Retaliation

The Art of Unnecessarily Picking up Other People’s Battles: Adrian Gonzalez, Come on Down!

It was noteworthy because it’s the postseason, and it was noteworthy because there’s some history between these teams, and it was noteworthy because it involved Yasiel Puig and everything that involves Yasiel Puig is noteworthy.

But, Adrian Gonzalez’s insistence aside, there’s no way on God’s green infield that Adam Wainwright was intentionally throwing at Puig in Game 2 of the NLDS on Friday.

It was the third inning. It was a 1-0 game. Puig was leading off. And, oh yeah, it’s the playoffs. Wainwright needed to work inside, and he may have done so carelessly but certainly not intentionally. Puig seemed to realize this, understanding that an extra baserunner was precisely not what Wainwright wanted at that moment, and taking his base without protest. But Wainwright had earlier buzzed Hanley Ramirez at the hands, and in last year’s playoff series between these same teams, St. Louis pitcher Joe Kelly cracked one of Ramirez’ ribs.

All of which was likely on Gonzalez’s mind when he stood at the plate, jawing with Cards catcher Yadier Molina, even as Puig took his base. That he was standing up for his teammate was admirable. That he chose to spark a benches-clearing dustup for an HBP that wasn’t even his own? Less so. That moment was Puig’s to do with what he wanted, and when he treated it calmly and rationally, Gonzalez should have, too. That the benches ended up clearing was entirely his fault.

“You guys keep doing this over and over. We’re not going to put up with that,'” Gonzalez said he told Molina, in an ESPN.com report. “They’re going to say it’s not on purpose, but come on. It’s Wainwright. He knows where the ball is going.”

Gonzalez said Molina told him, “You’ve got to respect me.”

“I thought that was out of context, but it’s what he said,” Gonzalez relayed.

One beautiful part of the exchange was that, thanks to Gonzalez’s outburst, Wainwright had the opportunity to approach Puig and explain face to face that he hadn’t meant to hit him. Puig appeared to go along with it.

Another beautiful part was when Ramirez, up three batters later, knocked Puig home with a single, providing the best sort of revenge for which the Dodgers could have asked.

Retaliation

When is a Pitch at the Shoetops not a Pitch at the Shoetops? When it’s a Shot Across the Bow, Apparently

A little history can go a long way. All it takes is an ill-timed HBP and a few words in response from either side, and a poorly placed mistake thereafter can blow up into a full-scale bench clearer.

Add to that ingredient list the Giants and Dodgers fighting for the top spot in the NL West, and one’s margin for error gets that much thinner.

First, the history. On May 9, Yasiel Puig homered off Madison Bumgarner and flipped his bat. He flipped his bat because flipping his bat is what Yasiel Puig does. It had as much to do with Bumgarner as it did with Ian Kennedy, Josh Collmenter, Jordan Lyles and Jacob Turner, the four guys Puig homered against prior to taking Bumgarner deep.

It didn’t make a bit of different to the 6-foot-5 North Carolinian, who started hollering at Puig and went so far as to approach him between third base and home plate. From that moment on, coverage of the rivalry seemed obliged to reference the dustup at every available opportunity.

So when Bumgarner hit Puig in the foot with a cutter on Tuesday, it was hardly in a vacuum. The pitch couldn’t have looked less intentional, coming as it did with deep, downward bite on a 1-2 count in the game’s first inning. Considering the pair’s history, Puig and Bumgarner could both have reacted with a bit more suave, which would have immediately relegated the incident to the noted-for-later category. Instead, Puig looked toward the mound in disbelief. Bumgarner said, “What are you looking at?” Puig stepped toward the pitcher. Bumgarner threw down his glove to welcome his opponent. And that was it. Benches cleared, though no punches were thrown and nobody was ejected.

Bumgarner didn’t even want to dignify talk of intent after the game. “He’ll know if it’s on purpose,” he afterward in an MLB.com report. “I’ll make sure of that.”

Matt Kemp avenged his teammate one out later, driving Puig in with a homer to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead (following Justin Turner’s solo shot leading off the inning). Bumgarner responded in kind with a homer of his own in the third, for which he pumped his arm after rounding first base.

This wasn’t Marichal-Roseboro. It wasn’t even Lilly-Posey. But the ongoing acrimony between Bumgarner and Puig is not going away, nor likely is Puig’s showboating that started it all (in the pitcher’s mind, anyway). If benches could clear over something as clear-cut as this, you can bet that it’ll happen again.

The teams meet 18 times next year.

