Gamesmanship, The Baseball Codes

How To Handle Getting Drilled In One Easy Lesson

Love him or hate him, Carlos Gomez is rarely boring.

Celebrations, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

Lotta Staring, Lotta Talking, And Just A Touch Of Benches-Clearing Confrontation As Twins-Rays Close Out Season’s First Half

Dozier dances

Before we move into the season’s second half, let’s clear out some pre-All-Star business. Like, for example, what happened in Minnesota over the weekend. It started during Saturday’s game, with the Rays trailing 6-4 heading into the top of the seventh inning. They emerged, two walks, three singles, a triple and a wild pitch later, leading, 9-6. Tampa added five more in the eighth to build the lead to 14-6. It’s what happened in the ninth, though, that drew my attention.

With Minnesota’s rookie utility infielder Willians Astudillo on the mound to save a taxed bullpen, Tampa Bay’s first three hitters went homer, double, single. No problems yet. The Twins led by nine, and were playing station-to-station ball—advancing one base on a single, two on a double, etc.—as teams do in blowouts. (For all the disagreement about when a lead can officially be considered safe, nine runs in the ninth meets every definition … never mind that Minnesota had already cried uncle with the insertion of Astudillo.)

Kevin Kiermaier then scored Smith with a ground ball to first base that was initially mishandled by Ehire Adrianza, who recovered in time to get the out at first but had no hope of making the play at the plate. This was acceptable under the rule of thumb that if no play is imminent—if a runner can go into a base standing up—he should do so. Ten-run lead.

What came next, however, was curious. Daniel Robertson singled on a soft bouncer to center field, and Adeiny Hechavarria never hesitated from second, motoring home with Tampa Bay’s 17th run, taking an extra base when such tactics had long since become excessive. (The Rays’ 18th and 19th runs came shortly thereafter on Jake Bauers’ two-run homer.)

Maybe the Rays were excited by their late-game explosion. Or maybe, as was pointed out via e-mail by longtime reader and avid Rays fan Road Dog Russ, “the Rays don’t feel any lead they have is safe. (Hangs head and sighs.)”

Minnesota players refrained from commenting publicly about it as far as I’ve seen, but if we’ve learned anything about this year’s Twins, it’s that at least a few of them (step on up, Brian Dozier) take the unwritten rules to heart (sometimes in not such productive ways). If I noticed the play from my office in California, the Twins almost certainly noticed it from across the field.

Which leads us to Sunday. While it’s possible that Saturday’s incident is unrelated to what came next—I’ve seen no accounts linking them—carryover is always possible.

With the score tied 4-4 in the seventh and the Twins in a shift against batter Eduardo Escobar, the aforementioned Dozier took an enormous lead off of third base, and, in no danger of being picked off (what with the third baseman being stationed in the shortstop’s spot), began dancing back and forth like a lunatic. It was enough to distract rookie Rays reliever Diego Castillo into a balk, sending a jubilant, fist-pumping Dozier home with the lead run. The play was, by every indication, a response to Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario, who had done something similar from third base on Saturday.

Castillo’s next pitch to Escobar came in at 101 miles per hour, low and inside, but not close enough to cause the hitter to so much as move his feet. When Escobar backed out of the box to collect himself, Twins third baseman Daniel Robertson yelled at him to step back in. That was pretty much that: Benches cleared, and hostilities were on. (As usual, no punches were thrown.)

 

“I wasn’t upset with the pitcher,” Escobar said after the game in an MLB.com report. “I never said anything to the pitcher or the dugout. I got upset and frustrated with Robertson, the third baseman. I didn’t know why he was yelling at me. The previous pitch before everything happened, it was kind of close to me. I wasn’t upset about that either. Robertson just started opening his arm and yelling stuff at me, which I couldn’t hear very well. That’s why I got frustrated.”

Escobar had been hit by a pitch an inning earlier. According to various Rays, after Castillo’s inside pitch, Twins reliever Ryan Pressly began shouting from the dugout that Tampa Bay had put a target on Escobar. Rays manager Kevin Cash began heatedly shouting across the field for somebody in Minnesota’s to shut the fuck up.

