Perhaps Felipe Lopez felt that he had skated altogether too freely after flipping his bat at White Sox pitcher Chris Sale on April 9.
He apologized after the game, which apparently went a long way. Thursday, the final meeting between the teams this season featured five hit batters—none of them Lopez. He did not, in fact, get hit at all by a White Sox staff led by Ozzie Guillen, a man notorious for ordering his pitchers to retaliate for various violations of the unwritten rules.
Less forgiving was Lopez’s own manager, Joe Maddon, who said after the game that the bat flip “is not who we are,” and that “we don’t do that here.”
One might think that Lopez, new to the Rays, would at this point take great pains to please his manager. But no. Friday he broke a cornerstone of the unwritten rules—one that falls under the headings of both “respect your teammates” and “respect the game”: He failed to hustle.
With one out in the 11th inning of a game against Toronto, Lopez made no real effort toward first base as shortstop Jason McDonald bobbled a grounder; Lopez would have easily beat the throw had he been running. When the next hitter, Sean Rodriguez, followed with a walk, Tampa Bay could sense a potential rally wasted. One hitter later, the inning was over.
Lopez has a history of running afoul with team management, getting booted from the Cardinals last season for perennial tardiness. He wasn’t even on the Rays roster coming out of spring training, but was called up to replace the injured Evan Longoria.
Tampa is his eighth team in an 11-year career. One can imagine that his time there is quickly drawing to a close.
Most baseball retaliation looks the same: a pitcher throwing a ball as hard as he can at the backside, legs or ribs of an opposing batter.
Sometimes, though, batters get theirs, too. Unfortunately for them, their actions rarely hold the same weight; whereas a vengeance-minded pitcher can be seen as sticking up for his teammates, his counterpart at the plate is often looking out only for himself. Such displays frequently resemble hot-headed reaction far more than they do retaliation.
Case in point: Felipe Lopez. On Saturday, the Rays’ third baseman took an inside pitch in the ninth inning from White Sox reliever Chris Sale that apparently didn’t meet his liking.
Lopez hit the next pitch out of the park, and as part of his follow-through whipped his bat toward the mound. (Watch it here.)
Needless to say, this was not taken well by pretty much anybody on the field. Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski was waiting for him when he crossed the plate, delivering a sternly worded message while gesturing toward the mound. Lopez’s body language looked as if he was trying to deny intent; had he been aggressive, it’s not difficult to picture a fight breaking out.
The Sox weren’t the only ones upset.
“That’s not who we are. That’s not how we play,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said Sunday in the St. Petersburg Times . “I’m not into the end zone demonstration that much. I think we’ve really morphed into this, I believe, very classy group over the last several years and I want to maintain that kind of thought about us. I don’t even want to say image—you think about the Rays, you think these guys handle themselves in a certain way. So we don’t do that here.”
It’s a point that Maddon had to make. Forget the image he’s trying to maintain—outbursts like Lopez’s can lead not just to his own potential peril, but can put his teammates in danger, as well.
It’s difficult to believe that Lopez, who’s in his 11th season, didn’t understand the potential repercussions of his actions. Then again he’s with his eighth team (not counting two stints with St. Louis), and was cut by the Cardinals last year after ongoing bouts of unprofessionalism. With that in mind, selfish behavior shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. (He couldn’t have had much of an issue with Sale, who’s in just his second season and who has now faced Lopez all of twice.)
Such is the power of Joe Maddon that Lopez took the surest available path to absolution, calling Ozzie Guillen after the game to apologize. (Maddon even went also recalled that Roy Halladay once called him to apologize after some inflammatory comments he inadvertently made, and that the gesture was appreciated.)
If any part of this affair went according to the Code, it was the entire array of responses. As in, outside of Maddon decrying the general spectacle of it all, everybody denied pretty much everything.
“It was unfortunate, but I wasn’t trying to do that,” Lopez said in the St. Petersburg Times. “I wasn’t mad at anything. The bat, it slipped, and it went over there. I think if I tried to do that, it wouldn’t happen.”
Pierzynski denied there was a confrontation at the plate, saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I just said hi. He lives down the street from me in Orlando, and I was asking how his house was.”
Guillen, after receiving Lopez’s call: “I don’t think he meant to throw (the bat) to the pitcher.”
Still, in order to give heads some time to cool, Maddon held Lopez out of yesterday’s game. It only buys about a week; the Rays visit Chicago on April 18.
Thanks to reader Russ Buker in St. Petersburg for the heads up.