The Willson Contreras saga continues. What to make of a guy who gets hit so much and is willing to spark a benches-clearing incident over it despite leaning out over the plate like nobody’s business to the point that he led the big leagues with 14 HBPs last season?
Pertinent among those plunkings were four from the Brewers, who have hit Contreras more over the last two seasons than any team has hit any batter. The trend continued in unfortunate fashion last week, when defending NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams fired a fastball into Contreras’ helmet. When the Brewers drilled Contreras again a day later—this time the batter all but leaned into an inside fastball—it reached the limits of the hitter’s tolerance, Contreras approaching the mound to deliver a verbal warning to the pitcher.
Yesterday it was more of the same, with Contreras being hit by the Brewers again. This time he rotated into an inside fastball from Brandon Woodruff to such a degree that Milwaukee argued he swung at the pitch. As clearly unintentional as it may have been, the Cubs were finally inspired to respond, with reliever Ryan Tepera throwing a 95-mph fastball behind Woodruff’s legs in the fifth inning. Woodruff was pissed, and benches were warned.
The real response came from Contreras himself, who in the eighth hit a key two-run homer off of reliever Brent Suter in what would be a 3-2 Chicago victory. And oh, the ensuing celebration.
There was the spin and disdainful underhanded toss of the bat toward the Cubs dugout. There was the finger raised skyward most of the way from first base to second. There was the series of finger-to-the-lips shhhhhh’s delivered to the crowd between second and third. There was the arms-wide-to-the-sky just steps past third, and then the hand clap, and then the crossing of the chest, and then literally walking the last five steps to the plate.
In case the message wasn’t clear enough, Contreras spelled things out for reporters after the game. “It feels good to shut [the crowd] up,” he said. “We sent a message. I think they picked the wrong guy to throw at. That was a message sent.”
For a full accounting, it was also a message sent to Contreras’ teammates, who haven’t exactly been setting the basepaths aflame this season. Through their first 10 games the Cubs accumulated a total of 49 hits—their fewest over any 10 game span since 1901. Prior to Contreras’ homer on Tuesday, Chicago’s only run had scored on a sacrifice fly.
For now, things appear to be even, though with Contreras leaning over the plate and the Brewers having publicly stated their willingness to attack his weakest offensive zone—up and in—there’s a very real chance that things will ratchet up again before too long.
“There’s a lot more games coming up,” Contreras said after Tuesday’s contest. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”
The teams meet again today, and again for a three-game series in Chicago later next week.
Nick Castellanos dislikes getting hit by pitches, and was in especially fine form on Saturday in that regard. There are plenty of cues pointing toward why his drilling by St. Louis reliever Jake Woodford may have been intentional. It was the first pitch of an at-bat (check) that came with two outs and nobody on base (check and check) after the Cards had already been forced to dip into their bullpen in the third inning (not necessarily a check, but let’s go with it anyway). There’s also the detail that the quickest way for a rookie like Woodford to ingratiate himself with veteran teammates is to carry out retaliatory strikes on their behalf. Also, it sure looked intentional.
Why would Woodford be gunning for Castellanos? Could be that the right-hander—or some of his teammates—was ticked off about Catstellano’s home run pimping from opening day. (Are we in for another season of random pitchers throwing fits over Letting the Kids Play? Might could be.)
After being hit by a fastball, Castellanos chatted with St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, took his time removing his PPE and went out of his way for the unnecessary step of offering the ball back to Woodford. Was that disrespectful? Some in the St. Louis dugout thought so. More on that in a moment.
Castellanos went to third on a single and scored on a wild pitch, after which he made sure to flex over Woodford, who was on the ground after covering the plate on the play. That was likely where things would have ended had everybody let it play out. Apart from the play itself, Castellanos didn’t touch Woodford, and was returning to his dugout when Molina raced over and shoved him from behind. Why? According to starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, it was all about offering the ball back to Woodford. “That’s tired,” Wainwright said after the game.
Nothing much came of Molina’s shove save for some action in the outfield that cropped up among relief pitchers. Castellanos was ejected, but Molina—despite being the one getting physical—remained in the game. Crew chief Jim Reynolds explained the decision as Castellanos having “re-engaged the pitcher in unnecessary fashion.” So he was tossed for showboating, which is either a one-off Jim Reynolds thing or a new directive from MLB.
