Retaliation, Umpires Knowing the Code

That Time When Syndergaard vs. Utley Brought Us ‘Ass In The Jackpot’ In All Its Glory

Syndergaard tossed

Way back in 2016 I wrote about Noah Syndergaard’s ejection against the Dodgers, for a pitch he threw behind Chase Utley in response to Utley’s having broken the leg of shortstop Ruben Tejada during the previous season’s playoffs.

Which brings us to video of umpire Tom Hallion trying to cool the situation, and barely succeeding. (The clip came out last June, but is somehow making the rounds again now. Which is reason enough to dive in with gusto.)

The umpire seems to understand that baseball has a method for delivering retaliation, and even appears receptive to looking the other way. Except, he tells the pitcher, “that’s the wrong time to do it.”

This is where things get confusing. There was one out in the third inning of a scoreless game when Syndergaard threw his pitch well behind Utley. The right-hander had already faced him once, leading off the game, and struck him out. There was also the not-inconsequential detail that the Mets had faced Utley five times, covering 19 plate appearances—including five the previous day—since he’d injured Tejada without so much as a whiff of controversy. If Syndergaard’s timing was wrong, what timing would have been better?

When Terry Collins gets involved, he tells Hallion: “You gotta give us a shot!”

Hallion’s response: “You get your shot. You had your shot right there. … You know the situation, Terry.”

Collins was, of course, talking about a repercussion-free shot, not one in which one of his aces gets tossed in the third inning after throwing only 33 pitches. The best guess here is that Hallion didn’t mean a word he was saying, and was just trying to cool the situation as quickly as possible.

The most vital part of the conversation—and this cannot be understated—came when Hallion broke out the phrase that has since gained him infamy: “Our ass is in the jackpot.” Twice.

The situation is old, the insight is new, and spring training is in full swing. Welcome back to baseball, everybody.

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Jonathan Sanchez, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes, Umpire Warnings, Umpires Knowing the Code

Toss Him Out! Let Him Play! The Importance of Understanding that not Every Situation is Exactly the Same

rsz_jonathan_sanchez (1)Jonathan Sanchez insists that the fastball he threw Friday—which nearly hit Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig in the head—was accidental. Sanchez was pitching inside, he said, quoting verbatim from the unofficial handbook of pitcher denials. The ball rose, he said. That was all.

Of course, given the pitcher’s recent struggles, not to mention his history with hot-headedness, questions abound. MLB certainly thought so, suspending him for six games on Saturday.

Sanchez opened Friday’s game against St. Louis by giving up back-to-back home runs to Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran, followed by a single by Matt Holliday. Sanchez sent his next pitch—apparently out of frustration—toward Craig’s head. (The ball ended up connecting with the spinning hitter’s shoulder.) Plate ump Tim Timmons didn’t hesitate, ejecting Sanchez without so much as a warning.

It was an abhorrent string of hitters in an abhorrent season of starts for Sanchez, who has thrown a total of only 11.3 innings over four outings, with a 12.71 ERA. Twenty-one hits and eight walks. He’s made it to the fifth inning only once. Well, of course he’s frustrated.

“You’ve got two home runs, and then you’ve got a line-drive single up the middle, and then the very first pitch is up around the shoulder and head area,” Timmons told a pool reporter at Busch Stadium. “He threw intentionally at him, and in that area I deemed that intentional, and he’s done. Very dangerous.”

“It surprised me,” Sanchez said in a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report. “(Timmons) said it was obvious I wanted to hit him. I said no, I just missed my spot.”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was outraged at the quick hook, arguing vociferously enough to get tossed himself. After the game he said he was bringing his complaints to the commissioner’s office, although Sanchez’s ensuing suspension gave a pretty good indication about how much attention the commissioner was paying.

Any umpire who feels that a pitcher is intentionally head-hunting is justified in leveling ejections, with or without prior warnings. Timmons earned extra credit by keeping quiet after Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn later hit Pirates outfielder Starling Marte not once but twice—each almost certainly incidental—even after warnings were issued. (One barely clipped Marte’s hand, the other sailed into his arm, just off the plate; the hitter barely tried to avoid either one.)

Lynn himself was brushed back by Pittsburgh reliever Jared Hughes in the eighth, avoiding a pitch that, because he was squatting while squared to bunt, came in head-high. Lynn ducked backward out of the way, ending up on his back in the batter’s box. Again, Timmons let it slide.

In the eighth, Cardinals pitcher Mitchell Boggs drilled Gaby Sanchez in the back. (This, too, may have been unintentional, given Boggs’s recent struggles and the fact that all three hitters he faced reached base.)

