Showboating

Mets Finally Come Down With Mejia Fatigue

Baseball is more of a look-at-me game than ever before, with players finding constantly seeking new ways to thump their chests on television. After a season of Puig and Gomez and Fernando Freaking Rodney, somebody with some pull finally decided to say something about it.

On Friday night, Mets closer Jenrry Mejia increased the amplification on his postgame histrionics that were already writ large (dude moowalked off the mound to celebrate an eighth-inning strikeout against the Yankees) to the degree that his manager, Terry Collins, finally had to say something.

On his best days Mejia’s act is overblown, but it wasn’t until he pulled out a new move against the Nationals—pantomiming a fishing rod, casting a line toward Washington’s Ian Desmond, who had just struck out to end the game, then reeling him in—that he crossed his manager’s line.

Those who defend such displays intone that it’s just boys being boys and what’s wrong with showing a little emotion. Fair enough. This is why Puig, with his bat flips and his insouciance, has skated thus far. Those flips are just a thing he does almost mechanically, and the opponent (at least so far) appears to be strictly incidental to his histrionics.

But it’s easy to see how things could get personal after Mejia cast his line. This wasn’t an unrestrained display of emotion following a hard-fought victory. This was a calculated display aimed at drawing attention to himself at the expense of the guy he had just beaten. Most big leaguers would like to think they’re above that kind of thing. And most of them are. Desmond claimed not to have seen it, and good for him for taking the high road, although Denard Span told the Washington Post that “it wasn’t called for.”

Collins himself stepped in, telling the closer to back off the shtick. According to various Twitter feeds, the closer agreed. The Nats won on Saturday and Sunday, so we haven’t seen whether Collins’ words got through, or what toning it down looks like to Mejia.

 

 

 

Jayson Werth, Retaliation

Darling on Werth Drilling: ‘Boy, Was That Obvious’

Werth drilledWhy Frank Francisco drilled Jayson Werth on Thursday is not yet clear. That it was intentional—and stupid—was obvious to at least three people: Werth, Bryce Harper and Mets broadcaster Ron Darling.

It came with no outs in the eighth inning, on a 3-0 fastball, after Francisco had already allowed doubles to the first two batters he faced, extending Washington’s lead to 5-2. (The Nats ended up winning, 7-2. At this point, frustration is as good a guess as any when it comes to pinpointing Francisco’s motivation.)

Werth knew it was intentional when it happened. So, apparently did plate ump Anthony Recker, who, despite the fact that Werth made no move toward the mound, grabbed the barrel of his bat as he lingered near the plate, staring at Francisco.

“Boy, was that obvious,” said Darling on the broadcast. “For you folks at home—and you hear me all the time say, ‘That wasn’t intentional’—well, this one was intentional.”

Darling was then asked by broadcaster Gary Cohen why Francisco would drill a batter in that situation.

Darling’s reply: “Because he’s a fool.” (Watch it here.)

Werth wouldn’t comment after the game, but handled things in the moment, taking out shortstop Reuben Tejada moments later with an aggressive slide at second base. Harper, who reached on a fielder’s choice, did something similar to second baseman Daniel Murphy.

(The idea was summed up by Bob Brenly in The Baseball Codes: “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.”)

“That was total B.S. what Francisco did there,” said a scout in attendance, in a Washington Post report. “Almost got his shortstop’s ankle broken.”

Sure enough, Nationals pitchers never retaliated. If Werth’s slide wasn’t enough for them, they’ll have to wait until next year to address the issue, because the teams don’t meet again this season.

Update (9/16): At least one Mets pitcher wasn’t too pleased.

(H/T BLS)

Don't Showboat, Jordany Valdespin

Valde-spun: Mets Players Fed Up With Hothead Teammate

Valdespin IVWhen Jordany Valdespin went full pimp after hitting a meaningless late-game homer last week that served merely to pull the Mets to within a 7-2 deficit of Pittsburgh, it was clear that the Pirates were not pleased—as evidenced by Bryan Morris drilling Valdespin the following day.

Turns out his his own teammates didn’t much care for it, either.

“I couldn’t believe he did that,” Mets reliever LaTroy Hawkins told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “We were all dumbfounded. It was a bonehead thing to do. And to do that against [pitcher] Jose Contreras? [Contreras] is old enough to be his father, and one of the nicest guys in the world.”

