Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy, Retaliation

Ask What You can Do for Your Teammates: Kennedy Avenges Parra, a Season Later

Kershaw responds.

Perhaps this is what Cole Hamels was talking about when he proclaimed his drilling of Bryce Harper last week to be “old-school baseball.”

Old-school baseball frequently involves long memories, and a willingness to respond to a situation even if it has long since passed. On Monday, Arizona’s Ian Kennedy did exactly that.

Kennedy was facing Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw for the first time since last season, when Kershaw was unceremoniously ejected for hitting Diamondbacks outfielder Gerrardo Parra with a pitch. Parra’s drilling was itself a response to a home run he hit off Los Angeles reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, after which he loitered in the batter’s box as it left the yard. Parra’s loitering was in response to an earlier Kuo pitch that buzzed him as he was squaring around to bunt.

Cause and response. Response and cause.

Fast forward eight months, to Monday night. When Kershaw stepped to the plate to lead off the third inning, Kennedy brushed him back with a first-pitch fastball. In case the message was still unclear, three pitches later Kennedy sent one behind Kershaw’s back. Kershaw stared into the Arizona dugout in disbelief, and, wrote Nick Piecoro in the Arizona Republic, “had no problem receiving the message the Diamondbacks were sending.” (Watch it here; for a fuller examination, see the recap.)

Kershaw’s turn came in the fifth, when Kennedy stepped to the plate and was greeted with a fastball, high and inside. That was enough for plate ump Marvin Hudson to issue warnings to both benches.

Was Kennedy trying to hit Kershaw? To judge by his follow-up effort, he was, but didn’t get it done either time. Did Kershaw handle things appropriately, dishing out as good as he got without escalating matters? Absolutely.

Also, unlike Hamels, blanket denials were the order of the day.

“[Kershaw] is a good hitter, so I had to throw inside on him,” Kennedy said in the Republic. “The second one I just pulled way too much.” (D-Backs shortstop Willie Bloomquist, however, admitted that “no one was trying to hurt anyone—it was just to prove a point.”)

“It’s pretty strange that he throws two up and in like that and one at my shins,” responded Kershaw. “His catcher is saying he’s missing his spots. It’s pretty obvious what they’re doing. I don’t really understand it. I know their manager over there likes old-school baseball, but old-school baseball means you don’t carry over things from last year.”

Actually, that’s exactly what old-school baseball means. It’s easy to say that Kennedy should have left well enough alone, and that renewing old hostilities ultimately does little good for anybody involved. The only real counter to that is the tenor of the Arizona clubhouse, and the unknown conversations that may have led to Kennedy’s action, be they with Parra, manager Kirk Gibson or some other aggrieved teammates. There is a palpable charge that a pitcher faces in standing up for his teammates, and those found to be derelict in that duty are quick to lose clubhouse support.

Ultimately, of course, nobody was hit, the fact that both pitchers ended up walking in their targeted at-bats didn’t end up hurting the opposition, several messages were sent, and everybody emerged unscathed.

Old-school baseball.

Umpires Knowing the Code

And Like That—Poof—he’s Gone. Kershaw Tossed Without Warning

Bill, Clayton. Clayton, Bill.

Call it bad umpiring, if you must, but many will disagree with you.

Legions of fans, in fact, consider it to be horrible umpiring.

It’s inaccurate to say that umpire Bill Welke’s ejection of Clayton Kershaw Wednesday night came from nowhere, but, considering the circumstances, it kind of did.

Those circumstances began Tuesday, when Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo sent an inside pitch buzzing past the head of Arizona’s Gerardo Parra. It was inside, but not dangerously so; that it came close at all was mostly a function of Parra’s squaring around to bunt.

Parra responded by staring down the pitcher. Moments later, he connected for a home run, then loitered in the batter’s box for several long beats. That raised the hackles of both catcher A.J. Ellis, who had words for Parra as he crossed the plate, and the Dodgers’ bench at large—with the leader of the agitated appearing to be Kershaw, who appeared to deliver a message along the lines of “Just wait ’till tomorrow, Gerry.” (Watch it all here.)

When Kershaw faced Parra to start the sixth inning yesterday—having already surrendered a double to him in the third—he sent an 0-1 fastball spinning inside, and clipped Parra’s right elbow. Wrote Steve Dilbeck in the Los Angeles Times, “[It] hardly appeared like Kershaw was intentionally trying to hit him.”

Still, it was enough for Welke, who ejected the pitcher on the spot. (Watch it here.)

Tuesday night: Kershaw gets fiery.

Never mind that the pitch only grazed Parra. Never mind that it was a 2-0 game, and that Kershaw is chasing 20 victories on the season. Never mind that 29,799 people paid good money to see one of the National League’s best pitchers square off against the presumptive NL West champions.

Never mind all that, if you’d like, but make sure to pay attention to an umpire who refuses to let baseball’s Code play out on its own terms—if that’s even what was happening. Kershaw had every right to send a message to Parra after the previous night’s display, and the only guy in the stadium who seemed oblivious to the notion was Welke. If ever there was a spot to warn the benches, this was it.

Or, as it turned out, not.

Perhaps Kershaw learned a lesson about stifling any animated displays in the dugout. Maybe he spent the rest of the evening thinking about how and when he can next come inside to a guy with whom he has history. Or maybe he just spent a few hours poking pins into his Bill Welke doll.

He shouldn’t have had to any of this. It was a display of over-umpiring at its most blatant, and Kershaw—hell, any major league player—deserves better.

– Jason