Celebrations, Home run pimping, Veteran Status

Young Blood Heroic, Old Man Stoic, Dodgers Up In Arms About The Result

Occasionally, Let the Kids Play can be as simple as actually letting the kids play. Fernando Tatis Jr. doing heroics for the Padres is a perfect example of this. Who among mainstream viewers cares what the count was when he swung?

Yesterday gave us another homer-hitting Padre with his own dose of controversy, and in so doing presented reason to explore some depths of baseball’s unwritten rules.

The Padre in question is Trent Grisham, and the homer in question came off of LA’s Clayton Kershaw, and tied the game in the sixth inning. The behavior in question was a pretty profound pimp job, which led to significant jawing between Grisham and the Dodgers bench while Grisham was still rounding the bases.

First, some scene setting. The Padres are chasing LA in the National League West, having won 11 of their last 13 to reduce a six-game deficit to 2.5 going into last night. Also, the Dodgers are really good. While they’ve been winning the last seven NL West titles, the Padres have finished last three times and next-to-last twice over the past five years, finishing an average of 27 games back.

So yeah, they’re excited.

And yeah, when they tie a game with a huge homer against a future Hall of Famer, they’re excited.

And yeah, when it’s a 23-year-old who has never in his life had so monumental a hit, he’s excited.

And he’s allowed to be.

Based on how Grisham exhibited that excitement, however, the Dodgers thought otherwise.

After his swing, Grisham stood near the batter’s box (as home run hitters will do), but instead of admiring his handiwork he turned toward the home dugout and exulted with his teammates. It took him nearly 10 seconds to reach first base.

Some Dodgers took exception to this, raising enough ruckus in their own dugout that Grisham acknowledged it as he rounded third. Perhaps in response, he bounded atop home plate with both feet, raising the temperature to the point that plate ump Mark Ripperger warned the Dodgers to remain in their dugout.

”They wanted me to run and that was really about it,” Grisham said after the game in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “They told me to get going a little sooner. That was it.”

Except that wasn’t it.

After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said this: ”I don’t mind guys admiring a homer. Certainly it’s a big game, big hit. Really like the player. But I just felt that to kind of overstay at home, certainly against a guy like Clayton, who’s got the respect of everyone in the big leagues and what he’s done in this game, I just took exception to that. I think there’s a certain respect you give a guy if you homer against him.”

Once again, we’re faced with dissonance from an old-school sport being forced into a new-school box. Roberts has plenty of ground on which to base his argument. Throughout baseball history, respect is an earned commodity, achieved over time through one’s play, behavior and character. By that measure, there’s nobody more respected in the modern game than Kershaw. For a second-year player—who was 12 years old when Kershaw made his big league debut, it should be pointed out—to style in the batter’s box after besting so venerated an opponent is, in many eyes, wrong.

An example of this mentality was recounted in The Baseball Codes:

Admiring one’s own longball isn’t all that sets pitchers off. When Phillies rookie Jimmy Rollins flipped his bat after hitting a home run off St. Louis reliever Steve Kline in 2001, the Cardinals pitcher went ballis­tic, screaming as he followed Rollins around the bases. “I called him every name in the book, tried to get him to fight,” said Kline. The pitcher stopped only upon reaching Philadelphia third baseman Scott Rolen, who was moving into the on-deck circle and alleviated the situation by assuring him that members of the Phillies would take care of it internally.

“That’s fucking Little League shit,” said Kline after the game. “If you’re going to flip the bat, I’m going to flip your helmet next time. You’re a rookie, you respect this game for a while. . . . There’s a code. He should know better than that.”

Hell, it can even happen within the fabric of one’s own team. Take a story former AL MVP Al Rosen told me:

“I played behind Kenny Keltner, and when I went to spring training, the only time in the batting cage I got good pitches to hit was if there were other rookies there. The older guys were protecting Keltner. You had 10 swings or five swings—set by whoever was head cheese on the ballclub—and if you had five swings you didn’t get a good ball to hit. None of those older pitchers were going to get the ball in there so you could hit one hard. So you would struggle. All of a sudden a guy decides he’s going to start working on a split-finger or he’s going to start working on his slider. …

“You’d have to ask one of the coaches to hit you ground balls, and every time I walked out there, Keltner would show up and he would want to take ground balls. So I would go to the outfield and shag. It was a message: “Don’t mess with my position.”

