Retaliation

How Not to Approach the Concept of Retaliation: L.A. Story Ends Very, Very Badly

Dodgers-DBacksSome will blame baseball’s unwritten rules, the sport’s ingrained system of on-field justice, for last night’s disgraceful display at Chavez Ravine. They will decry the eye-for-an-eye mentality, the brutal delivery of fastballs and the ugly results of the punch-throwing scrum in the seventh-inning.

What they will not acknowledge is that baseball’s unwritten rules exist precisely to avoid this kind of confrontation. Because Tuesday night’s throwdown between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks was a study in what not do during the course of a baseball game as it pertains to baseball’s Code.

  • Retaliation for an incidental drilling—especially one so incidental that it required umpire intervention to confirm that it even happened—is simply not necessary. This was the state of affairs after Cody Ross was grazed by a Zack Greinke pitch in the fifth inning.
  • Even if what happened next was retaliation for Ross, it would at least give Ian Kennedy a reason for his actions, no matter how insufficient. In the sixth inning, the D-Backs right-hander ignored the tenet mandating that one never drill a batter intentionally above shoulder level, and hit Yasiel Puig in the nose with a 92-mph fastball. Puig remained on the ground for several minutes while trainers attended to him.  (Watch it here.)
  • Greinke responded an inning later by hitting Miguel Montero between the numbers. Usually, when catchers are hit in a retaliatory fashion, it is because they called for the pitch that made the retaliation necessary in the first place. In Montero’s case, had Kennedy’s pitch to Puig hit the catcher’s glove it would have ended up below the knees. (Watch it here.)
  • Regardless, that blow should have ended hostilities. Kennedy drilled a Dodger in a wildly inappropriate manner, and Greinke responded according to the Code. It wasn’t enough to settle Kennedy down, however. In the bottom half of the seventh, he threw his first pitch to Greinke—another 92-mph fastball—directly for the head. Greinke ducked and the ball glanced off his upper shoulder.
  • Usually, benches clear when an aggrieved hitter—somebody who has just been hit or knocked down—takes issue with the pitcher. Ron Washington once described the situation this way, back when he was the third-base coach for the A’s and Frank Thomas, the team’s designated hitter, had been drilled by Ted Lilly. “We all saw what happened, but Frank took it calmly, so we took it calmly,” he said. “If Frank had taken it with an uproar, we’d have taken it with an uproar. We have to wait for the reaction of the guy who it happened to. If Frank had charged him, there would have been a fight. If Frank had raised some hell going down to first base, we’d have raised some hell. But Frank took it calmly and went on down there, the umpire checked everything, and we played baseball.”

On Tuesday, Greinke did take it calmly. It was his teammates—led by Puig—who escalated things from that point, racing from the dugout and quickly getting physical. (Watch it here.) The rest of the action was described succinctly by Nick Piecoro of the ArizonaRepublic:

Reliever J.P. Howell charged at Diamondbacks assistant hitting coach Turner Ward and nearly flipped him over a railing near the on-deck circle. Puig appeared to land a tomahawk swing on Diamondbacks’ bench player Eric Hinske. Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire looked apoplectic as he exchanged words with Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson and third-base coach Matt Williams. Even Dodgers manager Don Mattingly got in on the action, wrestling Diamondbacks bench coach Alan Trammell to the ground.

Only two things happened as they should have. First was Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz jumping in between Montero and Greinke after the former was drilled in the seventh. (It was the inability of the Dodgers’ other catcher, A.J. Ellis, to do that very thing that allowed Carlos Quentin to reach the mound during the April brawl that ended with Greinke’s collarbone broken.) The other was Greinke, on first base after being drilled, responding by trying to take out Arizona shortstop Didi Gregorius with a hard slide at the front end of an attempted double-play—just like they used to do in the old days. (Greinke ended up getting a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 5-3 victory. Watch it here.) Ultimately, the primary takeaway from this unfortunate state of affairs was that Ian Kennedy threw two pitches at opponents’ heads in a two-inning span. The guy has already proven willing to harbor ill-will against the Dodgers, throwing two pitches at Clayton Kershaw last season in response to a year-old grudge. Even more pertinent is the fact that he seems to enjoy this kind of thing. Last year he led the National League with 14 hit batters, even with otherwise good control—he walked only 55 over more than 200 innings. The Dodgers will get theirs, at some point. In the interim, MLB will certainly  step in and get some of its own. Had the unwritten rules worked as intended, none of it would have been necessary.

