The Fine Line Between Pimping and Confusion, Pittsburgh Edition

Morneau drilledPerception is everything.

In the fifth inning in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Andrew McCutchen hit a home run to left. He didn’t get it all—it just cleared the fence—and he managed to lose it in the lights before he knew where it was ending up.

As such, he loitered in the batter’s box to try and get a read on it.

Ignore for a moment the horrific strategy of hedging one’s bet that a ball may not have left the ballpark by failing to leave the batter’s box. The pitcher who gave up the shot, Wily Peralta, either did not know about McCutchen’s confusion, or didn’t care. With his next pitch, he drilled Justin Morneau on the hand, near head-level. (Watch it here.)

“The catcher knew I was looking for the ball, the umpire knew—everybody knew it,” said McCutchen after the game, in an report. “You could see the guys in the infield smirking as I was going around the bases. They know I’d lost the ball.”

Peralta offered up the standard denial of intent, saying “Yeah, you know, it wasn’t on purpose,” before detailing how he missed his spot while trying to go up and in.

“I know it looks bad, because right after a homer, you don’t want to hit people,” he said.

Unless, of course, hitting people is exactly what you want to do. Morneau reacted angrily, and even though he never approached the mound, benches cleared. After the game, Pittsburgh’s first baseman wasn’t ready to level blame with any degree of certainty.

“I think usually when a guy hits a home run, and they don’t like the way he reacts, they wait until the guy comes around [again],” he said in USA Today, questioning whether a more proper approach would have seen the Brewers waiting for McCutchen’s next turn in the lineup, rather than going after Morneau so quickly afterward. “It’s one of those things in that gray area. You don’t know if it’s intentional or not.”

Not to disagree too wholeheartedly with an experienced big leaguer or anything, but it seemed pretty intentional. Add the wrinkle that Morneau’s career was derailed and diminished by concussion-related symptoms, and the idea that Peralta came anywhere near his head in a misinformed fit of retaliation is unconscionable.

That was the final meeting between the teams this season so any personal retribution will have to wait, but there are no such constraints on the commissioner’s office, which may opt to hand down some discipline of its own.

Practical Jokes

Rodney’s Bathroom Breather Hardly Breaks New Ground

Rodney trappedRays reliever Fernando Rodney got stuck in the visitors’ dugout bathroom at Oakland’s Coliseum on Sunday, and was trapped for about 15 minutes until a rescue crew could open the door.

He emerged triumphantly, met by jubilant teammates.

“They got two runs when I was locked inside,” Rodney said in an Associated Press report. “They broke the lock. It was hot inside. I can only hear the crowd but can’t see game. So I don’t know what’s going on. I let them know and tried getting a key but couldn’t. I kept yelling, ‘Get me out!’”

(Check it out at the bottom of the page, or watch the extended clip here.)

“It was a kind of a fun moment,” added Rays manager Joe Maddon. “We kind of rallied then—we should have kept him in there. A lot of the commotion in the dugout in the eighth inning and part of the rally was someone beating on the door. Finally someone broke the door knob with a bat to get him out. I don’t even know who the hero was getting him out.”

While there’s no unwritten rule to cover Rodney’s escapade, there was one involved in another locked-in-the-bathroom incident covered in The Baseball Codes. Unlike Rodney’s predicament, that one was all about practical jokes—keeping things loose in the clubhouse.

From TBC:

Bob McClure was a fun-loving reliever for the Brewers in the 1970s, some­one who proved, if nothing else, that he could take as good as he gave. The story started with his Sunday routine before day games, for which he holed up with a newspaper in the long cinderblock outhouse behind the outfield fence at Milwaukee County Stadium. It was a cool place for an American League pitcher to pass the morning in the shade of the bleach­ers, escaping the summer heat while his teammates took batting practice.

When the door slammed shut on McClure in the middle of one of these siestas, the pitcher attributed it to a gust of wind. But when he tried to exit, the door wouldn’t budge, even though it had no lock. With just a hint of panic, the pitcher pushed again . . . and again. Soon he was exert­ing so much energy in his frantic bid to escape that he had to stop for peri­odic breathers. The day was growing increasingly more sultry, and McClure worked up a sweat; eventually he kicked the air vents from the walls and stripped down to his underwear. “I bet I lost about seven or eight pounds in there,” he said. “It was hot.”

