Retaliation, Tag Appropriately

Is That Your Glove in my Gut, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Machado tagOpponent of baseball’s unwritten rules: The Code exists as a means of allowing overly sensitive players to exact nonsensical macho bullying on each other under institutional cover.

Counter to that argument: Friday evening at Camden yards.

A generation ago, infielders—primarily first basemen, in the process of fielding throws to first while trying to keep baserunners close to the bag—utilized hard tags as a weapon, a means of relaying to an opponent that issues were afoot. Runners, familiar with the framework, understood this and took it accordingly. Should the message skew out of line, they had their own means of response.

Today, nobody seems to know anything. This is the only explanation for a play in which a baserunner goes ballistic after having been put out by an entirely ordinary tag. In the third inning on Friday, Manny Machado, on second base following a single and fielder’s choice, tried to take third on Adam Jones’ groundball to Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson. Machado clearly did not expect the play; there were two outs and Donaldson could easily have thrown to first to end the inning. Instead, seeing Machado crossing his path, Donaldson stayed close to home.

In his surprise, Machado tried to jackknife out of the way. Donaldson thrust his glove at the evasive runner, his only intention being to make sure he did not miss.

The off-balance Oriole angrily spiked his helmet to the ground even as he was tumbling backward. Donaldson offered only a confused smile, wondering why the hell his opponent was upset in the first place. (Watch it here.)

“I was actually walking over there to pick his helmet up for him, and then he jumps up and starts yelling at me,” said Donaldson in an MLB.com report. “I have nothing against the kid. I don’t understand where it came from.”

Which brings us to the point at which we offer a rebuttal to the sentiment in the first sentence of this post. Pick apart the Code all you want, but it’s impossible to see one of Machado’s forebears so much as blinking at this kind of play. It’s easy to criticize those who take things too far in the name of some imagined construct that dictates propriety on a ballfield, but that construct also serves to give players a baseline for knowing what is and isn’t appropriate. Had Machado been aware of this in the first place, he never would have reacted like he did.

As if to double down on the lunacy, the Orioles then backed Machado’s hissy fit as a team. In the seventh inning, pitcher Wei-Yin Chen first brushed Donaldson back with a pitch near his head, then hit him on his left forearm.

This, then, is the dark side of the unwritten rules (critics, cue the echo chamber): rogue justice meted out without regard for merit. But even in this (an act—hitting a batter out of anger—that is patently ridiculous) we can see some greater purpose. Chen was doing his duty as a teammate, backing backing one of his own, even if he did not agree with him, because that’s what teammates do. There’s no quicker way for a pitcher to build respect in his clubhouse. Still, the the Orioles would have been better served had a player with some seniority pulled the 21-year-old Machado aside and, rather than taking it out on the A’s, suggested forcefully that he check himself. And it’s possible that happened.

Warnings were not issued (perhaps to give Oakland a chance to retaliate for a lunatic outburst), and Donaldson had words for the Orioles dugout as he made his way to first base. The game was too close from that point for things to progress from there, and no response of note was seen on Saturday. If the A’s are smart, they’ll leave this one alone, knowing they have nothing to gain by prolonging hostilities. If the Orioles are smart, they’ll have already dealt with Machado themselves.

 

 

 

Retaliation

1976: Reggie Unhappy with Baltimore Protection

Reggie O'sResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest concerns Reggie Jackson, freshly traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1976, who was unappreciative of the fact that his teammates were getting knocked down, seemingly free of repercussion.

There’s little to tout  about a you-hit-my-guy-so-I’ll-hit-your-guy mentality, but the reality—more prevalent in 1976 than in the modern game—is that if pitchers are given the leeway to command the inner part of the plate without constraint, they frequently will. That command coming at the cost of a few hit batters is a built-in cost … until an opponent entices them to knock it off. Which was Jackson’s point. 

From the Associated Press, June 13, 1976:

Kansas City — An angry Reggie Jackson declared Saturday that if Orioles pitchers don’t hit a Kansas City batter this Sunday, “then, by God, I’m walking off this team.”

“But first, I’m going to fight them all myself,” he said, gesturing toward the Royals locker room. “So I get whipped… So what?”

