Who to Target, and Why: Showdown at Wrigley Serves as Interleague Primer

For a vast majority of baseball’s history, much was made of the difference between the National and American leagues. AL: Based on the three-run homer. NL: Prefers to sacrifice. Recently, however, decades after the adoption of the designated hitter amplified these stereotypes, uniformity slowly began to settle across baseball.

The positions of league president were discontinued after the 1999 season. League-specific umpiring crews were consolidated into a single unit, and interleague schedules devised. When Mike Scioscia led the Angels to a championship in 2002, much was made of his bringing a National League style of play to the Junior Circuit. Today, such a distinction is barely noticed.

Usually. Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field are located on opposite sides of Chicago, about 10 miles apart, but they may as well be on different coasts. At Wrigley on Friday, the clearest difference between the leagues was on full display, after a Jeff Samardzija fastball ricocheted off of Paul Konerko’s face, near his left eye, in the third inning. (Watch it here.)

Even though it came under suspicious circumstances—Konerko had homered in his previous at-bat—the pitch was a split-finger fastball that didn’t break, Samardzija claimed repeatedly that it was unintentional, and the White Sox believed him.

Nonetheless, there were reparations to be collected. Sox pitcher Jake Peavy put it succinctly in the Chicago Sun Times:

When our man gets hit, gets hit in the face, there’s something to be said about that. I know this is a sensitive subject with baseball, and I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but if your big guy is going down, intentional or unintentional, there’s got to be something done about it.

Something was done, and it perfectly illustrated the difference in mindset between the leagues. Samardzija expected to be targeted for retaliation, but drilling the opposing pitcher was not what Sox starter Philip Humber had in mind.

The reason is obvious. Because pitchers don’t hit in the AL, retaliatory strikes must be directed at the opposing club’s big hitters. Sure enough, the first pitch of the fourth inning sailed behind the Cubs’ biggest threat, Bryan LaHair. It was clearly intentional, and plate ump Tim Timmons quickly issued warnings to both benches. (Watch it here.)

Even if Humber intentionally missed LaHair, his choice of target was peculiar, because Samardzija had been the next Cubs batter in the bottom of the inning after Konerko went down. Not only wasn’t he targeted, but he reached base on an error by shortstop Alexei Ramirez.

Perhaps Humber failed to consider retaliation in that moment, and was reminded between frames that it might be a good idea. Or maybe he had his sights set on a bigger bat, but with a runner, Samardzija, on first and nobody out, he opted against putting anyone else on base, waiting a frame to go after LaHair.

Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune talked to Robin Ventura about the situation:

I asked the White Sox manager if there was a purpose to the 91-mph fastball that sailed behind LaHair’s head on its way to the Wrigley Field screen.

“No,” said Ventura, who then turned his brown eyes on me for what seemed a long time, not blinking.

I asked him if the pitch was one that just got away from Humber.

“Yeah,” he said.

Rogers also reported that Ventura said the White Sox would have hit Samardzija directly if they thought his pitch to Konerko had been intentional.

Either way, Peavy and A.J. Pierzynski were caught on camera after the fourth inning having an animated discussion in the dugout—possibly over retaliatory protocol. Peavy, of course, spent the bulk of his career in the National League; Pierzynski has spent 14 of his 15 big league seasons in the AL, and Humber has been an AL guy almost exclusively .

Did the discussion highlight differences of opinion and experience? Nobody’s talking of course, but the fact remained that at least one guy was expecting something a bit more severe.

“I was ready for it,’’ said Samardzija in the Sun Times. “No worries. Sometimes you deserve it.’’

No-Hitter Etiquette, Philip Humber

Man, There are a Lot of Things One is Supposed to do During the Course of a No-Hitter

In the wake of Philip Humber’s perfect game on Saturday, the Code-chronicling community (we’re small, but mighty) was left to look for peculiarities in the action. While there have so far been no earth-shattering revelations, assorted items have been mentioned in passing in various accounts of the action:

  • White Sox players did indeed give the pitcher some space on the bench as the game unfolded, moving “farther and farther away from Humber as he approached history, leaving him alone,” according to the Associated Press.
  • Some on the bench, however, did mention the deed, though not to Humber directly. From the Chicago Sun-Times: After the eighth inning, A.J. Pierzynski turned to Sox pitcher Jake Peavy and said, ‘Man, I’m nervous.’ ” (The man already had some history with no-hitter etiquette.)
  • Humber’s not one to buy into the silence-is-golden rule. From his post-game press conference: “I don’t believe in superstitions or anything like that, so when guys were getting hits or scoring runs, I was shaking their hands, and when they’d make plays in the field I was telling them, great job. I don’t like to be isolated like that. I like to stay in the game, and be relaxed, and be a teammate.”
  • White Sox manager Robin Ventura does not necessarily agree. Also from the post-game presser: “I still haven’t talked to him—I still have that superstition. I was staying away from him.”
  • Which doesn’t mean that superstition rules all of Ventura’s decisions. While some feel that nothing should be changed during the course of a no-hitter, Ventura inserted Brent Lillibridge in left field in the bottom of the eighth as a defensive replacement for Dayan Viciedo. With one out, Kyle Seager laced a drive down the line, which Lillibridge—significantly speedier than Viciedo—caught up to without much effort.
  • At which point it should be noted that the White Sox’s previous perfecto—tossed by Mark Buehrle in 2009—was saved by a ninth-inning circus catch by Dewayne Wise against the center field wall. Wise had been inserted for defensive purposes in the top of the inning.
  • Munenori Kawasaki tried to bunt his way on with two outs in the sixth and a 3-0 score. Kawasaki is in his first season in the big leagues after a lengthy career in Japan. I am unclear about how this type of thing is viewed over there.
  • Finally, Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims was hardly shy about mentioning the words “no-hitter” and “perfect game” through the later innings. Granted, Sims doesn’t work for the White Sox, but he has precedent on his side when it comes to his stance in such situations. (Funny how broadcasters take heat if a pitcher blows a no-hitter after they’ve talked about it, but the broadcast jinx is rarely mentioned if the pitcher completes his gem under similar circumstances.)

If more arises from this in coming days, I’ll tack it on here.

Update (4-24): Larry Stone has a column up over at the Seattle Times, in which he speaks with five people who were at the game. No real new information, just another measure of awe from one of the best in the business.