Watch a compendium of the action here. (In an unrelated Code note, watch Pirates catcher Russell Martin jump to get between batter and pitcher in the first clip, as A.J. Ellis wishes he had recently done.)

One takeaway from all this is that an umpire on top of his game can go a long way toward stemming future disturbances. Timmons and MLB seem to agree upon that even one head-hunting incident is too many, and there’s no better way to tamp down the practice than by making examples of pitchers who stray from the proscribed course.

By letting the rest of the game play out as it did—even what appeared to be an obvious message from Hughes to Lynn—Timmons further defused lingering resentment between the clubs. Neither of the weekend games between the team featured much of anything resembling Code-based drama, even with the ample opportunities presented by Pittsburgh’s 9-0 blowout on Sunday.

Ultimately, the situation appears to have been handled just right. The power of positive umpiring. 

Rick Porcello, Umpire Warnings

When Umpires Strike, Blatant-Retaliation-for-Questionable-Offenses Division

There are two directions an umpire can go in instances of retaliation that occur under his watch.

He can let the situation play out, offering the other team a chance to respond before bringing down the hammer with warnings.

Or he can go quick-draw in an effort to immediately tamp down further inflammatory actions.

In the latter scenario, the offended party will inevitably be displeased about being handcuffed in its response. Which is exactly what happened to the Indians over the weekend.

It started with Asdrubal Cabrera mashing a ball down the line, an an all-or-nothing shot certain to clear the fence. He watched it fly, to see whether it went fair or foul.

It went foul. As did Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello, who by appearances felt shown up by Cabrera’s lingering presence in the batter’s box. He put his next pitch behind Cabrera’s back.

The Cleveland shortstop glared toward the mound, but his progress in that direction was stopped by plate ump Paul Schrieber, who issued quick warnings to both benches. Indians manager Manny Acta was not pleased. (Watch it here.)

“When that happens, you don’t need a warning to throw the guy out of the game,” he said in a Fox Sports report. “If you do not throw the guy out of the game then you should not issue a warning because then we’re not getting our shot.”

If only everyone was so clear, concise and correct. The manager has every right to expect a chance to respond to such a blatant Code violation—or, alternatively, have the ump collect a pound of flesh on his behalf. This doesn’t happen every time, of course; ever since umpires were instructed to tighten their trigger fingers, countless players and managers have been upset at lost retaliatory opportunities.

Acta, however, verbalizes his frustration better (read: more candidly) than most.

He was forced to specifically instruct pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to avoid responding; it was still early in the game and he didn’t want to burn his bullpen. (His message was effective—Jimenez refrained from taking action, but that’s not always the case. Joe Torre recalls a time when he managed the Braves, in which he told pitcher Ray King Donnie Moore to leave well enough alone at the tail end of a volatile situation—before recognizing the situation for what it was. “‘I have no chance. I’m talking to a deaf man,” he said of the conversation. “I walked back to the dugout and he hit Graig Nettles. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but it’s guys defending each other. That’s what it’s about.”)

Acta also talked about the nature of Cabrera’s blast (“The guy was just standing there looking at a foul ball. It was a foul ball. That was all”) and the blatant nature of the drilling (“Everybody, including the vendors in the stadium, knew that he threw at him”), but it was his touchstone summary of the Code and some of its modern interpretations that was truly impressive. The gems included:

  • A mini-treatise on the relative safety of retaliation for AL pitchers, as well as the inherent risks: “Guys who do that in the American League, all they’re doing is putting their team in jeopardy because they don’t hit. Guys in the National League who hit guys are the guys that show me something because they have to get up to the plate.”
  • A polemic on the inter-team chumminess of modern players: “None of these guys want to fight. The game has changed so much, it’s a joke. All we’ve got to do is watch BP (batting practice). They’re all hugging and laughing (with opponents). Look on the bases, how you’ve got three, four guys (on opposite sides) talking to each other.”
  • A sidebar on players’ softness (directed toward Porcello), pointing out one player who did not fit that bill—Francisco Rodriguez. While with the Mets, the closer took exception to comments made by Yankees pitcher Brian Bruney about his animated nature, and confronted him before a game. Acta: “You want to know who’s tough? Frankie Rodriguez is tough. He didn’t like what some guy did a couple years ago, he went out at stretch time. . . . That’s being tough, not throwing a ball at a guy and not even facing the guy. If you have to get up to the plate (to hit), then maybe I can see you being tough.”

Porcello offered standard denials about the pitch getting away from him, but if even the vendors could read his intent it doesn’t hold much water.  The teams meet again on Sept. 5. Hold onto your hats.

– Jason