The league’s official response—suspending Castellanos for two games—further muddies the waters. Given that neither Woodford (whose intent behind the pitch is under legitimate question) or Molina (the guy who shoved first) were similarly suspended is beyond logic. Beyond his initial flex, Castellanos was effectively a bystander for the ensuing melee. These decisions lead to questions about whether Castellanos’ actions would have been worthy of ejection or suspension had Molina not made things physical, and how this precedent all might affect similar judgement calls in the future.
Nothing further came of the incident in Sunday’s series closer, but it’s a long season. These teams face each other 16 more times, including again later this month.
Castellanos may have gotten boned by the league ruling, but at least he came up with the line of the day. In response to a question about Molina having shoved him, he said: “That guy could punch me in the face and I’d still ask him for a signed jersey.”
Ronald Acuña homered on the second pitch of yesterday’s Game 1 of the NLDS and pimped it, and the Marlins drilled him in response. How stupid is that? Let’s count the ways.
* Miami plunked Acuña with nobody on and one out in the third inning, while holding a 4-1 lead. It was still anybody’s game, and gave the Braves a baserunner with the heart of their order coming up.
* Plate ump Andy Fletcher warned both dugouts, which pissed off Braves skipper Brian Snitker, but more importantly seemed to fluster Marlins pitcher Sandy Alcantara—and almost certainly affected his willingness to work inside. Sure enough, two batters later, Marcel Ozuna doubled Acuña home. The next hitter, Travis d’Arnaud, doubled home Ozuna, reducing Miami’s lead to 4-3.
* With Alcantara still on the mound in the seventh, Acuña continued to be angry. With one on and nobody out, he singled sharply to center field. That ended Alcantara’s night and began a six-run rally that iced the game for Atlanta.
There is, of course, a history here. In 2018, Acuña homered eight times in eight games, including five straight—three of which came leading off against the Marlins. Miami pitcher Jose Urena responded by drilling him in the elbow. Earlier this season, Urena hit Acuña again, making five times in all that Marlins pitchers have drilled the guy. Nobody else has done it more than twice.
Alcantara’s ensuing claims of unintentionality are believable (Snitker himself, “guarantee(s) he wasn’t trying to hit him”), but it comes with a caveat. To counter a guy who is hitting .318/.414/.645 with 17 homers and 44 RBIs against them—by far his best numbers against any team—Miami has taken to pitching Acuña consistently inside. In their view, hitting him on occasion simply comes with the territory.
That doesn’t mean that the Braves have to like it. Pitchers who play inside must have the control to do so effectively, especially during the postseason, when issuing free baserunners frequently ends badly. Acuña is clearly fed up with it, and while he had the presence of mind yesterday to avoid getting tossed from the game over it, there are sure to be repercussions.
One of them involves the Marlins being down a game in the series. They’ve been pitching Acuña inside for years, and he continues to pummel them. Maybe try something different in Game 2, Miami.
To judge by Friday’s game, the White Sox aren’t so big on the golden rule. Willson Contreras did unto them, unleashing a monster bat flip after homering in the third inning, and they responded by drilling the Cubs catcher in the back four innings later.
Sure, every party on the South Side denied intent. Manager Rick Renteria said that the pitch got away from reliever Jimmy Cordero. Cordero said that “the ball sunk a lot” and “was just a bad pitch.”
Said “sinker,” of course, was 98 mph and connected with Contreras’s upper back. It came with nobody on base, in the seventh inning of a game that the White Sox trailed, 7-0. There was no tail to it, just straight-line execution. It looked intentional from the moment it left Cordero’s hand.
Part of the issue here is the notion of drilling anybody for bat flipping in the modern climate. Contreras didn’t stare anybody down or show anybody up; to the contrary, he was looking directly at his teammates in the first-base dugout when he let loose his lumber.
The other part of the issue is that the modern climate exists thanks in huge part to a guy standing in the White Sox dugout when this all went down. Tim Anderson, of course, was at the center of a massive controversy last April, when he received similar treatment from the Royals for a bat flip of his own. At that time, the White Sox party line included defending Anderson’s rights to celebrate as he saw fit. This did not go unnoticed by the Cubs on Friday.