This, it seems, was only the beginning of the problem. As was quickly evidenced by the ensuing firestorm of Valdespin’s angry tweets and Mets fans wondering why New York pitchers never responded to Morris’s blow—how Valdespin’s teammates didn’t have his back, as it were—the idea of protecting a teammate who doesn’t deserve protection became all too real.

During the reporting for The Baseball Codes, current Brewers manager Ron Roenicke put it this way: “You’ve got [a guy], who is doing stuff that you are not happy about, and now he gets hit because of it. You’re sitting here going, ‘I don’t want to fight for him. He deserves what he gets.’ And I think that came into play a lot. ‘Hey, he deserves to get hit, let him handle it.’ ”

Hawkins put it similarly for the Mets, about Valdespin.

“What were we supposed to do there?” he said. “We were down six runs, he hits a home run and he acts like it’s a walk-off. This isn’t Little League. What, now we’re supposed to get into a fight for that? We’re supposed to throw at somebody because he did a bonehead thing? Now, if they throw at him for no reason, that’s a different story. We protect our team. But to do what he did put us in a bad spot, a real bad spot.”

This is a public statement made by a veteran player as a last resort, the kind of thing a guy says only after every other effort to reach his teammate has failed. It’s a measure of desperation, of being fearful that Valdespin’s actions could put an innocent Met in an opponent’s crosshairs, or put put a pitcher in the unenviable position of defending actions that deserve no defense. But Hawkins didn’t stop there.

“He showed absolutely no respect,” he went on to say. “If you’re going to pimp it, you’re going to suffer the consequences. I have no problem defending my teammates, but some things, you just can’t defend against. He’s created a lot of unnecessary tension around here.”

According to Nightengale, Hawkins wasn’t alone in his feelings.

Outfielder Marlon Byrd: “The Pirates did what you were supposed to do.”

Manager Terry Collins: “We’re getting beat 7-1 with a 12-year veteran on the mound. Come on. I don’t care what the fans think. This is the big leagues. It’s a big-man’s game. I told him, ‘Look, it’s not about you. It’s about us. It’s about the team. We’re all trying to teach you a lesson here.’

David Wright called the entire incident “stupid.”

The harshest criticism, however, came from Hawkins, a 40-year-old who over 19 big league seasons has played for 10 teams. If anybody in baseball has earned the mantle of having seen it all, he is the guy.

“Sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror,” he said. “[Valdespin] has got to ask himself, ‘What can I do to gain the respect back from my teammates?’ And he’s got to come up with that answer on his own. For some reason, he doesn’t want to do things the right way. He wants to do it the hard way. Hopefully, he’ll figure it out, because he’s got a chance to be a damn good ballplayer.”

Operation Public Shaming is officially underway. Never has a passing down of the Code been on more blatant display.

Bat tossing, Don't Showboat, Retaliation

Valdespin Pimps, is Plunked by Pittsburgh, Pouts

Valdespin 3Jordany Valdespin likes it flashy. The guy who made waves last year for comportment unbecoming of a rookie was at it again on Friday, hitting a second-deck homer at Citi Field, watching it, watching it some more, slowly sauntering toward first while dismissively flipping his bat, and only then settling into his home run trot.

The blast came in the ninth inning and served only to bring the Mets to within a 7-2 deficit against Pittsburgh. This may not have mattered when it came to the Pirates’ disdain for Valdespin’s display … but it sure didn’t help.

“When you hit the ball, you got to enjoy your hit,” Valdespin told the New York Daily News afterward. “Every time I hit the ball, homer or something, I enjoy that. Every hit, I’m enjoying, my family’s enjoying, my friends enjoying.”

Enjoyment, of course, comes at a cost. An evening of slurping whiskey sours can lead to dry heaves the next morning. An evening of pimping one’s meaningless homer can lead to Bryan Morris throwing a 94-MPH fastball into your arm the following day. (Watch it all here.)

Prior to Saturday’s game, Mets manager Terry Collins professed no idea of what was in store for Valdespin, although he told the New York Daily News that “fifteen years ago, the answer would’ve been yes [Pittsburgh would have thrown at Valdespin in retaliation]. … A lot of teams have long memories.”

