Retaliation

This is No Way to Kick Off a Season, Fellas

Duffy goes head-huntingThis is what happens when a perennial doormat becomes the defending American League champion. The Royals are all of two games into their season, and already its clear: People are paying attention.

On Monday, White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija hit two Kansas City batters. One of them, Lorenzo Cain, was convinced that his was intentional, and complained at some length to the assembled media afterward. On Wednesday, Chicago’s Jose Quintana continued the assault, drilling Cain with a four-seam fastball on the first pitch he saw in the first inning.

With compounded damages over two games, It’s tough to begrudge the Royals a response. The one they chose, however, left a lot to be desired: Danny Duffy threw a second-inning pitch behind the head of Chicago DH Adam LaRoche.

On one hand, it looked like a clear warning: The pitch was far enough away that the batter barely had to flinch to avoid it. (Watch it here.)

On the other hand, there is no more certain way to fire up a major league ballclub than to place a ball above shoulder level in the vicinity of one of its batters. Duffy should have been ejected on the spot. Instead, both benches were warned against further shenanigans.

There were two outs in the inning and nobody on base when Duffy threw that pitch. He had retired all five men he’d faced to that point. LaRoche, who looked on incredulously as Duffy reset on the mound, then doubled to right, and went to third on Gordon Beckham’s infield single. Tyler Flowers brought them both home with a three-run homer. “It doesn’t take much to get us fired up,” said Eric Hosmer afterward, in an MLB.com report.

Learning no lessons from his counterpart on the mound, White Sox starter Jose Quintana offered a response of his own, drilling Mike Moustakas in the thigh an inning later. (He somehow avoided ejection, despite the prior warning.) Cain followed with a single, and Eric Hosmer followed with a homer of his own. Just like that, a two-run deficit became a one-run lead. Duffy and Quintana each paid for their transgressions by ging up five runs over five innings on the day. Kansas City won, 7-5, on an eighth-inning homer by Cain, no less.

Ballplayers should be allowed a modicum of retaliation. It serves as a tool to enable an aggrieved party to move on from a tender moment. If both sides accept that being drilled in the thigh is an appropriate response for a given infraction, so be it.

Danny Duffy, however, should know better than to put a pitch where he did. These teams will see a lot of each other in the coming season, and a line has been drawn as to where at least one of the combatants is willing to take things. By all indications, we’re only getting started.

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Retaliation

Frustration Bubbles Over in KC … Unless it Didn’t … But Who Cares Because it Looks Like it Did

Cain drilledOne takeaway from yesterday’s opening day is an old favorite, learned the hard way by many pitchers over the years: Hitting a guy with the first pitch after giving up a homer—let alone when that homer that puts you into a 4-0 hole in the fifth inning on opening day—makes you look really, really guilty.

That is what White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija did. That is how Royals batter Lorenzo Cain took it. Did Samardzija mean it? Didn’t matter—perception is everything.

Cain understood that angry, frustrated pitchers sometimes do angry, frustrated things, and offered some choice words to Samardzija as he moved down the baseline. When the pitcher motioned him on toward first base—Shut up, son, and let’s move these proceedings along—things really got heated. (Watch it here.)

Cain barked. Mike Moustakas, who had just hit the homer that may or may not have started this all, emerged from the dugout. Cain let things die down, but his postgame hypotheses portend tension down the road. “I wasn’t sure if he hit me on purpose or not,” Cain said in a CSN Chicago report. “But once he told me to get down, I was sure he hit me on purpose. It’s straight to the point. He hit me on purpose.”

Ultimately, Samardzija went six innings and gave up five runs in a 10-1 Royals victory. Later, he denied everything, reducing the moment to the phrase “Boys playing baseball, no big deal.” He did not comment on the fact that the other batter he hit in the game—Alex Gordon, in the bottom of the second inning—came after Royals starter Yordano Ventura drilled Avisail Garcia in the top half of the frame.

It was opening day, which means that these division rivals play each other 18 more times this year. Samardzija is new to the division and, apart from 16 starts last season as a member of the Oakland A’s, new to the league. Whether he meant to or not, he’s certainly set things up to be interesting.

Don't Incite the Opposition

Shout it From the Mountaintops, Just Don’t Shout it at Me: The Hunter Strickland World Series Experience

Strickland screams

Prior to Wednesday, Hunter Strickland hadn’t had a good postseason in terms of results. On Wednesday he didn’t do much when it came to composure, either. Calling out the opposition is rarely a good idea this time of year.