“All the hype was on the guy on the other side when [Anderson] bat-flipped, and we just let him play, right?” said Cubs manager David Ross afterward, in an NBC Chicago report. “I thought Tim Anderson’s bat flip last year, where he flipped it and looked in his dugout, that’s what you want. And that’s exactly what Willson did. He bat-flipped. It wasn’t to disrespect the other group. … Probably not my style if I’m playing, but these guys need a little bit of an edge. I don’t think he deserved to get hit at all. I don’t think you ever throw at somebody on purpose. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I knew it was coming,” Contreras said afterward, in an MLB.com report, adding that there was nothing wrong with what he did. “I celebrated with my teammates,” he said. “I got pumped up. I wear my emotions below my sleeves. That was one thing that I did. I have no regrets—zero regrets.”
Umpires ejected Cordero, which raised the White Sox hackles, possibly because there had been no prior warning. Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper ended up ejected, as well.
So now we’re left to wonder where the line is drawn, even against the bat-flippingest team in the land. Not everybody on every roster shares similar feelings about every issue, of course, but even those members of the White Sox with a distaste for that brand of showmanship must recognize that the face of their franchise is also the face of the entire Let the Kids Play movement. And that bears significant weight.
Renteria seemed to spell it out pretty clearly after Anderson’s bat-flip controversy last year, describing his player’s actions in almost the same terms that Ross did on Friday.
“Everybody has those ‘unwritten rules,’ everybody has their own, I guess,” he said last April, in a Chicago Sun-Times report. “Timmy wasn’t showing them up or showing the pitcher up, he was looking into our dugout, getting the guys going.”
But the manager didn’t stop there. Renteria then laid down a rule that his team in no way followed yesterday.
“Get him out,” he said. “You want him to not do that? Get him out.”
It’s a funny thing, this COVID baseball. Some guys can’t seem to remember to wear a mask or stay within the perimeter of the team hotel, but when it comes to responding to past injustices they’re a bunch of goddamn elephants. Never forget a thing.
That is why, when Masahiro Tanaka pitched inside to Joey Wendle with two outs in the first inning of yesterday’s Yankees-Rays game, then drilled him with his next pitch (which, at 95 mph, was the hardest he threw all night by a considerable margin) nobody had to question what was happening.
The intent was clear. Tanaka has walked fourbatters this season over six starts. Wendle was the first one he’s hit. The question was, why?
Well, a day earlier the first pitch thrown by Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow had been up and in to D.J. LeMahieu—the latest in a pattern that has seen Rays pitchers working the Yankees, and LeMahieu in particular, inside all season long. That might have been it. Or maybe somehow the Yankees are still sore about the time late in 2018 when Rays reliever Andrew Kitteridge threw a retaliatory fastball at Austin Romine’s head (and missed). That seems like old news, especially given that C.C. Sabathia responded in spectacular fashion the following day, but people keep talking about it so maybe it’s still a thing.
Something that almost undoubtedly contributed is the fact that Tampa Bay has kicked the snot out of the Yankees this year, winning seven out of eight games prior to Tuesday night. Is that the difference in the American League East? Hell yeah, it is.
Maybe Tanaka just wanted to change the tone.
To his credit, Tanaka went by the unwritten rulebook and plunked Wendle in the backside. Wendle took it well, smiling in recognition as he trotted to first base—as did the rest of the Rays, who didn’t force the issue as the game progressed.
That’s where things stood until the ninth, when Aroldis Chapman, in to protect a 5-3 lead, threw his second pitch to Wendle up and in, at 95 mph. After Wendle grounded out to first, Chapman’s second pitch to the next hitter, Austin Meadows, was also up and in, this time at 99 mph. Meadows eventually lined out. This seemed like a message. It’s also where things took a turn.
With two outs and nobody on base, Chapman’s first pitch to Mike Brosseau was a 101-mph fastball that barely missed the batter’s head, Brosseau ducking out of the way in the nick of time. Chapman stalked down the mound toward the plate, all but daring Brosseau to respond. The umpires quickly intervened, warning both benches.
After Chapman struck out Brosseau to end the game, the Yankees dugout did a bit of yelling (much of it from third base coach Phil Neven, as is frequently the case). Yelling, in fact, seems to be a theme between these teams this season. Last month at Tropicana Field, reports had Nevin shouting “Get him out of there” every time a Rays coach visited the mound. Yesterday, Tampa Bay’s Mike Zunino shouted something similar after James Paxton gave up back-to-back homers to tie the score in the seventh. With no fans in the stands, sound carries this season. Maybe that set Chapman off.