After a half-hour, the pitcher was able to wedge the door open just enough to squeeze through (“I still remember the scrapes across my chest”), whereupon he saw that someone had taken the rope from a flag­pole on the other side of the outhouse and pulled it so taut to reach the doorknob that the pole had bowed under the pressure. Once it was affixed to the handle, the rope’s tension kept the door from opening; it was only as the fibers started to give that McClure was able, finally, to free himself. (He found out later that members of the visiting Minnesota Twins, com­ing out for their own batting practice, had been told by his mystery assailant to watch the flagpole, that someone was locked in the lavatory and it would bounce every time he tried to get out.) He put on his clothes and returned directly to the clubhouse, as if nothing had ever happened. “I would say that, if someone gets you, never let them know that they got you,” he said. “I think it’s inappropriate, if someone really gets you good, to overreact. Don’t get mad, just get even.” The problem was that he had no idea upon whom to visit his revenge.

Before a game several days later, McClure got his answer. As the pitcher loitered in the outfield during BP, a fan called him over to the bleachers. “Do you want to know who locked you in that room?” she asked. His instinct was to play dumb, but when the woman told him she had pictures, he couldn’t resist. She handed them over in exchange for a ball autographed by Robin Yount, and McClure saw exactly what hap­pened: It had taken two men to pull the flagpole rope tight enough to trap him, and their uniforms were clearly visible. It was pitchers Mike Cald­well and Reggie Cleveland.

McClure immediately set to plotting his revenge. Six weeks later, when the Brew­ers had an off-day in Kansas City before a series with the Royals, he struck.

While many players, including Caldwell and Cleveland, spent the after­noon golfing, McClure opted for a hunting trip with a local friend. On the way back they stopped by a farm, where the pitcher bought a small, live— and exceptionally filthy—pig. “It had so much pig dung on it that you couldn’t even hardly tell it was a pig,” McClure said. “It was perfect. We put it in a burlap sack in the back of my buddy’s pickup.”

When the pitcher returned to the hotel, he saw that his teammates hadn’t returned, and figured they’d be out until the wee hours. McClure bribed his way into the room that Caldwell and Cleveland conveniently shared, and let the pig loose atop the bed. “When that pig hit the sheet, it looked up at me and started projectile shitting everywhere, like a shot­gun,” he said. “That pig was alive. It jumps off the bed, and it’s squealing and going nutty. There’s shit on the bed, on the floor, on the curtains. It was so loud that I had to get out of the room.”

He was staying just across the hall, and hours later was roused by the sounds of his returning teammates. Caldwell was the first to enter, and nearly as quickly lit back into the hallway, shouting, “There’s someone in there!” As McClure listened with delight, his teammates rushed the room, then spent the better part of an hour trying to corner the pig. Finally, the noise quieted and McClure went back to sleep.

The next morning, the pitcher veritably bounced across the hall to see how his victims had held up. He entered the room under the pretense of rounding up breakfast companionship, but wasn’t at all prepared for what he saw. The place was spotless. The walls, the drapes, the bedspread, and the carpet had all been cleaned. Caldwell was lying on his back in bed, shirtless. Also on its back, in the crook of Caldwell’s right arm, was a freshly washed pig. It sported a red dog collar. Caldwell was feeding it French fries dipped in ketchup.

Feigning ignorance, McClure asked why there was a pig in the room and was told the entire story, up to and including an early-morning trip to a nearby pet store, where Caldwell bought collar, leash, and industrial-grade pet shampoo. The pig joined the team at the ballpark that day, serv­ing as the Brewers’ mascot. It ended up living on Cleveland’s farm, of all places, dreaming recurrently, no doubt, of room service and burlap.


To Bunt or Not to Bunt, That is the Question—Even if it Doesn’t Make Much Sense

Kyle LohseWe may have found a new unwritten rule in Busch Stadium on Sunday. Either that, or Kyle Lohse is completely off his rocker.

Lohse allowed six singles to the first seven batters he faced in the fourth inning (including a bases-loaded squeeze beaten out by Pete Kozma), during which time he allowed four runs. That left runners at first and second, with one out, for pitcher John Gast.

Gast squared to bunt, but pulled the bat back at the last moment to swing away. This is not an unusual baseball move, especially for a pitcher, when the opposing third baseman is charging hard. Lohse, however, was irate, and threw three consecutive pitches high and inside. Gass eventually bunted into an out.

The act might have been explainable as an anti-bunt strategy had Lohse not immediately thereafter shared some heated thoughts with Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo, then continued the conversation with catcher Yadier Molina when he came to the plate the following inning.

“They know what I had to say,” Lohse said in an report. “It had nothing to do with the squeeze or anything like that. It was something that happened after that. … I’ll leave it at that. They know.”

