At Some Point, Everybody Wants Theirs

As a concept, eye-for-an-eye hasn’t ruled baseball’s landscape for a number of years, laid victim to the evolution of the sport’s unwritten rules, which has seen them become significantly more lenient. Thursday, however, we saw just how prevalent the notion actually remains, as a response both for the severity of an act, and for the frequency. It’s out there—all it needs is a trigger.

The incident that got the most play, of course, was Giancarlo Stanton taking a Mike Fiers fastball off his face. The impact was severe, both literally and symbolically, as one of the game’s best hitters suffered extensive damage that will sideline him indefinitely. Adding to Miami’s, it was ruled that he swung at the pitch (negating the HBP), just as it was ruled moments later that Stanton’s mid-at-bat replacement, Reed Johnson, finished the sequence by striking out swinging at a pitch that ended up hitting him, too.

Never mind that Fiers seemed genuinely anguished over the incident, both in the clubhouse and on Twitter. (We’ve now come to the age of the virtual hospital visit.) Miami responded an inning later, reliever Anthony DeSclafani hitting Carlos Gomez in his left elbow.

In Arlington, Mike Trout was hit twice by the Rangers, and three times over a two-game span. All were likely accidental, but at some point response becomes mandatory. When the victim is one of the game’s best players, response time increases.

Angels reliever Joe Smith opened the ninth by hitting rookie Rangers catcher Tomas Telis in the waist.

There is no question that modern hair triggers are less hairy than ever, and that the game is a softer, gentler place than it ever has been, but even the most mild-mannered ballplayer or manager has a line someplace. Intentions can be irrelevant. Hit a star player too hard or too often, and you’re bound to find out exactly where it is.


Don't Showboat

Whether ’tis Nobler in the Mind to Suffer the Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune, or Just to Act Like an A-Hole Closer

Pujols arrowAt his very best, Fernando Rodney is ludicrous. His pre-scripted bow-and-arrow routine following saves—during which he pulls an imaginary arrow from an imaginary quiver and shoots it with his imaginary bow—is one of the sorriest sights in the sport. He says he does it for the fans, but is there a bigger cry for attention in the big leagues? More pertinently, is anybody short of those who would be cheering for him anyway entertained by his hack act?

Still, it’s easy enough to ignore. He does it after games have ended, when people are either celebrating or walking somberly off the field. On Sunday, however, Rodney took things a step farther, bow-and-arrowing not toward his usual spot in center field, but toward the Angels dugout (or, he said, the fans sitting above) … and not at the end of the ninth inning, but after protecting a one-run lead at the end of the eighth. In so doing, he broke new ground in the art of closer show-boatery.

Suffice it to say that the Angels weren’t pleased. “He woke up our dugout,” said Grant Green in an report.

When Rodney came back out for the ninth, Mike Trout greeted him by drawing a walk, then scored the tying run on Albert Pujols’ follow-up double. Pujols responded by shooting an imaginary arrow at Trout, and Trout returned fire right back at Pujols. It was as fine an in-your-face moment as can be found on a big league diamond short of actual game play. (Two singles and two intentional walks later, the Angels took care of that, too, with a walk-off, 6-5 victory, courtesy of Green’s game-ending single. Rodney did not reach for his quiver again at that point.)

It must be accepted that closers have their shtick. Sergio Romo does a little dance. Rafael Soriano untucks his shirt. Jose Valverde just kind of loses his mind. One time, Aroldis Chapman even rolled. It goes all the way back to Brad “The Animal” Leslie’s crazed yelps following saves in the early 1980s.

Closer to the Rodney situation was when Brian Wilson did his typical arms-crossed-point-to-the-sky move against the Dodgers in 2009, after which Los Angeles third baseman Casey Blake mocked him for it in the dugout … then took it back when he found out it was a tribute to Wilson’s late father. If you’re going to do it on the field, however, it’s gonna be in play.

All of which is a leadup to some simple advice: If as a closer you’re going to act like a goon, save it until the game’s actually finished.


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.

C.J. Wilson, No-Hitter Etiquette

Wilson ‘Bummed’ by CarGo’s Bunt

Just a few days back, Dee Gordon tried to bunt for what would have been his team’s first hit against the Mariners.

Because it was only the fourth inning, and because speed is such an integral part to Gordon’s game, and because Seattle led only 1-0, none of the Mariners gave it much thought.

The same couldn’t be said regarding Carlos Gonzalez, who last Friday—the same day as Gordon’s effort—bunted for Colorado’s first hit against the Angels. The circumstances were remarkably similar: It was the fourth inning, it was a tack he regularly uses (he’d already had one bunt single this year, and tallied six last season), and his team trailed only 2-0.

