Retaliation, Umpire Relations

Memo to Pitchers: ‘Kill the Ump’ is an Axiom, Not a Suggestion

Ump drilled

Shortly after Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and catcher James McCann were ejected by plate ump Quinn Walcott on Wednesday for arguing balls and strikes, Detroit pitcher Buck Farmer crossed up catcher John Hicks and drilled Wolcott in the chest with a fastball.

Cleveland TV broadcasters immediately implied that he did it on purpose.

Is intentionally hitting an umpire even a thing? There are many ways to think about this, primary among them being that no player wants to permanently find himself on the bad side of a given ump. Close calls can go either way, and just like their ballplaying counterparts, umpires have been known to carry grudges. To show up an umpire during an argument is one thing. To intentionally injure him is guaranteed to sour things not only with the umpire in question, but with the guy’s colleagues. Umpires are a tight-knit bunch, after all.

After the game, Hicks explained away the pitch as coincidental. “Obviously, it looks bad right after Brad and Mac get tossed, but it’s bases loaded, we’re trying to win a baseball game,” Hicks said in an MLB.com report. “Any thoughts of us trying to do that on purpose are just ridiculous.”

 

Ausmus, who heard the TV broadcast from the clubhouse after being ejected, agreed. “To imply that was intentional is, first of all, a lie,” Ausmus said. “If any player intentionally tried to hurt an umpire on this team, we’d deal with that severely. … But for anyone to imply that was intentional, it’s just completely wrong. And they’re out of line saying that, quite frankly.”

The denials from Detroit are likely valid, but there’s no getting around how bad it looks. Also, this kind of thing does happen from time to time.

In just one instance, from 1999, Tampa Bay was trailing the Angels 7-1 in the third inning, when Anaheim catcher Mike DiFelice failed to get his glove on a pitch that ended up rocketing into the facemask of plate ump John Shulock with such force that it bent the bars. It didn’t help that Tampa Bay’s starter, Wilson Alvarez, had been questioning Shulock’s calls all afternoon.

Shulock was irate, needing to be restrained from charging the mound by DiFelice.

“I know in my heart [he] meant to hit me, but I can’t prove it,” said the umpire after the game, in an AP report. “The catcher set up for a curveball outside, and he drilled me with a fastball inside. The more I think about it, I do think he did it intentionally.”

Alvarez, who was removed from the game immediately afterward, denied everything, because what else could he do?

“He’s going to get his,” Shulock said in the Los Angeles Times. “Things have a way of evening out in this game, and one of these days somebody is going to hit a line drive off the side of his head and I’ll be the first guy laughing.”

Shulock was certainly not the last guy laughing. Based on the fact that he had stormed the mound after being hit, and possibly because of his postgame comments, the umpire was suspended for three games.

Beyond that, there appears to be little aftermath. Alvarez injured his shoulder and missed the following two seasons, and never again had Shulock behind the plate for a start. (It’s interesting that during Shulock’s last season as an umpire, he worked the Tampa Bay-Oakland game the day before Alvarez pitched, and was immediately transferred to Arlington for a series against the Royals. The last game he called was on July 18 of that season.)

Buck Farmer’s pitch was far less suspicious than that, and Quinn Wolcott took it a lot better than Shulock did. That might be the end of things, but it’ll be interesting to see how and if Wolcott reacts the next time he calls balls and strikes against the Tigers.

