If It’s Not Written Down, It’s Not a Rule

On April 21st, in a game between the Red Sox and Orioles, Orioles’ slugger Mark Trumbo (though, to be fair, he isn’t slugging much this season) grounded a Joe Kelly slider slowly to Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts. With one out and a runner on first (Manny Machado) in the eighth inning, it seemed like a possible double play ball, but at the very least, it was a sure out at second base. Bogaerts fielded the slow ground ball cleanly and flipped to four-time Gold Glove winner Dustin Pedroia at second. Pedroia fielded the ball like a first baseman, and even though Trumbo is not the most fleet of foot, there was only a small possibility of Pedroia turning the double play. What happened next has resulted in a rivalry that, despite high intensity so far, is only beginning to heat up between Boston and Baltimore.

(If you want to check out the play for yourself, click here.)

As Pedroia fielded the throw from Bogaerts, Machado slid into second to try to break up any possibility of a double play. When he slid, though, his right leg came up and spiked Pedroia in the leg. Pedroia had to be removed from the game early, and he did not return to the lineup for another six days. To me, it didn’t look like Machado had any malicious intent behind his slide, and he corroborated that after the game: “I was trying to get on the bag. You can see the replay to see how I come off the bag and hits him in the calf. I’m not going to change the way I play. I’m going to keep playing hard and do what I have to do to help my team win. It wasn’t intentional.”

On the field, only one out was recorded, but after replay review, the umpires ruled that Machado violated the new slide rules and that his slide was to break up the double play, not necessarily just to get to the bag. I don’t agree with the call, but I understand why the umpires called it that way, considering that Pedroia had just been removed from the game with an injury. If you watch the replay again, it looks as though Machado actually attempts to catch Pedroia after spiking him, and clearly is not happy with the fact that he just took out one of the best Red Sox players.

Following the game, Pedroia said the following:

I don’t even know what the rule is. I’ve turned the best double play in the major leagues for 11 years. I don’t need a fucking rule, let’s be honest. The rule’s irrelevant. The rule’s for people with bad footwork, that’s it.

When asked whether he was upset with the play, he responded with this:

I’m pissed we lost the game. My job’s to get taken out and hang in there and turn double plays. That’s how you win games. I’m not mad. I’m mad we lost the game. We didn’t score any runs.

Regardless of how Pedroia felt, the Red Sox clearly did not take too kindly to Machado’s slide. Two days after the incident at second base, BoSox started Eduardo Rodriguez threw at Machado thrice, and missed all three times (embarrassing, really), and then BoSox reliever Matt Barnes fired a pitch at Machado’s head, which resulted in an ejection and a four-game suspension (yes, that’s seriously it for firing a fastball at someone’s head). You can see the video clip here. Machado got the last laugh, as he hit a double off the reliever who ended up replacing Barnes.

Both of these throws at Machado were either on the pitcher’s own accord, or directed by John Farrell, Red Sox manager, because Pedroia came out and said that he didn’t order the pitches to be thrown at Machado. I have feelings about that too, but I’ll keep it brief: I like that Pedroia is such a stand-up guy and that he wouldn’t tell people to throw at Machado, but I don’t like that Pedroia seems to not be standing up for his teammates in this instance.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying this: throwing at people is bullshit.

I understand that there are “unwritten rules” about baseball, and that if you go hard into second base, you leave yourself open to getting beaned, but the fact of the matter is that throwing at a guy doesn’t solve the issue. It won’t un-injure the player on your team that got hurt (in this case, Pedroia). Taking out one of their better players for one of your better players isn’t equal; this isn’t a tit-for-tat deal. If a player slides hard into second base, and injures one of your guys, the best way to retaliate is to send him back to the dugout. Strike him out or get him to ground into a double play or fly out. Why put him on first base?

I have a lot to say on the subject because, as a high school pitcher myself, I have encountered players who like to show off when they walk up to the dish, or step out of the box during the pitch when they get to a 3-0 count. I’m not trying to suggest in any way that high school baseball is on the same level as MLB, but regardless of what level you’re on you have to respect your opponents and respect the game of baseball. With that said, I think that if someone disrespects you or the game of baseball, the best way to shut them up is to sit them down with a strikeout, not put a fastball in their back.

A few weeks ago, I was starting pitching against a team in our league, and they weren’t very good but they had one very solid player. His first time up at bat he drew a walk off me, but not before getting in the box, adjusting his jersey, grabbing a handful of dirt and throwing it up, and dancing around in the box a little bit. I was a little frustrated by this on the bump, but it wasn’t because I thought he was showing me up in any way, it was because I like to work quickly. After the inning, our pitching coach told me to throw the first pitch to him high and tight in his next at bat. He didn’t tell me to hit him, but just to throw a letter-high strike on the inside corner.

I can get behind that, just to brush them back a bit, but hitting a guy is never the answer in my opinion.

The Red Sox and Orioles seemed to disagree.

In a series that began last Monday, May 1st (yes, this is nearly two weeks removed from the Pedroia incident), Orioles’ starter Dylan Bundy hit Red Sox star OF Mookie Betts with a 95MPH fastball. He wasn’t ejected, presumably because it was the first HBP in the first game of the series, Bundy wasn’t exactly exhibiting excellent control (he had walked four batters through five innings and change up to that point), and it wasn’t Bundy’s first time facing Betts that game, so if he really wanted to throw at him, he would have done it in the first inning, when Betts came to the dish for the first time.

The Red Sox did not take to kindly to their stud being beaned, so they returned the favor on Tuesday: Chris Sale threw behind Manny Machado in the first inning. Sale was not ejected, which I think is ridiculous, because it doesn’t tell the pitchers that throwing at people isn’t okay (neither does a five-game suspension, or a fine of a few thousand dollars, for what it’s worth). If the MLB wants to prevent pitchers from throwing at anybody in the future, they should put an automatic twenty-five game suspension in place for any pitcher who is found to be throwing at or behind someone (like in this instance). This clearly presents an issue of what “throwing at someone” is defined as, and whether you can really judge intent, but I think that in situations like the Sale-Machado situation, where you can pretty obviously tell that there is an intent to hit Machado or at least throw behind him (the pitch behind Machado was the first pitch of the AB), it should be an automatic multiple-start suspension.

Whether this will actually fix the issue of throwing at people remains to be seen, but I think it will at least make pitchers think for a very long time before throwing 95 at someone else. This retaliation nonsense is something that needs to go away permanently; we don’t have things like this happening in the NFL or the NBA, so why in Major League Baseball?

(Image Credit: USA Today Sports)

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