The primary difference: The attitude of the pitcher he was facing.

“Anytime a guy like him drops a bunt down, it’s a little shocking,” said Angels starter C.J. Wilson in an report. “I was bummed about that from a competitive standpoint. I guess he just wanted to get on base.”

Sure, Gonzalez is known for his power more than his speed, which in turn causes third basemen to play deeper than they might for somebody like Gordon. Ultimately, however, if there’s a defensive hole to exploit, one can hardly fault a hitter for trying.

“He was throwing nasty pitches, so why would you take that away from me?” Gonzalez said. “That’s part of my game. . . . We were only down by two runs. Maybe in a different situation, I would try to swing the bat because I know how hard it is for pitchers to give up the first hit with a bunt. But I wanted to get my team going and he was dominating.”

The Angels won, 7-2, and there was no retaliation against Gonzalez. Using Wilson’s own vernacular, “bummed” doesn’t necessarily mean “angry,” which may have had to do with the fact that Gonzalez didn’t exactly break up a game for the ages—CarGo’s was one of five hits Wilson gave up on the day.

Then again, the pitcher did see fit to address the matter after the game, even while he should have been basking in an outstanding (one run over eight innings) performance.

Seems there’s just no pleasing some people.

Albert Pujols, Firsts

For Pujols, Silent Treatment Taken to New Extremes

Hey, where’d everybody go?

Albert Pujols finally hit a home run for the Angels on Sunday, 27 games and 110 at-bats into his career in Anaheim. A drought like this is noteworthy for baseball’s best hitter, let alone a guy trying desperately to justify his new $240 million contract.

It’s also noteworthy for his teammates. So noteworthy, in fact, that they took to celebration in a unique, yet very traditional, fashion.

When a player achieves a noteworthy “first”—usually the player is a rookie, and usually the event in question is his first career home run—his teammates will occasionally freeze him out, sitting on the bench as if nothing eventful has happened before leaping up en masse to congratulate him. Detroit’s Will Rhymes earned such a response after his first career round-tripper in 2010.

Pujols is hardly a rookie, but his blast was sufficient to earn special treatment from teammate Torii Hunter. While the slugger was rounding the bases before a rapturous crowd at Angel Stadium, Hunter quickly herded everybody on the bench—including teammates, manager Mike Scioscia, the trainers and the entire coaching staff—into the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. Pujols received congratulations at the plate from Mike Trout, who had been on base, and the on-deck and in-the-hole hitters, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo, but when he returned to the dugout he found nothing but empty paper cups and the possible tumbleweed. (Watch it here.)

“I thought that would be cool,” said Hunter in an Associated Press report. “I always wanted to do that, and it worked. I just said, ‘Let’s get off the bench and go to the tunnel.’ He was excited about it and we were, too. We had to think fast. When I have a day off, man, I do stupid stuff.”

It worked because Pujols was delighted. It worked because the superstar made a beeline for the tunnel and jovially extracted his teammates, who proceeded to mob him. It worked because it gave the scuffling Angels a rare moment of genuine levity on the field.

If that seems like a bit much to celebrate he 446th career homer for the best player in baseball, Pujols has nothing on Don Drysdale. In 1959, the Hall of Fame pitcher was at the beginning of a long road trip with the Dodgers, in the dining room of the Chase Park-Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, when he received word of the birth of his daughter, Kelly. He took the call not far from the table he had been sharing with Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Don Zimmer, and felt certain that his teammates had overheard the good news. Yet when he went back to join them, Drysdale encountered nothing but baseball talk, nothing but Dodgers and the previous night’s box scores. Like Pujols, Drysdale was no rookie (this was his fourth season), but like Pujols it didn’t matter.

It wasn’t quite the same as hiding in a ballpark tunnel, but it worked. Before long, of course, his teammates cracked and congratulations became the order of the day.

Jered Weaver, No-Hitter Etiquette

Jered Weaver Didn’t Need Relief Last Night … Until he Did

From the don’t change anything file: While players typically opt for keeping the same spot on the bench throughout a no-hitter, Jered Weaver willingly gave his up in the eighth inning yesterday, three outs from no-hitting the Twins.

“I had to pee so bad it was unbelievable,” he told the MLB Network after the game. “I didn’t know whether to sit down or go do it or what, but I had to go relieve myself.”

(Broadcaster and former pitcher Mitch Williams, in response: “My pants would have been wet, because I ain’t changing a thing in that spot.”)

Not quite Michael Bourne, but it’ll do.

