportedly also talked about how he’s been on clubs that have overcome slumps and losing streaks, and affirmed that it can be done.) Pujols’ public messaging should be up to him. If he wanted to say that to the press, he easily could have.

Hatcher played in the big leagues for 12 years. Was a World Series hero. (Hell, he should know these things as well as anyone, having had his Dodgers team spurred into action in the 1988 NLCS by a glorious, bile-filled, closed-door rant from Tommy Lasorda, in which the Dodgers manager ripped David Cone for saying that pitcher Jay Howell reminded him of a high school pitcher, even though that hadn’t quite been the case. L.A.went on to dispatch the favored Mets in seven games.)

To this point in his career, Pujols has known nothing but Tony La Russa’s brand of baseball operations, and is clearly getting used to having things run a little bit differently. He’s scuffling right now, and is apparently very sensitive. He’s also entitled to his privacy—at least in matters that unfold under private circumstances.

For good or for bad, this is now Albert’s clubhouse. And he’s letting everybody know how he wants it to run.

(Via Hardball Talk.)

Albert Pujols, Francisco Cordero, Retaliation

Cards Sensitive, Cordero Indignant, Next Chapter all but Written

Francisco Cordero has some things to say.

That the Yankees hate the Red Sox (and vice versa) is not quite true.

That Yankees fans hate Red Sox fans (and vice versa) is much more to the point. What happens between the teams on the field is primarily about competition, not vitriol. It’s a process involves little actual animosity.

The same does not hold true for the Cardinals and the Reds.

These teams share a laundry list of recent dustups, starting last year with Brandon Phillips calling the Cardinals “little bitches”; continuing on to Phillips starting a fight with Yadier Molina, and Johnny Cueto kicking Jason LaRue onto the disabled list; and more recently to Tony La Russa slyly using the weather report to outmaneuver Dusty Baker just last month.

The latest episode came Sunday, at the end of Cincinnati’s 9-7 victory over the Cardinals—the final moments of what would be the Reds’ first three-game sweep of St. Louis since 2007. They scored eight consecutive runs to beat Chris Carpenter for the first time in five years.

With one out in the ninth inning—after St. Louis had tightened what had been a 9-2 deficit over the previous seven hitters—closer Reds closer Francisco Cordero drilled Albert Pujols with an 0-2 pitch. (Watch it here.)

To watch the response from the Cardinals bench, it seems that Kyle Lohse isn’t the only one doing impressions of La Russa. Acting manager Joe Pettini—in charge while La Russa dealt with health issues—pitching coach Dave Duncan and backup catcher Gerald Laird picked up the indignant we-will-not-be-abused mantle so visibly embraced by their skipper, lighting into Cordero from the dugout as the Reds congratulated one another on the field. Cordero responded in kind, shouting and gesturing toward the St. Louis bench. (Watch it here.)

“The soap opera continues between these guys,” Pettini said in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s always something when you come in here.”

The reality, of course, is that closers, by dint of being used almost exclusively in close games, almost never send message pitches—at least not ones that hurt. That was certainly the case here; Pujols was the tying run, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman were to follow, and the pitch in question was no more than a few inches inside, hitting Pujols on the left wrist.

Pujols himself said that Cordero wasn’t trying to hit him, that it was “probably something that slipped.”

The teams next meet on July 4 in St. Louis. (Brace for the inevitable “Fireworks at Busch” headlines.) If there’s a clear target on the Cardinals, it’ll likely be Laird, Cordero’s former teammate on the Rangers, who accounted for much of the shouting and who, unlike Pettini and Duncan, occasionally takes the field.

“I just told (Laird), ‘Say it again’ . . .” said Cordero. “I thought it was funny that a guy who wasn’t playing was yelling at me.”

It was little more than posturing on the Cardinals’ part, and even they know it. Perhaps it’ll somehow distract Cincinnati in the future, but even that’s unlikely. Mostly, it served only to unnecessarily perpetuate what’s becoming a significant history of bad blood.

(Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman didn’t help matters any when he said on the air that Carpenter was a “whiner and excuse-maker,” that Duncan was “infantile” and that the Cardinals “might be the most disliked team in baseball.”)

“The teams don’t like each other,” said Berkman after the game in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “That’s just part of the deal.”

– Jason