No-Hitter Etiquette

No-Hitter Etiquette Taking New Weight In The Age of Openers And Shifts

We’ve seen the recent implementation of pitching “openers” disrupt traditional baseball in numerous ways. Now we can add superstition to the mix.

The no-hitter jinx—banning any mention of the feat while said feat is in progress—is about as old as no-hitters themselves, but with the advent of relievers making planned appearances after only a couple of innings, it’s easier than ever to lose track of game details.

Take Tampa Bay’s Ryan Yarborough, who came into Sunday’s game against Baltimore in the third inning. As it happened, Rays opener Ryne Stanek had been perfect during his short stint, a detail that managed to escape Yarborough, who’d spent the first two innings either warming up in the bullpen or cooling down in the clubhouse tunnel. Either way, he wasn’t closely watching the game.

By the time Yarborough entered in the third, six Orioles had been retired in order. By the time Yarborough completed six innings of his own, 24 Orioles had been retired in order. Somehow, aided by the reticence of his superstition-abiding teammates when it came to mentioning anything in the dugout, the lefthander spent most of that duration with no idea that history was afoot.

He was informed of the perfect game by some Orioles fans working overtime to jinx it, who, from the grandstand, warned him against blowing it. The gambit was effective. “I’m like, wait a minute …” the pitcher said, in a Tampa Bay Times report. “I really had no clue.”

That happened just before Yarborough pitched the eighth. He responded with a three-up, three-down inning, but his proximity to immortality may have gotten to him while the Rays batted. The first batter he faced in the ninth, Hanser Alberto, hit Yarborough’s first pitch to right field for a single.

Actually, chances are slim that Yarborough out-thought himself. Alberto’s hit was little more than a soft tapper to the spot where the second baseman would have been standing had the Rays not been employing a shift. Depending on one’s reading of the situation, this might be clear evidence of the wrath of the Baseball Gods, who clearly disapprove of modern defensive strategies.

Then again, take a look at that TV chiron: “3 OUTS FROM PERFECT GAME.” The jinx wasn’t Yarborough’s, it was MASN’s … except that MASN wasn’t the only network to prematurely proclaim the possibility of perfection.

That’s in addition to the abundance of mentions on social media and radio. The lesson here is obvious: Never mess with the Baseball Gods.

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Bat Flipping

Free Willy!

Even those with cold, dead hearts can make hopefully appreciate a bat flip that punctuates a game-winner. If athletes play to win, and fans want to cheer winners, then there’s no better time to celebrate, right?

Willy Adames did. And how.

The Rays are currently a half-game back of the Yankees and need every win they can manage. Setting a new height standard with his lumber, Adames was fully in the moment after his walk-off single against Toronto on Wednesday. Criticize those who toss their bats after a mid-inning homer pulls their fourth-place team to within five runs of tying it up, if you must, but goddamn it leave Willy alone.

Retaliation

Yankees-Rays Blood Feud Continues, With CC Sabathia At The Helm

Finally, we’re seeing retaliation for something other than bat flipping and the like. Agree with it or not, at least the reason feels somehow tangible.

On May 11 in Tampa, Rays pitcher Yonny Chirinos drilled Yankees first baseman Luke Voit on the left arm with a 95-mph fastball, one batter after DJ LeMahieu had homered. Even if it was unintentional, the optics were terrible. It didn’t help that Chirinos hit Gary Sanchez two batters later, or that Gleyber Torres had been drilled the previous night. “It’s the same thing,” said CC Sabathia in the aftermath. “We hit a home run and they throw up and in. It’s stupid.”

Sabathia, of course, has some history with the Rays. He’s already been suspended this season for the way he closed the 2018 campaign, by drilling Tampa Bay’s Jesus Sucre in response to a Rays pitcher throwing behind the head of Austin Romine a half-inning earlier. Some grudges die hard.

Still, Sabathia’s ire didn’t seem to spread to his teammates. The Yankees had a small opening to respond later in the game, after the Rays opened up a 7-2 lead in the ninth, but did nothing. They had another chance the next day after New York scored four in the top of the ninth to build a 7-1 lead. Again, no action. This would likely have gone unnoticed for the fact that Sabathia has a long memory and a thirst for justice.  

On Friday, in the series opener against the Rays at Yankee Stadium, the lefthander threw a pitch that forced Rays DH Austin Meadows to jackknife out of the way. Afterward, Romine said that he didn’t think it was intentional—a stance that lasted until he saw the video, which left little to doubt:  While walking back to the dugout after ending the inning, Sabathia shouted, “I definitely was trying to hit his ass.” During a tie game.

