Mark Canha is a pest. Like, the Athletic had a whole thing last week about how Canha is a pest, and A’s manager Bob Melvin was asked about Canha being a pest, and although he refuted the word itself, he went on to describe Canha with sentiments that can be boiled down to a single word: “Pest.”
“He can get under people’s skin,” said Melvin, who talked about how long Canha takes to get ready in the box and how he sees a ton of pitches and, oh yeah, how he crowds the plate. “It can be a little unnerving when you have a guy like that that isn’t afraid to get [hit by a pitch],” he added.
Which brings us to today’s topic: Why Melvin was asked about Canha in the first place. Last Thursday, Canha leaned into a pitch from LA’s Dylan Bundy, taking it off of his sizeable elbow guard. There’s a rule about batters making an effort to avoid a pitch in order to be awarded first base, but even though Canha literally did the opposite of that, the rule was not invoked here. He’s tied for the major league lead with 18 HBPs this season—six of which have come against the Angels.
Bundy was angry. In fact, Bundy had precedent. Back on June 14, the right-hander hit Canha in the same spot on the same elbow guard in a strikingly similar fashion. Canha did not lean into that one quite as much, though he made similarly little effort to get out of the way.
At this point it’s safe to assume that Bundy is not a fan. He offered some thoughts as Canha trotted to first, and Canha offered some of his own. Few of them were G-rated.
Did it have an effect? Bundy walked the next two batters, and proceeded to give up three runs—the first scored by Canha himself—in the inning.
When Canha came up again in the second, Bundy offered a clear-cut message: a fastball behind Canha’s head, which would have hit him flush had he not nodded out of the way. Somehow, this response, far more egregious than anything Canha had done, escaped further notice from both the umpires (no warnings were issued) and from the A’s themselves (that was more or less the end of the confrontation).
Oakland won that game, and three of four in the series, and is 12-4 against the Angels this year. Hell, maybe LA isn’t angry enough. The teams will face each other three more times this season, in Anaheim in September. Count on Canha getting drilled again, one way or another.
Jake Marisnick still feels terrible. That’s the prime takeaway from Tuesday’s Astros-Angels game, which featured the culmination of a string of events in which Marisnick played the heavy. This is why, even after a retaliatory pitch to his head for which few in baseball would have begrudged him some outrage, the guy quietly took his base and then implored his teammates to pipe down.
These are the actions of a guy who wants this entire chapter to end as quickly as possible.
It began last week, when Marisnick violently collided with Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy after altering his route to the plate. The play left Lucroy unconscious, with a concussion and a broken nose that ultimately required surgery and an extended stay on the IL. Replays looked terrible, and Marisnick spent the ensuing days apologetically trying to explain how it had been his intention to avoid Lucroy, not blow him up. There was no mistaking his emotional distress in having caused such damage. He was suspended by MLB, but is still playing while the decision is appealed.
None of this mitigated the certainty that the Angels would retaliate. It was their guy on the ground. It had been, in their eyes, a dirty play … or at least one worthy of response. And Tuesday was the first time Marisnick had faced them since it all went down.
Had the Angels gone about it properly, it’s unlikely that anybody would have paid it further mind. Instead, reliever Noe Ramirez sent a fastball toward Marisnick’s earhole.
The time of reckoning was obvious even before Ramirez let loose. Marisnick’s first two at-bats came in the second and fourth innings, and even though the Angels had put up an unanswered six-spot in the first, there was still too much risk in targeting him so early. Look no further than a day earlier, when Philadelphia’s Yacksel Rios was tossed from a game for hitting Justin Turner with as unintentional a HBP as can be imagined: an offspeed pitch that broke just a little too sharply. Angels manager Brad Ausmus was unwilling to risk a similar outcome for his own starting pitcher, Andrew Heaney, so early in the game, so Marisnick was pitched to, not at. (It’s rare in the modern game for a manager to explicitly order retaliation, but they’re not shy when it comes to telling their pitchers to situationally avoid targeting a guy.)
Heaney, however, departed in the fifth, in favor of Ramirez.
With Marisnick leading off the sixth, the Angels—holding a 6-2 lead—could more
easily absorb the loss of a middle-innings reliever. The right-hander sent his first
pitch to Marisnick, a curveball, wide of the strike zone, clear subterfuge for
the up-and-in to follow. Trouble was, plate ump Stu Scheurwater called it a
strike. So Ramirez followed it with another bender, this one even further
At that point, had Ramirez opted to put a fastball into Marisnick’s backside, or even his ribcage, it’s doubtful that anyone in the Astros dugout would have reacted. But that’s not what he did. His next pitch, a 90-mph four-seamer, screamed toward Marisnick’s head, deflecting off his shoulder after a jump and a shrug.
