Bat Flipping, Home run pimping

Just In Case You Missed It: Carlos Gomez Hit A Game-Winning Home Run

Gomez dances

It’s been a busy week, and I didn’t want to let more time pass before hitting up the many moods of Go-Go .

Carlos Gomez, of course, is no stranger to this space. Last year, he got mad at Colin McHugh for not hitting him. In 2015 he got into it with Madison Bumgarner. And remember that time he pissed off Brian McCann so badly that the catcher wouldn’t let him score on a home run?

Gomez has also been known to get into it with the opposition over various bat flips (games against the Twins, Pirates and Yankees come quickly to mind), and he will occasionally dab following home runs. His reputation is such that even when he makes defensible plays, he still seems to get into trouble.

So when Gomez unloads the mother of all home-plate celebrations, should it really come as a surprise?

On Sunday, the outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays hit a game-winning home run, flipped his bat, raised his arms, turned his back to the pitcher, peered into the Rays dugout, stuck out his tongue, and preened his way around the bases, culminating with what he later called “the Ray Lewis [dance]” over his final steps to the plate. Even by Gomez’s own standards, and even in the new-school world where celebrations are more acceptable than ever, this one drew notice.

There are a couple of ways to view this. One is that Gomez is never satisfied, and that even in an era of celebratory acceptance which he himself helped bring about, he’s just going to keep pushing the envelope no matter what.

The other involves some context. Not so long ago, the sight of teams spilling out of the dugout to mob a player who’d just scored the winning run was limited to playoff-clinchers. Now, it happens with pretty much every walk-off. In that light, it’s tough to judge an individual player for ramping up his own response to the same situation. Gomez’s antics might have been over the top, but they could hardly have been directed at the Twins, given that the Twins were either in their dugout, or headed there, for the bulk of his circuit.

“If enjoying and having fun in baseball is bad,” Gomez said later in a Tampa Bay Times report, “I’m guilty.” He made sure to clarify that he wasn’t staring down the opposition but his own team, nor looking at the flight of the ball in the standard home run-pimp pose. There’s also the fact that the outfielder had been slumping so badly—a .158 batting average and .276 slugging percentage leading into the game—that he snapped a bat over his knee in frustration in an earlier plate appearance.

One doesn’t have to like Gomez’s act, but it’s impossible to deny that he is now part of baseball’s mainstream. There’s also an ironclad retort to those scolding him with the idea that he should act like he’s been there before. Gomez is 32 years old and in his 12th big league season, and Sunday’s walk-off homer was the first of his career.

Celebrators gonna celebrate, and Carlos Gomez is gonna lead the way.

 

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Showboating, Unwritten-Rules

Puerto Rico Ama A Francisco Lindor: A Celebratory Lesson

Lindor trots

I’ve referenced 2017’s World Baseball Classic twice in posts this season, and it’s only April. Today is the third—and most pertinent. Francisco Lindor hit a home run yesterday, then effectively paraded his way around the bases, skipping, waving his arms and inciting the crowd. Afterward, he publicly apologized for potentially offensive behavior.

As with most things, details matter.

The WBC was terrific because it showed us a Puerto Rico national squad that was unafraid, within the context of the way baseball is played on the island (and throughout much of Central America), to show some emotion on the field. Though the occasional American red-assed stick-in-the-mud took issue with this, it was generally seen as a good thing.

Lindor was on that Puerto Rico team. Last night’s game was held in Puerto Rico, against the Twins at San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Of course Lindor celebrated.

Such is the reach of baseball’s unwritten rules—especially the part held up by American red-assed stick-in-the-muds—that Lindor recognized after the fact that his antics might not have been appreciated by the opposing team. Thus, we got this:

That Cleveland was playing the Twins was unfortunate, given Minnesota’s collective, ludicrous, unwritten-rules-inspired groan at a perfectly reasonable bunt earlier in the season. If any team would take issue with a hometown kid playing by hometown rules after succeeding in front of his hometown fans, it’d be these guys, right?

As it turns out: not so much.

Credit to Lindor for sensitivity with this issue, and relieved acknowledgement that everybody involved seemed content to let him have this particular moment.

Update, 4-18: The Twins agree: Lindor was a-ok.

Bunt appropriately, Don't Bunt to Break Up a No-Hitter

Dozier Doubles Down on Blowout Bunt Talk

Dozier

Brian Dozier wants to explain himself.