An inning later, the pitcher yelled at the Rays dugout some more.

“You know CC, he’s been around a long time,” Meadows told reporters after watching the video. “He’s a competitor. He obviously wanted to take a shot there, but it is what it is. Obviously, we had a beef back and forth. It’s part of the game, honestly. Luckily I didn’t get hit. But it is what it is.”

Things continued in Sunday’s series finale, when New York starter Chad Green drilled Daniel Robertson in the head after giving up back-to-back homers. Chance Adams later hit Yandy Diaz in the wrist, knocking him from the game. Robertson said afterward that he did not believe Green’s pitch was intentional, but Diaz was not so certain, saying, in the New York Post, “Maybe it was because I hit two home runs off them [on May 11].”

During the 2000s, the Rays had an extended beef with Boston, eight years’ worth of back-and-forth sniping that led to multiple brawls (all of which was dissected in The Baseball Codes). Now it seems like they’ve picked a new AL East opponent with which to do this particular tango. (Take a look at the above link about Sabathia drilling Sucre to see a rundown of some thorough short-term HBP detritus.)

The teams next see each other June 17 in New York. It would be surprising if things ended here.

Retaliation

With Springtime Tit-For-Tat, Pirates and Rays Already In Midseason Form

Spring Training

Spring training has long been a place to settle old scores. Want to drill a guy without repercussions to your regular-season ERA? Save it for March. Just this morning I saw a tweet from @RememberWhenMLB …

… about one of the very first topics I covered upon launching this blog back in 2010. Zito did what he had to do, Fielder took it in stride, and everybody moved along their merry ways.

Baseball was different then; retaliation for personal expression is far less expected now than it was even a decade ago. This is a good thing. But just because someone like Zito is less likely to throw at someone like Fielder in the modern version of spring training doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.

Just ask the Pirates.

In a game between the Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay yesterday, two Rays pitchers—Ryne Stanek and Oliver Drake—hit Pirates batters in the early going. Unless there’s some yet-to-be-publicized bad blood (unlikely given that the last time these teams  played each other in the regular season, 2017, none of the four principals—the batters who got hit or the pitchers who hit them—were even on their respective rosters), those pitches were purely accidental. Because of course they were. It’s the only reasonable explanation.

For Pirates pitcher Clay Holmes, it didn’t matter. The right-hander responded by drilling Pirates infielder Willy Adames. (He later denied intent, which is itself believable given that the primary knock on Holmes is his control.) For Rays manager Kevin Cash, however, Holmes’ motivation was clear. “Are you happy?” he yelled across the field from his dugout after the pitch connected.

Holmes, a 26-year-old who made it into 11 games last year in his first season in the big leagues, understands that the best way to curry favor in one’s clubhouse is to stand up for one’s teammates in any way necessary. While the scope of the word “necessary” can shift from player to player, there’s no mistaking that with one simple fastball, the right-hander established that the Pirates have at least one guy among their ranks unwilling to tolerate abuse (whether real or perceived) to his teammates.

Never mind that it’s ludicrous to send a message about mistake pitches thrown during a period in the schedule when ballplayers are mainly trying to work out winter kinks. (Hell, Drake’s a non-roster invitee who started his appearance with six straight balls.)

Plate ump Bill Welke actually warned both benches, to ensure that the foolishness went no further. “It’s weird in spring training,” said a baffled Adames after the game, in a Tampa Bay Times report. “You’re not expecting that.”

Nossir, you’re not. We’re now faced with the dual possibilities of A) This going away quickly because who really cares, and B) It’s still only spring training, so if Cash or any of his charges wants to respond, they have massive latitude to do so. Let’s hope it’s the former.

[H/T Road Dog Russ]

Retaliation

One Pitcher From Last Season’s Yanks-Rays HBP Flap Spared, And It’s Not Sabathia

CC yells

It was kind of a big deal last September when, in his final appearance of the regular season, CC Sabathia responded to a head-high fastball thrown at one of his teammates by drilling an opponent of his own. It was kind of a big deal because warnings had already been issued, and Sabathia knew that he’d be ejected for the action, two innings from triggering a $500,000 bonus clause in his contract. He considered it money well spent.

At the time, a number of critics (myself included) suggested that the Yankees should pay him anyway. In December, they did.