To judge by his actions, however, Collins seemed certain of Pittsburgh’s response. He  inserted the targeted 25-year-old as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the seventh inning of a game in which the Mets trailed, 10-1—almost certainly to allow the Pirates a chance to respond directly, enabling both teams to move on without this particular dark cloud overhead.

When it happened, nobody in the Mets dugout appeared to take much issue (unlike Pittsburgh’s bench, which offered Morris hearty congratulations). Valdespin himself, however, was disgusted. He loitered near the plate (though he made no semblance of a move toward the mound) and sauntered slowly toward first. Afterward, he threw a fit in the dugout, hurling his helmet into a corner.

“Whether you like it or not, it’s just the way it is now,” David Wright told the Daily News, after Valdespin’s pimp, but before Pittsburgh’s retaliation. “I’d probably prefer a different way, but each guy has their own individual thing. I’m always with the theory that you don’t want to show anyone up. With that said, it is done a lot by a lot of people, not just by one individual.”

It is safe to assume that Wright is speaking for the team on this point. Valdespin has been causing organizational headaches since he was a minor leaguer—including issues with teammates at Single-A Savannah that led to a two-month exile in extended spring training, and a benching by Binghamton manager Wally Backman for a “lack of intensity,” according to a Metro WNY report.)

It is of particular organizational concern because situations like Friday’s can put Valdespin’s teammates in the crosshairs. (Because Valdespin did not start Saturday’s game, speculation had Wright becoming Pittsburgh’s target in his absence.)

In Newsday, David Lennon wrote that “Not once Saturday did any of the Mets say they don’t like to see one of their own get hit by a pitch—on purpose, no less. The discussion mostly involved talk about lessons learned and growing pains.” Collins was quoted as saying that “if nothing else, he grew by it, and that’s the most beneficial thing that could happen.”

In the New York Post, Wright soft-pedaled the message that, for Valdespin, “toning some of it down might be appropriate.”

Many in the sports world decry this form of baseball justice as unnecessary and brutal. Many of these same voices also bemoan the modern sporting landscape as having become too ego-focused, with too many look-at-me, eye-rolling moments to palate.

No matter how one feels about it, the dance done by the Mets and Pirates over the weekend is the best hope for professional American sports in this regard, a system of players keeping each other in check—no league mandates or threatened fines involved.  The game is to be played pride and respect, and players themselves ensure that this is so.

Whether Valdespin changes his behavior going forward is no sure thing. In 2011, his manager at Triple-A Buffalo, Tim Teuffel, said this about the outfielder: “Sometimes he looks at the ball when he hits it, doesn’t run as fast as his body will allow him. But I think he’s going to learn how to play the game a little bit more up here.”

For some people, information takes time to sink in. The lesson has been delivered; what Valdespin does with it is up to him. 

 

Jordany Valdespin, Rookie Etiquette

Valdespin Class: Mets Rookie Gets Some Schooling

For all the modernity in today’s game; for the allowances teams make when the opposition mobs one of their own after a game-winning hit; for the inter-team chatter around the batting cage; for pitchers willing to permit batters to crowd the plate and dig in; for the definition of “blowout” that has gone from five runs to six runs to eight runs or more—there is still something sacrosanct about the silent rookie.

This is the player who enters a big league clubhouse wide-eyed and ready to learn, partly because he’s willing, and partly because it’s expected. It’s the guy who keeps his mouth shut, the better to watch, the better to absorb.

“In my day, rookies didn’t speak unless spoken to,” said George Brett. “Nobody paid attention to you. You just kind of kept your mouth shut and did what was expected of you. You listened, observed and learned.”

Jim Davenport estimated that one needed 400 at-bats before he could speak up. Lefty Grove had already won four games for the A’s by the time team veterans so much as acknowledged his presence.

“As rookies coming up in Detroit, we were told to be seen not heard, and that’s what we did,” said former Mets manager Jerry Manuel. “We kept our place.”

The sentiment is no longer enforced with quite so much vigor as it was even a generation ago, but it still exists. Which is why veterans notice when a guy like Jordany Valdespin hits a clubhouse.