After invoking baseball’s unwritten rules in ridiculous ways on Sunday to defend his disenchantment with the fact that an opponent had the audacity to bunt against the Twins’ shift, he felt some clarity was in order. So he continued to talk.

It all had to do, he said on Monday, with the fact that Baltimore had, an inning earlier, failed to hold Minnesota’s Ryan LeMarre on base after he’d singled in the ninth. The game situation—a 7-0 twins lead—was nearly identical the one that Dozier found so offensive only moments later.

“When they didn’t hold our runner on, they conceded to the fact they didn’t want us to steal, so we didn’t steal,” Dozier said in a Pioneer Press report. “We could have very easily stolen and put up more runs, so therefore in return you don’t bunt. That’s what everybody is missing in this whole thing.”

It’s an interesting point. In Dozier’s reading, the Orioles tacitly approved late-game blowout tactics by not holding LeMarre close to first, thereby giving themselves a defensive advantage by positioning first baseman Chris Davis in the hole rather than tethering him to first base. Adhering to the Code, LeMarre stayed put, and did not attempt to steal.

It was a classic example of straightforward blowout tactics, fanciness stripped out in favor of straight-up baseball designed to push the pace and end things quickly. The point that Dozier seems to have missed is that Minnesota’s shift against Sisco was not that. Positioning three fielders to the right side of second base is anything but straight-up baseball, and if the Twins felt that the game situation was insufficient to dissuade them from doing so, they had no business complaining that the game situation was insufficient to dissuade Sisco from responding.

Bill James, meanwhile, made an equally ludicrous suggestion on the opposite side of the argument:

Ignore for a moment the idea of suspension for the outspoken members of the Twins, because James’ suggestion doesn’t apply here. Sisco wasn’t trying to win the game, he was trying to beat the shift, down seven runs with the bases empty and two outs to go. There’s value in that, even during a blowout. If Sisco wants to leverage the bunt as a means of getting teams to stop shifting on him, a lopsided score should not interfere with an opportunity to do so. It had little to do with winning.

As for James’ idea of MLB implementing thought police, it’s pure fantasy, and he knows it. It’s analogous to the idea of automatically suspending pitchers who throw at batters, which would lead to a number of issues, none bigger than the impossibility of determining intent. Who in baseball would want to be charged with containing that morass? With that in mind, under James’ proposed rule, what kind of comments would be okay for players to make, and who would judge the gray area, and how would a team’s fan base react to a star player being suspended for having thoughts?

In a league where good vibes rule and the commissioner would love nothing more than for every ounce of drama to be contained to the field, this suggestion would blow up in fabulous and unexpected ways. James doesn’t strike me as the type to say sensational things simply to garner attention, but this statement certainly qualifies.

Bunt appropriately, Don't Bunt to Break Up a No-Hitter

Ninth-Inning Bunt Bothers Berrios, Twins Talk Tersely About Turf Tactics

Cisco bunts II

We didn’t even make it out of the season’s opening weekend before being hit with 2018’s first Guy Who Bunted When He Shouldn’t Have Bunted controversy.

We’ve rehashed the most famous example of this, Ben Davis breaking up Curt Schilling’s perfect game in 2001, many times now. Davis was a slow-footed catcher who had no business doing what he did, save for one detail: The score was 2-0 in the eighth inning, and by reaching safely Davis brought the tying run to the plate. One dictate in baseball’s unwritten rulebook is incontrovertible: winning trumps everything, and Davis had just given his team its best chance at pulling out a W.

Yesterday in Baltimore, another catcher, rookie Chance Sisco, dropped down a ninth-inning bunt against Twins starter Jose Berrios, who was two outs from wrapping up not only the first shutout of his career, but the first complete game. Berrios, however, had already given up a hit—a double in the third, also to Sisco—so he should have been cool with it, right?

Right, except for this: The Twins led, 7-0, a point at which—with one out and nobody on in the ninth inning—baseball etiquette dictates that players stop trying to get cute and play simple, straight-up baseball. That means a lack of nibbling around the corners for pitchers, and nothing but hard hacks for hitters. The sooner a blowout ends, the quicker everybody can go home.