Ultimately, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz may have offered the clearest-eyed viewpoint, speculating that Lohse was ticked that after five seasons in St. Louis A) the Cards didn’t keep him on their roster in favor of going with young pitchers, which B) left him first in free-agent purgatory and C) then with the last-place Brewers. There’s also D) the notion that Lohse is 1-5, despite pitching well this season, and that E) three of those losses have come at the hands of two of the young pitchers chosen by St. Louis to take his place—Shelby Miller and, last night, Gast. With that in mind, it makes sense that the pitcher’s fuse is a bit short. (Miller also did the square-to-bunt-and-pull-the-bat-back move against Lohse earlier in the season.)

On strictly baseball terms, given the information that’s currently available, Lohse doesn’t have a leg to stand on. (He also positioned himself as the anti-Nolan Ryan, who was known for drilling guys who tried to bunt on him. Lohse, it seems, was perturbed that a guy tried to not bunt on him.)

Lohse didn’t hit Gast, so no harm was actually done, but he was clearly pitching angry. It does not appear to be a retaliation-worthy offense, but stay tuned—these teams play each other nine more times this year.

(H/T Bill Ivie of I-70 Baseball.)

Aroldis Chapman, Don't Showboat

Stop, Drop and Roll: Chapman’s Tumble Has Folks Talking

The evolution of self-congratulation in baseball has been long and storied. Reggie Jackson lingering in the batter’s box.  Barry Bonds’s twirls and Sammy Sosa’s bunny hops en route to first base. Earlier this season we had Yoenis Cespedes, who in his third major league game took some liberties while watching a mammoth shot off of Seattle’s Jason Vargas.

It’s that last one that holds the most relevance to today’s story, which features another recent Cuban émigré, in possession of perhaps not the firmest grasp of baseball mores, celebrating his own achievement with a literally over-the-top display that was well-received by neither opponents nor teammates.

When Aroldis Chapman tumbles, people pay attention.

After closing out a 4-3 victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday, Chapman celebrated by doing a double somersault toward the plate. The guy was delighted after getting back on track following consecutive blown saves and an 11.37 ERA over his previous seven outings, and his display of exuberance was unlike any baseball had yet seen. (Watch it here.)

It’s unlikely that Chapman intended to show up the Brewers, but there’s little gray area in baseball when it comes to this sort of thing; rarely is an example of unnecessary showboating so blatant.

“It’s about professionalism . . .” Joey Votto told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s just not how you do things.”

Chapman, of course, has a bit of history when it comes to making curious decisions. There’s the ticket for driving nearly 100 mph with a suspended license. There’s the stripper girlfriend who may or may not have been involved with robbing his hotel room. Both are the mark of a young guy who hasn’t yet achieved full maturity. So, for that matter, is his tumble off the mound. One difference: The first two don’t inspire opposing pitchers to drill him.

Actually, since closers rarely bat, should the Brewers opt to take his celebration the wrong way it’ll likely be one of Chapman’s teammates who ends up paying for his mistake. Which is why members of the Cincinnati clubhouse were so quick to pile on following the game.

“We don’t play like that,” said manager Dusty Baker in an report, adding in the Enquirer that “it’ ain’t no joke,” and that “it won’t happen again, ever.”

“You can’t be doing that,” said catcher Ryan Hanigan. Votto, Jay Bruce and pitching coach Bryan Price spoke with Chapman after the game. From John Paul Morosi’s report: “By the time Chapman returned to the clubhouse, the smile he wore on the field was gone. He rested his forehead on a bat as he sat silently at his locker. He declined comment through a team official, saying he was not ‘mentally ready’ to take questions from the media.”

This was important. It told the Brewers that, regardless of how they might respond the following day, the Cincinnati organization was on top of the matter. That kind of thing can make a difference, as evidenced by the fact that Wednesday’s game featured no hit batters. That could have been due to the fact that the score was too close to chance retaliation until the ninth, or that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke spent parts of three seasons as Baker’s teammate on the Dodgers, and understands how his counterpart feels about this kind of thing. Or maybe it’s just that Milwaukee has considerable recent history with its own displays of showboating.

Still, some comfort can be taken from knowing that a situation has been handled; Baker has seen it first-hand. From The Baseball Codes:

In a game in 1996, the Giants trailed Los Angeles 11–2 in the ninth inning, and decided to station first baseman Mark Carreon at his normal depth, ignoring the runner at first, Roger Cedeno. When Cedeno, just twenty-one years old and in his first April as a big-leaguer, saw that nobody was bothering to hold him on, he headed for second—by any interpretation a horrible decision.