Brousseau responded to the chirping and dugouts quickly emptied, even as “New York, New York” blared over the Yankee Stadium PA. At least nobody actually came into contact with the other team. Some players even remembered to wear masks.
There are obvious questions about what this all means going forward. After the game, Rays manager Kevin Cash amplified them with the biggest megaphone he could find, calling the situation “ridiculous,” “mishandled by the Yankees” and “mishandled by the umpires.”
“They hit Joey Wendle intentionally in the first inning,” he fumed. “It was clear as day. Chapman comes in, he throws three different balls up and in. I get it—they don’t like being thrown up-and-in. But enough’s enough. We’re talking about a 100-mph fastball over a young man’s head. It’s poor judgment. Poor coaching. It’s just poor teaching, what they’re doing, and what they’re allowing to do. The chirping from the dugout.”
Strong opinions, to be sure, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Then Cash said this: “I’ve got a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph. Period.”
Threat registered. “It sounds like they’re going to try to throw at us tomorrow,” LeMahieu said. “We’ll be ready.”
The teams meet today for the final time this regular season. Even with umpires on high alert, given what we’ve seen so far, this confrontation is far from finished.
Update 9/2: Punishment has been levied: Chapman docked three games plus a fine for throwing at somebody’s head; Boone suspended one game because Chapman is an idiot; and Cash suspended one game for his postgame threat.
Update 2, 9/2: Brosseau got his revenge on Wednesday, hitting two homers and doing this:
Yesterday, Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a grand slam and the internet lost its damn mind.
It wasn’t the homer that did it, of course, it was the response … something to do with the unwritten rules.
In this case, circumstances matter. It was the top of the eighth inning, the bases were loaded and the Padres were leading Texas by seven runs (thanks in part to a three-run homer by Tatis an inning earlier). Pertinent to this discussion, Tatis’ fateful shot came on a 3-0 pitch. The Rangers didn’t know it at the time, but the young slugger had missed (or ignored) a take sign from his coach.
With that, Rangers manager Chris Woodward removed pitcher Juan Nicasio, inserted pitcher Ian Gibault, and watched as Gibault threw a pitch behind the next batter, Manny Machado. Message delivered. (No warnings were issued, and no other pitches came close to hitting anybody.)
After the game, Woodward addressed the issue directly. “I think there’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game,” he said. “I didn’t like it, personally. You’re up by seven in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game.”
This is the point at which Woodward, and baseball in general, tends to lose touch with its fan base. What in the hell was the manager talking about, cried the majority opinion? Why should one of the sport’s brightest young stars be expected to do anything other than bright-young-star things, regardless of the situation?
It’s complicated. The rationale starts with pitchers, not hitters. During a blowout, nobody in either dugout wants to see the pace grind nearly to a halt while a pitcher tries to finesse the edges of the strike zone, especially while down in the count. From The Baseball Codes:
The last thing a pitcher wants to do with his team down by a wide margin late in the game is walk batters, which not only suggests unnecessary nibbling but extends a game that players want to end quickly. When a count gets to 3-0 … it’s a near-certainty that the ensuing pitch will be a fastball down the middle.
At which point pitchers are expected (or were once expected, anyway) to throw something straight that will get the game moving again. For that one-pitch adjustment, hitters are expected (or were once expected) to lay off. As Sparky Anderson said in a New York Times report: “You don’t cherry-pick on the other team. You don’t take cripples. Three-oh, he’s struggling, he’s got to lay the ball in there. Don’t do it to the man. He’s got a family, too.”
Then again, Anderson said that back in 1993, which may as well have been 1893 as far as the evolution of the unwritten rules is concerned. The sport in which Anderson managed bears little resemblance to the modern game in numerous ways. A prominent aspect of this evolution is showboating, bat flips and the like, which once would have been certain to draw a pitcher’s attention but are now mostly background noise.
Swinging 3-0 is not quite the same thing, but it’s in the same ballpark.
Here’s the catch: The team doing the responding—the team at the wrong end of Cave’s swing—was Chris Woodward’s Texas Rangers. Woodward, it appears, is no stranger to having his pitchers mete out punishment for those who he feels cross a line, and swinging 3-0 is a prominent one for him.