Jackson stalked back and forth in front of a row of silent, dejected Baltimore players who had just lost, 7-6, on national television, for their eighth setback in a row.

Jackson’s anger — evidently shared by many of his teammates as well as manager Earl Weaver — stemmed from Lee May’s being hit in the head by a pitch from Royals reliever Marty Pattin in the ninth inning.

May was hit in the arm but not hurt in the first inning by Steve Busby. He was the first batter up in the ninth following Jackson’s three-run homer and was struck behind the left ear by Pattin.

The veteran slugger was helped off the field and taken to a hospital for x-rays. His condition was not immediately known.

“If we don’t hit somebody tomorrow, I just won’t believe it,” Jackson said. Still pacing and talking in a low growl, he unraveled the tape which bandaged his injured right wrist and spat expletives.

“But, Reggie, you know Earl’s philosophy on these things,” said a teammate.

“The hell with his philosophy. They hit him in the first inning and the manager says, ‘let’s not do anything.’ And look what happened. It’s time to change that philosophy,” Jackson said.

Weaver was told in his office moments later that his philosophy had been placed under fire.

“I’m beginning to wonder myself,” said the Baltimore skipper, adding, “I have no more to say.”

Sign stealing

Girardi to O’s: You Can’t Hide Your Spying Eyes

ShowalterWhether Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson was signaling pitch location to his team’s hitters is almost beside the point. The Yankees thought he was doing it, and that’s enough.

The dispute emerged at the end of the first inning of Monday’s game, when Buck Showalter raced from his dugout to yell at Joe Girardi for giving Dickerson a hard time from the Yankees dugout. According to Dickerson, the abuse started with Baltimore’s first hitter of the game, Nick Markakis (who hit a ground-rule double).

” ‘I know what you’re doing,’ ” Girardi yelled, according to Dickerson.

This means that if Dickerson was doing something suspicious, it probably wasn’t the first time. The only way the Yankees could be on something like that so quickly is if they were already aware of it and paying particularly close attention from the game’s first pitch.

“Yelling it, body language, pointing at me,” Dickerson said in an MLB.com report. “That’s it. And I’m a grown man, that’s all. I don’t see why he was yelling at me. I just said, ‘You don’t know anything. You don’t even know me to be yelling at me.’ ”

Showalter should be commended for taking up for his guy—which he did in the most visible way possible, with sufficient animation that the benches cleared (watch it here)—but Girardi is the one on solid footing here.

If Dickerson was indicating location (Yankees catcher Austin Romine insisted that he had the signs themselves well protected), he was fulfilling a longstanding duty of base coaches throughout the history of the game. Not all of them do it, of course, but it’s expected—and accepted—that a certain number will.

Coaches may bend at the waist to indicate one type of pitch, and stand upright for another. When Leo Durocher was coaching third while managing the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-1940s, he’d whistle to the hitter to indicate he knew the pitch. (Not only would he take it from the catcher, but he’d also peer in to the pitcher’s grip for clues.) Giants right-hander Ace Adams made a point once of showing him a curveball grip, which Durocher dutifully relayed. Adams, however, threw a fastball right at the batter. That, he said, stopped the whistling in a hurry.

In the early 2000s, the Cardinals were convinced that Cubs first-base coach Sandy Alomar was signaling pitches to Sammy Sosa. St. Louis coach Jose Oquendo handled the situation via a face-to-face confrontation with Alomar, during which he urged (at top volume) the cessation of such activity. That said, Oquendo himself carries a reputation as an accomplished sign thief. In an interview for The Baseball Codes, he admitted to stealing signs “every day” from the first-base coach’s box, but insisted that he used the information only to inform strategy for his team’s baserunners, never passing it along to hitters.

All told, such efforts to tamp down this kind of activity are entirely expected. Which is precisely what Girardi did. As a manager, it’s his job to call out such intransigence as soon as he’s aware of it, at which point it becomes incumbent of the offender to knock off whatever it was he had been doing.

Had Showalter played by the unwritten rules and remained in his dugout while making sure Dickerson laid low for a while, the outcome would have been no different—we’d just have heard nothing about it.

