Retaliation

How Not to Approach the Concept of Retaliation: L.A. Story Ends Very, Very Badly

Dodgers-DBacksSome will blame baseball’s unwritten rules, the sport’s ingrained system of on-field justice, for last night’s disgraceful display at Chavez Ravine. They will decry the eye-for-an-eye mentality, the brutal delivery of fastballs and the ugly results of the punch-throwing scrum in the seventh-inning.

What they will not acknowledge is that baseball’s unwritten rules exist precisely to avoid this kind of confrontation. Because Tuesday night’s throwdown between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks was a study in what not do during the course of a baseball game as it pertains to baseball’s Code.

  • Retaliation for an incidental drilling—especially one so incidental that it required umpire intervention to confirm that it even happened—is simply not necessary. This was the state of affairs after Cody Ross was grazed by a Zack Greinke pitch in the fifth inning.
  • Even if what happened next was retaliation for Ross, it would at least give Ian Kennedy a reason for his actions, no matter how insufficient. In the sixth inning, the D-Backs right-hander ignored the tenet mandating that one never drill a batter intentionally above shoulder level, and hit Yasiel Puig in the nose with a 92-mph fastball. Puig remained on the ground for several minutes while trainers attended to him.  (Watch it here.)
  • Greinke responded an inning later by hitting Miguel Montero between the numbers. Usually, when catchers are hit in a retaliatory fashion, it is because they called for the pitch that made the retaliation necessary in the first place. In Montero’s case, had Kennedy’s pitch to Puig hit the catcher’s glove it would have ended up below the knees. (Watch it here.)
  • Regardless, that blow should have ended hostilities. Kennedy drilled a Dodger in a wildly inappropriate manner, and Greinke responded according to the Code. It wasn’t enough to settle Kennedy down, however. In the bottom half of the seventh, he threw his first pitch to Greinke—another 92-mph fastball—directly for the head. Greinke ducked and the ball glanced off his upper shoulder.
  • Usually, benches clear when an aggrieved hitter—somebody who has just been hit or knocked down—takes issue with the pitcher. Ron Washington once described the situation this way, back when he was the third-base coach for the A’s and Frank Thomas, the team’s designated hitter, had been drilled by Ted Lilly. “We all saw what happened, but Frank took it calmly, so we took it calmly,” he said. “If Frank had taken it with an uproar, we’d have taken it with an uproar. We have to wait for the reaction of the guy who it happened to. If Frank had charged him, there would have been a fight. If Frank had raised some hell going down to first base, we’d have raised some hell. But Frank took it calmly and went on down there, the umpire checked everything, and we played baseball.”

On Tuesday, Greinke did take it calmly. It was his teammates—led by Puig—who escalated things from that point, racing from the dugout and quickly getting physical. (Watch it here.) The rest of the action was described succinctly by Nick Piecoro of the ArizonaRepublic:

Reliever J.P. Howell charged at Diamondbacks assistant hitting coach Turner Ward and nearly flipped him over a railing near the on-deck circle. Puig appeared to land a tomahawk swing on Diamondbacks’ bench player Eric Hinske. Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire looked apoplectic as he exchanged words with Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson and third-base coach Matt Williams. Even Dodgers manager Don Mattingly got in on the action, wrestling Diamondbacks bench coach Alan Trammell to the ground.

Only two things happened as they should have. First was Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz jumping in between Montero and Greinke after the former was drilled in the seventh. (It was the inability of the Dodgers’ other catcher, A.J. Ellis, to do that very thing that allowed Carlos Quentin to reach the mound during the April brawl that ended with Greinke’s collarbone broken.) The other was Greinke, on first base after being drilled, responding by trying to take out Arizona shortstop Didi Gregorius with a hard slide at the front end of an attempted double-play—just like they used to do in the old days. (Greinke ended up getting a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 5-3 victory. Watch it here.) Ultimately, the primary takeaway from this unfortunate state of affairs was that Ian Kennedy threw two pitches at opponents’ heads in a two-inning span. The guy has already proven willing to harbor ill-will against the Dodgers, throwing two pitches at Clayton Kershaw last season in response to a year-old grudge. Even more pertinent is the fact that he seems to enjoy this kind of thing. Last year he led the National League with 14 hit batters, even with otherwise good control—he walked only 55 over more than 200 innings. The Dodgers will get theirs, at some point. In the interim, MLB will certainly  step in and get some of its own. Had the unwritten rules worked as intended, none of it would have been necessary.

Update (6/14): Suspensions have been handed down. As expected, Ian Kennedy got the worst of it.

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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.