Rosen’s solution was not to knock Keltner down a notch, but to show up hours early with other young players and run their own BP sessions.

For his part, Kershaw held no public animosity against Grisham, saying in an MLB.com report: “I’m not going to worry about their team. Let him do what he wants.”

This is what it’s come down to, then. In civil society, we expect youngsters to defer to their elders. The intern in an office does not speak to the CEO as if he or she were a peer. Baseball once hewed tightly to this norm, but, as with many areas of the American landscape, norms are falling away in increasingly rapid fashion.

Baseball, though, has long held itself as different than other sports—slower, more deliberate. Behavior that would fly elsewhere had no place on a ballfield.

That, though, is changing, spurred no doubt by the rapidity with which baseball’s popularity has been surpassed by the NFL and NBA. Let the Kids Play is a direct result, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But for those like Dave Roberts—hardly a hard-liner about anything, but with a firm sense of right and wrong—yielding their position is a difficult task. They’re going to have to, though, and soon. This is the new face of baseball—hopefully, say the folks in the marketing department, for the better.  

Retaliation

What’s A Little COVID When There’s Beef On The Field?

Yesterday I discussed the general idea of social distancing on a ballfield, and how players who want to maximize the chances of playing a full, 60-game schedule would be well served to pay better attention to the league’s safety protocols.

Today I address the unwritten rules (that’s the beat of this blog, after all), which include long-held grudges and purpose pitches and cross-field taunting. Ultimately, though, it all comes back to COVID response. Because everything in the world right now comes down to COVID response.

Fireworks were anticipated when the Dodgers traveled to Minute Maid Park in Houston for their first meeting since news came out about the Astros’ trash-can banging during their disputed championship run in 2017—a run that, coincidentally, culminated in a seven-game World Series win over the Dodgers.

Joe Kelly was not on the Dodgers back then, but he’s on the Dodgers now, and he’s heard all the  stories, and he’s the kind of pitcher known to stand up for teammates. (He was on the Red Sox team that lost to Houston in that year’s Division Series.) So when Kelly threw a 3-0 fastball behind Alex Bregman on Tuesday, close enough to raise the hair on the back of Bregman’s neck, it was tough to mistake it for anything but a message.

Things got even stranger when Kelly had to cover first base after the next batter, Michael Brantley, hit a would-be double-play grounder. Kelly was mildly and inadvertently spiked, then hung around the base for a moment to convey his displeasure.

That’s when a voice in the Astros dugout—it appears to be manager Dusty Baker—yelled, “Just get on the mound, little fucker.”

Joe Kelley has proved to need far less provocation than that.

After walking Yuli Gurriel on four pitches to put men at first and second, he delivered a pitch at Carlos Correa’s head. On one hand, that kind of location is never okay. On the other, it was a curveball—not the greatest weapon for pitchers with malice on their minds—and men were on first and second.

Correa ducked out of the way without much trouble, then stared down both Kelly and the Dodgers dugout. He ended up striking out on another curveball—this one down and away—to end the inning. Kelly immediately started jawing (according to Baker, he said, “Nice swing, bitch”), then made faces at his opponent, literally sticking out his lower lip in a mock pout. That’s all it took. Benches emptied.

This is where we return to the intersection of baseball norms and social distancing. In the former category, old habits can be hard to shake. In the latter, if ballplayers wanna play ball, they better start paying better attention to MLB’s protrocols—one of which explicitly bans fighting. (The specific language: “Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.”)

Still, players from both teams crowded around home plate. While there was very little contact, and while various members of both clubs actually wore masks, these players were close, and many of them were maskless.

We’re still less than a week into the season and the Marlins are triaging and sequestered, the Phillies are dormant and the Yankees, after doing nothing while waiting things out in Philadelphia are unexpectedly playing in Baltimore. If this doesn’t spur players to pay some better attention to risk mitigation, it’s likely that nothing will.