By all rights, Marisnick should have been irate. A mound
charge, while hardly encouraged, would at least have been understandable. If
ever a pitcher should have been ejected without warning, this was the time.
None of that happened.
Instead, Marisnick calmly took his base, refusing to so much
as glare at the pitcher. That should have been the end of it. As Ron Washington
told me many years ago, describing an incident in which Frank Thomas was
drilled intentionally: “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.”
That’s not what happened on Tuesday. Marisnick’s calm did nothing to dissuade his teammates’ anger, with the Astros—notably Lance McCullers Jr.—chirping so vehemently from their dugout that Angels first baseman Albert Pujols eventually got fed up and walked over to better engage, even as Marisnick himself urged his teammates to pipe down. The video is remarkable.
Afterward, the Astros were understandably upset—not by the retaliation, but by how it was executed.
“If they felt the need to defend their guy, that’s fine,” McCullers said in a Houston Chronicle report, “but I think the way that it was done was horseshit.”
Astros manager A.J. Hinch alluded to a possible continuation of the beef should MLB fail to punish Ramirez. “It’s a confusing time,” he said after the game. “Either the players govern the players on the field like it’s always been, or we legislate it to where none of this crap happens. They got a free shot at him with no warning, no ejection. We’ll see if there’s discipline. And without discipline, there’s going to be no issue doing it the next time. So, if retaliations are in, cool. We’re well aware.”
That’s not how Marisnick feels. The incident served to distract from the fact that earlier in day, the outfielder was presented with the Astros’ Heart and Hustle Award. By all accounts, he’s a good guy with a good heart who made a questionable baseball decision that ended horrifically. And he’s still upset by it.
“There’s no need for that,” Marisnick said after the game, referencing the situation with Pujols. Then he turned the discussion to actual baseball matters, which is clearly where he’d like it to stay.
Another crappy slide, another pissed-off middle infielder, another dustup on a big league diamond. This is almost becoming routine.
On Saturday, Rangers second baseman Roughned Odor tried to take out Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons on the final play of of LA’s 6-0 shutout. On one hand, it’s up to Odor to do whatever he can to break up the double play and extend the inning. On the other, there’s this pesky document put out by Major League Baseball called “Official Baseball Rules,” by which Odor’s tactics should be judged a bit more harshly.
Odor swung well to the outside of second base in an effort to disrupt the play, but not wide enough. To reach Simmons, who’d cleared the base by some four feet, Odor had to jut out his right leg in the exact opposite direction of the bag. In so doing, his cleats tore into Simmons’ shin.
The effort was not enough to disrupt the throw, but it did manage to empty the dugouts. No punches were thrown.
Odor was clueless after the game. “He pushed me,” he told reporters about Simmons’ response. “I was surprised because I made a good slide. It was not a dirty slide. I tried to break up the double play with a good slide. That’s why I was surprised he pushed me like that. He was angry, but I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I made a good slide. It was not dirty.”
Rangers Jeff Bannister stood up for his player, because that’s what managers do, calling the slide “appropriate.”
“I didn’t see anything I thought should warrant the reaction we got,” he said in an MLB.com report. “Situation where we are going to continue to play hard baseball. Situation where Rougned made contact with the bag. Not sure why the anxiety.”
Why the anxiety might be because, for Odor, this kind of slide is old hat.
Following Anthony Rizzo’s disputed slide in Pittsburgh a week ago today, and the Pirates’ revenge slide two days later, the Rangers should be up on what constitutes “not dirty.” In the modern, safety-first era, what Odor did—even if, as seems likely, he did not intend to spike Simmons—was unequivocally dirty.
The rule is there for a reason. Simmons ended up with a gash on his leg, but did not miss any time. Also, he didn’t want to talk about it. “Nothing,” he told reporters in response to a question about what he said to Odor following the slide. “I was trying to tell him, ‘You forgot to say hello to your family for me.’ He’s like, ‘No, I didn’t forget, I told them.’ I was like, ‘No, they told me you didn’t tell them.’ He wasn’t very happy about it, so it’s OK. … I’m gonna eat my gelato and sleep well at night.”
Simmons was eating gelato at the time.
