Retaliation, Showing Players Up

Hector Neris Really Doesn’t Like The Dodgers, In The Same Way That The Guy Getting Sand Kicked On Him In That Charles Atlas Ad Doesn’t Like The Guy Doing The Kicking

Hector Neris was unable to get LA’s goat on Tuesday, so he upped his game on Thursday. Head-high beanball not enough? Okay, Dodgers, fuck you.

On Tuesday, Neris entered in the ninth inning to protect a 6-5 lead, and in the span of four batters gave up a walk, a single and a three-run homer to pinch-hitter Matt Beaty. This was especially difficult for the pitcher, given that the last time he faced the Dodgers, on June 1, he’d given up a game-winning home run to Will Smith—the first of the rookie’s career, in just his fourth big league game—during which Smith paused to admire the flight of the ball while statue-posing his outstretched bat.

That type of reaction to a game-winner no longer even registers for most pitchers, but because it was a rookie doing the showboating it may well have gotten under Neris’ skin. What is certain is that he wanted to jam it down the Dodgers’ throats the next time he saw them. Instead, he blew another lead on Tuesday, in an even more painful manner.

That was all it took: The frustrated closer followed Beaty’s homer by delivering a 95-mph four-seamer at the head of the next batter, David Freese. A shrug-and-duck move allowed Freese to deflect the ball with his shoulder, but the intent was so obvious that Neris was ejected by plate ump Chris Conroy and suspended for three games by the league.

Look no further than the reaction of his catcher to judge Neris’ intent.

Fast forward two days. Neris is still playing while his suspension is under appeal. Called upon to protect a 7-5 lead in the ninth, he surrendered a solo homer to Alex Verdugo before nailing down the save—after which he turned to the LA dugout and screamed, “Fuck you!”

The Dodgers noticed. Justin Turner, who’d made the final out, took some time glaring in Neris’ direction. Max Muncy was poised outside the dugout, as if ready to charge. Clayton Kershaw, Russell Martin and Alex Verdugo were caught glaring toward the mound from the dugout. Martin may have challenged Neris to meet him in the tunnel under the grandstand. He also appeared to use some entirely objectionable language in describing the pitcher.

Nothing more came of it, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had some choice words for the media afterward.

“We played this series the right way, played it straight,” he told reporters after the game. “And so to look in our dugout and taunt in any way, I think it’s unacceptable. For our guys, who just play the game to win and play it straight and clean. Last game of the series, to look in our dugout, I think that exceeds the emotion. Look in your own dugout. So I think our guys took it personal. I took it personal.”

“He’s blown about eight saves against us over the last two years, so I guess he was finally excited he got one,” added Max Muncy in an MLB.com report. “Whatever.”

That’s not quite accurate, but it’s not far off. The previous time Neris pitched against the Dodgers prior to June 1 was in May of 2018; he gave up three hits and a run in one-third of an inning. In 2017, Neris yielded three straight home runs to blow a 5-2 lead. Over the course of his career the Dodgers are hitting .365 against him, better than any other team, and his ERA against them is 8.49. LA’s slugging and OPS marks against the pitcher top all National League clubs.

As evidenced by MLB’s suspension, compounded frustration is no excuse for head-hunting. Nor is it an excuse for what happened on Thursday, when back-to-back Dodgers stomped the foot of Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins while running out grounders—possibly in response to Neris’ shenanigans.

Unlike Neris’ beanball to Freese, it’s difficult to discern intent in the plays, and the fact that Neris appears to have acted in a vacuum when it came to his beanball might indicate that his teammates aren’t part of this particular beef. Still, such a thing happens so infrequently that to see it on consecutive grounders from a team that drew heat for a similar ploy only last season will doubtless raise some eyebrows in the Phillies clubhouse.  

The teams are done with each other this season (a possible playoff meeting excepted), but so long as the principals remain where they are, there is no question that all these details will be re-litigated next year should anything questionable arise between the clubs at some point in the future.

Image result for charles atlas sand in face
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Retaliation, Umpires Knowing the Code

Pitcher Tossed For Drilling A Guy, And Even The Hitter Thought That He Should Stay In The Game

So when a pitcher comes into a game with his team trailing 9-1 and immediately gives up a double, and then another double, and then a home run, and now it’s 12-1 and he still hasn’t recorded an out, and then, with his very next pitch, he drills a guy, well that’s as obviously intentional as it gets.