As the runner, safe, dusted himself off, Giants third baseman Matt Williams lit into him verbally, as did second baseman Steve Scarsone, left fielder Mel Hall, and manager Dusty Baker. Williams grew so heated that several teammates raced over to restrain him from going after the young Dodgers outfielder. . . .

At second base, Scarsone asked Cedeno if he thought it was a full count, and the outfielder responded that, no, he was just confused. “If he’s that confused, somebody ought to give him a manual on how to play baseball,” said Baker after the game. “I’ve never seen anybody that con­fused.”

In the end, it was Eric Karros [who had been up to bat when this all went down] who saved Cedeno. When he stepped out of the box, as members of the Giants harangued the bewildered baserunner, Karros didn’t simply watch idly—he turned toward the San Francisco bench and informed them that Cedeno had run without a shred of insti­tutional authority, and that Karros himself would ensure that justice was administered once the game ended. Sure enough, as Cedeno sat at his locker after the game, it was obvious to observers that he had been crying. Though the young player refused to comment, it appeared that Karros had been true to his word. “Ignorance and youth really aren’t any excuse,” said Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, “but we were able to cool things down.”

If there’s any ongoing resentment toward Chapman among the Brewers, we likely won’t know it until July 20, shortly after the All-Star Game, when the teams meet in Cincinnati. (Then again, if rosters hold, Votto and Ryan Braun will have all kinds of time to discuss the situation as members of the National League squad.)

Unlikely as the eventuality may be, should the Brewers decide to retaliate, and they do it in appropriate fashion, it would be shocking to hear a peep of protest from Baker.

Retaliation, Terry Collins

Brewers Denied Target Practice: Wright Pre-Emptively Pulled

David Wright gets riled in the dugout.

Because such thing exists as a pre-emptive strike, it goes to follow that its opposite must be pre-emptive strike avoidance. It’s a term not frequently utilized, especially in Major League Baseball, but it concisely sums up the strategy employed by Mets manager Terry Collins Tuesday at Citi Field.

That there was anything to avoid was courtesy of relief pitcher D.J. Carrasco, who, one pitch after a seventh-inning homer by Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks extended the Brewers’ lead to 8-0, drilled Ryan Braun. Plate ump Gary Darling ejected the right-hander on the spot. (Watch it here.)

The first thing that crossed Collins’ mind appeared to be disbelief that Carrasco, the guy he was probably counting on to eat the game’s final three innings, was gone after only three batters. Shortly thereafter, the ramifications became clear: Braun was Milwaukee’s No. 3 hitter, and his counterpart on the Mets, David Wright, was due to lead off the bottom of the inning.

Factor in that Brewers starter Zach Greinke had to that point given up only four hits over six shutout innings; that the Mets would be lucky to avoid being shut out, let alone win the game; that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has a bit of history when it comes to Code enforcement; that Wright has his own history when it comes to being hit by pitches; that there’s no player less dispensable to New York’s lineup than the .408-hitting Wright; and that if anybody was going to wear one for the sins of his team, it would clearly be the Mets’ third baseman.

Taking all that into consideration, Collins did what he felt prudent: He removed Wright.

Ryan Braun, and the pitch that started it all.

If Greinke had feelings about seeing pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin instead of Wright, he kept them to largely to himself after the game, telling the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “I don’t know what would have happened if [Wright] stayed in. They don’t want anyone important to get hurt, just like we don’t want someone important getting hurt.”

Wright, however, was clearly agitated, shouting at Collins in the dugout before turning on his heel and stalking away from the manager. (Watch it here.) Two batters later, Collins removed David Murphy for precisely the same reason.

“In my opinion, why I took him out of the game, he wasn’t getting hurt,” Collins said in a Newsday report. “I’m not accusing anybody for the possibility of retaliation. But I don’t blame the umpires for doing what they do. I don’t blame the other team for any perception they had of what happened, but I’ve got news for you: In this game there are unwritten rules. And one of the unwritten rules, is you hit my guy, I’m hitting your guy. They are not hitting my guy tonight. I’m not exposing him to being hit.”

“Terry’s the manager and I try to go to battle for Terry every day . . .” said Wright, who added that his response looked worse than it actually was. “Whether I agree or disagree with it, he’s got to make the move he thinks is best for the team, and he obviously did that . . . I respect him. I love playing for him.”

Carrasco issued a standard denial, and Braun claimed to have no feelings one way or the other about his opponent’s intent.