After the game, Robertson explained that he felt Escobar was trying to stare down the pitcher, and had done the same to reliever Ryan Yarbrough following an inside pitch earlier in the game. The fact that he also called Escobar “a good dude,” and pointed out that they both like to eat at Fogo de Chao doesn’t much mask the fact that getting upset over the way a player looks at somebody is ridiculous. Brazilian-style meat may build bridges, but this ain’t that.

(Robertson’s exact explanation: “When Castillo went down and low on [Escobar’s] ankles, he stared at him again. There was already a lot of chatter going on as far as the balk that happened right before that. Everyone was yelling at each other. He was looking back up at our pitcher again, and I just told him, ‘Hey, quit staring at our pitcher. Nobody’s trying to hit you; just get back in the box and hit.’ That’s about it, man. Then he kind of came back at me.”)

Escobar struck out on the next pitch, at which point Robertson was still talking. The hitter again took exception, this time as he walked past the Twins dugout, and again benches cleared. This time Escobar was ejected.

There’s a lot of fault to go around. Dozier did a mess of hollering all the way down the line as he was sent home on that balk, but he never directed it toward the pitcher or Tampa Bay’s dugout. If the Rays don’t like stuff like that, their best bet is to avoid balking in runs.

If Escobar was rattled by an inside pitch that was closer to being a strike than it was to hitting him, he’ll either need to fix that mentality or find a new line of work.

Kevin Cash decided that it was a good idea to repeatedly curse at his opponents. If he’s legitimately wondering why things got heated, there are a number of people he can see about that.

If David Robertson is really able to get bench-clearingly annoyed at the way an opponent looks at his teammate, he’d make an awesome nightclub bouncer, but might be a touch too sensitive for his sport of choice.

Also, don’t score from second on a single while up by double digits in the ninth. Who knows? That might have solved everything right there.

Retaliation, Waiting

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait (If By ‘Things’ You Mean ‘The Chance To Scream At An Opponent Over A Weeks-Old Issue’)

Romo Yells

The Tampa Bay Rays have a young roster. None of their regular starters are 30 years old. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that their pitchers didn’t seem to notice when Washington’s Michael Taylor stole third base against them while his team was leading 9-2 in the sixth inning back on June 6. It was a questionable decision, but when Taylor came up again in the eighth and grounded out against reliever Jose Alvarado, the matter appeared to be closed. (Taylor also came to bat four times the next time the teams played, this past Monday—three of which came with the Rays leading by seven or more runs, a perfect opportunity to drill a guy if a pitcher is so inclined—with nothing of note coming to pass.)

Usually, when a team passes up opportunities to respond to something like Taylor’s steal, it means they don’t much care.

But Sergio Romo cares. On Tuesday, Romo—at 35, the old man of Tampa Bay’s staff—let Taylor know exactly what he thought of his three-week-old steal. Romo couldn’t exactly drill the guy; a closer’s role involves pitching exclusively in games too close to cede free baserunners. Instead, the right-hander struck Taylor out to end the Rays’ 1-0 victory, then unloaded on him verbally before leaving the field.

It’s probably a better option than one of Romo’s colleagues planting a fastball into Taylor’s body, but it nonetheless served to empty the dugouts.

Romo was upset about Taylor’s steal, but he may also have been upset that other guys on his own pitching staff failed to respond to it. Either way, an awful lot of frustration was unleashed there at Tropicana Field.

The enduring question is, why should anybody care? It’s an ages-old conundrum, long memories in baseball, with copious examples from some historical greats. I’ve written in this space about waits endured by various pitchers before they exacted revenge. Bob Gibson and Stan Williams were noteworthy for it. Hell, Nolan Ryan used the occasion of the 1985 All-Star Game to settle a pair of grudges—against Rickey Henderson, who had hot-dogged his trot after homering against the right-hander in 1979, the year before Ryan moved to the National League; and against Dave Winfield, who had charged Ryan’s mound while with San Diego in 1980. Six years was nothing for the master of grudge-settlement, who put a message fastball underneath both hitters’ chins that day, both on 0-2 counts.