At least umpire Doug Eddings thought so. He tossed the pitcher on the spot, no warning necessary.

The problem was, the pitcher in question, Philadelphia’s Yacksel Rios, didn’t mean to hit Justin Turner. The pitch in question, an 84-mph slider that plunked Turner on his back knee, was so inoffensive that Turner himself argued in the pitcher’s defense. The pitch in question was so inoffensive that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler actually tried to enlist Turner to join in as he lit into Eddings.

Ultimately, Eddings thought he was doing something proper, stemming what by most of the indicators could have been the first blow in a tit-for-tat series of reprisals. He acted decisively and with certainty … an instinct that, in retrospect, he’d have been better served to ignore.

As for Turner, why the hell wouldn’t he argue on behalf of keeping Rios in the game? Forget the pitcher’s absence of malice; the guy couldn’t get anyone out. Turner just wanted his teammates to have a taste of the good stuff that the inning’s first four hitters had already sampled.

As it happened, the pitcher who finished the inning for Philadelphia, rookie Edgar Garcia, gave up a single, three walks (one with the bases loaded) and two more runs. The pitcher who closed things out in the ninth, Roman Quinn, is actually an outfielder, and yielded three more singles, a double and two additional runs for the Dodgers, capping a 16-2 victory.  

The Dodgers will almost certainly avoid retaliation.

Retaliation

How To Stand Up For Your Teammate In One Easy Lesson (Some Assembly Required)

There’s nothing Cody Bellinger can’t do this year. He walks off games with walks. He walks of games with home runs. On back-to-back days, no less. Pertinent to this space, he also appears to have mastered the fine art of the subtle dig.

Travel back a week or so to June 24, with the Dodgers battling the Diamondbacks in Arizona. With the game tied, 4-4, reliever Yoan Lopez put LA down without much trouble in the eighth inning, capped by his strikeout of Joc Pederson. Lopez pounded his chest while descending the mound, then offered a little nod of superiority to Pederson en route to the dugout.

The Dodgers noticed.

So when Bellinger hit his game-winner home run off Lopez on July 3, he saw fit to notify the pitcher that the Dodgers have long memories. First came the bat toss and home-plate celebration. Then came the glare toward the mound. Then game the glare toward the visitors’ dugout. It was all prelude, of course, to a mocking chest-bang as Bellinger approached first base.

Much of this was lost in the ensuing mayhem. Apart from raising his arms before starting his trot—standard fare for a game-winner these days—at first blush, Bellinger’s response looked downright normal.

Still, it said everything he wanted it to. Let The Kids Play might be an official mandate, but that doesn’t mean that the kids’ opponents won’t notice. Disrespect comes in many forms, and that’s exactly how the Dodgers took Lopez’s actions toward Pederson. It was a minor affair, hardly worth a retaliatory pitch, but some of Lopez’s own medicine directed back his way?

Perfect.

Sign stealing

Fed Up With Complex Signs, Jansen Turns To Little-Used Tactic: The Intentional Balk

In the ninth inning on Friday, with Jason Heyward on second base and the Dodgers holding a 5-3 lead over Chicago, Kenley Jason had had enough. With catcher Russell Martin putting down the type of advanced sequencing used to prevent runners in Heyward’s position from easily reading signs and relaying them to the hitter, LA’s closer grew confused. With one out, he called Martin out for a conversation about his 0-2 selection against David Bote. Then Jensen struck out Bote with a cutter.

That presented options. With a two-run lead and little concern for Heyward, Jansen took the easiest path toward returning to simple signs: He intentionally balked the runner to third — where Heyward’s view toward Martin’s signals would be impeded — making sure to shout his plan to second base ump D.J. Reyburn in advance, to make sure that nothing was missed.  