As a guy with eight seasons as a big league manager and 10 years of minor league playing time under his belt, Collins probably understands the game’s unwritten rules pretty well. In this instance, however, he may have been upstaged by Wright, when the third baseman told him in the dugout, “If anybody gets hit, I want it to be me.”

“My thinking at the time was, Ryan gets hit and then I go up there and get hit and then everything is settled,” Wright said in a report.

In that, he was exactly correct. If it wasn’t the series’ final game, or if the teams’ next scheduled meeting wasn’t four months away, or if Wright was anything but a target of circumstance—were he drilled, it would have been because of where he hit in the lineup, not anything he did on the field—he would have had an air-tight case. Waiting a day to respond to an incident like this is hardly rogue strategy, but Roenicke and his team would have to be harboring a pretty serious grudge to put a target on Wright when they next see him in September.

It will all probably pass without incident, but that may have happened anyway. One thing Collins has assured, however, is that the Mets now have 16 weeks to consider the possibilities before actually seeing the results of this particular experiment.

Update (5/17): The principals have spoken, and the matter has been “handled.”

Jeffrey Leonard, Jeffrey Leonard, Retaliation, Showing Players Up

We Must Be in the Front Row: Not First Time for Ticket Mixup at Busch

The view shared by members of the Brewers' traveling party?

Between the name-calling and the occasional hit batter and the Beast Mode, this Brewers-Cardinals NLCS has not been short on tempestuous fun.

Wednesday, however, things took a bit of a different turn. Whether it’s a bizarre form of institutional retaliation or simply shoddy planning, St. Louis’s decision to forgo the standard seating section for the families of Brewers players and staff—opting instead to spread them out around the ballpark—has been met with considerable anger.

“It’s bush,” said Nyjer Morgan in an report. “Our families, they’ve got to be secured. It’s kind of garbage. We put their [families] in a secure section and then they want to spread ours out. I don’t know why they play the mental games, but that right there, they shouldn’t play the games right there because that’s our family and our family has got to be secure. But that’s just them, that’s how they operate right there I guess.”

Leading to the theory that the decision was directly influenced by the team’s dislike for the Brewers is the fact that St. Louis reserved precisely such a section for its opponent in the NLDS, the Phillies. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak denied that gamesmanship was behind the decision, but at the very least, the club has some precedent on which to build.

During the 1987 NLCS against San Francisco, Giants players were dismayed to find out that their families had been relegated to the far reaches of the ballpark. The incident was referenced briefly in The Baseball Codes; here’s a more robust version of the story:

Giants slugger Jeffrey Leonard introduced the phrase “one flap down” into the American lexicon during the playoffs in 1987. That was the name of the peculiar home-run trot he had devised (but rarely used) the previous season, during which he let his left arm dangle limply at his side while dipping his inside shoulder into the turn at each base. The slugger decided to resurrect the practice after he and teammates noticed that the Cardinals organization placed Giants family members and friends in nosebleed seats for the first playoff game in St. Louis.

“We peeked out of the [Busch Stadium] dugout and saw where they were sitting, and we all got angry,” he said. “So I said to myself, if I hit a home run I’m just going to clown this fool out there.”

Leonard had plenty of opportunities to clown plenty of fools in the coming days, as he hit four homers over the seven-game series—a performance so dominating that he was named series MVP, even though his team lost. For each of those homers, his arm hung low to his side, which infuriated the Cardinals and their fans. (As did the fact that Leonard’s teammate Chili Davis called St. Louis a “cow town” to the press, a comment that got considerable run near the Gateway Arch.)

Leonard had come upon his trot by accident during a 1986 game, after he hit a home run against Chicago’s Scott Sanderson. First base coach Jose Morales, who usually met passing runners with an arm raised for a high-five, this time had his hands at his sides. It wasn’t until Leonard was atop the bag, ready to turn toward second, that Morales’ arm shot into the air in a belated attempt at congratulation. Leonard’s instinctive response was to duck under it, dropping his left shoulder in the process and letting his arm dangle as he rounded the base. Then, for reasons he can’t much explain, he held the pose as he continued the circuit.

The Brewers have plenty of ready-built responses of their own to call upon, starting with various permutations of Beast Mode and ending with Morgan’s T-Plush signs.

They should be wary, however: Leonard was drilled for his actions by Bob Forsch in Game 3 back in ’87; a similar response from Tony La Russa’s Cardinals would hardly be unusual.