“Obviously, we’re not a fan of [Sisco’s bunt],” said Twins second baseman Brian Dozier after the game, in an MLB.com report. “He’s a young kid. I could’ve said something at second base, but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there with Chris Davis, Adam Jones and those guys. I’m sure they’ll address it and move forward. It’s all about learning up here.”

“It’s not good for baseball in that situation,” said Berrios. “That’s it.”

Okay, then. So Sisco shouldn’t have bunted. Right?

Right, except for this: Despite their lead, the Twins were employing a full shift against the rookie. Another unwritten rule says that when a defense calls off the dogs late in a blowout, the offense will not take advantage. Usually this refers to opting against holding a runner on first base, with the understanding that said runner will not attempt to steal second. Like the hard-hacks theory above, it’s aimed at more quickly reaching a conclusion that is virtually inevitable. With the game out of hand, positioning the first baseman back gives the defense a better chance to make a play.

That said, there’s a difference between playing one’s first baseman back with a man aboard, and what happened yesterday. The Twins were trying to end the game quickly by deploying what they felt was their most effective defensive formation, but such extreme shifts allow opponents unfettered opportunities to bunt down the line. By exploiting such a glaring hole, Sisco did his part—as, frankly, most hitters should—to make Minnesota consider the ongoing value of shifting against him like that. It was part of a long game, and the catcher had every right to take advantage.

If the Twins want to cede the possibility of such an outcome, they shouldn’t be all too surprised when it happens. And they sure as hell shouldn’t whine about it afterward.

Cisco's field
Minnesota’s defense as Sisco’s bunt rolls. That’s a lot of line.

Related: Dozier Doubles Down on Blowout Bunt Talk (4-4-18)

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Retaliation

Baseball Man Steals With Eight-Run Lead; Opposing Baseball Man Confused, Miffed

ThouShaltNotSteal

Perhaps the oldest of baseball’s age-old unwritten rules concerns the point at which a team should take its foot off the gas and coast in to victory. Nearly everybody agrees that cessation of aggressive tactics—stolen bases, bunting for hits, sacrifice flies—is appropriate at some point in a blowout. Consensus on what that point is, however, in terms of either score or inning, is difficult to come by.

On Sunday, Arizona rookie reliever Braden Shipley used his mound-top pulpit to lobby for an eight-run lead in the fifth as designated markers.

How he did so represented some serious throwback attitude. With Minnesota leading the Diamondbacks, 12-4, and two outs in the fifth, Twins outfielder Byron Buxton reached first and found himself repeatedly retreating to the bag under a hail of pickoff attempts.

They didn’t work. Buxton swiped his 22nd base of the season. That he never scored did little to appease Shipley.

When Minnesota next batted, the pitcher waited to act until he’d retired the first two batters. That brought up Chris Gimenez, who had already singled, doubled and homered. A cycle may have been improbable for a man who’d accrued only one triple to that point in his nine-year big league career, but he had at least given himself a chance … until Shipley took it away. The right-hander’s first pitch fastball drilled Gimenez in the ribs.

It was classic execution. The problem with classic execution, of course, is that it is by definition outdated, and the way baseball is currently set up harbors little space for that kind of mindset. Even more egregious was that the purity of Shipley’s old-school attitude was undermined entirely by what appears to be a significant misunderstanding of the way this particular rule is supposed to work.

While it’s acceptable to decry a base stolen by a team holding an eight-run lead, mainstream thought holds that to do so before the seventh inning  is premature.

Furthermore, were Shipley truly set on traditional parameters, he had no business trying to keep Buxton close at first base. After all, if one is to decry aggressive offensive tactics during a blowout, it’s only fair to forgo aggressive defensive tactics as well. While facing a lead so insurmountable as to expect cessation of steals, a defense would ordinarily play its first baseman in the hole, even with a runner at first, with the expectation that said runner will not take advantage. (This strategy stirs up its own controversy, the heart of which involves a team giving itself a defensive advantage—better positioning for the first baseman—at absolutely no cost. But that’s a topic for another post.)

Finally, in situations like this, circumstances count. Target Field is the fourth-most homer-friendly ballpark in the big leagues this season, and Minnesota’s bullpen is surrendering more than five runs per game, fifth-worst in the American League. Closer Brandon Kintzler has been outstanding, but the rest of the bullpen has ranked between adequate and awful, presenting a decent opportunity for a comeback-seeking club.