Jimmy O’Brien, a Yankees-centric blogger who goes by the handle Jomboy, offered an expert and entertaining breakdown:

Believe it or not, this kind of thing has happened before. It’s right there in The Baseball Codes. From the chapter on sign stealing:

Trying to hold a 4–2, ninth-inning lead over Minnesota in 2005, Indians closer Bob Wickman came upon an uncomfortable realization: Michael Cuddyer had been at second base for two consecutive batters, which to the pitcher was an eternity. About two weeks earlier, Wickman had blown a save in Anaheim when Garrett Anderson hit a low outside pitch for a bloop single to drive in Darrin Erstad from second. The stout right­hander was convinced that the only reason Anderson made contact was that the pitch had been tipped by the baserunner. (When faced with Wickman’s accusation, Erstad just smiled. “I guess we’ll never know, huh?” he said.)

Wickman had no inside knowledge that Cuddyer or the Twins had done anything untoward, but he wasn’t about to be burned twice by the same tactic. Rather than take a chance, the pitcher opted for an unortho­dox approach. If Cuddyer was on third base, reasoned Wickman, his view to the catcher would be significantly hampered. So Wickman invented the intentional balk. Before his first pitch to the inning’s fourth hitter, Shan­non Stewart, the right-hander lifted his left leg as he wound up, then froze. After a long beat, he returned to his starting position. “As I did it, I’m thinking to myself, ‘There it is, dude, call it,’ ” said Wickman. Plate umpire Rick Reed did just that, and sent Cuddyer to third. Wickman’s decision was based on perverse logic—given Cleveland’s two-run lead, Cuddyer’s run didn’t matter, but Stewart’s did. Stewart, said Wickman, was “a semi–power hitter, and he possibly could have hit one out on me if he knew what pitch was coming.” It was the first balk of Wickman’s thirteen-year career.

Of course, the pitcher nearly shot himself in the ERA by subsequently walking Stewart, who promptly stole second, giving him the same vantage point from which Wickman had just balked Cuddyer. The pitcher, how­ever, managed to strike out Matt LeCroy on a full count to earn his sixth save of the season. “Some guys couldn’t believe it, but to me as the closer my job is to finish the game without giving up the lead,” Wickman said. “There are so many things that come into play. I’d have no problem doing it again if a guy’s standing there too long.”

I spoke to Wickman about it a couple of years after the fact, and he remained remarkably serious about it all. “When it’s a two-run lead and there’s absolutely zero chance that a shortstop or second baseman is holding the runner on, and you call an inside pitch and see the guy at second going back toward the base, you ask yourself, ‘Why the hell is he going back to second?’ ” he said. “The middle infielders aren’t anywhere near him. He just tipped off where the pitch is going to be.” The pitcher was less worried about stolen signs than stolen location, he told me

“Some guys couldn’t believe it,” he added, “but to me, as the closer, my job is to finish the game without giving up the lead, no matter what the situation.”

Same for Jansen, apparently, who struck out Victor Caratini to end it. All’s well that ends well for inventive closers.

Let The Kids Play, Showboating

MadBum Gets Angry, Does Some Shouting, Gives Up Dong, Yells At A Guy, Loses Game

For many years, Madison Bumgarner has cultivated an image of being extremely attuned to the unwritten rules of his sport, serving as baseball’s hardline arbiter of on-field behavior. Flip a bat against the cow-punching North Carolinian and you’ll hear about it. Same if you run too slowly around the bases.  

At Oracle Park on Sunday, however, MadBum revealed a bit too much. Today’s headlines are all about the left-hander’s response to Max Muncy taking him deep (plus Muncy’s response to Bumgarner, which we’ll get to in a bit). Muncy’s homer hurt: he plays for the hated Dodgers, he hit it as the second batter of the game, and the blast carried all the way into McCovey Cove. Before Muncy could even make it to first base, Bumgarner was all over him, chirping about taking too long in the batter’s box. Muncy responded as he circled the bases, and the feud was on.

The main problem with Bumgarner’s red-ass was that there really wasn’t much to get red-assed about, to the point that even Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, while trying to explain the situation, could describe the hitter’s post-homer steps only as “that little walk.”

After the game, Bumgarner gave a light-hearted recitation for the media about what happened. His comments included snippets like, “I can’t even say it with a straight face, but the more I think about it, I should just let the kids play—but I just … I can’t,” and, in response to a question about the game changing, “They want to let everybody be themselves, then let me be myself. That’s me.”

It’s a continuation of the conversation we’ve been having all year about pitchers who might not be entirely on board with the modern era of officially sanctioned on-field celebrations.