Yesterday, the response from the Padres was less about the retaliatory pitch from Texas than with their own shortstop. On the telecast, cameras caught Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer—30 years old and a 10-year vet—telling various Rangers that “we’ll talk to him.” Sure enough, Hosmer sat Tatis down for a dugout conversation. Later, San Diego manager Jayce Tingler talked to reporters about the importance of getting signs correctly, called it “a learning opportunity,” and said “[Tatis] will grow from it.” (Prior to taking over the Padres, Tingler worked in the Rangers organization since 2007. The guess here is that he knows precisely what it will take to avoid bad blood with that team.)
But what about Tatis himself? On one hand, he’s 21 years old, in only his second season and hails from the Dominican Republic, where a freewheeling, unfettered brand of baseball is the norm. On the other, he grew up learning the major league game from his father, whose own big league career ran from 1999 to 2010, when Jr. was 11 years old.
“I’ve been in this game since I was a kid,” Tatis Jr. said after the game. “I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. … Those experiences, you have to learn. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”
The reason that most pitchers no longer care about bat flips is that bat flipping has been divorced from the meaning it once held. It is now seen as a joyous act, not a disrespectful one.
Swinging 3-0 during a blowout holds deeper connotations, but ultimately the concept is the same. Either we let the kids play, or we don’t. When Sparky Anderson told the Times that, as pertains to swinging 3-0, “there is a thing in this game—honor—that will always stay with me and I’ll never give it up,” he was speaking from a different era.
At some point, baseball has to make up its mind. Until it does, this cultural dissonance of blowback against young stars doing things that the public wants to see is going to continue until everybody’s so frustrated that they turn their backs altogether. This is a problem that baseball is already trying to counter; it led to Let the Kids Play in the first place.
“I love this game, and I respect the game a lot,” Tatis said after the game. “I feel like every time I go out there, I just wanna feel respect for everybody else. … This game is hard for everyone, so why not just celebrate and have fun the way you wanna have fun?”
Let’s start by noting that the pitch that precipitated Sunday’s mess did not hit Ramon Laureano intentionally. It was a 77-mph, full-count curveball from Humberto Castellanos, a 22-year-old pitching in his third big league inning, in only his eighth appearance above Single-A.
Then again, Laureano had already been hit in the game … by Brandon Bailey, a 25-year-old (who the A’s traded to Houston straight up for Ramon Laureano!) making his fourth big league appearance after jumping directly from Double-A.
Then again again, Laureano was also drilled in the first game of the series on Friday … also by Castellanos, back in his second-ever major league game. This one was a fastball, but at 88 mph, it was the slowest of the four that the right-hander threw during the at-bat. Also, the game was tied 1-1 in the 12th inning and, with runners already at first and second, it loaded the bases with one out.
So it’s safe to say that Ramon Laureano was not being targeted by the Astros over the weekend. It’s also safe to say that, when a player gets dotted three times over the course of a series—and his team five times, without a whiff of retaliation—regardless of intention, he’s entitled to be annoyed. And Laureano was. After the last incident, he chirped at Castellanos (strangely, it looked like he was showing the pitcher how to release a curveball), but it never appeared that he seriously considered charging the mound. Once Laureano reached first base, it seemed as if the game would proceed apace.
That’s the build-up.
The real issue was Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron, who stood on the lip of the first-base dugout and, once Laureano had taken his base, lit into him. Instigation by a coach is particularly weak, especially with manager Dusty Baker—who’d been ejected an inning earlier for arguing balls and strikes—not being around to control it. What Cintron said has not yet been revealed, but it was enough to draw the baserunner’s attention. When Cintron took a challenge step toward the field, Laureano charged.
Before we get into the real issue here, let’s say for the record that charging an opponent near his own dugout is never a good idea, no matter who’s doing the charging. The attacker is wildly outnumbered, and, with baseball fights being group affairs, his chances to so much as land a blow are minimal.
But we’re playing in a time of pandemic, when Major League Baseball has expressly forbidden this kind of thing. From the 2020 operations manual: “Fighting and instigating fights are strictly prohibited. Players must not make physical contact with others for any reason unless it occurs in normal and permissible game action.”