 

Bat flips, Showboating

Flipping Out: The Response to What is now Officially a Common Occurrence

Puig-MadBum

So baseball has come to this: the Puig vs. the anti-Puig, forces within the game tugging in opposite directions of what is considered to be acceptable behavior. Puig need not even be present, representing as he does the New World Order of celebration for celebration’s sake, in the face of the game’s long tradition of shunning such displays.

On Friday, in a game at Dodger Stadium, Puig played himself, flipping his bat with no small degree of nonchalance following a sixth-inning home run. The role of anti-Puig was played by Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner, the man who had pitched the baseball.

Mad Bum did not like Puig’s act. Even as the ball flew toward the left field bleachers, Bumgarner strolled down the mound toward the third base line, and waited. When Puig passed, he gave him a piece of his mind. Puig responded accordingly. (Watch it here.)

Bumgarner, it appears, is late to the game on the whole New World Order thing. On the Puig Scale, the bat flip barely registered. The flip didn’t say “I’m so great for hitting that home run against you” so much as simply “I’m so great.” Whether you’re a new-school proponent saying that Puig and his ilk are exactly what baseball needs, or an old-school curmudgeon saying that the likes of Puig will be the ruination of Cartwright’s game, there’s no denying one thing: Whatever he did had nothing to do with Madison Bumgarner.

Puig flips because Puig flips. In the current landscape of home-plate scrums following interleague victories in June, this is simply the way things are. Puig’s actions have not been corrected, because the groundswell to correct them simply does not exist. The Baseball Gods have spoken.

The unwritten rules exist in flux, after all, and adapt to the times. This has always been the case. Once, Don Drysdale could knock down Willie Mays for digging into the batter’s box, and Mays would respond with nothing more severe than, “I better not do that next time.”

A pitcher with Drysdale’s mentality would not survive long in today’s game, shunned for his actions not just by fellow players but by the league itself. Not so Puig.

I am a fan of neither his bat flips, nor his attitude in general. But I am cognizant enough to recognize a shifting tide, and what Puig is doing now falls within baseball’s mainstream. He himself has pushed it there.

So when Madison Bumgarner gets upset with that sort of action, as if that sort of action was somehow directed toward him, he’s simply wrong. It’s Puig being Puig, and, like it or not, it’s now baseball being baseball.

Bumgarner, for his part, already had the best possible response at his disposal. He and the Giants beat Los Angeles, 3-1.

Progress.  

Sign stealing

Mattingly No Fan of Cards’ Pryin’ Eyes

Jose OquendoSo Don Mattingly is peeved that the Cardinals were apparently interested in his team’s signs during last year’s NLCS. They were looking into the Los Angeles dugout, he told ESPN LA at the winter meetings. Runners at second may have been picking off catcher A.J. Ellis.

This is a weird one. This kind of thing not only happens all the time, to the extent that it’s accepted practice, but virtually every team does it to some extent. It’s a near certainty that the Dodgers do it themselves.

It’s weird because Mattingly doesn’t decry it outright, instead saying things like “We felt like we had to be sure we kept an eye on their first-base coach and their third-base coach,” and “[Third base coach Jose Oquendo] is a guy at third who’s always looking for my signs from our dugout.” Mattingly said it was on the Dodgers to stop it if was happening.

But if one possesses such entirely mainstream attitudes, why bring up the subject in the first place? These are the comments of a guy who says he has no axe to grind, even while he’s looking up from the axe grinder.

That said, let’s look at Oquendo for a moment. Back in 2008 or so, I interviewed him for The Baseball Codes. (He has been the St. Louis third base coach since 2000, and was the bench coach the season before that.) He addressed many of these issues, minus the part where he’s actually maximizing his team’s advantage:

“I steal signs every day as a coach. But one thing I don’t do, I don’t tell the hitters. Now, when somebody’s on base, I’m going to say to my runner when to run and when not to run. That’s part of the game. But I would never tell a hitter what’s coming. It’s respect. If a player asked me to do it, I would never do it. That’s my personal opinion, I respect the game in that way.”

So you sit on the coaching line and get the signs and use them to tell guys when to run?

“If I see a breaking ball, I know to have our guys steal. Or if a pitcher has a tell when he’s going to first, that stuff you take advantage of. To tell a hitter what’s coming, that’s never been my style. …”

How easy is it to steal signs, particularly if there’s a runner on?

“If nobody’s on base, I don’t even look at the signs. I don’t care with nobody on. Now with somebody on base, I might want to know if he is going to throw a pitchout, when they are going to throw to first, stuff like that. …

“I don’t “steal” the signs, I just see them. It’s pretty easy a lot of time—you see it from the catcher or from the pitcher. I’d say half of the catchers in the National League, I can see the signs from third base. [Mike] Matheny [then the Cardinals catcher, now the Cardinals manager] knows about it—he looks at me every time he’s going to put signs down. I drive him nuts at third base, but he knows that I’ll get it from him or from the pitcher. I’m gonna get it somewhere.

