It’s already getting pretty chippy out there in baseball land. We’re just weeks into the season and it seems that not a night goes by without one of those slow walks towards the pitcher, a death stare, a scream, a kick, a bat flip controversy, a nice long look at a home run and just general testosterone emitting baseball action ... and it’s not even May!
Adding to all the agita is the fact that players are getting plunked all over the place. Consider this – fewer than 20 games into the season, the Rangers have been beaned 17 times – the 2014 were hit 35 times in all of last year. Meanwhile, the Royals have been hit 16 times, while the Red Sox and Pirates have eaten cow hide 11 times apiece. Heck, there were some 18 batters hit last Tuesday alone. Some were hit by accident. Some were hit on purpose. Some pitches were hurled behind the backs of batters. Some of them caused injury. The Mets’ Travis d’Arnaud and the Royals’ Alex Rios, are out for several weeks after bad breaks from being beaned.
Hitters are under attack, getting hammered routinely, and what exactly is being done about it?
Suspensions? Fines? Please.
Kansas City pitchers Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura were disciplined on Tuesday for their roles over the weekend during on-field incidents between the Royals and Oakland A’s at Kauffman Stadium. After Brett Lawrie upended Alcides Escobar at second base on a Friday force play, spraining the Royals shortstops knee, revenge came in the form of headhunting. Hererra, who was ejected Sunday for “intentionally throwing in the head-area of Lawrie,” got a measly five-game suspension and an undisclosed fine, while Ventura got away with just a fine. A pittance considering the damage an accurate blow to the head could cause.
After years of dominating the sport pitchers have turned the tables on hitters in a major way, and the lack of real punishment of Herrera and Ventura is just the latest insult they’ve had to deal with. Why, the poor batter is already striking out at near-record levels while regularly bouncing harmlessly into shifts. He finds himself defenseless against middle relievers who, once upon a time, were junk ballers who fell off the conveyer belt, but today are re-born as filthy 95mph flame-throwers.
What’s more, now, brimming with newfound confidence and sparkling strikeout ratios, pitchers are coming inside even more, completely and totally unafraid of repercussions should they strike an opponent. The next time your dad tells you about how, in his day, pitchers like Bob Gibson and Sal ‘The Barber’ Maglie would think nothing of ‘sticking it in their ears’, just point them to Matt Harvey, who had no problem drilling the Phillies’ Chase Utley last week after two of his own Mets’ hitters were plunked. Utley didn’t even think about going to the mound, following baseball’s eye-for-an-eye code instead of making a statement. Wilmer Flores or Michael Cuddyer also just grinned and bared it, not even feigning an interest in fighting as many batters do – no face saving stare on the slow walk to first base. Even AL MVP Mike Trout looks uneasy in the batters box.
So, what is to be done? When is the hitter – the downtrodden, defeated little batter – going to rise up and say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Who is going to rush the mound and make a stand? Who is going to be Robin Ventura taking on Nolan Ryan? Who will become the Carlos Quentin, who rushed Zack Greinke and broke his collar bone? If the pitchers know there will be no physical ramifications to hitting batsmen, either accidentally or on purpose, then hitters will only fall further into deep, dark black hole they’re in which many currently reside.
We would, of course, enjoy such conflict, which is always compelling. Even if it makes brass wince, fannies in the seats and staring at television will always enjoy a plunk-a-thon, or other outwardly aggressive shenanigans, of which there has been plenty of thus far in 2015. After all, these are the incidents that give birth to rivalries – something baseball needs badly.
Following their epic American League wild card game last October, A’s and Royals games that took on a whole new tenor last weekend. Both sides were still talking on Wednesday, long after their benches cleared three times. Lawrie said the series “wasn’t baseball,” and blamed Royals fans for “antagonizing everything that went on there, because that had a lot to do with it.” Lorenzo Cain came back with “We’re not worried about what teams are saying, we’re worried about winning ballgames, that’s all we care about.”
On Tuesday we saw another rivalry continue to blossom between the Blue Jays and the Orioles. The O’s reliever, Jason Garcia, had already hit Ryan Goins before throwing behind Jose Bautista, and getting him angry is just about the last thing you want to do. He doesn’t charge the mound but does turn into a video game slugger, and Bautista launched one right out of the Rogers Centre, which led to an epic admiration of his work, a brilliant bat flip, and a series of chirps delivered personally to Ryan Flaherty on the way home. He’s done this before – last week Orioles slinger Darren O’Day buzzed Bautista last week and then immediately took him deep.
Really, all of this aggressive aggravation makes for phenomenal viewing, and considering there’s 14 games left between these teams, that’s a gift that will keep on giving all season long.
On Friday, the Mets and Yankees meet again, and for the first time in forever it’s the team from Queens that’s on the upswing. Now, this match-up doesn’t compare to their more traditional rivalry games like Yanks/Red Sox or Mets/Phillies or Braves, but most of whatever rivalry these two teams have is defined by Roger Clemens throwing that infamous shard of bat at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series.
Should Mike Piazza have charged the mound to take on Rocket? Oh yeah, especially after Clemens hit him in the head in July of that season. Should the Mets bench have come out and body slammed anyone in pinstripes? Without a doubt. Piazza may have been thrown out of a crucial World Series game, but that would’ve have represented a major moment in team history, one that would’ve carried weight for years to come. Instead, the Mets never really got any real payback, and Piazza never really did live it down. Now the teams are set to meet again, and although it’s just three late-April games at Yankee Stadium, nothing would send a message that the upstart Mets, currently riding their first 10-game winning streak since 2008, are for real like crushing the team from the Bronx.