That, though, is not what this post is about. The detail that many reports overlook is what immediately preceded Muncy’s blast. Against Kike Hernandez, the game’s very first hitter, Bumgarner got into a shouting match with plate umpire Will Little about the strike zone, which grew heated enough to draw Little toward the mound. Following some chirping from the Giants bench, the ump issued a cross-field explanation that can easily be read as an informal warning.

This was clearly on Bumgarner’s mind when he missed wide with his first three offerings to Muncy before leaving one up, in the slugger’s wheelhouse.

Baseball history is littered with the corpses of players whose weakness has been discovered by the opposition and subsequently exploited. Perhaps this is Bumgarner’s. Pitching in the ninth inning of the World Series doesn’t seem to faze him nearly as much as some perceived slight by the opposition. This has long viewed by outsiders as a motivational tactic—something to keep the pitcher’s competitive instincts honed. (Lord knows, it’s happened before.) This is supported by the fact that Muncy’s homer was the only run MadBum gave up as part of a fabulous performance. If the pitcher needs swagger to succeed, then swagger he shall deliver.

Still, Bumgarner was done in by his momentary lapse, one disastrous pitch serving as the difference in a 1-0 ballgame.

In the big picture, yelling at a guy is preferable to drilling him, especially for something like this. Also in the big picture, if Bumgarner can figure out a way to keep things a bit more contained—just enough to avoid the occasional slip on a day when he’s clearly dominant—it’d be better for everybody.

Then again, had MadBum been a little less mad, we would never have gotten Muncy’s response: “If you don’t want me to watch the ball, you can get it out of the ocean.” It doesn’t actually make sense, but at least it sounded pretty good in the moment.

Retaliation, Umpires Knowing the Code

That Time When Syndergaard vs. Utley Brought Us ‘Ass In The Jackpot’ In All Its Glory

Syndergaard tossed

Way back in 2016 I wrote about Noah Syndergaard’s ejection against the Dodgers, for a pitch he threw behind Chase Utley in response to Utley’s having broken the leg of shortstop Ruben Tejada during the previous season’s playoffs.

Which brings us to video of umpire Tom Hallion trying to cool the situation, and barely succeeding. (The clip came out last June, but is somehow making the rounds again now. Which is reason enough to dive in with gusto.)

The umpire seems to understand that baseball has a method for delivering retaliation, and even appears receptive to looking the other way. Except, he tells the pitcher, “that’s the wrong time to do it.”

This is where things get confusing. There was one out in the third inning of a scoreless game when Syndergaard threw his pitch well behind Utley. The right-hander had already faced him once, leading off the game, and struck him out. There was also the not-inconsequential detail that the Mets had faced Utley five times, covering 19 plate appearances—including five the previous day—since he’d injured Tejada without so much as a whiff of controversy. If Syndergaard’s timing was wrong, what timing would have been better?

When Terry Collins gets involved, he tells Hallion: “You gotta give us a shot!”

Hallion’s response: “You get your shot. You had your shot right there. … You know the situation, Terry.”

Collins was, of course, talking about a repercussion-free shot, not one in which one of his aces gets tossed in the third inning after throwing only 33 pitches. The best guess here is that Hallion didn’t mean a word he was saying, and was just trying to cool the situation as quickly as possible.

The most vital part of the conversation—and this cannot be understated—came when Hallion broke out the phrase that has since gained him infamy: “Our ass is in the jackpot.” Twice.

The situation is old, the insight is new, and spring training is in full swing. Welcome back to baseball, everybody.

They Bled Blue

The First Review Is In For My New Book

TBB cover smallMy next book, They Bled Blue—about the 1981 Dodgers—isn’t out until June 4, but the first review is already in, from Kirkus. There’s some good stuff in there: “While less vaunted than the 1927 or 1961 New York Yankees, the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers produced enough fireworks to deserve significant attention, and Turbow delivers the goods. … A skillful mixture of biographies, on-field action, and behind-the-scenes baseball politics in a story with a happy ending for Dodger fans.”

It was an exceedingly weird year for an overachieving team with an abundance of compelling story lines. It was also a joy to write.

Pre-order now at Amazon or, even better, at your local independent bookseller.