Fine. Strickland was yelling at himself after giving up another playoff homer, this one to Omar Infante. But with self-flagellating macho displays of anger must come the understanding that said displays might sometimes be misread by, say, an innocent catcher who just happens to be trotting by on account of he was on base when the homer was hit.

Salvador Perez was incredulous. Strickland was a boor. Perez wondered if Strickland was talking to him. Strickland told him to kindly return to the dugout, sprinkling some less-nice words into the sentiment. Perez’s teammates emerged from the dugout in order to have his back. Strickland’s teammates more or less stayed put, while Buster Posey mostly settled for looking annoyed. Perez’s team won the game, Strickland’s did not. (Watch it all here.)

“He’s a really intense kid,” said Bruce Bochy afterward. “That’s probably an area he’s going to have to keep his poise.” Well, duh.

Internalization is good; considering your own role within a given negative experience can lead to positive behavioral changes and emotional growth. But even though that’s ostensibly what Strickland did, that’s not really what Strickland did. Really, he just turned into a rage monster. It started with himself, but soon enough found purchase in passersby, and collateral damage started to pile up.

This is not a good look for a guy whose stuff has put him in the “future closer” conversation. Closers are the guys who take things calmly, who are able to move on from a situation, good or bad, game to game and moment to moment. Getting into unnecessary shouting matches during the World Series does not exactly fit the bill.

 

 

 

Fraternization, Ned Yost

Chatty in Kansas City: How Does Yost Feel About Fraternization, Anyway?

Rex Hudler is a throwback. Well, not actually a throwback, since he was drafted in 1978 and retired 20 years later, but he’s long harbored an old-school ethos that mandates ballplayers play hard, rookies keep quiet and, among other things, one doesn’t get friendly with one’s opponents.

That he’s now a broadcaster for the Kansas City Royals has not dimmed his moral compass as far as baseball is concerned. Calling games for the Angels in 1999, his first season behind the mic, he responded to an on-field fracas with the Indians by looking into the booth next door and deciding that he should uphold his team’s honor by brawling with Cleveland broadcaster Rick Manning. (He was eventually talked down by partner Steve Physioc.)

Hudler has since learned the limits of his role (fighting with colleagues = bad), but he’s not shy about explaining what the Code should look like on the field. It helps that his partner in the Kansas City booth, Ryan Lefebvre, shares many of his ideals. A pet peeve of theirs that recently garnered attention is the aforementioned fraternization between players on competing teams.

Last Monday, Anaheim’s Kendrys Morales stroked a three-run, eighth-inning single to break a 3-3 tie, and when he advanced to second quickly fell into conversation with Kansas City’s middle infielders, Alcides Escobar and Yunieski Betancourt.

As reported by Fox Sports Kansas City, Hudler and Lefebvre jumped all over it:

Lefebvre: “I don’t want to get on my soapbox again, but if I’m a pitcher, I think it would really burn me to see my middle infielders laughing and joking with a guy who just hit a three-run double off me as he stands on second base. I don’t get it. And I’m not saying the Royals are the only team that does it. You see it a lot more these days. If I’m a pitcher, I wouldn’t want to see my guys doing it. I mean, what could be so urgent that you’d have to talk to the guy on the other team who just hit a potentially game-winning hit? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m getting old.”

Hudler: “You’re not old. Age has nothing to do with it. It’s something I see as well. But it’s a culture that’s not going to change unless some of the veteran guys see to it. Or management says something about it.”

This was not the first time the topic has come up during a game. Hudler later went on Kansas City radio station WHB and said, “You can stand 10 feet away from a player and smooth out the dirt and still talk to a player without giving the appearance that you’re in his back pocket. When you’re in uniform out there, respect the game of baseball and respect your teammates. And stay out of the back pockets of opponents when people are watching. It makes me want to vomit. Escobar is as guilty as any of them. But I don’t think he knows. It’s up to the veterans on the Royals or even Ned (Yost) to cut some of that stuff out.”

To this point, this story is barely newsworthy beyond a couple of old-school broadcasters having opinions. It’s what happened next that proved revelatory: Royals manager Ned Yost seemingly pivoted, and agreed with them.

According to Fox Sports, Yost called a clubhouse meeting during which he addressed the issue. According to team spokesman Mike Swanson, “we’ve seen the last of [fraternizing on the bases.]”

There are a few things going on here. Foremost are the attempts by Hudler and Lefebvre (who is the son of former big leaguer Jim Lefebvre) not just to describe an old-school baseball mentality, but to criticize current players for failing to embrace it. That’s their job, if they see it that way, and the fact that the repeat offenders in Fox’s account hail from Venezuela and Cuba, respectively, could speak to the fact that the game they learned contains no such tenets, and it would take an old-school clubhouse leader to inform them of same.