On Sunday, Angels pitchers opted against retaliation, but Simmons had a chance to seize his own pound of flesh with a wide slide into Odor to break up a double play in the fourth. He did it—Odor’s relay to first baseman Ronald Guzman was not in time to catch Shohei Ohtani—but umpires ruled that Simmons had deviated from his path, and called Ohtani out.
(To be fair, regarding the commentary in the above tweet, Simmons completed his double play on Saturday, so there was no need to review the slide.)
Questionable slides have led toallsortsofconfrontations over recent seasons. Recently, of course, they’re supposed to be regulated out of existence, something that has yet to happen. Given Odor’s track record with this kind of thing, unless the league office intervenes, expect it to continue.
A week into the season and we’re neck deep in When Not to Bunt waters. Unlike Chance Sisco’s effort against the Twins on Sunday, Anaheim’s Andrelton Simmons actually dropped one down yesterday while Corey Kluber was tossing a no-hitter. Also unlike Sisco, that’s an actual violation of the unwritten rules.
If a team is behind by a reasonable margin in the late innings of a no-hitter, the theory holds that it is incumbent upon them to avoid resorting to trickery to ruin a masterful effort. Fair enough.
Yesterday, however, when Simmons noted the deep positioning of third baseman Jose Ramirez, it was only the fifth inning. Even more pertinently, the Angels trailed only 2-0 at the time. By reaching base, Simmons brought the tying run to the plate in the person of Shohei Otani.
It paid off when Otani homered, tying the game and allowing LA to win it in the 13th.
To their credit, unlike various members of the Twins, Cleveland players didn’t much complain about it, probably because it was so obviously kosher. Here’s hoping whoever next encounters something similar will feel the same way.
While accusations continue to fly in Boston about high-tech sign-stealing espionage, similar gripes arose in Oakland on Wednesday that appear mainly to do with batters peeking at the catcher. Apparently, Moneyball budgets don’t cover Apple watches.
In the second inning, Angels catcher Juan Graterol began a discussion with the hitter, Oakland outfielder Mark Canha, that grew animated enough for plate ump Mike Everitt to separate them. TV cameras picked up Everitt informing LA’s dugout that the catcher suspected A’s players of stealing signs. Canha said later that Graterol told him to quit looking back at his signals, and that the catcher had already delivered a similar message to infielder Chad Pinder.
“I’ve never [peeked] in my career,” Canha said in a San Francisco Chronicle report. “I thought it was just a Scioscia-Angels-Graterol tactic to make young players get uncomfortable, just get in my head. I was just like, ‘OK, play your little games and I’m just going to focus on the task at hand.’ ”
The issue came to a head in the fourth inning, shortly after Oakland’s Matt Chapman stepped into the batter’s box, when he and Graterol went nose to nose. According to Chapman, the second-inning exchange was only the latest example of LA accusing Oakland players both relaying signs from second base and peeking back at the catcher pre-pitch to pick up additional information.
“The catcher kept staring at the hitters as they were digging into the box,” Chapman said. “That’s not a very comfortable feeling having the catcher staring at you. It’s a little disrespectful. So when I got into the box, I just let them know we were not stealing signs and there was no need to be staring at us. He obviously didn’t take too kindly to that.”
It’s a thin argument. Just across the bay, Giants catcher Buster Posey—one of the sport’s headiest players—looks up from the squat at batters’ eyes all the time. Nobody has yet accused him of making them feel bad by it.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia offered a straightforward assessment. “They have a habit of glancing back,” he said about A’s batters. “On a day game or a night game when you can see shadows and a catcher’s head, it’s easy to look back and pick up some locations. So, Juan was just saying, ‘Hey, man, don’t look back.’ ” Given that Scioscia was among the best defensive catchers of his generation, it’s safe to assume that he knows whereof he speaks.
Graterol offered his own version of his conversation with Chapman. “I told him, ‘Don’t peek at the signs,’ because I saw him,” he said. “Chapman told me, ‘We don’t peek at the signs.’ I said, ‘Yes, you did.’ ” At that point, Everitt stepped between them. When Chapman continued to chirp, he was ejected for the first time in his big league career.
To gauge by the clip above, Chapman was indeed looking backward when he stepped into the box. Maybe it was in response to chatter from his teammates about Graterol giving hitters the evil eye, and he wanted to check it out. Maybe he was peeking for signs or location. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter—because Chapman offered the appearance of malfeasance, he left the Angels little recourse but to believe that was his intent.
