Retaliation, Slide properly

Fists Fly in Boston After Austin Powers Toward The Mound

Kelly punchesTyler Austin should have known better.

He should have known the pitch was coming as soon as he took out Red Sox shortstop Brock Holt with a questionable slide in the third inning, especially after Holt called him on it when it happened.

He should have known that leading with his foot raised several inches off the ground and well inside the bag, leaping late so that he all but landed on the fielder, would draw the opposition’s ire, even if he intended no malice.

He should have known that wearing one in that situation, even a 97-mph fastball—especially a 97-mph fastball—was his duty as the guy at the wrong end of the previous confrontation. It was on Austin to understand that his play looked bad, independent of whether he thought it actually was bad. Wear it with dignity, and everyone can go about their day.

That’s not what happened.

Boston reliever Joe Kelly held up his end of the bargain, planting a fastball into Austin’s ribcage, at which point the hitter spiked his bat and raced toward the mound. Kelly beckoned him almost gleefully, and proceeded to land multiple blows after Austin’s momentum took him to the ground. The rest of the fight— Austin punching Red Sox coach Carlos Febles by mistake while swinging at Kelly; Aaron Judge seeming to hold off half of Boston’s roster by himself—was no less fraught.

Still, there’s plenty of grey area for quibbling from both sides of the Yankees-Red Sox divide. Austin’s first at-bat following his slide came leading off the fifth, with Boston leading, 8-1. Starter Heath Hembree opted against squaring the hitter’s debt at that point, instead striking the hitter out on four pitches. It’s not incumbent upon Hembree to respond, of course, but were the Red Sox to address Austin’s slide on the field, that seemed like the obvious spot to do so.

By the time Kelly took matters into his own hands two innings later, New York had trimmed its deficit to 10-6. There’s also the fact that Kelly missed on his first attempt, Austin backing out of the way of an inside fastball two pitches prior to the one that ended up drilling him. Austin was correct in his postgame assessment when he said, “I thought it was over after that. They missed with the first one. In baseball, once it happens, it’s over after that.”

It’s important to understand, though, why Kelly did what he did. When an opponent takes liberties with a player’s on-field safety—as Austin did with Holt, independent of severity or intent—pitchers can be compelled to respond. Former Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly elucidated the notion in The Baseball Codes, and though he was talking about it in reverse—using his baserunning to counter a HBP, not the other way around—the logic holds:

“I’ve gotten on first base when I’ve been hit by a pitch and told the first baseman, ‘If there’s a ground ball hit I’m going to fuck up one of your middle infielders, and [pointing to the mound] you can tell him that it was his fault.’ That’s a way you can get them to police themselves. A pitcher drills somebody just because he feels like it, and if one of the middle infielders gets flipped out there he’s going to tell the pitcher to knock it off. Ultimately, that’s all we want anyway—just play the game the right way.”

Tellingly, in Austin’s postgame comments, he seemed about to say, “I play the game the right way,” but caught himself. Instead the phrase he used was, “I play the game hard.”

No matter how one feels about his actions, there’s no denying that.

The Yankees and Red Sox conclude their series tonight.

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Retaliation

Temperatures Top Out in Toronto Over Tepid Toss

happ-headly

Yesterday we had a nice, nuanced discussion about the propriety of infield dekes, with multiple viewpoints weighing in on a play Jung Ho Kang made on Sunday. It was a reminder about why baseball’s unwritten rules are fun and valuable, and how they can affect the execution of the game on a very real level.

Then the Yankees and Blue Jays started throwing baseballs at each other, and all that goodwill went to hell.

It started with New York’s Luis Severino hitting Josh Donaldson in the first inning Monday with a clearly unintentional fastball that grazed the hitter’s elbow. Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ nonetheless responded an inning later by throwing a pitch behind Chase Headly, and then hit him in the hip with his next offering. (Watch it here.)

What was the point? For the Blue Jays to show that they will not abide pitchers coming inside to their MVP candidate? Even for those who see such a response as entirely justified, Happ had his chance and he missed. Hitting Headly at all is weak sauce, but to take another shot after the first one failed is even worse.

It also set some damaging precedent. Responding to Happ, Severino went after Justin Smoak in the bottom of the inning, but, like Happ, missed. Then, also like Happ, he finished the job a pitch later. (Watch it here.) All told, the events inspired two benches-clearing incidents in which punches were thrown. Severino and New York manager Joe Girardi were ejected.

Unless there’s some backstory about which I’m unaware, there’s little place in the game anymore for Happ’s sort of reaction—brutality for brutality’s sake—to an unintentional HBP.

It was an old-school and outdated approach to Code enforcement, but at least we had Mark Teixeira to lend some new-school levity to the proceedings. After tying the game with a solo homer in the ninth, and celebrated like this:

He said later that it was the first time he’d ever flipped a bat.

It was the final meeting between the teams this season. Here’s hoping they’re able to start the 2017 season with fresh eyes.

Update (9-27): Looks like the Baseball Gods have spoken.

 

Teammate Relations

Going, Going, Gone … Or Not

On Saturday, in the process of trying to reel back a home run, Yankees outfielder Chris Young lost his glove over the center field wall at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Brett Gardner leaped into action, literally, scaling the fence to go get it. Joe Girardi was not pleased (“We’ve seen guys hit a home run, jump up and land on the plate and break an ankle,” he said in a Newsday report), but all’s well that ends well.

Girardi, of course, had the downside of such an action in mind. There is immeasurable upside to such a plan, however, as Rex Hudler—who was seeking a ball, not a glove—related in The Baseball Codes.

In 1996, Angels utility man Rex Hudler viciously lit into rookie teammate Todd Greene for boarding the team plane ahead of some veterans. It didn’t make much difference to Hudler that Greene couldn’t have been greener—it was his first day as a major-leaguer—but the following evening, when the young catcher connected for his first-ever home run, Hudler atoned. The game was at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, and as soon as the inning ended, Hudler—out of the game and with a baseball in each hand—dashed to the outfield fence near the bleachers where the ball landed and offered a two-for-one deal to whoever caught Greene’s homer. Before he could get a response, though, the inning break ended and Hudler found himself urged back to the dugout by center fielder Jim Edmonds. Rather than give up his quest, however, the player vaulted into the stands and watched the Tigers’ half of the inning from the bleachers. It was more than enough to win over the locals, and Greene’s ball was offered up in short order. “When I came back in, everyone was going, ‘What the hell were you doing out there?’ ” said Hudler. “I went up to Greene and said, ‘Greenie, I got your ball for you, man!’ You’d have thought I gave him a ten-carat diamond. And now every time I see him he tells someone, ‘Hud went out into the center-field stands and got my ball for me.’ He never forgets—it’s a form of love.”

[HT/Big League Stew]