So of course we had a scrum. Astros catcher (and former Athletic) Dustin Garneau tackled Laureano before he ever reached Cintron, and members of both teams ended up milling about, nose to nose, as ballplayers do. A’s catcher Austin Allen briefly scrapped with Houston catcher Martin Maldonado. Laureano and Allen were ejected.
It’s another instance of high-profile athletes willfully ignoring their civic and personal responsibilities. On one hand, if the A’s and Astros want to keep playing baseball, they should do all they can to insure that COVID never reaches their clubhouses. Yesterday’s dustup was the opposite of that. We’ve already asked once this season whether love of baseball will be able to outstrip some of its athletes’ baser competitive instincts, then asked it again only one day later when Joe Kelly taunted these selfsame Astros into another confrontation. Do we love baseball enough? The answer is still unclear.
Beyond that, there’s the example that these athletes are setting for the rest of us. If a few angry words are worth the potential cost of sparking a 50-person scrum, what does that say to the public at large about the importance of safety? Cintron acted like a meat-headed moron, and Laureano should have known better than to take the bait.
The message from all of these men, intentional or not, is that machismo trumps common sense. It’s short-sighted and stupid. Nobody is innocent here.
MLB has been doing its part, suspending Kelly for eight games—more than 13 percent of the truncated season—for his idiotic behavior two weeks back. Similar penalties are in line for yesterday’s participants.
Baseball fights are traditionally free-range affairs, rarely coming to anything serious, specifically because so many players end up involved that it’s difficult to get any actual fighting done. Maybe there was some benefit to that, pre-COVID, but no more. For the first time ever, we need our ballplayers to be more than baseball-smart. We need them to be actual-smart. The big picture is no longer about a game or a series or even a season. It’s about helping to show that we’re all in this together and are doing what we can to help the common cause.
Be better, baseball.
Update 8/11: MLB decided that as the instigator, Cintron would be suspended for 20 games, or one-third of the truncated season. It’s the longest suspension for on-field behavior in 15 years, and the longest for a coach or manager since Pete Rose was shelved for 30 games after shoving an umpire in 1988. Laureano was docked six games for his actions. Both decisions seem about right.
Today I address the unwritten rules (that’s the beat of this blog, after all), which include long-held grudges and purpose pitches and cross-field taunting. Ultimately, though, it all comes back to COVID response. Because everything in the world right now comes down to COVID response.
Fireworks were anticipated when the Dodgers traveled to Minute Maid Park in Houston for their first meeting since news came out about the Astros’ trash-can banging during their disputed championship run in 2017—a run that, coincidentally, culminated in a seven-game World Series win over the Dodgers.
Joe Kelly was not on the Dodgers back then, but he’s on the Dodgers now, and he’s heard all the stories, and he’s the kind of pitcher known to stand up for teammates. (He was on the Red Sox team that lost to Houston in that year’s Division Series.) So when Kelly threw a 3-0 fastball behind Alex Bregman on Tuesday, close enough to raise the hair on the back of Bregman’s neck, it was tough to mistake it for anything but a message.
Things got even stranger when Kelly had to cover first base after the next batter, Michael Brantley, hit a would-be double-play grounder. Kelly was mildly and inadvertently spiked, then hung around the base for a moment to convey his displeasure.
That’s when a voice in the Astros dugout—it appears to be manager Dusty Baker—yelled, “Just get on the mound, little fucker.”
Joe Kelley has proved to need far less provocation than that.
After walking Yuli Gurriel on four pitches to put men at first and second, he delivered a pitch at Carlos Correa’s head. On one hand, that kind of location is never okay. On the other, it was a curveball—not the greatest weapon for pitchers with malice on their minds—and men were on first and second.
Correa ducked out of the way without much trouble, then stared down both Kelly and the Dodgers dugout. He ended up striking out on another curveball—this one down and away—to end the inning. Kelly immediately started jawing (according to Baker, he said, “Nice swing, bitch”), then made faces at his opponent, literally sticking out his lower lip in a mock pout. That’s all it took. Benches emptied.
This is where we return to the intersection of baseball norms and social distancing. In the former category, old habits can be hard to shake. In the latter, if ballplayers wanna play ball, they better start paying better attention to MLB’s protrocols—one of which explicitly bans fighting. (The specific language: “Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions.”)
