Dig a little further into just what transpired between Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez and practically the entire Atlanta Braves team Wednesday night. The deeper you dig, the more you begin to get the impression that the Braves’ idea of enforcing proper field decorum is to look even more stupid than the enemy offender does.
And you may also have fallen upon a big key to beating the Braves out of the postseason in the early going, too. Get them rattled enough over actual or alleged infractions against the unwritten rules, actual or alleged, and they’re yours. Just make sure you don’t get any of your players hurt.
Not even by letting one of them get into Brian McCann’s mug demanding to know who died and left him boss, the next time he decides you broke the unwritten rules so you’re not crossing his plate to finish that in-your-face launch. For which obstruction and counter-instigation McCann has yet to be disciplined.
Yet something else even more noteworthy happened once the melee was quelled and they actually got back to playing baseball. The Braves actually handed their opponents invaluable ammunition. If those opponents, whomever they may be, were paying any attention, the Braves can be had for nothing more than a slow ride around the bases.
Gomez’s bomb would be the only Brewer run of the first inning, but Kyle Lohse, the Brewers’ starting pitcher, opened the bottom of the first by getting three straight groundouts. And he finished the game in the ninth inning with an infield popout, a short center field fly out, and a groundout to first base.
Lohse had thrown himself a two-hit shutout, the Brewers won 4-0, and when all was said and done the only truly proven thing was that you have only to puncture the Braves’ inflated idea that they’re the enforcers of the protocols early enough. You have a good chance of getting a couple of key men out of the game before the game’s really that far on. And they are yours, right then and there.
McCann himself went 0-for-3 on the night. Reserve outfielder Reed Johnson, who poured out of the dugout and managed to land a punch on Gomez during the rumble, was called off the bench for another kind of hitting to open the ninth. Yep, that was his leadoff popout to the deep infield that helped Lohse finish what he started.
Nobody, including Gomez himself retroactively, disputes that Gomez’s act against Braves starting pitcher Paul Maholm started on the wrong foot to begin with. Still steaming over a couple of previous hit-by-pitches he swears were deliberate, Gomez opened for the Brewers against Maholm with every intention of hitting Maholm as far as he could drive one.
On his first swing, Gomez practically swung himself out of his uniform pants for strike one. On his second swing, he hit one about ten rows into the left center field seats. And, yes, all Gomez had to do from there was take maybe a moment to watch the ball sail out (it might P.O. a lot of opponents but if that’s all you do they won’t always go nuclear over it), take his trip around the bases, and swarm into his dugout welcoming party.
But of course Gomez couldn’t resist hollering out to Maholm as he proceeded on his long night’s journey. Which tripped Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman’s trigger enough that Freeman barked quite a mouthful. And by the time Gomez rounded third and trotted down the line to finish his circuit, there was McCann, the self proclaimed enforcer, waiting about ten or fifteen feet up the line to stop Gomez from crossing the plate.
You know what happened next. McCann barking like a schoolyard enforcer. Gomez barking back. A swarm of Braves pouring toward the area, a swarm of Brewers pouring out likewise, and the whole crowd of them pushing, shoving, swinging, bumping until the mob was up against the backstop.
Gomez and Freeman got the ho-heave. So did Braves backup catcher Gerald Laird. Gomez was run for the obvious; Freeman, because he poured into the pow-wow with elbows flying and, it turned out, caught Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez on the jaw. At the time nobody really understood why Laird got run but McCann and Johnson got off scot free. Now we know: Laird was fool enough to start arguing with the umps while the umps were trying to get the game going again.
Gomez may have invited himself to be bumped off his usual game merely by getting hit by a pitch, such as Maholm did in June, enraging Gomez in light of the fact that, among other things, he hits Maholm like a batting practise pitcher. (As of the fateful Wednesday night bomb, Gomez is hitting .450 lifetime against Maholm.) That’s just one player. McCann has invited the opposition to run rampant inside the heads of just about his entire team. At the wrong time of the season.
This wasn’t Deion Sanders failing to run out a towering infield popup and prompting Carlton Fisk to holler at him to run it out, anyway, causing a small scrum that resulted in Fisk telling Sanders there’s a right way and a wrong way to play the game. When Washington’s Bryce Harper impressed the Braves as pimping a home run in early August, Braves rook Julio Teheran simply plunked him on the leg his next time up.
McCann seems to have forgotten that his man handled that one the right way. Hell, he didn’t even think about stopping Harper at or behind the plate to lecture him on the protocols.
When Miami Marlins rookie pitching sensation Jose Fernandez surprised everyone in the ballpark (including himself, perhaps) by hitting one out, his first major league bomb. Fernandez, too, took a moment to watch and admire the shot. You could understand it to an extent, being his first Show homer. McCann only lectured him after he crossed the plate that night.
Except that, earlier in the game, Atlanta rookie Evan Gattis hit one out off Fernandez and he, too, took his sweet time leaving the batter’s box for the trip around the bases. Nobody on the Marlins seemed to deem it necessary to lecture Gattis on home run protocol. And nobody on the Braves seemed to think Gattis had broken any rule, unwritten or otherwise.
Apparently, the Braves give byes to one of their own stopping to admire their longball handiwork and bruises to one of the opposition doing likewise. Did I mention the Marlins went on to win that game, too? (5-2, if you’re scoring at home.) You’d think McCann and company would have learned from the Harper incident. The Braves went on to win that game, 2-1.
So there you have it. Want to beat the Braves early and often this postseason? Take the local around the bases on your home runs and watch them get riled up. McCann obviously can’t call a game when he’s steaming mad. (The Brewers bagged twelve hits off Atlanta pitching the rest of Wednesday night.) His mates can’t pitch or play when they’re fuming, either.
It’d be more delicious for any Atlanta postseason opponent than any ejection or suspension McCann should have received but didn’t. There’s a right and a wrong way to play the game. There’s also a right and a wrong way to send that message when need be. Something McCann might want to contemplate while he’s being rested for the postseason rounds.
It could be very interesting hearing McCann and his crew try to explain how extreme unwritten law enforcement was far more important than playing the kind of baseball that won the National League East in the first place.