 

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Appropriate Retaliation, Retaliation

Dustup In D-Town Offers a Primer on a Host of Unwritten Rules

Cabrera-Romine

The Yankees-Tigers Brawl of the Century on Thursday presented a grab-bag for the ages of unwritten rules, some justified, some not, some executed to precision, some decidedly less so. Among the things we saw:

  • Hitting a guy in response to his success: In the fourth inning, Gary Sanchez blasted his fourth home run of the three-game series. In the fifth inning, Tigers starter Michael Fulmer drilled Sanchez with a 96-mph fastball. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that it was unintentional—Fulmer recently returned to action after recovering from ulnar neuritis that disrupted his touch, and was shaking his hand in discomfort after releasing the pitch, before the ball even connected. Sanchez did not appear inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, glaring toward the mound on his way to first base.
  • Responding to a hit teammate: When Miguel Cabrera stepped in to face reliever Tommy Kahnle in the sixth, the right-hander had already struck out the inning’s first two hitters. Cabrera, however, is Detroit’s biggest threat, and thus the surest target for a payback pitch in response to Fulmer. Kahnle delivered, sending a fastball behind Cabrera’s back. The intent was obvious; plate ump Carlos Torres ejected Kahnle without a prior warning. Yankees manager Joe Girardi was similarly tossed when he emerged to argue the decision.
  • History matters: On July 31 at Yankee Stadium, Kahnle hit Mikie Mahtook in the helmet. Though the pitch seemed unintentional, Fulmer responded by plunking Jacoby Ellsbury. Benches were warned and tempers remained calm … for the moment.
  • As goes the aggrieved party, so goes his team: Cabrera was not immediately agitated, but soon got into an animated conversation with Tigers catcher Austin Romine, which ended up in wild punches and both teams converging onto the field in brawling clusters. Cabrera and Romine were ejected.

  • Fight honorably: Every player is expected to appear on the field during a baseball fight, filling one of three acceptable roles: active combatant, peacemaker or bystander. Two actions are patently disallowed: remaining in the dugout and cheap-shotting an opponent. New York catcher Gary Sanchez, leaping from scrum to scrum, began punching Tigers who were helplessly wedged beneath piles of players. Nothing will sully a player’s reputation around the league quicker than this, and Sanchez is certain to feel its impact in the future—both in terms of impending suspension and treatment by the opposition.

  • Teammates protect each other: During the first fight, Detroit’s Victor Martinez actually cozied up to Sanchez. Normally this type of interaction between opponents would not be an issue, but this happened after Sanchez’s below-board tactics during the fight, about which multiple Tigers were aware. Castellanos attempted to explain this to Martinez in the Detroit dugout, with an assist from Justin Verlander. The pitcher said something Martinez didn’t like, then dismissively walked away. Martinez had to be restrained from going after him. After the game, comments were forthcoming from none of them.

  • Teammates protect each other, Part II: The rule mandating that everybody join the party includes relievers, which meant that the bullpens of each team got in some decent cardio on the day.

  • Keep retaliation below the shoulders: With the game tied 6-6 in the seventh, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances drilled James McCann in the helmet with a 98-mph fastball. The batter was not seriously hurt, but the Tigers were irate, and, even given the possibility that it was unintentional, benches again cleared. Betances was ejected, as was Yankees bench coach and acting manager Rob Thomson. Somehow, New York’s replacement pitcher, David Robertson, hit the very next batter, John Hicks, in the hand.
  • Never cop to anything: In the top of the eighth, Detroit’s Alex Wilson drilled Todd Frazier in the thigh. While Fulmer had been quick to deny intent about his own hit batter (“I’m not the type of guy who’d hit a guy for hitting a home run. Especially down one run. I have more dignity than that,” he said) Wilson was different. He told reporters after the game that he didn’t believe either Betances or Robertson had drilled anybody intentionally, but that he nonetheless felt the need to respond. It was “pretty obvious what had to happen,” he said in a Detroit Free Press report, adding, “You’ve got to take care of your teammates sometimes. With me, if hitting a guy in the leg is what I have to do, then that’s what I did. Fortunately for me, I know where my pitches are going and I hit a guy in the leg today to take care of my teammates and protect them. It is what it is.” Suspensions are likely for many of the day’s participants, and certain for Wilson.

  • A manager’s role is to keep his players in line and restore order as quickly as possible: After the game, Joe Girardi accused Tigers manager Brad Ausmus of yelling “fuck you” at one of the Tigers, adding, “Come on, Brad, what is that?”