Just as the primary responsibility for a team that’s getting its signs nabbed is to change the signs, Graterol had a number of options. He could have set up late in the sequence, once the hitter’s full concentration was on the pitcher. He could have set up early in one spot, and then shifted. He could have slapped his glove on one side of the plate while setting up on the other. Or he could have utilized the most surefire—and dangerous—peeker deterrent: calling for something away while he and the pitcher both understood that the next pitch would be high and tight. The Baseball Codes discussed a 1979 incident in which Rangers pitcher Ed Farmer gave suspected peeker Al Cowens just such a treatment, throwing a high, inside fastball after catcher Jim Sundberg had set up outside. Farmer caught Cowens leaning over the plate, with disastrous results:
The ball crashed into Cowens’s jaw, crumpling him instantly. Pete LaCock, who had been standing in the on-deck circle, was the ﬁrst member of the Royals to arrive. “His glasses were still on and his eyes were bouncing up and down and I didn’t know if he was still breathing or not,” said LaCock. “I reached into his mouth and grabbed his chew, and right behind it came pieces of teeth and blood. It was an ugly scene.”
“I have to say he was throwing at me, maybe not in the face, but it was intentional,” Cowens said angrily after the game through a wired-together jaw. “That was his ﬁrst pitch, and the two times before, he was throwing outside. He pitched me so well before. I can’t ﬁgure out why he pitched on the outside corner, struck me out, and then hit me.”
Farmer’s reply was equally pointed, though he avoided a direct accusation. “[Cowens] thinks I’m guilty of throwing at him,” he said shortly afterward. “I think he’s guilty of looking for an outside pitch and not moving.” It may not have been the result he intended, but the pitcher felt justiﬁed in protecting his own interests. “It’s a ﬁne line out there,” he said. “You don’t want to hurt anybody, but you don’t want anybody to take advantage of you.”
In that regard, Graterol’s handling of the situation was downright genteel. Regardless, even though it was the final meeting between the teams this season, it’s unlikely that Chapman & co. will take similar liberties—or anything that resembles them—in the future.
Jered Weaver meltdowns tend to be memorable affairs. In 2011 it was a blowout with Detroit, after Carlos Guillen admired a homer while staring Weaver down.
Compared to that, Kyle Seager is a downright choirboy.
In the fifth inning yesterday, Seager did what Seager does, settling into the batter’s box while holding his left hand toward the umpire, asking for time while he adjusted and readjusted himself. It’s standard fare for the third baseman, but Weaver questioned him, and everything stopped. (It’s not like the Weaver hadn’t already faced the guy 35 times over the years. No, wait a minute … it’s exactly like that.) Weaver shouted at Seager. Seager shouted at Weaver. Then the hitter got back into the box and called time again.
So Weaver drilled him.
It was an 83 mph fastball, placed appropriately. Seager wasn’t the only one to get the message; plate ump Brian O’Nora tossed Weaver on the spot.
In Weaver’s defense, he doesn’t get upset over nothing. Back in 2011, Guillen had been the second Tigers hitter to pimp a homer on the day, and was clearly trying to show the pitcher up. Seager is similarly culpable; the fact that he gets away with asking for time with both feet planted firmly in the batter’s box doesn’t mean it should be done. Set feet are a universal signal for let’s play ball, and expecting personally tailored rules is certain to rile some people.
That said, Weaver’s reactions in both situations were poor—and undoubtedly compounded by the fact that he wasn’t pitching well in either game. On Wednesday he’d given up six hits, a walk and three runs in four-and-two-thirds innings, and would likely have topped 80 pitches had he made it to the end of the fifth. Seager was on the money when he told the Los Angeles Daily News, “If you hit me there it was pretty obvious what was going to happen, he was going to be out of the game. I guess he was tired of pitching.”
Score this one for Seager, as well as for the rest of the American League, which now fully realizes that Weaver’s head offers easy access when the chips are down.
The beauty of gamesmanship in baseball is the subtle and creative ways in which it can manifest. Wednesday in Chicago it was Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who undertook a discussion he should not have been having, for longer than was necessary and in a location on the field—in front of home plate—that prevented White Sox closer David Robertson from keeping warm in the interim.
Erick Aybar led off the ninth inning of a game in which his team trailed, 2-1, by striking out on a pitch in the dirt. Aybar reacted as if Chicago catcher Tyler Flowers never tagged him (which appears in replays to have been the case) and ran to first base. Plate ump Fieldin Culbreth immediately ruled, however, that Flowers made the tag. The play went to review (which should never have happened, because Flowers’ lack of a throw to first was predicated entirely on Culbreth’s out call), and after the call was upheld Scioscia emerged to argue the point. He stood nearly atop the plate to do so. (Watch it here.) When Robertson finally resumed pitching he allowed two quick singles and an RBI groundout that tied a game the White Sox eventually won in 13.
