Retaliation

Delayed Gratification: Pittsburgh Strikes Back, a Month Later

The hubbub surrounding Brandon Phillipsaccusations of racism helped obscure a profound truth about baseball’s unwritten rules: Teams will wait as long as is necessary to respond to events in which they feel they’ve been significantly wronged.

Phillips getting drilled Monday was at the heart of it, but had little to do with the genesis of the situation. It began on Aug. 3, when Reds closer Aroldis Chapman drilled Andrew McCutchen with a 101-mph fastball. The following day, Reds starter Mike Leake hit Josh Harrison, then descended the mound toward him to deliver a follow-up message.

Of concern to the Pirates was the fact that umpire Brian Gorman issued warnings after the latter incident. It was, I wrote at the time, “an unfortunate development that precluded—correction, delayed—any type of Pittsburgh response.”

The delay is now over. In the eighth inning Monday, Pittsburgh reliever Jared Hughes placed a fastball into Phillips’ left leg. It certainly looked intentional, although the surrounding factors—a 3-3 tie with one out in the eighth is not the prototypical moment for retaliation; a hitter like Phillips, who can run, is not an ideal target, especially with Joey Votto lurking two batters later; and catcher Rod Barajas reached out as if to catch a wayward pitch—suggest otherwise.  (Watch it here.)

Phillips got in some jabs of his own, first picking up the baseball and tossing it toward Hughes—this is the act that is widely assumed to have precipitated Phillips’ post-game tweet claiming racism—then stealing second. (He did not score, and the game went 14 innings.)

As McCutchen jogged toward his dugout following the Reds’ half of the eighth, a clearly perturbed Phillips engaged him with a clear message for somebody on the Pittsburgh bench. That turned out to be Hughes, but by Tuesday the feuding participants reached an accord. Nobody was hit in last night’s game, and no fireworks are anticipated for the teams’ four meetings through the end of the season.

Brandon Phillips, Deke Appropriately, Starlin Castro

Deke Softly and Carry a Big Stick: Castro Falls for Misdirection, Gets Himself Gunned

Contrary to Brandon Phillips’ actions, no ball was headed his way.

Starlin Castro has for the duration of his career been criticized for an ongoing failure to pay requisite attention during the course of a baseball game. From forgetting the number of outs in an inning (which kept him from attempting to turn what would have been an inning-ending double-play against the Giants), to failing to slide into second on a stolen-base attempt, to facing the wrong way as his pitcher was delivering the baseball, the guy’s career has been a laundry list of mental lapses that temper an exceptional skill set.

The latest came on Friday—though to be fair, this time the All-Star had some help in botching things up.

That assistance came courtesy of Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. Castro, at first base, took off on a stolen-base attempt—itself a questionable move, what with the Cubs down five runs—as Josh Vitters singled to right. Phillips acted as if he were about to receive a throw from the shortstop for a play at second; despite Castro having the entire left side of the field in his direct line of sight, he somehow fell for it. (Watch here, at the 1:16 mark.)

Castro was deked into a full stop, and by the time he figured out what was happening and tried to motor to third, it was far too late. Xavier Paul threw the ball in to Phillips, who relayed it to third baseman Wilson Valdez, who tagged Castro for an easy out.

After the game, Alfonso Soriano said in an ESPN Chicago report that Castro “needs to concentrate more on the game.” This is undoubtedly true, but it also helps to understand the basics of Phillips’ misdirection.

“You know not to trust middle infielders—it’s their job to deke,” said longtime middle infielder Bip Roberts.

If Castro (a middle infielder himself) lost track of the ball between the plate and the spot in right field where it eventually landed, he always had third base coach Pat Listach (a former middle infielder) to clue him in. Then again, if a guy can’t be reliably counted on to face the game when fielding his position, it’s probably too much to ask that he pay attention to coaches when running the bases.

“A ball is hit, and I’m supposed to know where that ball falls at all times,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington. “If I run blind and get deked out, whose fault is that? Is that the infielder who deked me out, or is that my fault for not knowing what’s going on?”

Lonnie Smith, of course, was deked by Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch in the seventh game of the 1991 World Series—a play that likely cost Atlanta a vital run in a game they ended up losing, 1-0, in 10 innings. Smith, however, was 35 years old, a 14-year veteran and on the game’s biggest stage. Castro is only 22, and, one would hope, is still at the early end of his learning curve.

Still, said Cubs manager Dale Sveum after the game, according to MLB.com, “If you’re going to steal a base five runs down, you better [darn] well know where the ball’s hit.”

Retaliation, Tony La Russa

La Russa’s All-Star Snubs Have Cincy Clubhouse Crying Foul

Johnny Cueto: Still not an All-Star.

Remember when Brandon Phillips called the Cardinals “little bitches,” and in the ensuing fight Johnny Cueto kicked Jason LaRue onto the disabled list for nearly the final two months of the 2010 season, effectively ending his career?

So does Tony La Russa, who proved Sunday that baseball retaliation can take myriad shapes.

There’s no way to prove it, of course, short of La Russa admitting as much, but the ex-manager, picking reserves for the National League All-Star team, conspicuously left Phillips and Cueto off the roster.

Both are worthy of inclusion; then again, the guys La Russa ended up picking are also fine choices. That wasn’t good enough for Reds manager Dusty Baker.

“A snub like that looks bad,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Johnny and Brandon were at the center of a skirmish between us and the Cardinals. Some of the Cardinals who aren’t there anymore are making some of the selections.”

Joey Votto chimed in as well, saying that he was “frustrated” and “disappointed.” Cueto took things a step further, adding “I don’t if know the manager of All-Star Game is pissed at me because I went out with one of his girlfriends.” (Stay classy, Johnny Cueto.)

Snubs happen every year, of course—which is probably where this discussion would have ended had La Russa himself not spoken up, telling the Enquirer that Baker was “attacking my integrity” and that “no way am I going to penalize anybody for any kind of past history.”

Which would have been fine, except that La Russa then tried to justify his position by pointing out that Cueto will be pitching on the Sunday prior to the game. In 2010, MLB implemented a rule stating that pitchers who start on the Sunday before the All-Star break are to be replaced on the roster. This year, they changed it a bit. From the new collective bargaining agreement, as reported by the Enquirer: Any pitcher who starts a game the Sunday prior to the All-Star Game “shall have the option to participate,” but “will not be permitted to pitch for more than one inning” and can set his own pitch count.

Well, then. It’s difficult to believe that La Russa was not made aware of this.

The manager is within his rights to pick whoever he wants, and to leave off those players he’d rather avoid over several days in Kansas City. But like the pitcher who admits to hitting a batter intentionally, La Russa now has more questions to answer than he would have otherwise.

Part of me thinks this is all intentional, and that La Russa’s just looking for a little extra excitement now that he’s retired. Either way, it’ll be difficult for any of the Reds to respond once he’s returned to his post-career life promoting animal welfare. Which is probably just how he wants it.