This was some ugly stuff. Whether or not Fulmer drilled Sanchez for riding a hot streak, it sure appeared that way. Cabrera appeared to accept that as Detroit’s best player, he was the one chosen to pay the price. Had either he or Romine been better able to keep their cool (oh, to know what was said that started it all), the entire affair would likely have failed to escalate.

Stuck in the middle was Andrew Romine, Austin’s brother, a bench player for the Yankees, who did his best to separate combatants on the field. (Oh, to know what was said at the family dinner after the game.)

Suspensions are certainly forthcoming, no player more deserving than Betances, for throwing all-world heat anywhere near a hitter’s head, or Sanchez, for dishonorable fighting.

The teams won’t meet again until next season. We’ll see then just how long some memories are.

 

 

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Retaliation

Bruce Rondon: Protector of the Code, or Just an Asshole?

Moose drilled

The scene: Tiger Stadium last Wednesday, the ninth inning of a blowout win by the Royals. Lorenzo Cain, on second base, races home on a single to left field by Eric Hosmer, making the score 14-2.

The problem? Baseball’s unwritten rules mandate that aggressive tactics be waylaid late in lopsided games. This means, among many other things, that baserunners play station-to-station ball, advancing one hit on a single, two on a double, etc.

Cain did not abide, and Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon responded by drilling the next guy, Mike Moustakas, in the thigh with a 99-mph fastball. Benches cleared, and Rondon was tossed by plate ump D.J. Reyburn.

Once, this type of response would have barely raised an eyebrow on the opposing bench, so clear-cut was the idea of holding one’s ground in a blowout. In the modern game, of course, things are different. It would not have been surprising had the Tigers overlooked such action entirely.

Not Rondon, though, who didn’t even offer a courtesy miss outside the zone in order to offer some plausible deniability before drilling Moustakas. His first pitch to the hitter ran inside. The second pitch nailed him. Moustakas was decidedly unhappy, not quite charging the mound but not going to first base either, as he lit into Rondon verbally.

There is yet a mitigating factor at play here. One segment of baseball intelligencia holds that station-to-station baseball in a blowout is a fine rule of thumb, but if there will be no play at a given base then a runner has every right to advance. Take it from no less an authority than former Rangers manager Ron Washington, who said: “If you have to slide, you don’t go. If you can go in standing up, then it’s okay. You don’t stop playing the game. That ain’t showing anybody up, playing the game.”

As an example, take another game played by the Royals, an inconsequential contest against Seattle in 2001. In the eighth inning, Royals third-base coach Dave Myers decided to hold speedster Charles Gipson at third base because KC held a nine-run lead. “I knew Gipson could score,” Myers theorized after the game, “but he’d have to slide to be safe. Had the right fielder bobbled the ball, then I would have sent Gipson. Then it would have been their fault that he scored.”

On Wednesday in Detroit, Cain scored standing up. Left fielder Justin Upton never even made a throw.

It’s possible that Rondon is a latent code-warrior, sticking up for moral propriety on the ballfield (even as he ignored the fact that Detroit had ceded the play). Or he could just be a hothead who let his temper get away from him. This is the guy who got sent home for “lack of effort” in 2015, a move widely supported by his teammates, and who got farmed out for several months this April. On Wednesday, Rondon was upset at being inserted into a blowout. He was upset at surrendering a single to Cain, and the subsequent balk call that allowed Cain to advance to second. He was upset at giving up another hit, to Hosmer. He was upset that his ERA was 10.50.

Maybe—maybe probably—the pitcher’s actions had nothing to do with the Code and everything to do with taking out his frustrations on whoever was unlucky enough to be standing in the batter’s box at the time. Royals pitcher Danny Duffy nailed it after the game when he said, in an MLB.com report, “If [Rondon] doesn’t want to compete in a situation that’s not sexy, they should just send his ass home.”