***

Nothing is as important right now as COVID mitigation, but seeing as this is an unwritten-rules blog, we should probably wrap up the situation between the Dodgers and the Astros. There’s no question that anger lingers in LA. During spring training, Cody Bellinger said that Jose Altuve “stole an MVP” from Aaron Judge, with Carlos Correa suggesting that Bellinger to get some facts or “shut the fuck up.”

Kelly denied intent on Tuesday, going so far as to illustrate his wild nature by referencing a viral video from early in the pandemic when, during a backyard bullpen session, he missed his target and broke a window in his home. (Not referenced was the fact that, since 2015, he’s struck out well over twice as many hitters as he’s walked.)

In the opposite clubhouse, Baker was livid.

“I didn’t anticipate that,” Baker said afterward. “I didn’t anticipate throwing over somebody’s head three balls and no strikes. One of our more important guys. If you’re going to throw at somebody, you don’t throw at the head. “You don’t throw at a guy’s head. That’s playing dirty baseball.”

What Baker did not do was order his pitchers to retaliate. For one thing, the Astros were three runs down and trying to keep the game close. In a truncated schedule, every loss bears extra weight. Also, all three Houston relievers who entered the game after Kelly’s shenanigans were rookies, two of them making their big league debuts. Asking a nervous kid to understand longstanding grudges, let alone execute a controversial purpose pitch, is asking for trouble in numerous ways.

The Astros may have dodged a bullet by not having to face a series of angry opponents had the 2020 season gone off as originally planned. But ballplayers, we’ve learned, are willing to wait. Joe Kelly is certainly not the only one who wants his shot at cheaters.

Meanwhile, the fan merch is out, and it’s spectacular.

Update 7/29: Kelly has been suspended for eight games, MLB citing Kelly’s history with this kind of thing as a factor in its decision. Dave Roberts has been suspended for one game, and Dusty Baker has received a sternly worded email or something.

Update 7/29: Dave Roberts has thoughts.

They Bled Blue

Dodgers’ First Rookie Opening Day Starter Since Fernando Does Not Disappoint

On Tuesday, Clayton Kershaw hurt his back lifting weights. On Wednesday, the possibility arose that he might not be able to start LA’s first game of the season, as planned. On Thursday, Kershaw was placed on the IL and his replacement, Dustin May, became only the second rookie to take the mound on opening day in the 137-year-history of the Dodgers franchise—and the first since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.

There are some differences between May and Valenzuela. May, 6-foot-6 and 180 pounds, was drafted in the third round out of high school in Texas. Coming into the season, MLB.com ranked him as the Dodgers second-best prospect, and 23rd in all of baseball. He made 14 appearances for Los Angeles last year, including four starts, and struck out more than six hitters for every walk while posting a 3.63 ERA. 

Valenzuela, in contrast, was all but unknown going into 1981, even after having come up to the Dodgers as a call-up the previous September and throwing 17 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. At that point he had 30 professional appearances under his belt, none above Double-A.

They are both physically unique. In addition to his size, May’s enormous shock of bright red curls is almost reminiscent of an Irish Oscar Gamble.

Valenzuela, in turn, was notable for his utter lack of affectation. His scissor-straight, pitch-black hair, hanging in the Mayo style of his village, spilled down from under his cap. His physique was … unathletic. Fernando gave no regard to anything but pitching—which he did exceptionally well.

While May looked dominant at times yesterday, hitting 100 mph with his fastball, he gave up seven hits (including a bunt against the shift) to a woeful Giants offense, allowing runners into scoring position in three of the five innings in which he appeared while failing to last long enough to qualify for the win.

In his first Opening Day start, Fernando barely hit 90 … and threw a complete-game shutout against the defending division champs.

Really, this is all just a crutch for me—comparing two pitchers with markedly few comparison points—to excerpt Valenzuela’s introduction from They Bled Blue. After Fernando’s first eight starts, he was 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA, having pitched nine innings every time out. By that point, Fernandomania was in full bloom.