Valdespin has made quite the impression on his teammates since the Mets called him up in late April, not all of it good.

Reported the New York Times: “In this, his rookie season, [Valdespin] has become an unusual wild card, a player equally capable of providing an instant spark or a head-slapping blunder . . . whose judgment and maturity may still be a work in progress.”

Mets manager Terry Collins has expressed his own concerns, specifically addressing the value in rookies being “very, very quiet” as they earn their position. There’s a reason for this: Valdespin’s behavior, while not necessarily outlandish, has not exactly been rookie-like. His is an outsized personality, the kind that takes over the clubhouse stereo, and by multiple accounts he has not made much of an effort to fit into his expected role. His teammates, needless to say, have noticed.

They responded last week with a not-so-subtle reminder, in the way that veterans have long been not-so-subtly reminding rookies of things. Valdespin had worn a white T-shirt on the bus from the team hotel in San Francisco to AT&T Park, despite the dress code requiring collared shirts.

Following that night’s game, Valdespin arrived at his locker to find the sleeves of his T-shirt shredded, and colorful messages—“NY Loves Valdy” (complete with a heart in place of “loves”) on the front, and “El Hombre” (a reference to him referring to himself as “The Man,” after pinch-hitting a homer off Jonathan Papelbon in May) on the back .

El Hombre was not pleased. Angry, he began yelling in the crowded clubhouse about the inequity of it all.

This was the moment at which Valdespin could either have earned points with his teammates, or alienated himself further. During Chan Ho Park’s rookie season in 1996, his Dodgers teammates shredded his suit (which they later found out had been given to him by his mother), then watched, befuddled, as he threw food across the room, tossed his chair into a row of lockers and wept openly.

When rookie Armando Benitez found the clothing in his locker replaced by a dress, he pinned down a number of veterans against the far wall of the shower room with a steady barrage of baseballs picked out of a nearby bucket. (In the end, the pitcher refused to capitu­late, even after being told that his clothes had been packed and were already en route to the airport. “He wore a T-shirt and a pair of shorts on the frickin’ plane,” said one team member. “That didn’t sit too well with the veterans, I can tell you that.”)

Valdespin, however, appears to have learned an important lesson. He stormed to the back of the clubhouse after seeing his shirt in tatters, but—apparently after being talked to by some veterans, including David Wright—returned before long with a grin on his face, and proceeded to model the shirt, going so far as to pose for his teammates’ cell phone pictures.

“I got mad at that moment, but it’s funny now,” Valdespin said the following day, while wearing the shirt again. “It’s a process. I need to keep learning.”

Based on that statement alone, there’s hope for the kid yet.

Dealing With Records

The Pros and Cons of Putting History First

Jay Schreiber of the New York Times raised an interesting question yesterday: Did Mets manager Terry Collins do the game a service by keeping his infield back with a runner on third and one out in a game New York led, 9-0, in the ninth inning over Tampa Bay?

The mitigating detail: R.A. Dickey hadn’t allowed a run in 32 2/3 innings, and while the knuckleballer wasn’t exactly approaching Orel Hersheiser’s record 59 consecutive scoreless frames, it was at least close enought to contemplate the possibilities.

Collins, however, was adhering to the Code—he claimed as much after the game—playing specifically not to stifle the opponent during a blowout with an unnecessary display of superiority, and happy to give up a run for a chance at an out. Sure enough, an infield out led to a run and the end of the streak.

Schreiber’s question: “Would Collins have kept the infield back in that situation and allowed Dickey’s streak to end on a simple grounder to short [had Dickey been at 52 or 53 innings instead of 32 2/3?]

The answer is, probably not, and justifiably so; in many situations through history, a player’s chance at greatness has trumped the unwritten rules. From The Baseball Codes:

Properly dealing with records—either one’s own or someone else’s— has long been a part of the Code. It’s why Yankees outfielder Tommy Henrich laid down a curiously timed ninth-inning bunt to avoid a possible double play, assuring Joe DiMaggio another chance to extend his hitting streak in 1941. (DiMaggio did.)