Two days later the pitcher gave up three runs in one-third of an inning to blow a lead against Houston. His ERA now stands at 12.41 and, with acts like the one Wednesday doing litttle to help Rondon’s cause, Duffy’s suggestion may well come to pass.

 

 

 

 

Don't Bunt to Break Up a No-Hitter

Verlander’s No-No Beaten By Bunt, and Nobody Seems to Mind

Dyson bunts

It’s a convoluted question, so bear with me: Can the circumstances following a clear violation of the unwritten rules somehow alter how that rule is perceived?

In other words, might the end of a play justify the means?

The play in question is Jarrod Dyson’s bunt in the sixth inning of yesterday’s game against the Tigers, which broke up Justin Verlander’s perfect game.

Such a thing, of course, has long been frowned upon by baseball moralists as disrespectful of a pitcher’s attempt at greatness. To challenge a guy fully, the theory goes, one must do so in a straightforward manner, without trickery or deceit.

The most famous example of this, as outlined in The Baseball Codes, was the bunt laid down by Padres catcher Ben Davis against Arizona’s Curt Schilling in 2001. Davis was San Diego’s 23rd batter of the night but the first—after his ill-executed attempt managed to drop between the mound and second base—to reach safely. Afterward, Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly called the play “chickenshit” and said that Davis “has a lot to learn about how the game is played.”

Part of it was the intrusion on attempted perfection. Part of it was that Davis was a slow-footed catcher for whom bunting and speed were hardly part of his repertoire. Part of it was that the attempt came in the eighth inning, with Schilling only five outs from immortality.

One detail, however, served as adequate cover. The score was 2-0, and Davis had managed to bring the tying run to the plate. No matter how much animosity his bunt engendered in the opposing dugout, it is impossible to ignore the prime directive governing baseball’s unwritten rules: Winning trumps everything, and Davis had given his team its best chance on the day to win. Justification.

The circumstances yesterday in Seattle were somewhat different. Dyson’s bunt came in the sixth inning—early enough, perhaps, to validate it on its own merits. Take it from a different Seattle player, Jarrod Washburn—who pitched for the Mariners for four seasons, through 2009—whose own no-hitter was broken up by a bunt from Tampa Bay rookie Ben Zobrist in 2006. Like Dyson, Zobrist did it in the sixth inning, and it didn’t bother Washburn a bit. “If it was the eighth or ninth, maybe that would have rubbed me the wrong way,” he said at the time, “but bunting is just part of the game, and he was just trying to make something happen.”

Also in Dyson’s favor is that, unlike Davis, speed is an integral part of his game. Still, the play occurred while the Tigers held a 4-0 lead, and Dyson hardly represented the tying run. Sixteen years earlier, Davis could have creditably claimed that winning informed his strategy, but down four runs, Dyson’s rationalization was considerably more specious … save for two little words: And then.

And then, pitching out of the stretch for the first time all night, Verlander walked Mike Zunino. And then Jean Segura collected an infield single to load the bases. And then Ben Gamel scored Dyson with a single to center. And then, after Verlander struck out Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz brought home two more with a double. And then it was 4-3 and Verlander’s day was over. After retiring Seattle’s first 16 hitters, he retired only one of its next six, including Dyson’s bunt. Seattle scored four more against Detroit’s bullpen, and went home with a 7-5 victory.

Regardless of how things may have seemed at the moment Dyson laid down his bunt, there’s no questioning that the effort played a significant role in his team’s victory. Justification.

After the game, Verlander said that he had no problem with Dyson’s strategy. The best summation, however, came from Schilling, in reference to his own spoiled no-hitter all those years earlier. “Unwritten rules or not, you’re paid to win games,” he said in The Baseball Codes. “That’s the only reason you’re playing in the big leagues.”

 

Sign stealing

Can Sign Stealing That’s Not Really Sign Stealing Still Be Counted As Sign Stealing?