A passage in my most recent book, Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, pertains to this very topic:

In a May 18 [1973] game against the Royals at the Coliseum, Bill North let slip his bat on a swing against reliever Doug Bird, the lumber sailing harmlessly between the mound and third base. While going to retrieve it, however, North took an unexpected right turn and pounced upon the unsuspecting pitcher, peppering him with as many punches as he could land before being tackled away by players from both teams. The only guy in the building who wasn’t confused as hell was the guy swinging his fists.

The feud dated back to 1970, when North played for the Quincy (Illinois) Cubs of the Single-A Midwest League. Bird, pitching for Waterloo (Iowa), had given up homers to the two players preceding North in the lineup, and responded (in North’s opinion) by brushing the hitter back. “Hey, man, I didn’t hit those homers,” he snapped at the catcher before settling back into the box. The next pitch, a fastball, hit him in the head with such velocity that North required hospitalization.

“My ear was swollen for two weeks,” the center fielder said by way of explanation following his attack on the pitcher. “Two inches more and I would have been dead.” He’d been keenly waiting for revenge ever since, paying close attention to the transaction wire for the moment that Bird was called up from the minors. The fight occurred during the pitcher’s fourth major league appearance. “I don’t think I could live with myself and not challenge that dude,” North said.

Such certainty did not grip his teammates. “We were all looking at each other going, ‘What the hell is happening?’ ” said Joe Rudi. Added Ray Fosse, “We’re trying to win a championship, and when we found out this guy’s doing something to redress a problem from the minor leagues, we couldn’t believe it.” Joe Cronin suspended North three games and fined him $100.

In that vein, Sergio Romo getting some things off his chest is a feather in the wind. The teams don’t meet again this season, and it sure seems like something that won’t carry over like to next year, those other precedents be damned.

No-Hitter Etiquette

No Hits, No Runs, No More Pitching For You: The Not-So-Lonely Tale Of Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi

The first time I ever posted about a manager pulling a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter, back in April 2010, a month after The Baseball Codes was released, it was a bit of a novelty.

Since that time, I’ve written about it again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. The novelty has worn off.

It’s still kinda noteworthy when it happens though, and it happened again on Wednesday, when Tampa Bay’s Nathan Eovaldi tossed six hitless innings against the A’s before being pulled by manager Kevin Cash. (As it happens, his opponent, Sean Manaea, was pulled from his own no-hitter last season—the fifth “again” in the above link list.)

The right-hander had thrown only 70 pitches to that point, but was making his first start in nearly a year and a half, having only recently returned from his second Tommy John surgery. The last time the seven-year vet went seven innings was in August, 2016. The last time he went eight was the previous May. The last time he’d thrown a complete game was never. That Cash wanted to take no chances with the pitcher’s long-term health was entirely understandable, but didn’t do much to make the decision more palatable for Eovaldi.

“He just kind of stared at me,” Cash told the Tampa Bay Times, about the moment he informed Eovaldi that the pitcher wouldn’t be heading back out for the seventh.

“I just tried to stay in there,” Eovaldi responded. “I didn’t want to shake his hand. He said, ‘Come on, you’ve got to shake my hand.’ I’m like, ‘All right …’

Tampa Bay’s first reliever, Wilmer Font, gave up a hit to the second batter he faced, but the Rays held on to win, 6-0, while Eovaldi is on track to make his next start, healthy (one hopes) as ever.

***

In a semi-related item to the above story, the A’s did their part to throw a wrench into Eovaldi’s outing.

Bat Flipping, Home run pimping

Just In Case You Missed It: Carlos Gomez Hit A Game-Winning Home Run

Gomez dances

It’s been a busy week, and I didn’t want to let more time pass before hitting up the many moods of Go-Go .

Carlos Gomez, of course, is no stranger to this space. Last year, he got mad at Colin McHugh for not hitting him. In 2015 he got into it with Madison Bumgarner. And remember that time he pissed off Brian McCann so badly that the catcher wouldn’t let him score on a home run?