Update (10-18): Apparently that wasn’t all of it. Now that the NLCS is complete, we hear that Zack Greinke‘s wife, Emily, was none too pleased with her seats, tweeting during a game in St. Louis that she’d been relegated to a spot down the left-field line. The tweet has since been deleted, but Larry Brown Sports saved the accompanying picture, allegedly shot on location.

– Jason

Gamesmanship, Nyjer Morgan

Big League Chew: Morgan Pulls Out All the Stops (Among Other Things) to Get into Carpenter’s Head

This is what happens when baseball’s premier red-ass butts heads with one of the game’s loosest cannons. As if there wasn’t enough tension built in to St. Louis’ desperate chase of the Brewers in the waning days of the NL Central, Nyjer Morgan threw decorum—and his chew—to the winds Wednesday, shouting down Chris Carpenter as the Cardinals ace tried to finish a complete-game shutout.

After the right-hander struck out Morgan for the first out of the ninth inning, he directed an inflammatory comment toward the plate (at least according to Morgan), to which the hitter replied—and I lean here on my decades of experience reading lips via sports telecasts—“fuck you.” (Watch it here.)

Morgan, it seems, had been swiping at low-hanging fruit throughout the game, trying to rattle a pitcher who’s proved susceptible to such tactics in the past. To Carpenter’s credit, he didn’t cave.

“He was yelling at me at second base,” said the pitcher in an report. “He was yelling at me down the line when he hit the double. The whole game he’s screaming and yelling, the whole game. I’m not going to allow it to happen. I don’t know if that’s the way he plays, to try to get guys out of their game or what. But I’ve been around too long to allow that to happen, I can tell you that much.”

As Morgan strode purposefully back to the dugout following his at-bat, he dismissively tossed his wad of chewing tobacco toward the mound. It didn’t come anywhere close to Carpenter, but that wasn’t Morgan’s intention. It was simply as dismissive a message as he could send in that moment.

Albert Pujols responded by charging in from first base, Prince Fielder raced to restrain Morgan, and the benches emptied. (No punches were thrown or shoves exchanged.) Morgan was eventually tossed by the umpires, at which point he could be heard on the telecast saying, “He said it first, he’s got to go, too.”

Were it only that simple. Morgan knows—and was likely trying to exploit—a history with the Cardinals that dates back to August, 2010, when the outfielder—then with Washington—went out of his way to senselessly collide with Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson in a non-play at the plate.

That was followed this spring by an exchange that started when Morgan ran into Pujols in a play at first. Morgan and Carpenter got into a verbal spat during a series at Miller Park earlier this season. The teams also had tension over a tit-for-tat hit-batter exchange involving Pujols and Ryan Braun.

Ultimately, Morgan is either genuinely off-kilter or wildly canny, using the tactic of supreme annoyance to get his opponents off their collective game. (The former was bolstered by his recent run-in with fans in San Francisco. The latter has been ably demonstrated for years by A.J. Pierzynski.)

No matter the answer, it comes down to Nyjer being Nyjer. He said after the game that the confrontation “was over with”—but he wasn’t quite telling the truth.

Not long afterward, Morgan sent out a series of tweets referring to Pujols as “Alberta” and saying “She never been n tha ring.” (See below.)

Ozzie Guillen once described Pierzynski this way: “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”

Through Morgan’s tenures in Pittsburgh and Washington, that appeared to be the case with him, as well. The Brewers, however, seem to love the guy.

He’d be well-advised to keep it that way.

Update: Morgan is headed in the wrong direction. Brewers management is not taking kindly to his act.

– Jason

Jason Motte, Retaliation, Ryan Braun, Tony La Russa

Hey Jered Weaver, this is Where Message Pitches are Meant to be Delivered

Ryan Braun: not happy with the way things played out.

As far as retaliation goes, it was awkward, it was ugly and if it wasn’t embarrassing to more than one party, then by all rights it should have been.

But at least it got the job done, within the boundaries of reason.

In the bottom of the seventh inning last night, Cardinals reliever Jason Motte wanted to deliver a message to Milwaukee. Brewers reliever Takashi Saito had drilled Albert Pujols a half-inning earlier, in his tender left wrist. It was clearly unintentional, as the rising fastball hit Pujols only after the hitter pulled his hands in to his chest and was spinning toward the backstop.

Sometimes intent doesn’t make a lick of difference. When Pujols goes down, reparations are frequently in order.

Never mind that it was a 7-7 score; when Ryan Braun led off the home half of the inning, Motte got right to it. And whiffed. Braun evaded Motte’s 98 mph inside fastball, which should, for practical purposes, have ended the hostilities. The pitcher had his shot and missed his mark.