Deke Appropriately

Now You See it, Now You Don’t: The Weekend of Phantom Tags

ChiSox dekeWe’ve discussed the concept of deking in this space for some time, under the auspices that improper execution by middle infielders can be dangerous. (A last-minute phantom tag, for example, delivered when a baserunner doesn’t expect it, can lead to late and awkward slides.)

Rarely, however, do we see two perfectly executed dekes in the same weekend that both lead to game-ending double plays.

On Saturday, Michael Cuddyer, representing the tying run for the Rockies, was on first base with one out in the ninth inning, and took off running. The hitter, Nolan Arenado, popped the pitch into short center field, but all Cuddyer saw was Padres second baseman Jed Gyorko acting like he was fielding a throw from the catcher. When center fielder Alexi Amarista made the catch, it took only an easy throw to double Cuddyer off first. (Watch it here.)

On Sunday in Baltimore, the Orioles had runners at the corners with one out in the ninth, down 4-2 to the White Sox. Chris Dickerson, inserted as a pinch-runner at first base, ran on an 0-2 pitch that batter Brian Roberts popped up behind first, in foul territory. Chicago shortstop Alexi Ramirez lit to the bag as if to field a throw, spurring Dickerson into a head-first slide. Second baseman Leury Garcia made the catch while Dickerson was still at second; though he probably had time to run it over himself, he flipped the ball to first baseman Jeff Keppinger for the game’s final out. (Watch it here.)

The similarity on both plays: Neither runner looked in to see where the baseball was going.

”I didn’t peek and it ended up in the one place where you’re not going to get that awareness reaction from the infielders,” Dickerson said in an AP report. ”Especially Ramirez with the deke. That pretty much got me. I assumed there was a ground ball hit behind me, and he was going to first because I was already there.”

Catchers will occasionally deke runners into easing up by acting as if no throw is coming before fielding the ball and making an unexpected tag. Outfielders have been known to act as if they have a bead on a ball that ends up landing nowhere near them, in order to keep a runner near his base. In 1958, members of the Cubs bullpen went so far as to deke Giants outfielder Leon Washington by collectively acting as if a ball hit by Tony Taylor had rolled under their bench, while it was actually some 45 feet away, in a rain gutter. (By the time Wagner realized what was happening, Taylor had circled the bases.)

Infielders, however, hold nearly absolute dominion over the tactic. (For an extended rundown on the idea, focusing primarily on Lonnie Smith’s basepath adventure in the 1991 World Series, see chapter 9 of The Baseball Codes.) Rarely, however—if ever—have we seen such wildly successful execution delivered so definitively in such a short amount of time.

Intimidation, Umpires Knowing the Code

Homer, Homer, Homer, Plunk: What Else can an Ump Assume?

Hamels homer collageSometimes, intent doesn’t matter.

When Orioles starter Jason Hammel drilled Detroit’s Matt Tuiasosopo on Saturday, nobody on either team felt strongly that he did it on purpose. The fact that there is no such thing as an 82-mph purpose pitch—which is where Hammel’s fateful offering clocked in—did not dissuade plate ump Hunter Wendelstedt from ejecting the right-hander on the spot.

It being the first pitch after back-to-back-to-back home runs, not to mention its location up near the batter’s head, will put a ballpark in that kind of mindframe. After all, the reasoning goes, even if Hammel didn’t mean to drill Tuiasosopo, perhaps he should have—especially after Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila just went deep. When one’s strategy as a pitcher isn’t working out quite as one had hoped—and make no mistake, three straight bombs under any circumstance will make a pitcher question his strategy—the only prudent plan is to change things up.

Put another way: If a team is getting far too comfortable at the plate, make them less comfortable. Starting immediately. (Watch the drilling here. Watch the homers here.)