Cabrera signs

Standard practice when a team catches an opponent sign stealing is to inform said sign stealers that the jig is up and that it’s time to knock it off. The details therein are up for debate (verbal warnings frequently suffice, though some pitchers prefer to use inside fastballs to deliver the message), but the parameters are fairly universal.

In Houston last weekend, Texas caught Miguel Cabrera, at second base, signaling to the hitter about pitch type. The wrinkle was not that Cabrera was caught, but how he was caught. The guy lacked so much subtlety that he may as well have been shouting across the diamond to hitter J.D. Martinez.

That’s because Cabrera wasn’t stealing signs, he was offering a scouting report.

Cabrera, the first hitter to face Rangers reliever Sam Dyson, was surprised by the number of changeups he saw as Dyson warmed up. That’s because the Tigers had been informed that Dyson is not a changeup-heavy pitcher.

So after Cabrera doubled (having seen only fastballs during his three-pitch at-bat), he let his teammate know what he’d learned, as clearly as possible, repeatedly flashing a changeup sign over his head.

That Cabrera wasn’t picking specific signs lends a patina of innocence to the entire affair. Texas’ middle infielders Elvis Andrus and Roughned Odor—like Cabrera, Venezuelans—helped calm the situation in the moment, and the Tigers burned some calories in the postgame clubhouse explaining that whatever Cabrera was doing out there, he was decidedly not stealing signs.

“If he was stealing signs, he certainly wouldn’t be that blatant about it,” said Detroit manager Brad Ausmus in a Detroit Free Press report. “Miggy was just trying to let the bench know that (Dyson) has a change-up—that was all it was. It was a misunderstanding. He wasn’t stealing signs. I just think Dyson, for some reason, thought he was.”

Well, of course Dyson thought he was. Because that’s what somebody who steals signs looks like.

Yet and still, despite his innocence on that particular charge, Cabrera was nonetheless signaling helpful information to his teammate during game action. He was trying to give an advantage, from the basepath, that a teammate would not have otherwise enjoyed. (For what it’s worth, Martinez struck out swinging … on a changeup. So did the next hitter, Justin Upton.)

Had Cabrera opted simply to wait until either he scored or the inning ended, he could have informed the entire Tigers bench of his realization without so much as an eyebrow being raised in response.

Of course Dyson is allowed to take issue with it. Just because Cabrera’s action was the more innocent of two options doesn’t make it normal.

Retaliation

Message Delivered: Detroit Baits Sano Into Disastrous Reaction

Sano-Boyd

It was obscured over the weekend by the Baltimore Slide Affair, but a moment in Saturday’s Twins-Tigers game slots into the same category. It also offers some lessons for whatever Red Sox player ends up wearing a retaliatory pitch from the Orioles, should such a thing be coming.

Whether or not one agrees with the concept of retaliatory pitches in baseball, one must accept the fact that such things exist, and understand that an appropriate response will go a long way toward maintaining general sanity on the premises. On Saturday, Miguel Sano did not offer an appropriate response, and ended up ejected, then suspended.

It began in the third inning, when Twins reliever Justin Haley drilled Detroit’s JaCoby Jones in the face, knocking him from the game. Jones was subsequently placed on the 10-day disabled list with a lip laceration.

Unlike the pitch in Baltimore, there was no noticeable intent, but—as will likely influence Boston when the Orioles next come to town—conventional tactics mandate a response to HBPs above the shoulders. Prevailing notion holds that even innocent pitchers who can’t control their stuff shouldn’t be throwing up and in. Should they do so, plunking a teammate in response issues a powerful deterrent for similar pursuits in the future.

Which is precisely what happened in Minnesota. Two frames after Jones went down, Twins starter Matthew Boyd threw a fastball behind Sano—below the waist, as deterrent pitches are supposed to be. Had the hitter kept his wits, he would have recognized and accepted the nature of the message: a no-harm-done warning shot indicating the Twins’ displeasure with how things had gone down. Had the hitter kept his wits, he could have kept on hitting.