Draw your own conclusions.

Unwritten-Rules

Brave New World, Courtesy of an Exuberant 22-Year-Old

Puig celebratesIt’s been a long week of Dodgers-inspired discussion of the unwritten rules. This is what happens when the team with a laid-back attitude toward the Code butts heads with the direct heir to Tony La Russa. Comparisons are bound to be drawn, and opinions will fly:

The Dodgers’ approach is shameful. Let boys be boys. Celebration is fine. Celebration is disrespectful. Yasiel Puig is precisely what a stodgy game needs—unless he should instead grow up and shape up.

There is little question that the game’s acceptance of on-field merriment has grown more lenient. The celebratory scrum that is now de facto after walk-off wins was, only recently, limited to games in which a team clinched a playoff series. Hand gestures that have become common— Texas’ antlers, Milwaukee’s beast mode, Hanley Ramirez’ goggles—that once they inspired discussions about propriety now barely make a ripple.

Once these things become integrated into baseball culture, after all, they become just another means of celebration. And when something becomes institutionalized, it becomes a whole lot harder for the opposition to take it personally.

That said, these Dodgers seem hell bent on pushing the boundaries. Racing across the diamond at Chase Field to frolic in the pool upon clinching the National League West. Going so far, according to reports, to treat it like a urinal.

Puig’s arms-raised celebratory home run pimp on a ball that didn’t leave the park in Game 3 was all the more amusing because he still ended up with a stand-up triple. Whereupon he did an arms-raised celebratory triple pimp.

Carlos Beltran had an opinion on this, saying “As a player, I just think [Puig] doesn’t know [how to act]. That’s what I think. He really doesn’t know. He must think that he’s still playing somewhere else. He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that—great ability, great talent. I think with time he’ll learn that you’ve got to act with a little bit more calm.”

Adam Wainwright said that in Game 3 of the NLCS, Adrian Gonzalez was heckling him from third base as he tried to pitch. He called it “Mickey Mouse stuff.” Gonzalez at first denied it, then offered the most Dodger response possible, making Mickey Mouse ears when returning to the dugout after a Game 5 home run.

To those who took offense, the counterpoint offered by bloggers and columnists everywhere held opinions along the line of “baseball can learn a thing or two,” and that it’s just jealousy” and “shut up.”

Ultimately, it comes to this: Baseball changes very slowly, but it does change. Puig is the youngest, freshest face that the sport has, and he does not have to be universally loved to affect change. Few transformative figures do.

The idea of the Code—an enforced system of respect, displayed through proscribed on-field behavior—becomes more difficult to maintain every year, as old-school adherents retire and are replaced by those who never cared much for it in the first place. Enter the attention given somebody like Puig—who does not disdain the Code so much as revel in the fact that he never learned it in the first place—and we’re looking at a sea change.

Celebrations—be they directed at seasons, games or individual feats—are now commonplace. Puig may represent the crass end of that spectrum, but he is on the spectrum nonetheless, and is pushing the window of what is acceptable toward a place that makes purists howl.

Then again, howling is what purists tend to do when their reality changes from beneath them.

The Dodgers running roughshod as a team over the Arizona ballpark was simply a bad idea, but it shouldn’t distract from the rest of this conversation. Love it or hate it, the game’s unwritten rules have taken a body blow this month. Get used to it: We’re looking at less of an outlier and more of the norm.

Hidden Ball Trick

The High Cost of Not Paying Attention, Juan Uribe Edition

Uribe picked offThe last time we saw two hidden ball tricks in a season was … well, who really knows? Evreth Cabrera tried it against the Giants in July, but was stymied by a lack of execution from his teammates and an ill-placed timeout call.

On Saturday, Tampa Bay was far less subtle in its efforts against the Dodgers—and far more effective.

Shortstop Yunel Escobar, noting that Juan Uribe—who had just pulled up at third following a sacrifice fly—wasn’t paying attention, called for first baseman James Loney to throw him the ball. He then tossed it to third baseman Evan Longoria, who was standing behind the bag.

Longoria watched Uribe quietly, and waited, ball in hand. Despite warnings hollered from Zack Greinke in the on-deck circle, the moment Uribe pulled his foot off the base, Longoria pounced. Third-base ump Angel Hernandez was right on it, and a disbelieving Uribe was out. (Watch it here.)

Thanks to a 5-0 victory, the Dodgers were able to have fun with it, Adrian Gonzalez presenting Uribe with third base—complete with a taped-on cleat—after the game. (See image below, courtesty of @yasielpuig.)