We may yet see Maymania, or Dustin Maynia, or whatever tag gets affixed to the phenom. In the meantime, it’s nice to remember some dominance of years past.

From They Bled Blue:

The guy standing on the mound at Dodger Stadium on opening day was not the guy the Dodgers wanted standing on the mound at Dodger Stadium on opening day. The home team faced pressure aplenty without having to consider an emergency starter in the very first game of the 1981 season, let alone it being a 20-year-old with all of 17 innings of big league experience under his belt, every one of them out of the bullpen.

At that point, LA’s pitching concerns were more akin to triage than anything resembling strategy. This was the Dodgers, for crying out loud, the closest thing to a pitching factory that baseball had known since way back in the Brooklyn days of Drysdale and Newcombe and Sandy Freaking Koufax. One might assume immunity to this sort of dilemma. Nope. Their previous game—the one-and-out playoff against Houston that closed the 1980 campaign—had hinged on just this kind of drama. Hell, it even included the same opponent currently in town to christen the new season, almost as if baseball’s schedulers wanted to help Los Angelinos clear their palates as expediently as possible. Whether that was achievable remained to be seen.

The Dodgers were already without Don Sutton, now pitching for Houston. Left-hander Jerry Reuss, coming off an All-Star campaign, was ready to slide into Sutton’s slot atop the rotation, but in the final workout before opening day pulled a calf muscle so severely that he ended up sidelined for the first 10 games of the season.

Lasorda would have bumped up the next guy, but Burt Hooton, thinking he had an additional day to recover, had undergone a procedure to remove an ingrown toenail and was forced to sit. Number 3 starter Bob Welch was tending a bone spur in his elbow that would cost him three games. Dave Goltz and third-year pitcher Rick Sutcliffe had just closed the exhibition schedule with Freeway Series starts against the Angels.

This is how Fernando Valenzuela came to be pulled aside by team brass shortly after reaching the ballpark and told that he was about to become the first rookie pitcher to start on opening day in the 98-year history of the franchise.

Valenzuela’s ascent the previous autumn had been the main reason Lasorda’s decision about who to start in the playoff against the Astros was anything but pro forma. The left-hander had debuted only three weeks earlier, on September 15, jumping from Double-A straight to the majors, and failing to yield an earned run over 17⅔ innings of relief work covering 10 appearances. It was impressive, but the kid was fresh out of Mexico and still a teenager, for crying out loud. More importantly, the last time he started a game the opponent had been the Amarillo Gold Sox. An elimination contest against the class of the National League would be a hell of a spot for Valenzuela’s premiere. So Goltz was tabbed, it ended badly, and now Lasorda had a chance to see what he’d missed out on six months earlier.

Valenzuela was a physical curiosity, with chubby cheeks and rotund belly, his Mayan features accentuated by bushy black hair spilling straight down from his cap. Wrote Jim Murray in the following day’s Los Angeles Times: “He is, how shall we say it—he is—well, he’s fat, is what he is.” Fernando did not disappoint. The guy who ended the 1980 campaign without ceding an earned run over his final 52⅔ innings, majors and minors combined, began 1981 precisely the same way. In a performance that belied his carriage, the left-hander tantalized Houston’s roster inning after inning, giving up assorted singles and not much else. By the time he struck out Dave Roberts in the ninth—with a screwball of all things—Valenzuela had thrown 106 pitches, and also a complete-game, five-hit, 2–0 shutout. The 50,511 fans crowding Dodger Stadium could hardly believe what they’d seen. A day earlier the pitcher had been so in the dark about the possibility of drawing this assignment that he threw batting practice. Now he spun gold. Fernando, too young to legally buy a beer, was seemingly beyond distraction.

“We don’t know what’s going on inside him,” marveled Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes after the game, an understandable sentiment given his new teammate’s language barrier. “All he does is smile.”

“He wasn’t one bit nervous,” catcher Mike Scioscia informed the press. “He’s so cool out there, I don’t think he even broke a sweat.”