Clubhouse meetings

Albert’s Clubhouse, Albert’s Way: Pujols Calls Out Hatcher

The first rule of clubhouse meetings: Do not talk about clubhouse meetings. This is the sanctity of the clubhouse at its most pervasive, where players—unburdened by the presence of media and sometimes their own coaches—are allowed to speak freely in an effort to right a reeling ship. Things can be said, tempers can flare, fists can fly; none of it matters beyond the clubhouse walls, because the doors are closed.

So when Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher talked about Albert Pujols’ sentiments at a recent such meeting with his teammates—saying that he “essentially stood up and told his teammates that he won’t be flailing as he is all season,” according to CBS Sports’ Scott Miller—it rubbed Pujols the wrong way.

“Mickey should have never told you guys that,” Pujols said, after finding out about it. “That stuff needs to be private. He should have never told the media. What we talked about at the meeting, not disrespecting Mickey, but that stuff should stay behind closed doors.”

Never mind that everything Hatcher relayed was positive. (Pujols reportedly also talked about how he’s been on clubs that have overcome slumps and losing streaks, and affirmed that it can be done.) Pujols’ public messaging should be up to him. If he wanted to say that to the press, he easily could have.

Hatcher played in the big leagues for 12 years. Was a World Series hero. (Hell, he should know these things as well as anyone, having had his Dodgers team spurred into action in the 1988 NLCS by a glorious, bile-filled, closed-door rant from Tommy Lasorda, in which the Dodgers manager ripped David Cone for saying that pitcher Jay Howell reminded him of a high school pitcher, even though that hadn’t quite been the case. L.A.went on to dispatch the favored Mets in seven games.)

To this point in his career, Pujols has known nothing but Tony La Russa’s brand of baseball operations, and is clearly getting used to having things run a little bit differently. He’s scuffling right now, and is apparently very sensitive. He’s also entitled to his privacy—at least in matters that unfold under private circumstances.

For good or for bad, this is now Albert’s clubhouse. And he’s letting everybody know how he wants it to run.

(Via Hardball Talk.)

Don't Call Out Teammates in the Press, Teammate Relations

Angels Sink Lower, Take Verbal Swipes at Each Other, Meet to Clear Things Up, Lose Again

Remember how last week Bobby Valentine declared, for no apparent reason and on TV, no less, that Kevin Youkilis was not “as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past”? One of my ensuing conclusions was that, had Valentine seen said comment as his final line of recourse in reaching a problematic Youkilis, it would have been entirely justified.

It wasn’t, of course. Youkilis appears merely to be scuffling, not mentally checked out, and Valentine was just popping off, as he’s known to do.

Still, the sentiment holds. Yesterday, it might have held in the visitors’ clubhouse at Tropicana Field, where Torii Hunter alluded to the press that some people may have some problems with Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

With Los Angeles in last place, having just lost their third in a row and sixth of their last eight, Hunter handed a barely veiled reference to the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t think we believe we’re trying that hard,” he said. “We’re just going through the motions. We have to do what we’re capable of doing. That’s everybody, not just the players.”

Scioscia is a pretty clear target for the phrase, “not just the players.” What did Hunter mean? The Times’ Mike DiGiovanna led his story with it:

Not only are the Angels not hitting, they’re not stealing bases, bunting, executing hit-and-run plays and pushing the envelope offensively, all trademarks of Mike Scioscia-managed teams.

They’re not scratching and clawing or sacrificing themselves enough for the team, and those deficiencies, as well as an inability to hit in the clutch, were evident again Wednesday night . . .

DiGiovanna’s guess was that Hunter was referring specifically to Sciocia’s failure to have Macier Izturis bunt Hunter and Vernon Wells over, after they led off the second with singles. Izturis ended up flying to left, and both runners were eventually stranded.

Asked if the game could have changed with some early execution, Hunter said, “You mean if we bunted in the second? What can we do? All we do is play the game.”

The Angels held a pre-game, players-only meeting today, following a previous meeting eight days ago, in which Scioscia apparently told his charges they had to “grind it out.” The wagons are officially being circled.

Whatever was said by Angels players today, one thing is clear: By this point in his career, Scioscia has earned the right to be above public scrutiny by his players, frustrated as they may be. Hunter is one of the few in the game who can get away with something like that, owing to his own reputation and veteran status. Still, it speaks to some serious fractures among the ranks, which is just what today’s meeting was designed to address.

Such is the nature of this kind of thing that it did not present early returns. The Angels scored only three runs against Tampa Bay Thursday, and lost, 4-3,  on a game-ending, two-run homer by Brandon Allen.