Escobar told reporters that he’d already tried the play four or five times this season, but that this was the first time in his seven-year career it’s actually worked.

No wonder we don’t see it more frequently.

Update (8-14): Even Los Angeles-area youth are getting in on the action.

UribeFoot

Retaliation

How Not to Approach the Concept of Retaliation: L.A. Story Ends Very, Very Badly

Dodgers-DBacksSome will blame baseball’s unwritten rules, the sport’s ingrained system of on-field justice, for last night’s disgraceful display at Chavez Ravine. They will decry the eye-for-an-eye mentality, the brutal delivery of fastballs and the ugly results of the punch-throwing scrum in the seventh-inning.

What they will not acknowledge is that baseball’s unwritten rules exist precisely to avoid this kind of confrontation. Because Tuesday night’s throwdown between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks was a study in what not do during the course of a baseball game as it pertains to baseball’s Code.

  • Retaliation for an incidental drilling—especially one so incidental that it required umpire intervention to confirm that it even happened—is simply not necessary. This was the state of affairs after Cody Ross was grazed by a Zack Greinke pitch in the fifth inning.
  • Even if what happened next was retaliation for Ross, it would at least give Ian Kennedy a reason for his actions, no matter how insufficient. In the sixth inning, the D-Backs right-hander ignored the tenet mandating that one never drill a batter intentionally above shoulder level, and hit Yasiel Puig in the nose with a 92-mph fastball. Puig remained on the ground for several minutes while trainers attended to him.  (Watch it here.)
  • Greinke responded an inning later by hitting Miguel Montero between the numbers. Usually, when catchers are hit in a retaliatory fashion, it is because they called for the pitch that made the retaliation necessary in the first place. In Montero’s case, had Kennedy’s pitch to Puig hit the catcher’s glove it would have ended up below the knees. (Watch it here.)
  • Regardless, that blow should have ended hostilities. Kennedy drilled a Dodger in a wildly inappropriate manner, and Greinke responded according to the Code. It wasn’t enough to settle Kennedy down, however. In the bottom half of the seventh, he threw his first pitch to Greinke—another 92-mph fastball—directly for the head. Greinke ducked and the ball glanced off his upper shoulder.
  • Usually, benches clear when an aggrieved hitter—somebody who has just been hit or knocked down—takes issue with the pitcher. Ron Washington once described the situation this way, back when he was the third-base coach for the A’s and Frank Thomas, the team’s designated hitter, had been drilled by Ted Lilly. “We all saw what happened, but Frank took it calmly, so we took it calmly,” he said. “If Frank had taken it with an uproar, we’d have taken it with an uproar. 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.”

On Tuesday, Greinke did take it calmly. It was his teammates—led by Puig—who escalated things from that point, racing from the dugout and quickly getting physical. (Watch it here.) The rest of the action was described succinctly by Nick Piecoro of the ArizonaRepublic:

Reliever J.P. Howell charged at Diamondbacks assistant hitting coach Turner Ward and nearly flipped him over a railing near the on-deck circle. Puig appeared to land a tomahawk swing on Diamondbacks’ bench player Eric Hinske. Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire looked apoplectic as he exchanged words with Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson and third-base coach Matt Williams. Even Dodgers manager Don Mattingly got in on the action, wrestling Diamondbacks bench coach Alan Trammell to the ground.

Only two things happened as they should have. First was Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz jumping in between Montero and Greinke after the former was drilled in the seventh. (It was the inability of the Dodgers’ other catcher, A.J. Ellis, to do that very thing that allowed Carlos Quentin to reach the mound during the April brawl that ended with Greinke’s collarbone broken.) The other was Greinke, on first base after being drilled, responding by trying to take out Arizona shortstop Didi Gregorius with a hard slide at the front end of an attempted double-play—just like they used to do in the old days. (Greinke ended up getting a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 5-3 victory. Watch it here.) Ultimately, the primary takeaway from this unfortunate state of affairs was that Ian Kennedy threw two pitches at opponents’ heads in a two-inning span. The guy has already proven willing to harbor ill-will against the Dodgers, throwing two pitches at Clayton Kershaw last season in response to a year-old grudge. Even more pertinent is the fact that he seems to enjoy this kind of thing. Last year he led the National League with 14 hit batters, even with otherwise good control—he walked only 55 over more than 200 innings. The Dodgers will get theirs, at some point. In the interim, MLB will certainly  step in and get some of its own. Had the unwritten rules worked as intended, none of it would have been necessary.

Update (6/14): Suspensions have been handed down. As expected, Ian Kennedy got the worst of it.