Now the other half of the equation—Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge, whose head-high fastball to Austin Romine, itself a response to various teammates being tagged by Yankees pitchers, initially triggered Sabathia—was similarly relieved of a burden. MLB suspended him for three games at the time, a penalty that it rescinded yesterday. This is especially pertinent since Kittredge has been outrighted off Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster, and a suspension—to be served whenever he returns to the big leagues—would obviate the necessity to call him up for short-term help.

Sabathia, meanwhile, is still saddled with a five-game suspension, which doesn’t mean much to a starter who can easily be slotted behind Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. Sabathia will likely get his first start bumped back by a day or two, and that will be that. At the very least, it will serve as a tangible reminder of the lengths he’s willing to go to to stand up for his teammates.

Retaliation

What Price Respect?: CC Sabathia’s Half-Million-Dollar Pitch Speaks Volumes

CC drills 'em

In the world of pro sports, money frequently equates to respect. In major league baseball, a team coming up with big contract dollars for a player shows—in the eyes of an abundance of those players—that he is respected. Alternatively, if a team presents budget constraints during negotiations, it shows that they do not. Look no further than escalating salary clauses that guarantee a player will sit at a given rank among the highest-paid in his sport; they are less concerned with how much a player makes than that he rates highly among his peers. It’s an easy way to insure more money, of course, but it also insures respect.

Which is what makes CC Sabathia’s decision yesterday all the more remarkable. For a moment, anyway, money didn’t equal respect in baseball. Quite the opposite.

In the sixth inning, two frames from triggering a half-million-dollar contract bonus in his final start of the season, Sabathia opted to stand up for his teammates by drilling a member of the opposition. With warnings already in place from an earlier incident, the pitcher knew he’d be tossed for it. He didn’t care.

In question was a fastball thrown a half-inning earlier by Rays right-hander Andrew Kittredge, at Yankees catcher Austin Romine—as obvious as a retaliatory pitch can be. It was ostensibly in response to the compounding numbers of Tampa Bay players being drilled by New York pitchers. On Tuesday, Luis Severino hit Tommy Pham. On Wednesday, Masahiro Tanaka hit Kevin Kiermeir, fracturing his foot. Yesterday, one inning prior to Kittredge’s response, Sabathia hit Jake Bauers. None of those drillings appear to have been intentional—Sabathia’s pitch was an 87-mph two-seamer that broke in on the hitter’s hands—but at some point it’s tough to criticize a team for wanting to respond.

The primary problem with Kittredge’s pitch lay in its execution—it was a first-pitch fastball fired directly at the ear hole of the Romine’s helmet, which the hitter barely managed to avoid. Most ballplayers are willing to tolerate retaliatory tactics within certain parameters, none of which include pitches thrown above the shoulders; there is no more universally loathed tactic in all the sport. The offering was so blatant that plate ump Vic Carapazza immediately warned both benches.

This is what Sabathia had to consider as he stewed in the dugout while the Yankees batted.

It’s extremely rare that an athlete has such clear and diametrically opposed options available during the course of play. Sabathia could have ignored Kittredge’s pitch, or even just brushed a Rays hitter back in response, and still have been able to cash in. Instead, he followed what he considered to be the correct path. With the score 11-0, timing didn’t matter at all. This is why, with his first pitch of the following inning, Sabathia drilled Rays catcher Jesus Sucre in the backside. He was immediately tossed, as he knew he would be, his bonus money all but forfeited on the spot.

CC Sabathia is 38 years old and an 18-year veteran. He came back to the Yankees this season on a one-year contract offered as much to secure his leadership as his pitching. With first-year manager Aaron Boone at the helm, the left-hander was expected to be a stabilizing force in the clubhouse.

This, then, is what leaders do.

Some people decry the idea of drilling a batter intentionally under any circumstance. In many instances—in response to some sort of celebration, for example, or whatever else can be considered as showing up an opponent—this is a majority opinion even within big league clubhouses. But when a pitcher deliberately puts one of your own in peril—and without question, that’s what Kittredge did to Romine—players demand response. There’s an element of macho posturing to it, but there’s more to it than that. It is a tangible consequence of a team taking liberties with an opponent, a tactic that forces the offending squad to confront its own conduct and, ideally, to act differently in the future. Hell, it’s the same thing that inspired Kittredge in the first place, except that unlike Sabathia, his response was outside the boundaries of accepted behavior.

That Sabathia has earned more than $250 million over the course of his career in no way means that he sees $500,000 as anything less than a significant amount of money. It was a sacrifice on his part, made willingly and without complaint in the name of respect and clubhouse standing.

If the Yankees want to do the right thing, they’ll pay him anyway.