Retaliation

On the Impracticality of Hitting Opponents Out of Anger, Arizona Diamondbacks Edition

Braun drilled

This is what it looks like when a plan doesn’t work out.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, angry with the Brewers for a variety of reasons, and with Ryan Braun for some very specific other reasons, finished a passel of business Tuesday in the span of two pitches. The first sailed behind Braun, the next drilled him in the backside.

Milwaukee’s response: Hit ’em where it hurts.

Things grew heated in the sixth, when Milwaukee right-hander Kyle Lohse hit Chris Owings in the upper back, the ricocheting ball knocking his helmet off his head. It did not bear the marks of an intentional pitch; it was about the slowest fastball in Lohse’s arsenal during a close game, and the right-hander visibly blanched when the pitch made contact. (Watch it here.)

By itself, this may not have been enough to fully rile the D-Backs. But when, two batters later, Lohse threw a slider over the head of pitcher Mike Boslinger—who was trying to bunt Owings to second—Arizona took note. This pitch, too, was almost certainly unintentional. Why would anybody want to drill the pitcher in a two-run game? Much more likely, Lohse was trying to put a pitch in a difficult-to-bunt location. (In that, at least, he succeeded.) Add to that the fact that he grazed Didi Gregroius with a slider in the first inning, and manager Kirk Gibson’s mind was almost made up for him.

The very next inning, he had what he must have felt was a tailor-made situation. Not only were there runners on second and third with one out, leaving first base open, but the batter was Ryan Braun. The same Ryan Braun who Gibson was not at all shy about slagging last year, in response to the fact that the 2011 NL MVP led the Brewers to a taut playoff win over Arizona, and later admitted to have been juicing at the time.

“If I get a chance to see Braun, I got a question for him, right to his face,” said Gibson last year, in an Arizona Republic report. “Is he about rehearsed by now? About ready to come out? He’s probably been practicing at theater school somewhere. Anyway, she was looking at how things like that can influence people’s opportunities and the opportunity to do something like that.”

So: Pissed-at-the-present plus pissed-at-the-past apparently equals send-your-reliever-out-for-some-dirty-work. Arizona pitcher Evan Marshall sent a 94-mph fastball behind Braun’s back, drawing a warning from plate ump Ted Barrett. His next pitch was even faster, and connected with the small of Braun’s back. Barrett ejected him on the spot. Not so oddly, Gibson seemed delighted when Marshall returned to the dugout. (Watch it here.)

The plan, of course, backfired. Gibson strategized as best he could, using his statement to set up the double play in an instance when he would have been justified in ordering an intentional walk to do the same. But his team’s 4-3 lead turned into a 7-4 deficit when the next hitter, Jonathan Lucroy, touched reliever Brad Ziegler for a grand slam. (Watch it here.)

Oops.

The Diamondbacks have talked a lot of late about the need to stick up for their own in ways just like this, and followed up in as overt a way as he could. That’s the thing about planning, though—without execution, it doesn’t amount to a whole hell of a lot.

The teams have two more games, today and Thursday, with which to continue sending messages. If Gibson’s astute, he’ll recognize not only that he took his best shot (two of them, in fact), and that it didn’t work out so well for him. His slate should be clean. If the Brewers are astute, they’ll recognize that Lucroy gave them the best response for which they could ever have hoped.

Even-steven, everybody. Now go play some ball.

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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.”

Jason Motte, Retaliation, Ryan Braun, Tony La Russa

Hey Jered Weaver, this is Where Message Pitches are Meant to be Delivered

Ryan Braun: not happy with the way things played out.

As far as retaliation goes, it was awkward, it was ugly and if it wasn’t embarrassing to more than one party, then by all rights it should have been.

But at least it got the job done, within the boundaries of reason.

In the bottom of the seventh inning last night, Cardinals reliever Jason Motte wanted to deliver a message to Milwaukee. Brewers reliever Takashi Saito had drilled Albert Pujols a half-inning earlier, in his tender left wrist. It was clearly unintentional, as the rising fastball hit Pujols only after the hitter pulled his hands in to his chest and was spinning toward the backstop.

Sometimes intent doesn’t make a lick of difference. When Pujols goes down, reparations are frequently in order.

Never mind that it was a 7-7 score; when Ryan Braun led off the home half of the inning, Motte got right to it. And whiffed. Braun evaded Motte’s 98 mph inside fastball, which should, for practical purposes, have ended the hostilities. The pitcher had his shot and missed his mark.

This was plate ump Rob Drake‘s moment to step in and put an end to things. Players frequently appreciate some leeway when it comes to umpires’ warnings, at least to the point that each side is allowed their due shot. Drake, however, missed that mark by a mile.

Allowed a second chance, Motte drilled Braun in the ribs with a 97 mph four-seamer. Braun looked stunned after the first effort; when the second one found purchase without a peep from Drake he was downright flabbergasted.

Even at that point, Motte failed to get booted. (He did end up hitting the showers, but only because Tony La Russamade a pitching change. Based on La Russa’s history with these things, it seems likely that Motte started the inning solely because has the best fastball on the team, with the plan being to pull him after one hit batter. “We threw two balls in there real good just to send a message,” the skipper said afterward, in a semi-denial. “If he ducks them, it’s all over and we don’t hit him.”)

Only after Milwaukee skipper Ron Roenicke came out for a chat with Drake—presumably to fill the ump in on all he was missing—were warnings issued to both benches. (It was odd timing on Roenicke’s part; unless he was looking to get Motte retroactively bounced from the game, his discussion served little purpose beyond costing his own pitchers a chance to respond on Braun’s behalf.)

“That was ridiculous,” said Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We didn’t hit Albert Pujols on purpose. Are you kidding me? In that situation? If we wanted to put him on base, we would have walked him. That’s ridiculous. . . . We shouldn’t get punished for something we weren’t trying to do on purpose. Look at the situation. If we were getting beat by a lot or we were beating them by a lot and that happens, maybe we did it on purpose.  I mean, come on. We weren’t trying to hit anybody. It’s unbelievable.”

Lucroy is entitled to his opinion, but it’s tough to fault a pitcher for protecting his superstar. That Milwaukee’s best player led off the next inning made the timing perfect. That Motte was given two chances by an apparently clueless ump, however, is worth getting ticked off about. If the situation has anything working in its favor, it’s that, unlike Jered Weaver and Carlos Carrasco, Motte came nowhere near his target’s head.

The teams meet again today, then again at the end of the month.

– Jason