A quick recap:

  • It was early in the game.
  • Shipley worked hard to hold Buxton close to first base.
  • The Twins’ ballpark plays small.
  • The Twins’ bullpen ain’t real good.

Gimenez was within his rights to be angry over the drilling, but chose instead to take it like a pro. “It’s baseball,” he said after the game in a 1500ESPN report. “If he had thrown at my face we might have had some issues, but he did it the right way.”

Right way or no, the pitch begat a response. In the seventh, Minnesota reliever Ryan Pressly came inside to D’Backs shortstop Adam Rosales, drawing a warning to both benches from plate ump John Tumpane. (For reasons unclear—his guy got to hit a batter, their guy did not—Arizona manager Torey Lovullo argued the point and was subsequently ejected.)

Leave it to Gimenez to put everything in perspective. “It is what it is,” he said after the game. “Hopefully it’s a learning experience for everybody involved. Obviously, it’s a younger pitcher on the mound as well, maybe not quite understanding the situation.” Gimenez pointed out that he and Shipley, both alums of the University of Nevada-Reno, are friendly. “No hard feelings at all,” he said. “That’s baseball.”

Later in the day, Shipley was optioned to Triple-A Reno. It probably had nothing to do with his response to Buxton, but that, too, is baseball.

 

 

Retaliation

Message Delivered: Detroit Baits Sano Into Disastrous Reaction

Sano-Boyd

It was obscured over the weekend by the Baltimore Slide Affair, but a moment in Saturday’s Twins-Tigers game slots into the same category. It also offers some lessons for whatever Red Sox player ends up wearing a retaliatory pitch from the Orioles, should such a thing be coming.

Whether or not one agrees with the concept of retaliatory pitches in baseball, one must accept the fact that such things exist, and understand that an appropriate response will go a long way toward maintaining general sanity on the premises. On Saturday, Miguel Sano did not offer an appropriate response, and ended up ejected, then suspended.

It began in the third inning, when Twins reliever Justin Haley drilled Detroit’s JaCoby Jones in the face, knocking him from the game. Jones was subsequently placed on the 10-day disabled list with a lip laceration.

Unlike the pitch in Baltimore, there was no noticeable intent, but—as will likely influence Boston when the Orioles next come to town—conventional tactics mandate a response to HBPs above the shoulders. Prevailing notion holds that even innocent pitchers who can’t control their stuff shouldn’t be throwing up and in. Should they do so, plunking a teammate in response issues a powerful deterrent for similar pursuits in the future.

Which is precisely what happened in Minnesota. Two frames after Jones went down, Twins starter Matthew Boyd threw a fastball behind Sano—below the waist, as deterrent pitches are supposed to be. Had the hitter kept his wits, he would have recognized and accepted the nature of the message: a no-harm-done warning shot indicating the Twins’ displeasure with how things had gone down. Had the hitter kept his wits, he could have kept on hitting.

Instead, Sano took several steps toward the mound, pointing and shouting. When Twins catcher James McCann put him in a protective bear hug, Sano took a swing. (Watch it here.)

Never mind the lack of strategy behind throwing a punch at a guy wearing a catcher’s mask—Sano was quickly tossed. So, strangely, was Boyd, who hadn’t actually hit anyone with a pitch, who hadn’t received a warning to that point, and who likely wouldn’t have gone anywhere had Sano recognized the situation for what it was and calmly allowed the game to proceed.

“[McCann] touched me with his glove and I reacted,” Sano said after the game, in an MLB.com report. “It was a glove to the face. They were supposed to eject McCann, too, but I saw they didn’t eject him.”

Sure enough, McCann’s glove rose toward Sano’s face as the catcher drew him close. It wasn’t a swing though, and should hardly have been enough to spur Sano into the action he took.

Sano doesn’t need to like the concept of baseball retaliation. It is, in many instances, a brutal process. But the logic is impossible to miss: A pitch thrown at a team’s star in response to something one of his teammates did might inspire a conversation with said teammate about knocking it the hell off in the future. Had Sano recognized as much, he’d have saved himself a bunch of trouble.

The word “rules” is right there in the term “unwritten rules.” This weekend showed us the importance of players understanding them, if only for their own long-term benefit.

 

 

 

Bench Jockeying, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

Staredown in the Twin Cities Reminds Us What Sensitive Creatures We’ve All Become

Donaldson stares

Blue Jays MVP Josh Donaldson—after getting targeted by pitches twice against the Twins over the weekend—garnered attention yesterday by decrying baseball’s unwritten rules as a matter of personal safety.