(DiGiovanna weighed in on Sciocia’s in-game machinations with a ninth-inning tweet —”Unconventional move by #Angels MRG… and I like it. For a change”—after reliever Scott Downs opened the frame instead of closer Jordan Walden, with the Angels holding a one-run lead. Walden came in after Downs retired Matt Joyce. Two batters later, the game was over.)

These are the kinds of things that happen on losing ballclubs—especially those predicted by many to reach the World Series. Still, it’s only April, and nobody knows how much time is left in the season better than a roster full of veterans. Now we’ll see how much longer they can keep their mouths shut.

(Via Hardball Talk.)

C.J. Wilson, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Mike Napoli, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

For a Good Time, Please Don’t Call Mike Napoli

Wilson and Napoli during happier times.

Usually, pitchers can unbunch their panties via well-placed fastballs aimed at or near the player responsible for said bunching. It’s time-honored and it’s effective and, if it’s executed properly, it allows adequate venting with no long-term damage.

The long-term nature of the damage Mike Napoli suffered yesterday is up for debate, but there’s little question that he’ll be feeling this particular pinch far longer than he would a baseball to the thigh.

Napoli apparently riled pitcher and former teammate C.J. Wilson by saying, upon Wilson’s signing with Anaheim during the off-season, that he was looking forward to taking the left-hander deep.

Were Wilson truly miffed, he could have called Napolito talk it over. Were he baseball miffed, he could have drilled him the next time the two faced each other. Wilson, however, appears to have been more provoked than angry, gladly looking for an excuse to execute what can only in baseball and frat-house circles qualify as a “prank.”

He tweeted Napoli’s phone number. (That’s what Wilson considers a prank? No, this is a prank.)

Sure, there’s long been a place for off-field retaliation in baseball. Before there was Twitter, Ty Cobb and Buck Herzog fought in Cobb’s hotel room, some hours after Cobb had spiked the second baseman during a game. In this modern age of mass communication, however, it seems that one can do far worse deeds digitally than with one’s fists.

Wilson’s prank—again, we use the term loosely—may have been marginally appropriate had he and Napoli possessed a relationship strong enough to sustain such shenanigans. Napoli, however, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that this is not the case.

“I don’t even know why he did it,” he said. “You don’t do that. I am not taking it as a prank. You know, I haven’t even talked to him since the end of last season. We don’t have that type of relationship.”

So Napoli has to deal with the inconvenience of getting a new phone number. Wilson has to defend himself from the outraged masses. And the rest of us get to consider what may yet happen when these guys meet during the regular season (never mind the two spring training contests left between the teams, on March 24 and 25).

– Jason

Appropriate Retaliation, Carlos Guillen, Jered Weaver, Retaliation

How Not to Retaliate, No Matter How Much a Guy Deserves it, Anaheim Edition

Yesterday’s Jered WeaverCarlos Guillen histrionics seemed to mesmerize the nation. I wrote about it for Sports, tying it in to last week’s Carlos CarrascoBilly Butler fiasco. Both had the same trigger—a player watching a home run longer than the pitcher would have liked—and wildly inappropriate retaliation: head-high fastballs. (Watch Weaver-Guillen here.)

Also included: A quick roundup of other Code violations recently in the news.

Click over to SI for a nicely formatted version and a full-color photograph of Weaver and Guillen. Or, if you’re lazy, just scroll down.

– Jason

Jered, meet Carlos. Carlos, Jered.

Insult me once, shame on you. Insult me twice, duck and cover.

In Detroit on Sunday, Angels pitcher Jered Weaver took matters into his own hands after two incidents of Tigers showboating after hitting home runs. Weaver stewed after Magglio Ordoñez paused to admire his two-run homer in the third, going so far as to say something to Miguel Cabrera about it after retiring him for the inning’s third out.

Whatever message Cabrera relayed in the Detroit dugout did not earn Weaver the respect to which he felt entitled. In fact, it had the opposite effect. In the seventh inning, Carlos Guillen watched his blast for several beats, flipped his bat, then made glaring eye contact with Weaver as he took five slow steps toward first followed by two sideways hops. Only then did he start his trot — by which point he was already halfway up the line.

“I’ve never done that before like that,” Guillen said in an report. “The way he reacted to Magglio, he’s my teammate. We’re a team.”

Weaver immediately began shouting at Guillen and home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt quickly stepped in and warned both benches against retaliation.

Weaver wasted little time ignoring him. The guy can’t be faulted much for wanting to take care of things quickly; he had already thrown 110 pitches and wasn’t going to be in the game much longer no matter what happened. The message he sent with his very next pitch, however, was anything but perfect. If Ordoñez and Guillen violated baseball’s unwritten rules with their increasingly provocative displays of showmanship, Weaver one-upped them with a 92-mph fastball aimed at the head of Alex Avila.

