When Nolan Ryan was busy scaring the hell out of American League hitters, he made a habit of tamping down the grass in front of home plate before games with his cleat, taking care to stare down the opposing dugout all the while. His message: Don’t you dare bunt on me. Those who chose to ignore him knew all too well what kind of response they’d receive. Ryan’s red-ass reputation preceded him, and hitters were (usually) smart enough to avoid ticking the guy off.
Which is to say, the two guys at the center of yesterday’s Throwdown in B-Town bear some reputations of their own, and consideration of this point could have served both of them well.
Manny Machado has gotten into it with Jonathan Papelbon (spurring the closer’s infamous choke hold on Bryce Harper last year). He’s flipped out at being tagged. Hell, the guy went so far as to take a bat to the head of an opposing catcher.
Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, meanwhile, has beefed with Adam Eaton. He’s beefed with Brett Lawrie. He’s beefed with Mike Trout. He spurred a beef with Jeff Samardzija. And that was all within a month of each other, last April.
Which is also to say that whereas Nolan Ryan’s opponents knew enough to avoid angering him, when two hotheads stare each other down, it’s all too likely that neither of them have the best interests of their respective teams in mind.
Yesterday’s fracas started in the second inning, when Ventura buzzed Machado inside (raising his hackles, of course) before getting him to fly out to left field on a ball that the hitter at first thought would leave the yard. Machado and his hackles ended up staring down the pitcher, then pimping what turned out to be a wind-killed medium-deep flyball, then screaming at Ventura (and vice versa) before returning to the dugout. (Watch it here.)
Back to reputations. Machado was clearly aware of Ventura’s, and knew what kind of response an unnecessary shouting match might deliver—if only because his manager, Buck Showalter, warned him of it before his fifth-inning at-bat. That’s the best explanation for his decision to charge the mound after the pitcher planted a 99-mph four-seamer into his backside. (Watch the whole thing here.)
Ventura, for his part, should have been more prescient. Know thine enemy and etc. when it comes to things like understanding what it’ll take to set a guy off.
That said, it’s likely that Ventura knew precisely what he was doing. The right-hander had given up six earned runs in four-and-a-third innings to that point (which didn’t even include a would-be home run by Pedro Alvarez). His was a response borne of frustration and a likely desire to force his own damn exit.
The latter point can be illustrated by the bevy of quotes to emerge from the postgame clubhouses. On Baltimore’s side, Machado’s compatriots were all too eager to back him up. A sampling, via the Baltimore Sun:
- O’s outfielder Adam Jones: “Manny ain’t at fault for nothing.”
- Jones, on Ventura: “The talent is all there, but between the ears, there’s a circuit board that’s off balance. I don’t get it.”
- Showalter: “[It’s] not the first time. Obviously, it must be something that’s OK because [Ventura] continues to do it. It must be condoned. I don’t know.”
- Showalter again, on the possibility of continuation into today’s game: “Bring it on. Whatever. Bring it on. We’ll handle it. You try not to let one person’s actions speak for a lot of people, but it’s been going on a while with him.”
- Mark Trumbo: “It’s important for everyone that’s at this level and in the game, period, to go about your business the right way. This isn’t the type of stuff that’s good for the game.”
The Royals were more reticent. Manager Ned Yost was representative when he offered a “Probably” when asked if Ventura’s wild-card nature was grating on his teammates, adding in a Kansas City Star report that “there’s a little frustration when things like this happen, yeah.”
When given the opportunity to defend his pitcher, he said, “I don’t know, that’s something you’re going to have to ask him.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.
“You see the reaction by [Ventura’s teammates],” said Jones, speaking on behalf of the opposition. “They weren’t too happy that he did something so stupid.”
Traditionally, this is the point at which Yost or any number of Ventura’s veteran teammates pulls him aside to talk about how reckless behavior on the mound impacts everybody, and that if somebody was injured trying to break up the fight, or if a Royal is drilled by a retaliatory pitch tonight, it’ll rest on Ventura’s shoulders. That would make sense, except for the fact that those conversations should have happened more than a year ago (and likely did), during the pitcher’s previous spate of madness.
At that point, the guy seemed to have learned his lesson:
Guess it didn’t take.
Ultimately, Baltimore exacted the purest kind of revenge, with the O’s next two hitters following the fracas, Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis, going back-to-back against reliever Chien-Ming Wang, to extend their lead to 8-1.
Here’s hoping that’ll suffice today and preclude any further response from Baltimore, unlikely as that may be.
Update (6/9/16): Machado’s been dinged for his actions: four games and $2,500.
Update II (6/9/16): And now Ventura: nine games, which will effectively cost him one or two starts.