So when Hammel’s actions followed the script—even if, in retrospect, his intention appears to have been elsewhere—an umpire can hardly be faulted for ignoring the finer points of the situation. After all, there is plenty of historical precedent on which to build. A small sampling, culled from a long-ago post detailing four straight homers hit by the Diamondbacks (which focused more on the outdated unwritten rule of restraint from swinging at the first pitch after back-to-back—or more—home runs):

  • In 1944 Cardinals Walker Cooper, Whitey Kurowski and Marty Marion hit consecutive homers against Reds pitcher Clyde Shoun. The next hitter, Marty Marion, was knocked down.
  • In 1991,Angels pitcher Scott Bailes hit Randy Velarde of the Yankees after giving up consecutive home runs.
  • In 1996, after the Red Sox connected for three home runs against the Angels, reliever Shawn Boskie threw a pitch behind Jose Canseco’s back.
  • In 2003, Astros pitcher Shane Reynolds gave up three home runs to the Pirates, then put a pitch under the chin of Brian Giles.
  • Mike Hegan, addressing the mindframe if not the actual scenario: “In April of 1974, I hit behind Graig Nettles the whole month. Graig hit 11 home runs, and I was on my back 11 times. That’s the kind of thing that happened.”

Former reliever and longtime pitching coach Bob McClure put it this way, in an interview for The Baseball Codes:

We were in Yankee Stadium one time, and I gave up back-to-back home runs to two left-handers. I’d given up back-to-back home runs before, but not to two lefties. Dave Kingman was up next, and I remember [catcher] Charlie Moore calling for a fastball away. He knew better—he was just going through them all. He called fastball away. No. Curveball. No. Changeup. No. Fastball in. No. And then he goes [flip sign—thumb swiped upward across index finger, indicating a knockdown] and I nod. So I threw it and it was one of those real good ones—it went right underneath him and almost flipped him.

He was all dusty and his helmet was over here and his bat was over there and he grabbed them and got right back in there. I threw him a changeup and he popped up to first base. And as he made the out, he rounds first and is coming toward the mound, and I’m trying to get my glove off because I’m figuring to myself, if I’m going to die, I’m getting the first punch in. [Kingman, one of the game’s premier power hitters, stood 6-foot-6, 210 pounds. McClure was 5-foot-10, 170.]

He came right up to the dirt, then went around it, pointed at me and said, “There’ll be another day, young man.” And he just kept on going. I saw him about 10 or 12 years later and asked him if he remembered that incident. He looked me right in the eye and said, no. Just like that.

All of which is a long way of saying that back then, we were taught the 0-2 up and in. Home run, next guy: boom! Knock him down.

All of which goes toward the near certainty that Wendelstedt knew what he was going to do with Hammels in the case of a hit batter before the ball even left the pitcher’s hand.

“[Hammel] had probably 10 to 12 balls slip out of his hand today,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, defending his pitcher in the Baltimore Sun. [With a] breaking ball, it’s tough on umpires trying to judge intent, but they get a lot of pressure from the major league offices. … I understand what the umpire’s trying to do, but it’s very tough for them to judge intent.”

“They claim there was no intent,” responded crew chief Jerry Layne. “Three home runs and a guy gets hit. You’re an umpire, what do you do?”

In many ways, the Code is not nearly as prevalent as it once was. But there are times when people—sometimes even against their better intentions—make sure that it stays at the forefront of people’s minds. Welcome to the milieu, Jason Hammels, even if you didn’t mean to be here.

Earl Weaver

Earl Weaver, RIP

Earl WeaverWith the passing of Earl Weaver on Friday, baseball lost one of its most irascible—and best—managers. Not only was he tossed from a record 91 games, but he inspired then-Yankees manager Billy Martin to threaten that “the next time one of our guys is deliberately thrown at, I’m going to deck Earl at home.”

In his memory, I offer two very brief excerpts from The Baseball Codes. The first, from the book, is about the doctoring of baseballs:

Take it from Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who, upon visiting the mound to talk to pitcher Ross Grimsley during a bases-loaded situation, offered a simple suggestion: “If you know how to cheat, this would be a good time to start.”

The second, about retaliation, was cut during the final edit.

Orioles skipper Earl Weaver was once sitting in the dugout when one of his pitchers gave up a home run. As the batter rounded third, he looked toward the Orioles bench, made eye contact with the manager and extended his middle finger. “What the hell was that?” a befuddled Weaver asked Billy Hunter, one of his coaches. Hunter knew exactly what the hell that was. “You didn’t select him for the All-Star Game,” he said.

RIP, Earl.

Sign stealing, Toronto Blue Jays

Somebody Else Has Accused the Blue Jays of Stealing Signs from the Rogers Centre

Another year, another pitcher making veiled accusations that the Blue Jays are stealing signs from the far reaches of the Rogers Centre.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Some of the accusations aren’t veiled at all.

