The big baseball beef this weekend deserves a little discussion here, because the topic not infrequently comes up in Cubs games (especially in the last two years in games against the Pirates and Cardinals). It’s a beanball talk.
If you didn’t see, on Friday, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado slid hard into and over second base, ultimately spiking Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. To me, it didn’t look intentional, though it was a reckless slide of the kind MLB is trying to get out of the game with its new slide rules at second base. Machado has been in his fair share of dust-ups even at his young age, and folks immediately wondered whether the Red Sox would retaliate, given the play, and given Pedroia’s standing.
It took a couple days (which is suspicious), but Red Sox pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Barnes threw at Machado yesterday, with Rodriguez unsuccessfully trying to hit Machado low with three pitches, and then Barnes sending one up at Machado’s head.
Barnes was immediately ejected, and Pedroia was quick to let Machado know that he didn’t call for that (which is sort of a mix of “yeah, good” and … “don’t you have your teammates’ back?”). Barnes said he wasn’t trying to hit Machado’s head, and that he would never do that.
You know how things go from there: some praise the Red Sox pitchers for enforcing an unwritten rule about going into second base with cleats up. Some rip Barnes for throwing high. Some say this was just a bad example of a good policy – you just have to throw low. Some say this kind of retaliation is never OK.
I think we can all agree on at least one thing: regardless of the unwritten rules, you never throw at a guy’s head. Ever.
As for the rest, I can see all sides of this stuff – truly, I can – but I don’t like the idea that we assume a pitcher has such good command that he can choose to throw at a guy and hit only the spot where he wants to hit. How often do we see pitchers who suddenly can’t throw a strike to save their life? Even Rodriguez couldn’t quite get Machado in the lower half even though it looked like he was really trying (and again and again) to pull it off.
Isn’t it possible, then, that Barnes really wasn’t trying to go high on Machado, and just lost his release point by a tiny fraction of a centimeter? And if so, isn’t that precisely the reason we don’t want pitchers throwing at batters intentionally?
In the last two years, we’ve seen Cubs batters hit by Pirates and Cardinals pitchers in circumstances that suggested intent (example discussions here and here). In those same situations, we saw Cubs pitchers not retaliate – or at least not obviously. Whether that was just a byproduct of the game situation, or an institutional policy under Joe Maddon, we don’t know for sure. But unless a team is so consistently throwing at your guys that the only way to protect them is to essentially threaten them in the other direction, I just don’t see the point of retaliating in such a dangerous way.
The best revenge is living well? Naturally, Machado crushed a double after Barnes threw at him.
Am I hopelessly lost on this point?
Again, I am categorically opposed to throwing high in any situation. I am generally opposed to retaliating on the mound. And I would understand throwing at the other team only in a situation where they keep throwing at your guys with demonstrated and obvious impunity. Even then, I just hate the idea that we assume these guys can hit a batter in the back pocket with ease and no further risk.