Much more interesting, however, is Yost’s apparent willingness to bend to the broadcaster’s wishes. Yost spent six seasons in the big leagues, and is in his ninth campaign as a major league manager. He knows baseball, he knows the Code and he’s seen every Royals game this year. If the chattiness of his infielders hadn’t gotten on his nerves before now, he has no business changing course simply because team broadcasters called for it.

Had Yost been leaning that way anyway, and the broadcast team simply pushed him over the edge, it merits questioning just how dialed in he is to what’s going on with his team.

There’s a place in baseball for the old-school. It seems to be shrinking by the day, but it’s there, and guys like Hudler and Lefebvre should be commended for doing what they feel they must to uphold it.

That said, it’s 2012, and the game is different than it was in 1992 or 1972 or 1952. That’s the nature and the beauty of the unwritten rules—they’re malleable to their era, and change with every generation. If Ned Yost is willing to allow some in-game chatter between his players and their opponents, that’s his right. Last week’s episode illustrates mainly that he needs to figure out on which side of the Code he comes down.

(Via Hardball Talk.)

Update 8-05: Well, at least Yost doesn’t have to worry about Betancourt chatting up opponents any more.

Luke Hochevar, Retaliation

How Very Hochevarian: Even Merited Retaliation Manages to go Awry

Sometimes, a pitcher has to do what a pitcher has to do. When things aren’t going well for him, of course, those things he does don’t always turn out like he might otherwise expect.

During the course of the first three innings against the Royals yesterday, Jered Weaver threw pitches up and in, above the shoulders to both Alcides Escobar and Jeff Francoeur, and drilled Lorenzo Cain twice. Neither of the balls that hit Cain appeared to be intentional, but Weaver is a guy who has been known to get squirrely with the opposition, and a response was in order.

It came from Royals starter Luke Hochevar in the fourth. This being Luke Hochevar, of course, he had already given up eight runs, including a home run by Bobby Wilson to open the frame.

So when the right-hander drilled the next hitter, Mike Trout, on the left hand with a 3-0 fastball (the pitch was aimed at his thigh, but Trout dropped his arm before it could connect) it left little question about intent—especially for plate ump Bob Davidson, who ejected the pitcher on the spot. (Watch it here.)

Had Hochevar opted for pure retaliation rather than waiting until just after somebody took him deep, would he have gotten away with it? It seems likely, based on his comments after the game.

“I just asked [Davidson] why I was run and he said, ‘Because the guy before hit a home run, and then you hit the next guy,’ ” Hochevar said in the Los Angeles Times.

It just goes to show that when things go wrong, they go really wrong—pitch selection, pitch location, and when to execute a well-deserved retaliatory pitch that everybody in the stadium expects you to make.

Maybe next time, Luke. Maybe next time.

Pickoff Throws

Moderation is a Virtue, Right? Or: Did Bruce Chen Really Throw to First 10 Straight Times?

Yesterday, Bruce Chen threw to first 10 consecutive times in an effort to keep Minnesota’s Denard Span close to the bag. (Watch them all here.) Span never ended up taking off, and Yahoo’s Kevin Kaduk wondered whether there might be an unwritten rule to cover situations like this.

The short answer: Not that I know of. Winning is paramount, and if it makes sense to a pitcher to go nutty in his efforts to keep a runner from stealing, he’s entitled to it. Had it happened in the middle of a blowout, of course—as opposed to the first inning of a scoreless game, as was the case for Chen—then the pitcher would have to field angry questions from his own dugout, as well as that of the opposition.

Because we’re on the topic, here are some unwritten rule incidents involving pickoff throws, which have nothing to do with the frequency of attempts.

  • Former Giants manager Roger Craig would occasionally order an abundance of pickoff attempts to give guys on his bench additional opportunities to decode the other team’s signs. “I had pitchers shake off pickoff moves,” said catcher Bob Brenly, in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. “I had to give [pitchers] the ‘thumb’ sign—Roger called it—to get them to throw the ball over there.”
  • In a 1997 game, the Mets called for extra pickoff attempts when Roger Clemens, then with the Blue Jays, was on second. Their strategy: wear him out on the basepath. Clemens didn’t take long to figure it out, and warned shortstop Rey Ordonez that the next throw to second would put a target on a New York hitter in the ensuing inning.
  • While pickoffs are generally verboten late in blowout games, Dave Righetti felt justified in picking off Brett Butler in the ninth inning of a game in which the Dodgers led the Giants, 12-1. It was the final day of the 1993 season, and although San Francisco had won 103 games, they needed one more win to tie Atlanta atop the NL West. By the ninth inning, it was clear they weren’t going to get it. So when Butler led off the frame with a single, then took an enormous lead, Righetti was particularly sensitive, reading it as an indicator that the runner was about to take off. “A guy has no business running at that point in a game like that, and it ticked me off that he was even thinking about it,” said Righetti. “Well, his lead was so big that I picked him off—but if he had tried to steal second, I would have gone out there and we would have brawled.”  

