The slide by Brett Lawrie was dirty. There can be no debate on this. I don’t care about intent. I don’t care about where Alcides Escobar was positioned. It was flat dirty.
The Royals have been human pinatas in the batters box in the season’s first two weeks. They just lost their starting right fielder because a Rule 5 guy couldn’t locate. Now they have someone attempt to separate their shortstop from his leg. This means Lawrie is going to wear one. Before we go any further, you should know that I think throwing a baseball with intent at any individual is not cool. Having said that, I understand that at some point enough is enough. A team can only take so much before they choose to retaliate. While Lawrie may not have meant for injury to come to Escobar, it happened. And because of that, he was going to get drilled.
I did not want Yordano Ventura to be the pitcher to retaliate. For me, this is just filed under common sense. Ventura is the Royals best pitcher. Whomever does the follow-up deed is likely to be suspended. Obviously, for a starting pitcher a five game suspension is not huge deal. A starter is only going to have his start pushed back a day. Plus, he will appeal his suspension, so he will continue to pitch until he drops his appeal, which he would do if he needed an extra day or two of rest. It’s farcical, really. But it’s Major League Baseball. Whatever.
Obviously, I am a fan of Ventura. He’s done relatively well at the start of the season, but there’s been plenty of intrigue around his starts. The cramps are bizarre, but hopefully something that won’t resurface. The confrontation last weekend with Mike Trout in Anaheim was a little more unsettling. Why did he decide to escalate something that was seemingly innocuous? I marked it up to a bad decision by a young pitcher who throws with some emotion.
Anyway, on Saturday Ventura chose the absolute worst time to retaliate. He struggled with command for most of the night, fed Josh Reddick a 2-0 fastball that split the middle of the plate and a two-run deficit ballooned to five. It was not Ventura’s night. Then, on his final pitch of the evening, he drilled Lawrie with a fastball that PitchF/X clocked at 100.1 mph.
Here’s some graphical evidence that Ventura basically decided to cash out for the evening.
If the timing wasn’t bad enough, Ventura decided to walk toward Lawrie and have a word or two. Look, the “unwritten rules” can be silly, but Ventura violated several of them. The timing made it so really the home plate umpire Jim Joyce had no alternative but to hit the eject button on Ventura’s night. The ejection now means the league office will be looking into what happened. And then there’s the second game in a row that Ventura needlessly approached a player. Not a good look.
I had hoped the Royals would have discussed how to respond to Lawrie’s takeout slide and the consensus would have been to wait to retaliate. Waiting would have had the benefit of keeping Lawrie uncomfortable in the batters box, not knowing when it was going to happen. Let a veteran handle it. Or a reliever at the back of the bullpen if the game got to the point where it was largely settled. Suspension and potential harm to reputation aside, if things had gotten nasty out there, the target would have been squarely on Ventura. Remember last year when Zack Greinke broke his collarbone in a fight with Carlos Quintana? Why take that kind of chance? Ventura was not the guy to do this.
I’m not going to give credit to Lawrie for putting his head down and jogging to first, because Lawrie was the one who started everything. He knew he was going to get dusted at some point in the weekend and he accepted his punishment. Ventura was tossed. The league will review the video.
It should have been over.
Instead, following the game on Saturday, Josh Reddick had words. Maybe he felt responsible for Lawrie getting drilled by fire because he was the guy who hit the home run immediately ahead of the retaliation. He couldn’t have been surprised Lawrie got drilled. Really, it was crazy talk to call what happened “bush league” by Ventura. One player was injured by a reckless play and the player that caused the injury was hit. Accept it for what it is and move on. Case closed. Except Reddick didn’t want it to be over.
“There’s no need for a season to be ruined between two teams that have something so small that happened, that’s obviously not going to be forgotten when they come to our place,” Reddick said. “You never know what’s going to happen or if we’re going to retaliate when they come to our place.”
There must be a few pages missing from his book of Unwritten Rules.
Then, Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain on the foot in the bottom of the first. Kazmir tried to make it like it was unintentional, but after Reddick’s words on Saturday, there’s no way anyone is buying that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there are going to be the “but he hit his foot!” arguments that will be made, but Cain jumped to try to get out of the way. If he doesn’t move, it hits his lower leg. Kazmir had pinpoint control all afternoon. If he missed on that pitch, it was because he missed his vertical location. Maybe he didn’t mean to hit Cain and was merely attempting to bounce a two-seamer in his direction. Maybe he was throwing at his thigh and missed low. Semantics. That pitch had intent and by throwing it, Kazmir reopened a fresh wound.
What happened next is what contributed to the farce of the weekend. Home plate umpire Greg Gibson did not eject Kazmir. I understand the situation between Ventura and Kazmir was different, but if the umpires truly wanted to squash this beef there and then, they would have sent Kazmir to the showers. On Friday, Ubaldo Jimenez was ejected for hitting Pablo Sandoval in a 1-0 game in the 4th. In that instance, there was no history between the teams or the players. Although there was a takeout slide at second by Sandoval earlier in the game, but the slide didn’t result in injury and it didn’t result in any words or controversy at the time. If Jimenez was tossed for his pitch, Kazmir should have been run for his. Instead, they issued warnings. Insanity. The whole thing should have been over on Saturday. Kazmir throwing at Cain ensured that this would not end. And the umpires put the Royals in the position of being punished once again. Pitching coach Dave Eiland was ejected. Then Ned Yost was run. Yost rarely gets angry at the umpires, but he was irate and justifiably so. The umpires were making hash of the situation.