The direct quote, via SportsNet.ca:

“Major League Baseball has to do something about this. They say they’re trying to protect players. They make a rule that says you can’t slide hard into second base. They make a rule to protect the catchers on slides into home. But when you throw a ball at somebody, nothing’s done about it. My manager comes out to ask what’s going on and he gets ejected for it. That’s what happens. I just don’t get the point. I don’t get what baseball’s trying to prove. If I’m a young kid watching these games, why would I want to play baseball? Why? If I do something well or if somebody doesn’t like something that I do, it’s, ‘Oh, well, I’m gonna throw at you now.’ It doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Donaldson’s issues started with the third pitch of Saturday’s game—a called strike with which he disagreed. When he grounded to short on the very next pitch, Donaldson slowed down before reaching first base, according to the Toronto Sun, at which point Twins bench coach Joe Vavra yelled “nice hustle.”

When Donaldson returned verbal fire, plate umpire Toby Basner, thinking the comment had been directed at him, ejected the third baseman.

In the first inning of Sunday’s game, Donaldson hit a mammoth home run to straightaway center field. Instead of immediately returning to his own dugout, however, he took a couple steps toward the Twins bench on the first base side of the field, staring daggers all the while. (Watch it here.) His explanation: “I looked right at the guy who chirped me yesterday and got me thrown out, I was letting him know I was coming to play today. Don’t comment on the way I play. It’s not your business how I play. I’m not on your team. If someone has a problem with the way I play, my manager or teammates will say something to me, not the other team.”

In the sixth inning, Minnesota’s Phil Hughes responded by throwing one pitch that just missed Donaldson’s hip, and another behind his back. The intent was obvious. Jays manager John Gibbons, after vigorously arguing for Hughes’ ejection, was instead ejected himself.

At the core of his argument, Donaldson has a legitimate beef. In the modern landscape, non-baseball activities—like, say, a few moments’ worth of dugout stare-down—virtually never merit physical retribution.

What Donaldson received, however, was decidedly not physical retribution. No pitch hit him, and, given that Donaldson himself used Hughes’ excellent control to support his claims of intent, things seemed to play out the way Hughes wanted them to.

There are a couple of takeaways here. One is that the incident that so upset Donaldson—Vavra riding him from the bench—illustrates just how thin ballplayers’ skin has grown over recent generations. Bench jockeying was once an art form, with insults hurled as much to distract the target as anything else.

In the 1922 World Series, Giants manager John McGraw’s dugout-borne insults distracted Babe Ruth into a 2-for-17 slide—his worst Fall Classic ever. Hell, even Ruth’s called shot in the 1932 World Series was apparently a gesture meant to silence the bench jockeys in Chicago’s dugout, not to predict the homer he was about to hit.

Leo Durocher once rode opposing pitcher Claude Passeau so hard that upon being removed from the game, instead of handing the ball over to his manager, the pitcher fired it at Durocher, in the Brooklyn dugout.

No less a name than Mickey Mantle was so hounded by the Washington Senators that he failed to run out what became a double-play grounder, distracted to the point that he thought the lead out was the third of the inning.

Those, of course, are long-ago examples. Serious bench jockeying died out in the 1960s and ’70s. Still, “nice hustle” seems timid enough to ignore. Donaldson labeled it as the Twins “picking a fight from the bench,” but in reality, his decision to return fire—and subsequently getting tossed for it—is entirely on him. That’s precisely the result a good bench jockey is looking for.

The other part of the equation involves the pitches themselves.

“They’re putting my job in jeopardy,” Donaldson groused, invoking the gruesome face shot taken by Giancarlo Stanton in 2014. “What if he hits me in the neck right there? What if he hits me in the eye?”

Had Hughes hit him in the neck or the eye, Donaldson’s point would be unassailable. Even had Hughes drilled him in the time-tested fashion of planting one into his hip or thigh, or had he missed above the shoulders, Donaldson would have a legitimate gripe.

But a message pitch—even two of them—that fails to connect is not worth this level of vitriol. You mess with us, Hughes told Donaldson and the Toronto bench alike, and we’ll mess right back. It was a non-contact exchange of ideas, and that’s the sort of thing that helps keep baseball lively.