Retaliation

Braves Wait Nine Months For Retaliation, Then Miss Their Man

On Friday, we were reminded of the sustained vitality behind the long-established baseball concept of waiting for retaliation. In the big leagues, it’s what you have to do sometimes when you see a given opponent only every once in a while, and even then you must wait for an appropriate moment to minimize the chance that drilling somebody will cost you on the scoreboard. Ultimately, revenge fantasies can prove logistically difficult.

Okay, enough with the generalities.

Remember last August, when Jose Urena drilled Ronald Acuna Jr. for being awesome? The Braves do.

Atlanta hadn’t faced Urena since then, apparently not even in spring training. So when the Miami pitcher stepped into the box against Kevin Gausman in the second inning of Friday’s game, Gausman built up some clubhouse goodwill with a first-pitch fastball that let Urena know unequivocally that his act of cowardice had not been forgotten by the guys in the visitors’ dugout.

Gausman missed his mark, Urena leaning toward the plate as the thigh-high pitch sailed behind him. The target was clearly intentional; the miss was likely accidental. Plate ump Jeff Nelson tossed Gausman immediately.

This type of thing is hardly unheard of.

During the 1998 NLCS, Padres catcher Jim Leyritz was drilled by future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux one pitch after asking the plate umpire to check the ball for scuff marks. The Padres waited until the following May for retaliation, when Sterling Hitchcock planted a fastball into Maddux’s hip. (As it happened, Leyritz was Hitchcock’s personal catcher.) “It’s just baseball,” Leyritz said after the game, even as a coach on his own team, Davey Lopes, joked to him that “some guys hold a grudge a long time.”

In 2001, Barry Bonds homered against Russ Springer—and, as was his way, watched the ball fly—in the pitcher’s final game before losing more than a season to rotator cuff and labrum injuries. The next time Springer faced Bonds, in 2004, he drilled him. The next time he faced him after that, in 2006, he drilled him again. The latter HBP was noteworthy because Bonds was sitting on 713 career homers, one away from tying Babe Ruth.

Or go back to 1971, when Chris Speier homered off of Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass during the National League Championship Series. The next time the two squared off, the following June, Blass hit Speier in the ribs. “I was thinking, ‘Well, what the fuck was that for?’ ” said Speier later. “I had no idea, so I asked him the next day. He said, ‘You remember that home run you hit off me?’ I said, ‘You guys won the fuckin’ World Series! Whaddaya gotta drill me for?’ ”

As pertains to Friday’s incident, the real question is whether the second inning of a 1-1 game—during which Gausman had already given up a single, a walk and hit a batter—was the right time for the pitcher to do what he did. There were two outs, and by passing up the chance to retire a weak hitter like Urena, Gausman forced himself to face the top of the order with the bases loaded. Not smart.

That last part was only conceptual, of course. Because Gausman missed Urena, he did not load the bases, but in getting himself ejected he did his team no favors. Touki Toussaint relieved him with a 1-0 count on the batter, and proceeded to walk Urena on three more pitches.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Toussaint escaped trouble by striking out Curtis Granderson to end the inning, and the Marlins are the Marlins, so a tie game in the second inning is nearly as good as five-run lead against them in the ninth. Atlanta ended up winning the game, 7-2, and the series in a clean sweep, during which time they outscored Florida 19-5.

Hopefully, this beef is over. The teams next meet in June, which is when we should know for sure.

Update 5/7: Gausman’s been suspended five games.

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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.