This was plate ump Rob Drake‘s moment to step in and put an end to things. Players frequently appreciate some leeway when it comes to umpires’ warnings, at least to the point that each side is allowed their due shot. Drake, however, missed that mark by a mile.

Allowed a second chance, Motte drilled Braun in the ribs with a 97 mph four-seamer. Braun looked stunned after the first effort; when the second one found purchase without a peep from Drake he was downright flabbergasted.

Even at that point, Motte failed to get booted. (He did end up hitting the showers, but only because Tony La Russamade a pitching change. Based on La Russa’s history with these things, it seems likely that Motte started the inning solely because has the best fastball on the team, with the plan being to pull him after one hit batter. “We threw two balls in there real good just to send a message,” the skipper said afterward, in a semi-denial. “If he ducks them, it’s all over and we don’t hit him.”)

Only after Milwaukee skipper Ron Roenicke came out for a chat with Drake—presumably to fill the ump in on all he was missing—were warnings issued to both benches. (It was odd timing on Roenicke’s part; unless he was looking to get Motte retroactively bounced from the game, his discussion served little purpose beyond costing his own pitchers a chance to respond on Braun’s behalf.)

“That was ridiculous,” said Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We didn’t hit Albert Pujols on purpose. Are you kidding me? In that situation? If we wanted to put him on base, we would have walked him. That’s ridiculous. . . . We shouldn’t get punished for something we weren’t trying to do on purpose. Look at the situation. If we were getting beat by a lot or we were beating them by a lot and that happens, maybe we did it on purpose.  I mean, come on. We weren’t trying to hit anybody. It’s unbelievable.”

Lucroy is entitled to his opinion, but it’s tough to fault a pitcher for protecting his superstar. That Milwaukee’s best player led off the next inning made the timing perfect. That Motte was given two chances by an apparently clueless ump, however, is worth getting ticked off about. If the situation has anything working in its favor, it’s that, unlike Jered Weaver and Carlos Carrasco, Motte came nowhere near his target’s head.

The teams meet again today, then again at the end of the month.

– Jason

Fan interaction

Not Among Friends: The Fine Art of Ignoring Hostile Crowds. Or: Nyjer Morgan, Come on Down!

Forget lefty-on-lefty matchups; there’s one battle a baseball player simply can not win: going nose to nose with any segment of the crowd, particularly on the road. One of the first things a player learns, even in the minors, is to avoid negative engagement at nearly any cost. Bleacher bums like nothing better than turning a minor on-field gesture into a mountain of grief.

This particular lesson continues to evade Nyjer Morgan.

On Friday night in San Francisco, Morgan made a series of running catches in the vast power alleys of AT&T Park to rob the Giants of several extra-base hits. With each grab, the jeering from the center-field bleachers got a little louder. Eventually, Morgan bit.

In the seventh inning, after ranging far to his right to track down a drive by Nate Schierholtz, Morgan ended up bouncing off the wall in left-center. As he jogged back to his position, he spun and made several gestures toward the bleachers widely perceived to be obscene. This served to inspire the crowd, which doubled down on whatever it had been yelling. Morgan spun to face them sporadically through the inning, gesturing all the while (though nothing any more conspicuous than arm waving, chest-thumping and head nodding).

He kept it up all the way to the dugout after the inning, bringing fans in different sections of the ballpark into the action. The act was blatant enough for umpire Joe West to have a word with Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke. (Watch it all here.)

These kinds of interactions can end up one of two ways. The first example is from Jose Canseco, who was greeted by Boston fans during the 1988 American League Championship Series with chants of “STER-oids, STER-oids.” Canseco, like Morgan, didn’t let it go. He pulled up his sleeve and showed his bicep to the crowd. Then he hit three home runs over the course of Oakland’s four-game sweep.

On the other side of the equation is David Wells. He tells the story himself, in his book, Perfect I’m Not. The scene: the bullpen in Cleveland, where Wells is warming up as a member of the Yankees, prior to a start.

“You’re an asshole, Wells! You suck! Fuck you!” they shout, hanging over the bullpen like a bunch of drunken, potbellied baboons wearing acid-washed jeans. Standard stuff, really. I barely even notice . . . until they shift gears. “Hey, Wells! Your mother’s a whore!” they shout from above, lauhing, and at that point I can’t help but shoot them a glare. Bad move. They’ve struck a nerve, and they know it. Now the jackasses take it up a notch, laying out a long, steady, completely obnoxious string of mom-centered insults, none of which I’ll reprint for you here. I’m dying to break a nose.