Fight pre-emption via Code violation. Seems like as good a reason as any.

Jonathan Sanchez, Retaliation, Shin-Soo Choo

Royal Rumble: Choo Revisits Old Times with Sanchez

Baseball has an early clubhouse leader in on-field sensitivity, by his own admission no less, a particularly notable event considering that we’re barely a week into the schedule. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Shin-Soo Choo.

Choo’s sensitivity training began on opening day, when he explained his angry steps toward the mound in response to Toronto reliever Luis Perez buzzing him with a head-high, inside fastball as being a lingering function of having his thumb broken by a pitch last season.

“Maybe that’s why I’m sensitive right now,” he said at the time. “But I know it’s part of the game.”

It came full circle on Saturday, when the pitcher who had broken his thumb, lefty Jonathan Sanchez—then with the Giants, now with the Royals—faced the Indians for the first time since the incident. In the third inning, he hit Choo again, this time above his right knee. Choo shouted at the pitcher and, he said in a Cleveland.com report, “told him to throw it over the plate.” (Watch it here.)

It was enough to empty the benches, at which point crew chief Gary Darling issued warnings to both teams.

Choo later confronted his sensitivity in the Kansas City Star, admitting that, especially as it concerns getting drilled by Sanchez, “maybe I am a little bit sensitive.”

In this case, so too were the rest of the Indians. Cleveland starter Jeanmar Gomez drilled the next member of the Royals to come to the plate, Mike Moustakas, again drawing the benches onto the field. Both Gomez and manager Manny Acta were ejected, as was third baseman Jack Hannahan, who tried to get at Moustakas in the scrum.

(Afterward, Gomez insisted that he was “trying to open the inside corner” so as to “work the outside part of the plate.” Of course he was. In the other clubhouse, Sanchez issued a similar—though more plausible—denial: “I’ve got a guy on first—why am I going to hit somebody? You’ve got to be a professional and take your base. He knew it wasn’t on purpose.”)

This is where the balance between appropriate teammate protection and game consideration comes into play. Choo was likely delighted by Gomez’s strike; Hannahan clearly was. Because Gomez chose to stand his ground with a warning hanging over him in the third inning, however, he forced his team into emergency maneuvers. “He was trying to protect his teammates, but I think he went overboard a little,” said Acta. “There was a warning in place. Once you hit a guy, you’re going to be thrown out. That early in a game, you tax the bullpen.”

Ultimately, the best retaliation came from Choo himself, when he laced a two-out, two-run double off the center-field wall in the 10th inning, providing the difference in Cleveland’s 11-9 victory. In so doing, he also proved that he is not prone to being sidetracked by extracurricular distractions.

After the game, Indians reliever Chris Perez—who earned the save on Saturday—kept things alive on Twitter, referencing Kansas City’s team slogan, “Our Time,” in a Tweet: “Huge team win tonight; time for a sweep to tell the Royals it’s not “Our Time”, it’s #TribeTime. P.S. You hit us, we hit you. Period.”

“We’re tried of watching our guys wear it,” Perez said the following day in the Kansas City Star. “It happened (too much) last year, and we’re not going to stand for it this year.”

These are fine claims for a blustery pitcher seeking to send a message, but for Cleveland’s closer—who will virtually never have the chance to follow up on his threat, based on the fact that he appears almost exclusively in close games—such claims set an unenviable precedent for his teammates to follow up on his behalf.

Cleveland won a 13-7, incident-free series finale on Sunday, but the teams face each other 15 more times this season, presenting a very good likelihood that Jonathan Sanchez starts at least one of those games. He should by now recognize the increased combustion factor should he come anywhere close to Choo; for a guy who’s built significant amounts of success on being affectively wild, it’ll be interesting to see how this reality affects him.

Related: Opening Day + Extra Innings = Baseball Drama in Cleveland.

Update (4-18): Gomez has drawn a five-game suspension for his actions. Seems that hitting a guy intentionally is one thing; doing so after an umpire specifically told you not to is something else.

Update (4-20): Perez has been fined for his tweet, .75 large.