Enough with Retaliation Pitches

 

This past weekend, when the Jays were hosting the Tampa Bay Rays, Joe Biagini hit Steven Souza Jr. in the back of the hand with a pitch in the 7th inning of the game on Saturday. Souza left the game immediately; he didn’t play Sunday either. Souza has had altercations with Jays players in the past, particularly Troy Tulowitzki, who wasn’t even playing because he’s currently on the DL. Their most recent dustup was on April 9th when Tulowitzki took exception to the way Souza slid into him at second base, and Souza objected to Tulowitzki taking exception.

Steven Souza Jr. (Taken Summer 2014, when Souza was with the Syracuse Chiefs)

 

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I won’t pretend to know what was in Biagini’s head at the time, but speaking as someone who really wanted them to win that game, putting a man on base with only one out – and the pesky Kevin Kiermaier and Evan Longoria hitting behind him – doesn’t seem like the best course of action, no matter how much you may dislike him. We’d all seen the night before how much a lead can quickly unravel against that Rays lineup, and the Jays were only ahead by three. Biagini, to his credit, did look completely shocked and concerned after hitting Souza. If you don’t want to take my word for that, here:

 

 

Then, in the first inning of Sunday’s game, suddenly a fastball gets away from Chris Archer and ends up behind Jose Bautista’s back. Jose responds with one of his trademark glares, and home plate umpire Jim Wolf warns both benches. Nobody – not Archer, not the Rays’ manager Kevin Cash – argues with the warning.

 

(Please note: the numbering is incorrect, #3 was the first pitch, which went behind him, he flew out on the one labelled #2)

 

The fact that Wolf felt the need to issue a warning was interesting to me – though Wolf also presided over the infamous Jays-Royals beanball game in August 2015, the one which resulted in Aaron Sanchez being suspended. Bad judgement call or no, Wolf clearly thought there was intent behind the pitch, and didn’t want to see things escalate further. Once upon a time, you could count on Bautista to crush the very next pitch and send it flying into the left-field seats, but this is 2017 Jose Bautista, he of the .163 batting average headed into this game, and he flew out. He did get two hits though (one off Archer), and eventually drove in the tying run and scored the go-ahead run.

 

Postgame, Archer had this to say about the pitch to Bautista:

 

 

Now, I don’t want to speculate about intent, but Chris Archer is an intelligent man and must have known how that would sound. Saying he missed ‘a little’ is the understatement of the year, considering an entire human being fit between his target and the eventual location of the ball. I also didn’t see any quotes where he sounded apologetic or addressed the context of the situation, though he no doubt understood how the near-miss would come across to Jays players and fans.

 

This Sportsnet article includes a pitch map illustrating the location of all Archer’s pitches from his 7.1 innings on Sunday. He was locating quite well all game. The only pitch anywhere near as far inside was one in the 8th inning which narrowly missed hitting Kevin Pillar in the elbow. By that late in the game, sure, maybe Archer was starting to lose command somewhat. But it still ended up about a foot closer to the plate than the pitch to Bautista did. If Archer did merely lose command for that one brief second, it’s a pretty interesting coincidence for him to suddenly lose command in the first inning, on the first pitch, to the guy that people always throw at.

 

John Gibbons (in uncharacteristically harsh words) suggested that Archer should be suspended if MLB thought his pitch was intentional.

 

 

It’s an interesting take, and one I agree with, because I do hope MLB will be cracking down on guys trying to throw at each other – plus Bautista was in no way involved in the Souza HBP, which makes this particular form of ‘vengeance’ even more idiotic. Matt Barnes of the Red Sox was suspended recently for four games (and fined) for intentionally throwing at Manny Machado’s head in a game against the Orioles – Barnes and his teammates were angry with Machado for sliding hard into Dustin Pedroia a few games before.

 

I have no patience for the argument (from certain Sportsnet personalities, for example) that intentionally hurting people is ‘the way things should be dealt with’. It’s petty, it’s subjective, and people can get seriously hurt. What reason would the Rays believe Biagini had for throwing at Souza? If Biagini’s pitch to Souza was, in fact, accidental, why the pathological need to seek revenge for it? Why punish a mistake (when an automatic baserunner is already punishment enough)? Furthermore, why seek revenge against a man who had nothing to do with the original incident? Constant ‘eye-for-an-eye’-style justice can only result in one thing – an entire team comprised of minor leaguers, because the whole roster is either on the DL or suspended.

 

Personally, I’m a huge fan of Chris Archer the person – and even Chris Archer the pitcher, when he’s facing any team other than the Jays. Throwing at guys seems out of character for him. I hate the idea of trying to hurt someone on purpose just for ‘revenge’, and I certainly hope it wasn’t intentional. But if the Boston-Baltimore mess last week has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes cooler heads don’t prevail. At least Bautista got the chance for a little RBI-style revenge.

 

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  • Kenii

    Keep in mind that understanding doesn’t mean condoning or agreeing.

    If you sincerely think that the league will do anything whatsoever (let alone, crack down) on retaliatory pitches on hit batters, then you must be relatively new to Major League Baseball. Chris Archer’s pitch was intentional. Everyone who watches enough MLB games knows it; there’s no need for graphs and data in that regard.

    I don’t care for it either, but for anyone who doesn’t know, here’s how the long-standing “unwritten rule” works: Pitcher on Team A hits Batter on Team B, Pitcher on Team B retaliates by hitting a batter on Team A, Homeplate umpire issues a warning to both teams, the end. Things don’t always end as cleanly, resulting in additional hits, ejections, and bench-clearing brawls.

    So, don’t kid yourself, Archer’s statements to the media were in no way intended for Jays players and fans; they were made to cover for himself against the MLB. It’s standard procedure. As was Gibby’s statement.

    Reminder: understanding doesn’t mean condoning or agreeing.

    You had a lot of questions in the second-last paragraph that can only be answered if you’re willing to try to understand the so-called “old-school MLB” point-of-view. First, Biagini likely had no intention of hitting Souza, and the Rays likely know that too. However, Souza’s been their best hitter of late, and now he’s injured. Is the baserunner punishment enough? It would be for justice; but like it or not this isn’t about justice, it’s about vengeance, or as some like to call it, “sticking up for teammates.” It’s about actively showing support for someone who was hurt by someone else, which a free baserunner does not do. Why Bautista? Because despite his current performance, he’s still pretty much the face of Jays. So, when Archer threw at Bautista, he was “sending a message” to the Jays that the Rays will not be pushed around. Bear in mind that all MLB teams do this from time to time, including the Jays. The idea that an entire team could end up suspended for this type of retribution is, while theoretically possible, extremely absurd. That won’t happen because MLB teams always know where to draw the line; they just don’t draw it where you do.

    I admire your disdain for “an-eye-for-an-eye” vengeance (technically, it’s not even justice) and I, too, think this is one of the silliest aspects of MLB, but it’s not going away from MLB games anytime soon. By some accounts, it’s been part of the game for as long as it’s been played at a professional level. It’s deeply engrained into the history (and by extension, culture) of the game so expect to see more of it. Major League Baseball is not like recreational baseball you played with friends as kids in which everyone gets a Popsicle and a congratulatory pat on the back at the end of a whopping loss. The truth is that dirty plays, violence, and cheaters all exist in MLB. As you watch more games, the curtain will lift more. You’ve been warned.

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  • Dawn

    I put on my sassy pants this morning!

  • Andy Arias

    I’m just here to write a condescending comment and delete it like a coward.