This is a classic move, which, noted the White Sox broadcast, Billy Martin used to do all the time. And why not? If the Angels manager can easily put the opposition at a disadvantage, why wouldn’t he? I once saw a Scioscia-led Angels team let a warm-up ball escape the bullpen and onto the field of play in the late innings (it rolled to a stop near the plate), thoroughly disrupting the rhythm of a game in which they were struggling. Accident? Possibly. It was a minor moment, but baseball is a game of rhythms, and this was a clear disruption.
It’s also hardly unique.
One of the most noteworthy enactments of such tactics came in the seventh game of the 1926 World Series, when St. Louis pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander was called in from the bullpen to protect a 3-2 lead with the bases loaded and New York’s rookie shortstop, Tony Lazzeri, at the plate. Recognizing the antsiness of the young player, Alexander took his sweet time ambling to the mound, stopping to examine the gloves of center fielder Wattie Holm and shortstop Tommy Thevenow en route. Thoroughly disrupting Lazzeri’s rhythm, Alexander—39 years old and in his 16th big league season—struck him out and saved the victory for the Cardinals.
What Scioscia did on Wednesday was just as shrewd, and no less objectionable. Robertson called Scioscia “bush league” afterward, but if the White Sox are to take umbrage with anybody, it’s Culbreth, who could have ended the conversation before it began (arguing reviewed calls is grounds for ejection) or at least moved it away from the plate. Hell, either Robertson or Flowers could have requested as much. Scioscia even walked away from the plate for the second half of the discussion, and Robertson still didn’t throw a warmup.
The White Sox ended up winning the war, but that particular battle was all Mike Scioscia.
In the late 1960s and early-’70s, Rico Carty hit exceedingly well against Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis—a .341 lifetime batting average with four homers in 41 at-bats. In response, Ellis tore a dollar bill in half and gave one part of it to a Braves clubhouse attendant to pass along to Carty. Ellis’ intention: Get another hit off me and I’ll give you the other half. That’s not how Carty took it. The slugger’s response, according to Ellis in Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball: “Rico said he was going to kill me, because I put the voodoo on him. I didn’t know. And dig this: I loaded the bases, and hit Rico on the hand, broke his finger, and he swore that was a voodoo!”
On Friday, Adrian Beltre handled a similar situation so much better. Beltre broke three bats while going a soft 0-for-3 against Angels right-hander Garrett Richards. Afterward, he sent the pitcher an invoice—a bill on an actual invoice form—for $300. At the bottom he wrote, “Cash only, no checks.”
A tickled Richards offered a signed bat in response, his inscription indicating hope that the token covered his obligation.
This is the line between messages sent and messages received. In this case the message was intended for the sender’s own team, but as is often the case when dealing with lunkheads, that didn’t matter a bit to Yordano Ventura.
Heading into the sixth inning Sunday, Kansas City was hammering the Angels and Royals starter Ventura had given up only one hit. With one out, he threw a fastball up and in to Mike Trout, then took offense when Trout drilled the next pitch up the middle, about a foot over Ventura’s head … as if even the league’s best hitter has that kind of bat control.
As Trout settled in at first, the pitcher took several steps in his direction, a display of anger that the incredulous Trout seemed not to comprehend. Trout eventually came around to score on Albert Pujols’ double, upon which he popped up from his slide and implored the on-deck hitter, Matt Joyce, to keep up the momentum.
This is where Ventura proved himself as either unfailingly brave or unflinchingly stupid. Six feet tall and a rail-thin 180 pounds, Ventura gives up two inches and 55 pounds to his opponent. In proximity to the Angels slugger from his position backing up the play, he again started to vibe on Trout—this time for his exuberance—and was quickly whisked away by catcher Salvador Perez, who is clearly smart enough to serve as the brains for two people. (Watch it here.)
If Ventura got into anybody’s head, it was his own. The pitcher suffered a mysterious calf cramp on the very next play, allowing Joyce to reach first base when he was unable to cover the bag, and was removed from the game.
If Ventura and Trout have any history, it isn’t yet clear. (Trout had one hit and one walk against the right-hander in five plate appearances prior to Sunday.) Until that point, Trout … and the rest of the baseball world … are left to wonder just how much more red Ventura’s ass can get.