That Avila ducked under it was beneficial not just for himself, but for Weaver as well. Had the pitch connected, one of the AL’s top Cy Young candidates would now be bearing a label he might never be able to shed.

The move was all the more quizzical considering that just two days earlier, nearly identical circumstances precipitated nearly identical results — and a similar outcry against the pitcher.

The hitter was Kansas City’s Melky Cabrera, who after launching a grand slam off Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, watched it sail before he ran. Carrasco, already on the line for seven runs in 3 1/3 innings, threw his next pitch at — and over — the head of Billy Butler.

Carrasco was ejected and benches emptied. Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur could be seen gesturing angrily toward his hip as he yelled at Carrasco, indicating where the pitch should have gone.

“I understand the game,” Francoeur told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “If he thought [Cabrera] pimped the home run, fine. Hit [Butler] in the side. Don’t hit him in the head. That’s why I was yelling at him.”

Francoeur was spot on. Several Royals, including Butler himself, said that an appropriately placed retaliatory pitch would have raised nary a hackle on their bench. Instead, Carrasco is now a marked man.

The same can be said for Weaver. The Angels and Tigers won’t see each other again this season unless they meet in the playoffs. The next time they do, however, Weaver will have to do some explaining to his teammates should Detroit pitchers decide that his action merits further response.


Weaver and the Tigers’ twin showmen weren’t the only ones taking a run at the unwritten rulebook during the course of Sunday’s game. Justin Verlander was in the middle of a no-hitter when Erick Aybar led off the eighth inning with a bunt.

There are situations in which the unwritten rules forbid such a display. Had the Tigers’ 3-0 lead been a few runs greater, Aybar’s endeavor would have been universally assailed by Code adherents. As it was, even as he brought the tying run into the on-deck circle, he still surprised many.

The concept holds that a no-hitter deserves nothing less than a hitter’s best effort to break it up. In many cases, bunting does not qualify.

The best-known instance of this came in 2001, when Padres catcher Ben Davis ruined Curt Schilling’s perfect game with a bunt single in the eighth inning. Part of the reason Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly was so vocally upset about the play is that bunting for hits was not part of Davis’ offensive repertoire; the one against Schilling was the first of his career.

Aybar, however, has 41 bunt hits since the beginning of the 2009 season. Not to mention the fact that he didn’t actually break up the no-hitter, as Verlander was charged with a throwing error on the play. Three batters later, Macier Itzuris punctured Verlander’s balloon by singling — on a full swing.

If Verlander is upset with anybody, it should be Guillen. The Code stipulates that nothing should change when a pitcher is racing toward perfection. There are many ways to view this rule, but one of the pitcher’s own teammates intentionally initiating bad blood with the opposition and disrupting the flow of the game is inexcusable.

Guillen likely hasn’t heard the last of this from the Angels. If he’s lucky, he won’t hear it from within his own clubhouse, as well.

Elsewhere in the unwritten rules:

• In Boston, John Lackey continues to lead the league in on-field gesticulations made in response to mistakes by his fielders. Spurred primarily by two miscues from shortstop Marco Scutaro — one of which was charged an error — Lackey alternately pounded his glove and threw his hands into the air as he gave up three first-inning runs to Tampa Bay on July 16.

• Also in Boston, Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves hit Kansas City’s Billy Butler on July 26 — possibly in response to a brushback pitch thrown to Dustin Pedroia earlier in the game; or possibly because Butler had homered, doubled and singled in the game. It also could have been unintentional. No matter; Blake Wood then drilled Adrian Gonzalez in apparent retaliation, both benches were warned and everybody went on their merry way. (Well, Boston went on its merry way in a 13-9 victory, in which Royals outfielder Mitch Maier was forced to take the mound.)

• In Florida, Mr. Marlin himself, Jeff Conine (currently a special assistant to the team president) said on the radio that Hanley Ramirez doesn’t play as hard as he should, and if it was up to Conine he’d probably trade the shortstop. Five days later Ramirez shot back in the Miami Herald, calling Conine “chicken” for not saying it to his face, and proclaiming that he would “make it to the Hall of Fame being in a Marlins uniform.”

• In Kansas City, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar was on the business end of a hard slide by Tampa Bay’s Sam Fuld, and ended up taking spikes to the shin. “That’s a dirty slide, man,” he told the Kansas City Star.

• In Atlanta, Journal-Constitution columnist Mark Bradley recalled the time the retired former Braves ace Greg Maddux waited through parts of two seasons before he could retaliate against then-Diamondbacks pitcher Andy Benes.