It’s also why, when Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson went into the final day of the 1959 season needing a hit in his first at-bat to push his average to .300, manager Casey Stengel informed him that since the Yankees didn’t have a single .300 hitter on the roster he’d be immediately removed from the game should it happen, to avoid falling below the mark in ensuing at-bats. It’s also why members of that day’s opponent, the Bal­timore Orioles, took up the cause: Brooks Robinson informed Richardson that he’d be playing deep in case the hitter found appeal in bunting; pitcher Billy O’Dell offered to groove pitches; and catcher Joe Ginsberg verbally called for pitches instead of dropping down signs. Umpire Ed Hurley even got in on the act, offering that, if Richardson could “just make it close,” things would go his way. Said Richardson, “There couldn’t have been a more complete fix on.” (The fix might have been on, but it wasn’t complete. Richardson doubled in his first at-bat, refused Stengel’s entreaties to leave the game, went 2-for-3, and ended up at .301.)

There are also some examples regarding Hersheiser’s record, the one Dickey was not allowed to approach, and Don Drydale’s mark prior to Hersheiser breaking it. The Code adherents in these cases weren’t players, however, but umpires:

When Drysdale was on the precipice of breaking Carl Hubbell’s National League record for consecutive scoreless innings in 1968, he loaded the bases against the Giants with nobody out in the ninth inning. When he hit the next batter, Dick Dietz, it forced in a run and killed his streak at forty-four innings, four outs short of Hubbell’s mark. Plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt, however, ruled that Dietz made no effort to get out of the way of the pitch, and ordered him back to the plate with a full count, whereupon he flied out to shallow left field. Drysdale got out of the inning unscathed, in the process tying Doc White’s 1904 record with his fifth straight shutout, and eventually ran his streak to fifty-eight and two-thirds innings.

If Drysdale needed assistance from an umpire while playing the Giants to set his mark, so too did the successor to his record. In 1988, Orel Her­shiser compiled forty-two consecutive shutout innings in pursuit of Drysdale’s standard before finally allowing a run on, of all things, a fielder’s choice—against the Giants, of course. Umpire Paul Runge, how­ever, belatedly called hitter Ernie Riles out at first, ruling that baserunner Brett Butler went out of his way to interfere with Dodgers shortstop Alfredo Griffin on the play at second, ending the inning and wiping the run off the board. (“That slide was just like every other time I slid,” said an indignant Butler, who had indeed advanced directly into the bag.) Her­shiser went on to run his scoreless-innings streak to fifty-nine. “It was a slow chopper, and there was no way they were going to get him at first no matter what I did, so what incentive did I have to try to take [Griffin] out?” said Butler. “A lot of times when records are in the balance like that, there’s no explaining some of the things that happen. People react in dif­ferent ways.”

Ultimately, it would have been difficult to protest against Collins looking out for the interests of his pitcher in such a situation. His strategy would have had nothing to do with disrespecting the Rays, and everything to do with propping up R.A. Dickey.

Not much fault to find with that.

Johan Santana, No-Hitter Etiquette, Terry Collins

Johan’s No-No Keeps Collins on Edge

Whenever a pitcher for the New York Mets throws a no-hitter, it’s inevitably vivisected in every conceivable fashion by the American sporting media.

Okay, so it’s happened all of once, now that Johan Santana turned the trick against St. Louis on Friday. The event’s rarity, especially within the context of the ballclub, put all the more pressure on manager Terry Collins, who faced some tough decisions. One of them centered on the unwritten rule that says not to change anything during a no-hitters. Not the defensive alignment behind the pitcher, not the seating order on the bench. Not anything.

Because this piece of Code is based almost entirely on superstition, logic doesn’t play much of a factor. In Collins’ case, however, he had a pair of very real considerations as the game reached the late innings. On one hand, Santana was coming as close to the deed as anyone in the 8,019-game history of the organization. On the other, the left-hander was pushing the upper limits of his pitch-count threshold (which Collins had listed at 115 prior to the game). Santana missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, and had never topped 125 pitches in a game in his career, even when fully healthy. This wasn’t a superstitious decision for Collins, but a tactical one.

When Santana hit 115 pitches in the eighth while walking Rafael Furcal, Collins visited him on the mound. Ultimately, of course, the manager opted against change, and left his star in to determine his own fate.

“I just couldn’t take him out,” Collins said in Newsday. “I just couldn’t do it.”