The latest came from Orioles starter Jason Hammel, who gave up nine hits and four runs over 6.2 innings Wednesday in a 4-1 loss at Toronto. He entered the game with a 6-1 record and 2.78 ERA, having allowed three home runs all season. Wednesday, he gave up four.

“They’re a very potent offense and if you don’t make your pitches down they’re going to get them out,” Hammel said in a Baltimore Sun report. “They were taking some pretty big hacks on my breaking stuff too, which leads me to believe it was something else. It is what it is. I need to keep the ball down.”

Last August, ESPN ran a fairly extensive piece detailing a man in a white shirt who would signal upcoming pitches to the plate from the stands. The Yankees also had some things to say about possible shenanigans north of the border.

The rule here is simple: If a team is stealing your signs from within the field of play, it means mostly that you need better signs. (The Orioles were themselves accused of this somewhat recently.) But if the theft is being done via spyglasses or TV monitors (which is against the actual rules, not just the unwritten ones), it’s game on.

A quick look at the stats doesn’t helpToronto’s cause.

As a team, the Blue Jays are hitting .262 with a .471 slugging percentage and .803 OPS at home, where they’ve hit 42 homers in 828 at-bats. On the road, those numbers are .231/.369/.660, with 30 homers in 937 at-bats. Edwin Encarnacion has 12 homers and a .311 batting average in 25 home games, but is batting .243 with 5 homers in 26 games on the road. Last year the Blue Jays hit 10 points higher at home than on the road, with 20 more homers.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s team ERA is more than a quarter-run better at home than on the road—3.98 to 4.26—so it’s not like visiting teams are experiencing that same type of success inToronto.

Then again, Jose Bautista is playing significantly better away from the Rogers Centre. Either he’s an indicator that nothing is amiss, or he doesn’t like to receive stolen signs.

“When you’re locating your fastball, you’re going to give up some home runs there, but the swings they were taking on he breaking stuff, it was pretty amazing to me,” Hammel said. “I don’t think you can take swings like that not knowing they’re coming. I don’t know. That’s all I can say.”

In Toronto’s defense, all four of their homers Wednesday came on fastballs.

ESPN’s man in white is apparently no longer anyplace to be seen, but the methods a team can use to pilfer and relay signs via in-stadium technology is virtually limitless. From The Baseball Codes:  Indicators range from the digital clock at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium (“You know the two vertical dots which separate the hour from the minutes?” asked groundskeeper George Toma. “One dot for a fastball, two for a curve”) to dummy TV cameras reportedly placed in center-field wells at places like Candlestick Park and Dodger Stadium that would signal hitters with phony “on air” lights.

So it’s not like teams haven’t done this before. The difference is, the others all stopped—or at least the accusations against them did. That hasn’t been the case in Toronto, and we’re left wondering how far the organization is willing to go to win a baseball game.

Robert Andino, Russell Martin, Sign stealing, Willie Bloomquist

Are You Looking at Me?: Basepath Espionage Breaks Out Across the Land

Pablo Sandoval and Willie Bloomquist get acquainted.

Less than a week into the season, and we already have sign-stealing controversies breaking out on both sides of the country. The more prominent of the two came in Baltimore yesterday, when Yankees catcher Russell Martin lit into Orioles second baseman Robert Andino as the final out of New York’s victory was being recorded.

Andino had been a runner at second, which led to speculation that he was either tipping signs or location, or was doing something that looked remarkably similar to tipping signs or location.

Andino was quick to temper following Martin’s accusation, screaming toward the Yankees as they proceeded through their post-game handslaps. (Watch it here.) He later denied everything, calling it a misunderstanding, and came up with the line of the young season when, asked whether the Yankees might retaliate against him, he said, “I ain’t a future teller.”

Martin, of course, is no stranger to ferreting out this type of shenanigan. Last year, he went public with accusations that the Blue Jays were stealing signs at the Rogers Centre during the course of an eight-run first inning against Bartolo Colon. (Joe Girardi backed him up a day later by continuing to mandate the use of complex signs, even with nobody on base.)