Update (6/14): Suspensions have been handed down. As expected, Ian Kennedy got the worst of it.

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A.J. Ellis, Catchers Protect Pitchers

Greinke Takes the Blame for Catcher’s Lack of Action

AJ EllisIn the aftermath of Zack Greinke’s shoulder injury at the hands of Carlos Quentin, some criticism arose of Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis for not moving more quickly to step between the two—an essential part of a catcher’s job when it comes to such matters. Ellis was unprepared for Quentin’s sudden rush toward the pitcher—and by the time he caught up, it was too late.

Yesterday, Greinke absolved him of responsibility.

“Anyone with the White Sox has always labeled me as someone who does stuff,” Greinke said in a Los Angeles Times story, recounting his encounters with Quentin when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals and Quentin with the Chicago White Sox. “I didn’t think it would happen. Looking back, I should have warned him.”

Greinke also said that the eight-game suspension levied upon Quentin by Major League Baseball seemed appropriate. “To expect the league to do more than that would be pretty crazy,” he said.

(In related news, Padres President and CEO Tom Garfinkel blamed the incident on Greinke and compared the pitcher, who has dealt with social anxiety disorder, to Rainman. There’s an entire chapter of the unwritten rules dealing with restraint from calling out one’s opponent in the press—or even at a meeting of season ticket-holders, which is where Garfinkel made his remarks—although it usually pertains to players, not senior management.)

Carlos Quentin, Carlos Quentin, Fights, Retaliation, Zack Greinke

Know Thy Situation, Vol. 219: Quentin Charges Greinke for Reasons That Nobody Else can Quite Fathom, Yet

Quentin-Greinke IIIThe primary question after Carlos Quentin charged Zack Greinke yesterday was one of situational awareness: Was it incumbent upon Quentin to take action in response to a circumstance in which no right-thinking pitcher would intentionally drill an opponent?

Unless the primary question had to do with motivation: Was there something in the history between hitter and pitcher to inspire action in a situation which did not otherwise appear to call for it?

That is, unless the question we’re asking was one of provocation: Was it Greinke’s post-drilling stance—glove tossed, epithets hurled—that actually served as Quentin’s impetus?

In the end, because Greinke’s broken collarbone will extend the ramifications of this brawl for months, all these questions—and more—will continue to be asked for the forseeable future.

Pertinent details: Quentin, leading off the sixth inning of yesterday’s game in San Diego, was hit in the bicep with a Greinke pitch, dropped his bat, had a brief word with the pitcher, then charged. He threw Greinke to the ground; once the ensuing dogpile broke up, Greinke emerged with a broken collarbone. (Watch it here.)

More details: It was a full-count pitch, with the Dodgers holding a one-run lead, and, had Greinke not left the game, would have forced him to face San Diego’s four-five-six hitters from the stretch. Under no circumstances was this an appropriate situation for vendetta enforcement. (The closest thing to a response-worthy situation earlier in the game was the 0-2 pitch Padres starter Jason Marquis sent toward the head of Matt Kemp in the first inning, but it was easily avoided and tempers did not appear to flare.)

“We’re in a 2-1 game and on a 3-2 pitch to a guy that I see on the [score]board set a record for the Padres by getting hit, a guy who basically dives into the plate,” said irate Dodgers manager Don Mattingly after the game, in an MLB.com report. “In a 2-1 game, we’re trying to hit him, 3-2? It’s just stupid is what it is.”