The thing about Valenzuela wasn’t that he was an unknown pitcher making his first major league start on the early season’s biggest stage. It wasn’t that he spoke virtually no English, necessitating Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrín to translate for him at nearly every turn. It wasn’t that as a kid from the dusty plains of Mexico he had not yet adapted to life in Los Angeles. It was not his pudgy cheeks, or his stomach bulging over his belt, or the unique hitch in his delivery in which, with his lead leg lifted, he gazed skyward while clasping his hands above his head. It was not his habit of constantly blowing chewing-gum bubbles, sometimes in the middle of his windup. It was not that he was a 20-year-old who looked to be in his middle thirties. It was not even that he was left-handed, or that his out-pitch was a flippin’ screwball.

It was all of it together, a full package containing mystery (The guy barely talks!), comedy (That belly! That haircut! That form!) and straight-up befuddlement (How does he do nothing but win?). Baseball had seen its share of flashing mound talent over recent years—Mark Fidrych in 1976, Vida Blue in ’71—but nobody quite captured the collective imagination like Fernando. The guy had been so anonymous that in a baseball card industry recently flush with competition, only Fleer saw fit to include him in its 1981 set . . . and misspelled his name.

Valenzuela seemed imperturbable—Pedazo de pastel, he said when asked how he felt about starting the season opener, Piece of cake—so composed through what should have been a fraught-filled start that the Los Angeles Times was compelled to report that “if he had been 100 years old and in the majors for 90 of them, he couldn’t have looked more in control.”

As if limiting Houston to five hits in a 2–0 opening day victory wasn’t enough, two of those hits came off of broken bats, and a third didn’t breach the infield. Said Fernando with such unassuming ease that it was impossible to confuse the sentiment for bravado: “When I get on the mound I don’t know what afraid is.”

“Hell,” shrugged outfielder Jay Johnstone, looking back, “you’ve got to break him in somewhere.”

Retaliation

If It Looks Bad When You Hit A Guy, Sometimes It Doesn’t Matter Whether You Meant To Or Not

As a community, Los Angeles hasn’t seemed particularly happy about baseball this year. Sure, they have the best team in the sport—which was true even before Mookie rolled into town. And yeah, championship aspirations leave a nice tingle in the back of one’s esophagus. However, for a good long while this off-season seemed to be mostly about the championships of 2017 and 2018, which, given the unseemly proclivities of the Astros and Red Sox, many Southlanders feel should be retroactively awarded to their hometown nine.

It’s enough to put a ballclub on edge.

Or at least it makes for a decent introduction to what happened yesterday, when Justin Turner, LA’s third hitter of the game, was drilled by Johnny Cueto. (Okay, maybe “drill” isn’t the right word. The pitch hit Turner in the hand, near his knuckles.) Never mind that Cueto is still coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2018; of all the guys in the Dodgers’ lineup, Turner is the one about whom they are most sensitive when it comes to this type of thing, given that he broke his wrist on an HBP in a spring training game in 2018.

So when Clayton Kershaw plunked Rob Brantley the very next inning—after striking out the frame’s first two hitters, no less—it looked bad.

San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Henry Schulman wrote that neither pitch looked intentional, but whatever Kershaw’s purpose, there’s no denying that a pitcher’s perfect revenge scenario involves getting two quick outs before dotting a guy, ideally with a low-in-the-order hitter to follow. Which is exactly what happened.

Giants third base coach Ron Wotus noticed. As Kershaw returned to the dugout after whiffing No. 8 hitter Yolmer Sanchez to end the frame, Wotus lit into him, and the pair engaged in a brief shouting match. Umpires quickly warned both benches—something Cueto later said he’d never seen in a spring training game.

Ultimately, Kershaw’s revenge—intentional or not—paled in comparison to Turner’s response.

In the third inning, Turner pummeled the first pitch he saw from Cueto into the left field pavilion to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead, which they never relinquished. (Kershaw did okay for himself as well, giving up two hits over three shutout innings.)

Just because the Giants no longer have Madison Bumgarner doesn’t mean they can’t get into it with their rivals to the south. It portends to be a long season in San Francisco, but at the very least, this kind of thing will help keep things lively.

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
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.