More dick-heads join the glee club. More insults get thrown, and by the time I’ve finished my warm-ups, I’m astonished to find that a bunch of little kids, just eight or nine years old, are now mimicking the older morons, reshouting every bit of filth the alpha mooks dish out. The “adults” all crack up at the sight. Welcome to Cleveland, ass-wipe capital of the USA.

It really bothers me. I know it shouldn’t., but it does. Insults aimed at me just roll off with no effect. It’s part of the territory. But here, today, with the rifle sights shifting to my mom, I’ve become furious to the point of distraction. Minutes later, hands still balled into tight, homicidal fists, my head still spinning, I sit in the Yankees’ dugout, stewing and staring, barely cracking a smile, even as my teammates are jumping all over a wild Chad Ogea and gifting me with a quick, 3-0, first-inning lead. In just a few moments, I’ll give most of that back.

Taking the mound to my usual chorus of  boos, I’m now raging inside. Sweating, scowling, still looking to fracture a skull, I’m knocked off my game. I’m distracted. My mechanics are off. My delivery sucks, my fastball is up, and I pay for it all through the first. The assholes have won.

In Morgan’s defense, what was first taken to be an indecent gesture was actually a “T” symbol the outfielder made with his arms—something he does regularly to acknowledge his alter-ego, Tony Plush, or T-Plush.

He also flashed devil horns toward the bleachers, which happens to be the hand sign for two outs—which there were once he retired Schierholtz. He then flashed the sign toward the infield. Standard procedure.

“Just fans being fans, and me being an entertainer,” he told the San Jose Mercury News after the game.

Ultimately, Morgan is innocent of luridness and guilty of stupidity. His gestures, innocent though they may have been, were clearly intended to be provocative. Morgan should know better.

But he doesn’t. Last year, remember, Morgan was suspended for eight games and fined $15,000 after he cursed at Marlins fans in Florida, then initiated a fight with Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad. This came on the heels of a seven-game suspension (later waved) after he allegedly threw a ball at a fan in Philadelphia. (Morgan claimed he threw the ball to the fan.)

So never mind the fact that Morgan told that he would alter his “T” sign to avoid future misunderstandings, saying that “we don’t want any controversial stories here.” The guy is a loose cannon, and likely always will be.  On Friday, that personality trait guaranteed him that he will not play another grief-free game in San Francisco in the foreseeable future.

Only he can decide whether it was worth it on a personal level, but institutionally it’s clear. The Code says no.

– Jason

Buster Posey, Eli Whiteside, Prince Fielder, Running Into the Catcher

Whiteside Shows that Plate Collisions Work Both Ways

Lost amid the recent talk about the propriety of crashing into the catcher is the fact that the catcher is hardly defenseless behind the plate. On late-breaking plays, of course—like the one in which Buster Posey was injured—he has little choice but to absorb whatever punishment is being dished out. But with time to prepare, a catcher has tools at his disposal.

From The Baseball Codes:

I might take a spike in the shoulder, but I’ve got my shin guard in his neck,” said Fred Kendall, who caught in the big leagues for a dozen sea­sons and whose son, Jason, became an All-Star catcher in his own right. “There are ways to counter it, if that’s the way he’s going to play. . . . If I take the baseball and put it in the web of my glove—the web, not the pocket—and I tag you, it’s just like taking a hammer and whacking you in the teeth; if I take my mask off and I throw it right where you’re going to slide; if I place my shin guards the right way, it’s like sliding into a brick wall.

Last night, the Giants received a reminder of this mindset in the most necessary way. Earlier in the day, Posey told reporters that his season was almost certainly over. Then, in the eighth inning against Milwaukee, Prince Fielder tried to score from second base on a two-out single.

The throw from left fielder Cody Ross came in on one hop, well in time and plenty high for Eli Whiteside—two days ago the Giants’ backup catcher, but now their starter—to brace for impact.

He did more than that.

Protecting his mitt with his bare hand, Whiteside lunged toward Fielder, taking the impact to the runner, punching him in the chest with the baseball as Fielder went flying. As Whiteside scrambled to his feet and saw umpire Mike Muchilinski call the runner out, he held out the ball, then flipped it insouciantly past Fielder toward the mound. (Watch it here.)

That it came at Fielder’s expense was merely bonus (if you forget why, click here). This was a message from Whiteside to his teammates, not to the Brewers: We are strong, we are resilient, and we are badass.

San Francisco’s chances to defend their title took a grave hit when Posey went down. But credit Whiteside for this: What he did was the mark of a champion.

– Jason