Overshadowed in all the shenanigans was Danny Duffy, who remained unfazed by everything. Duffy, as we all know, can have a difficult time controlling his own emotions on the mound, and while his command was less than ideal, he did not seem to be preoccupied with retaliation. The five strikeouts were nice, but the five walks were not so ideal. Nor was the 93 pitches it took him to survive five innings. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled and left the game with his team down just two runs. In a weekend when the gutless prevailed, Duffy’s performance was all about intestinal fortitude.
I know plenty of Royals fans who were wondering why no A’s were ejected and the Royals had six players and staff tossed over two days. The answer is simple: The umpires never punish the first strike. It’s always on the retaliation. The Royals twice found themselves in a situation where they felt the need to retaliate. Yost and Eiland knew this and they knew it wasn’t right. Kudos for Yost for standing up for his players in a situation where they felt the umpires and their actions were against them.
Then came Kelvin Herrera and his pitch behind Lawrie. That was just plain idiocy. Idiocy. At that point, the Royals were trailing 2-1 in the eighth. The last thing they needed was to put an A’s runner on base. Especially if it was at the expense of one of the Royals best relievers. Think about that for a moment if you applauded Herrera’s action. He chose to put a runner on base in a one-run game while removing himself from the proceedings. Dumb trade.
As I said earlier, there is a time and a place for retaliation if that is the decided course of action. The Royals are headed to Oakland in June. There will be more games. It didn’t have to be today. Besides, why Lawrie again? He’d already been drilled. Kazmir hit the Royals center fielder and number three hitter, so why not hit their equivalent? And why not wait for when the game isn’t on the line?
Herrera didn’t help things by pointing at his head as he was exiting the field. Even if his gesture was to tell Lawrie to “think about it,” that’s not how anyone is going to take a pitcher pointing at his head after intentionally throwing at someone. That just escalated the stupidity and gave the league more to think about when they decided to convene to discuss punishment. The whole incident with Herrera was unnecessary and distasteful.
Honestly, all of this would feel differently had the Royals not rallied for three runs in the eighth. It was a beautiful thing. The plate appearance from Paulo Orlando to lead off the eighth had some veteran moxie behind it as he fouled off three two-strike pitches before he worked the walk. Mike Moustakas almost had a hit through the right side of the infield (no shift all weekend!) but was able to advance Orlando to second. Cain squared up a pitch and drove a beautiful liner to left. The steal of third was a nice touch, too. After a walk to Hosmer (another good PA) Kendrys Morales blasted a double to almost dead center. He thought it was gone and if the damn wind wasn’t screaming from left to right, it would have cleared the fence without problem. Instead it hit close to the middle of the fence for a two-run double. To have Kazmir out of the game and have his bullpen blow it was a nice touch of justice.
The final tally for the Royals weekend: Two injuries, six ejections (seven if you count Don Wakamatsu getting thrown out twice), and two wins.
Are the Royals now Public Enemy Number One? Honestly, I don’t care. If opposing teams are irritated at their celebrations or whatnot in 2015, they weren’t paying attention in 2012 or 2013. They have been doing this sort of things for years. Ironically, I can remember Royals fans who used to get irritated at these guys for doing those little celebrations when they had never done anything of relevance in the major leagues. Now they have actually won something, the tables have turned and now it’s the opposition that may be annoyed. Sorry. Understand though, this is in the DNA of the team. They aren’t going to change. Nor should they. If another team has issue with that, that’s entirely their problem. It shouldn’t open the Royals to crazy takeout slides or beanballs. You don’t want to see a celebration? Try getting them out.
This weekend, the Royals got the ejections and they will get the notoriety, but let’s not forget the A’s twice put the Royals in the position where they felt they had to stand up for their teammates. Not once. Twice. I can’t get over how Kazmir and Reddick are somehow above the fray on this. It should have been over after Saturday, but the A’s postgame comments – mainly from Reddick – coupled with Kazmir’s actions in the first have ensured this will live for quite awhile. If the Royals throwing at A’s hitters twice in the weekend was “bush league,” so was Kazmir throwing at Cain. And so was Lawrie’s unnecessarily aggressive slide at second. Stop playing the victim, Oakland. You’re as culpable as anyone wearing blue. Lawrie was talking postgame about how it’s unfair that he has to worry about getting hit now when he stands in the box… Cry me a river. And talk to your starting pitcher.
I think the whole thing is dumb. I get the need to stand up for teammates and while I’m not pleased Ventura threw at Lawrie after the Reddick home run, I suppose it was going to happen sooner or later. That’s fine. It should have ended there. The A’s chose to escalate on Sunday. There’s plenty of blame to go around for what happened on Sunday. The A’s should stand up and accept theirs.