Still, players from both teams crowded around home plate. While there was very little contact, and while various members of both clubs actually wore masks, these players were close, and many of them were maskless.
We’re still less than a week into the season and the Marlins are triaging and sequestered, the Phillies are dormant and the Yankees, after doing nothing while waiting things out in Philadelphia are unexpectedly playing in Baltimore. If this doesn’t spur players to pay some better attention to risk mitigation, it’s likely that nothing will.
Nothing is as important right now as COVID mitigation, but seeing as this is an unwritten-rules blog, we should probably wrap up the situation between the Dodgers and the Astros. There’s no question that anger lingers in LA. During spring training, Cody Bellinger said that Jose Altuve “stole an MVP” from Aaron Judge, with Carlos Correa suggesting that Bellinger to get some facts or “shut the fuck up.”
Kelly denied intent on Tuesday, going so far as to illustrate his wild nature by referencing a viral video from early in the pandemic when, during a backyard bullpen session, he missed his target and broke a window in his home. (Not referenced was the fact that, since 2015, he’s struck out well over twice as many hitters as he’s walked.)
In the opposite clubhouse, Baker was livid.
“I didn’t anticipate that,” Baker said afterward. “I didn’t anticipate throwing over somebody’s head three balls and no strikes. One of our more important guys. If you’re going to throw at somebody, you don’t throw at the head. “You don’t throw at a guy’s head. That’s playing dirty baseball.”
What Baker did not do was order his pitchers to retaliate. For one thing, the Astros were three runs down and trying to keep the game close. In a truncated schedule, every loss bears extra weight. Also, all three Houston relievers who entered the game after Kelly’s shenanigans were rookies, two of them making their big league debuts. Asking a nervous kid to understand longstanding grudges, let alone execute a controversial purpose pitch, is asking for trouble in numerous ways.
The Astros may have dodged a bullet by not having to face a series of angry opponents had the 2020 season gone off as originally planned. But ballplayers, we’ve learned, are willing to wait. Joe Kelly is certainly not the only one who wants his shot at cheaters.
Meanwhile, the fan merch is out, and it’s spectacular.
Update 7/29: Kelly has been suspended for eight games, MLB citing Kelly’s history with this kind of thing as a factor in its decision. Dave Roberts has been suspended for one game, and Dusty Baker has received a sternly worded email or something.
With no baseball save for mishandled bargaining sessions and teams’ decisions about whether to pay their minor leaguers and other employees through these dormant months, it’s downright refreshing to hear a bona fide ballplayer discuss bona fide ball.
Even when the discussion topic is something he might rather forget.
Royals pitcher Brad Keller went on the Charity Stripe podcast on Monday and discussed last year’s incident in which he drilled Tim Anderson for flipping his bat.
Before we get into Keller’s comments, let’s revisit that day last April.
Anderson slugged a fourth-inning homer off of Keller, then … well, “flipped” is the wrong word for what he did with his bat. As I described it at the time, it was “less insouciant toss and more angry spike.”
“Did that somehow cross an ever-shifting line?” I wondered. “Had [Anderson] not turned toward his dugout—or, more pertinently, turned his back toward the Royals dugout—would it have been better received?”
It didn’t matter. In Anderson’s next at-bat, two innings later, Keller drilled him in the backside. Tempers flared.
At the time, it was confusing. Major League Baseball had just come out with its Let the Kids Play campaign, ostensibly aimed at fostering this very kind of behavior. The thing was, Anderson had some history with the Royals as pertained to his celebratory habits, which had already cleared the benches once, back in 2018. This is a vital piece. The conversations that had been circulating around the Royals clubhouse about Anderson for the better part of a year held unequivocal sway in the pitcher’s decision to act.
After Keller drilled Anderson, he didn’t say much about his motivation. This was smart, lest baseball swoop in with a punishment for intentionally targeting another player. Now, it seems, baseball has more pressing things on its agenda. So on Monday, on a podcast, Keller talked.
“It was like the first week of April,” he said. “I’m not going to say a meaningless game because every game in the big leagues means something. But the 12th game of the season doesn’t really define if you’re going to make the playoffs or not.”
Keller described how he was grinding, getting behind every hitter. Then Anderson battled him for six pitches before homering on a full count.