Meanwhile, on Sunday in Phoenix, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval took exception to some of the movements of Diamondbacks shortstop Willie Bloomquist, at second base with one out in the seventh, as the Giants clung to a 6-5 lead. His ideas about Bloomquist’s motives appeared to closely mirror those Russell Martin held about Andino. During a mid-inning visit to the mound, Sandoval turned toward Bloomquist and let fly with some choice sentiments. (Watch it here.)

Bloomquist had a chance to argue his side of things only moments later, when a walk to Justin Upton loaded the bases, forcing him to third. Sandoval didn’t want any part of an argument and immediately waved away his previous accusation, but by that point it didn’t matter—if Bloomquist had been signaling pitches, he’d already been caught, and his approach was going to have to change.

Which is the thing about sign stealing: Were Bloomquist stealing signs, his actions mandated little more than a brief warning (and a new set of signs), which is precisely what was delivered. (Arizona did go on to score twice in the inning to take the lead, but both runs came on infield errors; if D’Backs hitters continued to be tipped off after Sandoval’s discussion with Bloomquist, they certainly didn’t do much with the information.)

Things will get particularly interesting should such accusations persist the next time these sets of teams meet, or if other clubs begin lobbing similar indictments toward the O’s or D’Backs. Until then, they’ll likely continue to take ’em as they can get ’em—just like always.

– Jason

David Ortiz, David Ortiz, Don't Showboat, Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Everybody Joins a Fight, Swinging 3-0

Pride, Punches and Papi: Things to do when Your Team is Getting Hammered

David Ortiz charged the mound on Friday. What he thought he was doing was putting an end to some half-baked intimidation tactics from Orioles pitcher Kevin Gregg. What he actually did, however, held significantly more interest. With one inspired charge the guy tore open baseball’s unwritten rulebook, giving us a good look inside; before the game was done, the Red Sox and Orioles touched on no fewer than five distinct sections of the Code.

To recap: Boston hammered the O’s for eight first-inning runs, highlighted by Ortiz’s three-run homer. By the time Ortiz batted in the eighth, the score was 10-3. Gregg—Baltimore’s closer, in the game to get some reps—threw three inside fastballs to him, two of which forced Ortiz to jump backward.

After the third, Ortiz took a few steps toward the mound, pointing and shouting. Dugouts emptied, but no punches were thrown. Once order was restored and the at-bat resumed, Ortiz popped up Gregg’s next pitch to right field. As he ambled toward first, Gregg lit into him verbally, inspiring Papi to cut short his trot in favor of a sprint toward the mound. (Watch it here.)

Enter the unwritten rules.

When your pitching staff can’t seem to slow down the opposition, make things uncomfortable. Boston had abused Baltimore pitchers to that point, scoring 20 runs over two games. (It was part of a five-game streak in which the Orioles gave up 10 or more runs four times.) A pitcher can hardly be blamed for trying to gum up a roll like that.

What’s unknown is whether Gregg requested entry into the game specifically for this purpose. As it was, the right-hander did everything by the book. Drilling a hitter for his team’s success is usually unnecessary. The pitcher’s job in such a situation is to move a hitter’s feet, make him uncomfortable, get him out of his groove. Gregg wanted Ortiz to think about something other than hitting another homer, and in that regard he was wildly successful.

“I take offense to every run scored off every one of our pitchers . . .” Gregg said after the game, in an AP report. “You get tired of getting your butt kicked every night when you come in here, and I’m going to stick up for what’s ours and try to get the plate back.”

This leads to a corollary rule, exhibited here on a purely theoretical basis owing to the fact that Gregg probably wasn’t trying to hit Ortiz (but presented in case he was):

Hitting a guy intentionally is harder than it looks. “As a pitcher, your preparation and your mechanics all prepare you to throw the ball to a spot, usually to the catcher’s glove, and that’s where your focus is,” said former pitcher Shawn Estes, who famously missed Roger Clemens while trying to retaliate for the Rocket’s shenanigans against Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series. “Well, it’s tough to take your focus off that and try to hit a moving object. . . . It’s not as easy as it looks.”

If Gregg missed his target—three times—he wouldn’t have been the first to do so.