Gomez has also been known to get into it with the opposition over various bat flips (games against the Twins, Pirates and Yankees come quickly to mind), and he will occasionally dab following home runs. His reputation is such that even when he makes defensible plays, he still seems to get into trouble.

So when Gomez unloads the mother of all home-plate celebrations, should it really come as a surprise?

On Sunday, the outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays hit a game-winning home run, flipped his bat, raised his arms, turned his back to the pitcher, peered into the Rays dugout, stuck out his tongue, and preened his way around the bases, culminating with what he later called “the Ray Lewis [dance]” over his final steps to the plate. Even by Gomez’s own standards, and even in the new-school world where celebrations are more acceptable than ever, this one drew notice.

There are a couple of ways to view this. One is that Gomez is never satisfied, and that even in an era of celebratory acceptance which he himself helped bring about, he’s just going to keep pushing the envelope no matter what.

The other involves some context. Not so long ago, the sight of teams spilling out of the dugout to mob a player who’d just scored the winning run was limited to playoff-clinchers. Now, it happens with pretty much every walk-off. In that light, it’s tough to judge an individual player for ramping up his own response to the same situation. Gomez’s antics might have been over the top, but they could hardly have been directed at the Twins, given that the Twins were either in their dugout, or headed there, for the bulk of his circuit.

“If enjoying and having fun in baseball is bad,” Gomez said later in a Tampa Bay Times report, “I’m guilty.” He made sure to clarify that he wasn’t staring down the opposition but his own team, nor looking at the flight of the ball in the standard home run-pimp pose. There’s also the fact that the outfielder had been slumping so badly—a .158 batting average and .276 slugging percentage leading into the game—that he snapped a bat over his knee in frustration in an earlier plate appearance.

One doesn’t have to like Gomez’s act, but it’s impossible to deny that he is now part of baseball’s mainstream. There’s also an ironclad retort to those scolding him with the idea that he should act like he’s been there before. Gomez is 32 years old and in his 12th big league season, and Sunday’s walk-off homer was the first of his career.

Celebrators gonna celebrate, and Carlos Gomez is gonna lead the way.

 

Retaliation

Rays’ Reaction to HBP: Isolated Incident, or is This What Baseball Looks Like?

Bautista stares

Aaaaaand we’re back. After a flurry of retaliation talk surrounding the Red Sox and Orioles last week, we got some fireworks north of the border yesterday. Or at least a sparkler or two.

It started on Saturday, when Toronto’s Joe Miangini hit Rays outfielder Steven Souza in the hand with a pitch. It was almost certainly unintentional—a running, letter-high fastball that Souza failed to spin away from. The pitch was tight, but not egregiously so. Not to mention that the Jays led by only three, and with one out and the heart of Tampa Bay’s order coming up, it was no time to cede free baserunners.

That Souza had to be removed from the game on Saturday and then, despite X-rays coming back negative, sat out on Sunday, might have provided Archer’s motivation to respond. On Sunday,  the right-hander threw a fastball behind Jose Bautista, hip high. From the looks of it, he could well have been aiming at the batter but missed his spot. (Watch it here.)

As retaliation is concerned, below the waist is the way to go … but was it remotely necessary? Miangini’s pitch was accidental and in no way reckless. He wasn’t taking unnecessary liberties with Tampa Bay players. His behavior did not merit addressing.

Which is the point of purpose pitches, even those that intentionally miss their targets. If Archer was trying to show teammates that he’s looking out for their well-being, a response to something actually nefarious, or at least willfully negligent, would be in order. What he gave us on Sunday was not that.

Bautista gave Archer a long staredown at the plate, then had some words for him after flying out to right field. Plate ump Jim Wolf issued a warning after the pitch, curtailing further such liberties.

Perhaps that was the end of it. Because Archer didn’t actually hit Bautista, that should be the end of it. But maybe we’re sliding into a new world order in baseball—which is actually an old world order in baseball—where retaliation for offenses that shouldn’t even register, a pendulum swing away from the influx of free-wheeling bat flippers, is the new way of doing business.

Maybe that’s the case, but hopefully not.