Instead, Sano took several steps toward the mound, pointing and shouting. When Twins catcher James McCann put him in a protective bear hug, Sano took a swing. (Watch it here.)

Never mind the lack of strategy behind throwing a punch at a guy wearing a catcher’s mask—Sano was quickly tossed. So, strangely, was Boyd, who hadn’t actually hit anyone with a pitch, who hadn’t received a warning to that point, and who likely wouldn’t have gone anywhere had Sano recognized the situation for what it was and calmly allowed the game to proceed.

“[McCann] touched me with his glove and I reacted,” Sano said after the game, in an MLB.com report. “It was a glove to the face. They were supposed to eject McCann, too, but I saw they didn’t eject him.”

Sure enough, McCann’s glove rose toward Sano’s face as the catcher drew him close. It wasn’t a swing though, and should hardly have been enough to spur Sano into the action he took.

Sano doesn’t need to like the concept of baseball retaliation. It is, in many instances, a brutal process. But the logic is impossible to miss: A pitch thrown at a team’s star in response to something one of his teammates did might inspire a conversation with said teammate about knocking it the hell off in the future. Had Sano recognized as much, he’d have saved himself a bunch of trouble.

The word “rules” is right there in the term “unwritten rules.” This weekend showed us the importance of players understanding them, if only for their own long-term benefit.

 

 

 

Retaliation

Do Only Certain Pitchers Get to Throw Inside? Depends on Who You Ask

bauer-drills-martinez

Question of the day: When do unintentionally hit batters become a big problem?

For people like Tony La Russa, the answer can be “almost immediately.” Others offer a modicum of leeway  should a pitch accidentally sail.

We saw this earlier in the year, when Pirates pitchers—who have a reputation for working the inside corner—unintentionally popped a couple Diamondbacks. La Russa, never long on patience for that type of thing, questioned whether maybe pitchers who don’t have the best control should avoid trying to bust fastballs in on hitters’ hands.

This weekend saw more of the same, courtesy of Trevor Bauer. On Sunday against the Tigers, Cleveland’s right-hander knocked the helmet from the head of Ian Kinsler, in addition to plunking Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. None of the pitches looked good, but unless Bauer is extremely competent at feigning concern, neither were they intentional. (Game situation alone confirms as much. Cabrera’s HBP, in the first inning, put a runner into scoring position. Kinsler was the leadoff hitter in the third. Martinez was drilled with the bases loaded. Watch it all here.)

Perhaps it would have been easier for Detroit to tolerate had the price been less steep. Kinsler suffered dizzy spells after the game. Martinez crumpled to the ground in agony, then went 0-for-3 after choosing to stay in the game.

Bauer cringed on the mound after hitting Kinsler, and tried to apologize after the inning and again after the game. It wasn’t nearly enough.

“If you can’t command the ball inside, you’ve got to maybe not go inside,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus after the game, echoing La Russa in an MLB.com report. “This is the big leagues, and if you’re going to hit guys in the head and the kneecap then something’s got to give.”

What gave on Sunday was Tigers starter Derrick Norris throwing a pitch behind Rajai Davis in response to Kinsler’s beaning, at which point both benches were warned. (One thing the umps couldn’t stop was Justin Upton’s message-laden pimp-and-glacial-home-run-trot-combo in the fifth.)

So who’s right? Bauer, or any other pitcher, can’t be expected to simply give up a portion of the strike zone on the basis that he’s a bit wild on a given day. Pitching out of fear is a terrible strategy for winning ballgames.

Then again, when players are falling left and right at the hands of a pitcher who has no idea where the ball is headed, it’s understandable that flames will be fanned.

Ultimately, it’s why baseball has penalties for being wild. Walks and hit batters mean baserunners, and too many baserunners mean that a pitcher’s not long for an outing. Bauer gave up six earned runs in 5.2 innings, which isn’t so surprising considering the other details of his day. And that’s pretty much the best result that Detroit could hope for in an otherwise bleak situation.

[H/T to Uzzy]