Other pieces of the Code in question on Friday:

Don’t swing at a 3-0 pitch with a big lead late in the game. The fastball that Ortiz popped up came on a 3-0 count, with his team holding a seven-run in the eighth. That’s domain in which a pitcher unequivocally expects a freebie. (With such a lead, say the baseball Gods and Kevin Gregg, it’s the least a hitter can do.) “It’s 3-0, they’re up seven, and I think there are some ethics to this game and guidelines that you have to stay within,” Gregg said in the Boston Herald.

There’s little question that the pitcher was sending a message with his inside fastballs. With that swing, Ortiz sent one of his own.

Run to first base like you care. This is where things got sticky. Ortiz, clearly unhappy to have hit a short fly ball, took a few sad steps toward first before starting to trot. Had Gregg not been predisposed to friskiness, it’s unlikely he would have taken umbrage. But keyed up as he was after Ortiz’s 3-0 swing, the slight delay provided all the provocation necessary for the right-hander to profanely urge Papi to step it up.

Plate ump Mike Estabrook tossed Gregg immediately, but it wasn’t enough to keep Ortiz from turning and charging. He ended up throwing several punches (none of which connected), and benches again cleared. Ejections (primarily Ortiz and Gregg) followed.

Everybody joins a fight. This is a no-brainer. From The Baseball Codes: “Most of the Code is about respect for the opponent, but this rule is about respecting teammates. It’s the most basic of sacrifices, and the fact that the majority of baseball fights don’t involve much actual fighting is almost incidental; it’s a matter of loyalty that can’t be ignored. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks called a player’s failure to join a fight ‘the ultimate violation of being a teammate.’ ”

On Friday, Boston’s Josh Reddick took this rule to an extreme. He was on third base when Ortiz hit the ball, and tagged up. Once hostilities erupted, however, he headed for the mound rather than the plate. That was enough for the umpires to declare him to be the third out of the inning.

As if to take things a step further, Red Sox infielder Marco Scutaro—all 5-foot-10 of him—was the first guy to reach Gregg (6-foot-6, 230 pounds), and as such was tasked with trying to slow the big fella down. It can only be seen for a moment in the game footage, but Gregg offers an inadvertently impressive show of strength, tossing around a clinging Scutaro basically by waving his arm.

We could also get into the concept of waiting for retribution, as Sunday’s series finale featured three HBPs and one near-HBP, most of which were likely unintentional. (It was Red Sox pitcher Kyle Weiland’s first big league start, and neither of his hit batsmen bore any hallmarks of intention; also fitting that bill was Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who hit Kevin Youkilis with a changeup.) If there was a message pitch, it came from Mike Gonzalez, who in the sixth threw a fastball behind Ortiz.

After that, though, all remained quiet. Gregg had his say, Ortiz had his own, each club followed up and everybody moved on. Wildness has its time, but so too does order. It’s the Code at work, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Bat tossing, Don't Showboat, Josh Beckett, Luke Scott

Scott Flips Bat, Beckett Flips Out

With all the recent flap about Felipe Lopez’s bat flip against the White Sox, it seems worth pointing out that he’s not the only guy doing such things this season.

Last week, Orioles outfielder Luke Scott tossed his bat with considerable verve after hitting a monster home run against Josh Beckett. This may have gone unnoticed had Beckett not tried to shout him down in the aftermath, then gotten into an argument with the umpire over it.

(Unfortunately, MLB.com’s video cuts away before the bat flip on every single replay.)

After the inning, Beckett was approached by plate ump Fieldin Culbreth, which culminated in an animated conversation during which the pitcher gestured toward the Orioles dugout. One possibility: Culbreth was warning him against retaliation. (If so, it worked; Beckett faced Scott once more in the game, retiring him on a fly ball.)

For a guy so clearly perturbed, Beckett wasn’t much in the mood after the game to deconstruct the moment with reporters.

“What is this, TMZ?” he said. “I thought we were talking about a baseball game. You want to know about bat flips and talking to umpires. I think, why don’t we just stick to the game.”

It’s a fair enough tactic. If Beckett expressed sufficient outrage it’d be all the easier to pin him with the drilling for which Scott seems destined. The one clue Beckett offered up to the press: “These things have a way of working themselves out.”

The teams next meet May 16.

– Jason