Ultimately, of course, Santana finished the game—in 134 pitches—and New York rejoiced. “To a man, we all agreed that he’d have to rip the ball out of our hands,” pitcher R.A. Dickey told Newsday.

“I went against just about everything I stand for, and that’s taking a chance to hurt your whole ballclub for the next four months for an instant decision of glory in one inning,” Collins said in an MLB.com report. “Is it worth it? I believe in the organization and I believe in the team, and I’m not here to destroy any of it. . . . . If this guy goes down, it would be pretty drastic for us. But also to understand there’s history in the making and in the moment, in that particular moment, he wasn’t coming out. I wasn’t taking him out.”

Even if Code adherents applaud Collins for his lack of action when it came to pitching changes, there’s no getting around his seventh-inning breach of the unwritten rule that stipulates a no-hitter in progress must never be referenced out loud, directly or otherwise. That’s when he approached Santana in the dugout and, according to the pitcher, “told me that I was his hero.” Santana responded by telling his manager he would not be coming out of the game.

Were there a jinx, needless to say that it was ineffective.

Santana’s no-hitter left just one team remaining without a no-hitter in the books: the Padres. This is relevant, because San Diego might actually have had a no-hitter by now were it not for the fact that, unlike Collins, then-Padres manager Preston Gomez changed something during the course of Clay Kirby’s masterpiece in 1970: the pitcher himself.

It was the bottom of the eighth inning, and although Kirby was coasting, a first-inning walk, followed by two stolen bases and a fielder’s choice, left him with a 1-0 deficit. When he was scheduled to hit with two outs and nobody on, Gomez pulled him for pinch-hitter Cito Gaston, who promptly struck out to end the inning.

The other detail that ties Kirby to Santana’s no-hitter: His opponent was none other than the New York Mets—Bud Harrelson broke up the no-hitter as the first batter to face reliever Jack Baldschun. (In fact, according to Baseball Reference, 13 pitchers have tossed at least seven no-hit innings without being allowed to finish the game. One pitcher who doesn’t qualify is longtime Mets stalwart Sid Fernandez, who threw five no-hit frames against the Giants in 1987, but had to exit after injuring his hamstring while legging out a triple.)

Ultimately, all’s well that ends well—or at least it will if Santana suffers no lasting repercussions from his exertion. Even if he does, David Wright hit it squarely in his manager’s defense when he said, “I don’t think anybody had the courage to go and take the ball from him.”

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 MLB.com 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.”

Deke Appropriately, Jimmy Rollins

The Power of Suggestion: How to Clear the Bases with a Wave of the Hand

Josh Thole in the midst of disbelieving that he's actually been snookered quite as badly as he actually was.

When Jimmy Rollins held up his hand toward Mets baserunner Josh Thole last week, it meant by every indication that the ball was no longer in play–in this case, a bunt gone foul. Thole, who had steamed into second base on R.A. Dickey‘s sacrifice attempt, started jogging back to first.

The problem, at least as far as Thole was concerned, was that Dickey’s ball was still live, having been laid down perfectly inside the line. Cliff Lee threw the ball to Rollins, who relayed it to first baseman Jim Thome just ahead of a desperately diving baserunner. (Watch it here.)

“Jimmy put his hands up, like ‘Come in easy. You can come in easy,’ ” said Thole after the game in the Newark Star-Ledger. He later continued: “I looked at the umpire, and got a weird stare from him, and then I looked back and the ball was on his way to first. I didn’t know what else to do. I just kept running.”

If Rollins’ gesture was intentional (and with the shortstop failing to address the issue after the game, there is little reason to think that it wasn’t; see a screen grab at Philly.com), he added an entry to a sizeable section of Code dealing with gamesmanship. At its core: Get every advantage you can, in any way possible. Such plays are known as dekes (short for “decoy”), and although Rollins’ example wasn’t typical of the genre, it wasn’t quite original, either. From TheBaseball Codes:

In a 1972 game between the Giants and Padres, Johnny Jeter stole a base so easily that there was no throw. He dived headfirst into the base anyway, a clear sign that he hadn’t looked in to follow the action. See­ing this, San Francisco shortstop Chris Speier pounced. “Hold up, hold up—foul ball,” he said nonchalantly. Astonishingly, the ploy worked. Jeter started back to first base, Giants catcher Dave Rader fired the ball to second, and Jeter was tagged out. “Oh shit, was he pissed,” said Speier, grinning at the thought more than three decades later.