“How he acted afterwards, to me and my whole team, was just over the top,” Keller said. “It’s like, ‘Bro, you hit a homer. Congrats.’ This wasn’t a Game 7 homer. This wasn’t a playoff homer. This wasn’t even a homer to win the game. Ultimately, we won the game, 3-2, in the long run [Note: The Royals actually won 4-3], but that gets kind of lost in the whole transaction of everything. It just seemed like, at the time, it was an April home run. Why are you throwing your bat to the dugout? We had beefs in the past, as far as our teams, and that was just like fuel on the fire, basically, is what it seemed like. I was upset because I was grinding that day and I was already pissed off at myself, and then you pull some shit like that?”
Keller returned to the dugout angry, and found a bunch of teammates who felt similarly. He was a second-year pitcher trying to earn his place in the clubhouse hierarchy, and standing up for teammates’ feelings may well have played into his decision to act. Anderson’s blast gave the White Sox a 2-0 lead, but by the time he next batted, Kansas City had knotted the score.
“He had to know it was coming,” said Keller. “He was leading off the sixth inning, and he was literally a foot from the dirt when I was on my second warm-up pitch. I’ve never seen anyone get out to the box that fast in my life. … That was his first hit off of me in his career. That was your first hit off of me and you’re acting like you own me.”
It was indeed Anderson’s first hit against Keller in 14 career at-bats, a stretch that included five strikeouts and a double-play.
“White Sox fans are like, Tim Anderson’s your daddy and shit, and I’m like, please. … we won the game,” Keller said. “It’s hilarious how it all transpired. I’m the worst pitcher ever. The White Sox own me. Tim Anderson owns me. I’m like, you guys don’t look at stats, do you?”
Okay, so Keller didn’t really tell us anything new, apart from confirming that the HBP was intentional. Still, it’s refreshing to hear a pitcher describe his mindset when it comes to things like this. We are in a new era of baseball, one in which celebrations like Anderson’s are ostensibly not only acceptable but encouraged. The days of angry pitchers exacting revenge on showboat competitors feels like a thing of the past, the province of old men shouting at clouds.
When Keller drilled Anderson, he was 23 years old. If the season resumes, maybe we’ll also get a chance to hear what he thinks about Letting the Kids Play.
As a community, Los Angeles hasn’t seemed particularly happy about baseball this year. Sure, they have the best team in the sport—which was true even before Mookie rolled into town. And yeah, championship aspirations leave a nice tingle in the back of one’s esophagus. However, for a good long while this off-season seemed to be mostly about the championships of 2017 and 2018, which, given the unseemly proclivities of the Astros and Red Sox, many Southlanders feel should be retroactively awarded to their hometown nine.
It’s enough to put a ballclub on edge.
Or at least it makes for a decent introduction to what happened yesterday, when Justin Turner, LA’s third hitter of the game, was drilled by Johnny Cueto. (Okay, maybe “drill” isn’t the right word. The pitch hit Turner in the hand, near his knuckles.) Never mind that Cueto is still coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2018; of all the guys in the Dodgers’ lineup, Turner is the one about whom they are most sensitive when it comes to this type of thing, given that he broke his wrist on an HBP in a spring training game in 2018.
So when Clayton Kershaw plunked Rob Brantley the very next inning—after striking out the frame’s first two hitters, no less—it looked bad.
San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Henry Schulman wrote that neither pitch looked intentional, but whatever Kershaw’s purpose, there’s no denying that a pitcher’s perfect revenge scenario involves getting two quick outs before dotting a guy, ideally with a low-in-the-order hitter to follow. Which is exactly what happened.
Giants third base coach Ron Wotus noticed. As Kershaw returned to the dugout after whiffing No. 8 hitter Yolmer Sanchez to end the frame, Wotus lit into him, and the pair engaged in a brief shouting match. Umpires quickly warned both benches—something Cueto later said he’d never seen in a spring training game.
Ultimately, Kershaw’s revenge—intentional or not—paled in comparison to Turner’s response.
In the third inning, Turner pummeled the first pitch he saw from Cueto into the left field pavilion to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead, which they never relinquished. (Kershaw did okay for himself as well, giving up two hits over three shutout innings.)
Just because the Giants no longer have Madison Bumgarner doesn’t mean they can’t get into it with their rivals to the south. It portends to be a long season in San Francisco, but at the very least, this kind of thing will help keep things lively.