Another pertinent detail pertains to what Greinke said between his pitch connecting and the batter charging. Quentin did not appear ready to head toward the mound until the pitcher responded to his bristling with what appears to be, based on the video, a solid “fuck you.” Regardless of Greinke’s innocence when it comes to the pitch itself, verbally provoking a guy who outweighs you by 45 lbs. is rarely somebody’s best option.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” said Quentin. “Myself and Greinke have a history. It dates back a few years. You guys can look it up. It’s documented. It could have been avoided. You can ask Zack about that. For me, I’ve been hit by many pitches in my career. I think you guys know that. I can tell you I’ve never responded in that fashion, so you guys can do your homework on that.”

Because Quentin left the details vague, we can only assume that he’s talking about opening day in 2009, when Greinke, then with Kansas City, hit Quentin, then with the White Sox, in the back. Combined with a pitch earlier in the game that nearly hit Quentin in the head, it inspired the batter to step toward the mound, though not much came of it—until yesterday.

Greinke has hit Quentin three times, more than any other player, but Quentin is generally hit more than any other player—he led the National League in HBPs each of the last two seasons, with six top-5 finishes in his career. (From ESPN: Quentin has also been hit four times by Nick Blackburn, and three times each by Erik Bedard and Jon Lester. He’s also been hit twice by 18 guys. ) He didn’t quite lean into Greinke’s pitch, the topic should be well within his comfort zone.

“I’ve never hit him on purpose,” Greinke said. “I never thought of hitting him on purpose. He always seems to think that I’m hitting him on purpose, but, I mean, that’s not the case. I actually thought it was just a ploy to get people to not throw inside to him. I just feel like he’s trying to intimidate people to throw away. But I don’t know anyone who has hit him on purpose. I know I haven’t. Like I said, I hadn’t even thought about hitting him on purpose before.”

This isn’t the first time a pitcher has been injured in such a fashion. Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee was seriously injured after Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles dropped him on his shoulder during a brawl in 1976. (Lee didn’t even spark the fight—Lou Piniella did, by attempting to kick the ball out of Carlton Fisk’s glove in a play at the plate. Fisk responded by tagging the runner again, this time hard on the head, and things escalated from there.) Nettles picked up the pitcher on the outside of the scrum, but unlike Greinke’s injury it was Lee’s pitching shoulder that was injured; it took him years to recover fully. (Nettles was drilled by the Red Sox two days later, but because he was leading off the 10th inning of a scoreless game, it’d hard to think it was intentional.)

Tommy John suffered a similar injury while trying to fend off a charging Dick McAuliffe in 1968. John’s tweaked shoulder forced an alteration in his delivery that eventually led to an elbow blowout—which resulted in the pioneering surgery that still informally bears his name.

Details from Thursday’s fight—Quentin’s body slam, the Dodgers’ drawn-out anger, Kemp going after Quentin in the players’ parking lot after the game—are incidental.

What matters most to the Dodgers is the amount of time they’ll be without one of the game’s best pitchers, signed in the off-season to a six-year, $147 million contract. Mattingly suggested that Quentin be suspended for the duration of Greinke’s DL stay, but that almost certainly won’t happen. (A six-game suspension is likely, especially considering that Greinke’s injury could just as well have been triggered by the scrum of Padres on top of him in the aftermath as by Quentin’s initial throw-down).

The other question is how long this will linger, and to what extent. Quentin said that “for me, the situation is done,” but MLB is bound to have something to say on the matter.

So will the Dodgers. “There probably is [bad blood] now,” said Greinke. “I don’t know if there was before.” This despite the fact that numerous Padres players reportedly apologized to their Dodgers counterparts as the field cleared.

Also in the crosshair is San Diego’s backup catcher, John Baker, whose verbal delight following Greinke’s injury helped cause the skirmish to re-flare before all the players had even left the field.

San Diego visits the Dodgers on Monday for the first of what will be 15 more games between the teams this season.

Update (4-13): Quentin has drawn an eight-game suspension for his inability to read a game situation, or some such.