This gets to the heart of the issue. Had Jeter—or Thole, 40 years later—been paying attention, neither would have gotten snookered.

“I don’t think any baserunner should fall for a deke,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington. “There are things I’m supposed to be doing when a ball is put in play, so how can you deke me? A ball is hit, and I’m supposed to know where that ball is at all times. And if I run blind and get deked out, whose fault is that? Is that the infielder who deked me out, or is that my fault for not knowing what’s going on?”

The problem for Thole was that he had been paying attention.

“I knew the ball was fair,” he said in the Star-Ledger. “I even looked down. You can go watch the video. I checked in. The ball was on the floor. I just took off running back to first. I’ve got no other explanation . . . I don’t know what I was thinking.”

 

Jeff Wilpon, Retaliation

Owner Gets Ornery: Wilpon Clamors for Mets Retaliation

Brad Ziegler can't believe he just hit Justin Turner.

It started on Wednesday, when Mets second baseman Justin Turner was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the 13th inning, driving home the winning run against the A’s. The problem with the play, as far as the A’s were concerned, was that Turner made no effort to avoid the pitch, which barely grazed his jersey. (Watch it here.)

Whether this had any bearing in what happened next is uncertain,  but in Turner’s first at-bat Thursday, A’s right-hander Graham Godfrey hit him in the leg—something seen by many in the New York clubhouse as clear retaliation.

There are many problems with this scenario, primary among them being the written rules of the game. Rule 6.08(b)(2) says that a batter takes first base after being hit by a pitch unless he “makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.” Turner rotated his torso—barely—which was apparently enough for plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth. And in a situation like this, if the umpire has no beef, the opposition shouldn’t, either.

Perhaps it was an attempt by new A’s manager Bob Melvin to set a tone with the team. (Unlikely.) Or maybe it was Godfrey, all of three games into his big league career, trying to establish some bona fides in the Oakland clubhouse. (He’s no stranger to hitting guys, having done so 38 times over four-plus minor league seasons.)

Or maybe it was strictly incidental, no more than a case of rookie nerves or a pitch that got away. This is how the Mets treated it, opting to ignore the incident and get on with what would be a 4-1 victory.

One guy, however, was less than pleased. According to ESPN New York, Jeff Wilpon—the team’s COO, and son of owner Fred—took to the team’s clubhouse following the game and admonished his players for their timidity. He said, according to the New York Times, that he would cover pitchers’ fines for such actions. Unlike the ominous tone set by ESPN, the Times called Wilpon’s interaction “playful.”

No matter how he meant it, this is a dangerous road to travel. There’s a reason that modern managers and coaches tend to shy away from directly ordering retaliatory action. They don’t want to be responsible for unforeseen consequences, and they—having all played the game at various professional levels—understand that most big league pitchers understand appropriate retaliatory tactics (and that if they don’t, their teammates will inevitably instruct them in such).

Jeff Wilpon primarily supervises the construction of buildings, in his role as executive vice president of his father’s real estate company. He is not a baseball man, at least to the point at which he has any business ordering his players to do anything on the field. He clearly likes the gunslinger mentality of retaliating for retaliation’s sake, but hasn’t likely considered the negative repercussions. Should the A’s respond to Wilpon’s response, the likely target would shift from Turner to somebody like Jose Reyes or David Wright.

Picture for a moment Reyes getting sidelined for six weeks due to a cracked rib suffered at the wrong end of a retaliatory fastball—disabling him straight through the trade deadline.

Leave retaliation to the pros, Mr. Wilpon. You just put a target on your team, as far as any examination the league might take when it comes to any future bad exchanges of bad blood.

Also realize that in 1998, your manager was suspended while at the helm of the Angels for his part in retaliating against Kansas City after Royals infielder Felix Martinez sucker-punched Anaheim’s Frank Bolick during a game.

Terry Collins is able to recognize retaliation-worthy offenses. Let him. Stay in the owner’s box, where you belong.

– Jason