Nobody can say we weren’t warned that the Arizona Diamondbacks’ policy of an eye for an eye was going to get worse and more surreal before the team got better. Now this struggling team, whose season is lost, whose general manager made ostentatious off-season pronouncements that it would be an eye for an eye from now on no matter what, may be in the paradoxical position of manning up into a reputation for cowardice.
From the moment Wade Miley drilled Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki in spring training, after Kevin Towers went public with the policy, and baseball government did absolutely nothing about either, the question became not if but when something would happen to disgust even a fair contingency of the team’s put-upon fans. The rest of baseball seems disgusted long enough with the Diamondbacks’ drill or be drilled philosophy.
Miley drilled Tulowitzki in retaliation for a raw minor leaguer, Tommy Kahnle, “a 23-year-old with no experience above Double-A who has never appeared on a top prospects list and who has next to zero chance at making the Rockies club out of camp,” as Jack Moore of TheScore.com phrased it, hitting freshly-minuted Diamondback Mark Trumbo with a pitch. The Diamondbacks lost their option of plausible denial from the moment Towers began waxing about eye for an eye last winter.
So this past Friday night, in a series with the National League Central contending Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona star Paul Goldschmidt got hit by struggling Pittsburgh reliever Ernesto Frieri, trying nothing more than pitching to the inside part of the plate. Goldschmidt suffered a fracture that’s likely to cost him the rest of the season. You can’t blame the Diamondbacks for lamenting that loss. But Goldschmidt himself said he was convinced Frieri wasn’t trying to hit him.
Certainly not with the Pirates holding a five-run lead at the time. This is something the headhunters don’t get. The last thing you want to do is put a charge into the other guys and maybe cost yourself a ball game. Apparently, the Diamondbacks didn’t get that memo from their general manager or anyone else. And he Pirates went into the following day’s game expecting someone to go down in retaliation, perhaps their defending National League MVP center fielder, Andrew McCutchen.
It’s the old code. You got the other guys’ best hitter, don’t be surprised if you get a message sent by way of your own best hitter. Indeed, McCutchen himself went into the Saturday game expecting to take one for the team. What he and the Pirates didn’t expect was the Diamondbacks to take all game long, until they were behind by four to the Pirates in the ninth inning, before relief pitcher Randall Delgado fired one, 95 mph yet, right into McCutchen’s back.
Not on the first pitch, a fastball inside. Not on the second pitch, a slider down and away. On the third pitch. Even the Diamondbacks’ broadcast team, watching it replayed several times, swore Delgado threw into McCutchen’s back deliberately. If you’re going to drop the other team’s leading hitter after your leading hitter got drilled the night before, why on earth do you wait all game long to do it when you’re already in the hole deep enough?
The Outside Corner‘s Jaymes Langrehr puts it squarely on the Snakes, their manager Kirk Gibson, and the apparent organisational philosophy under which no pitcher unwilling to “protect his teammates” would remain on the roster very long no matter the circumstances or the lack of true justification. Langrehr has noticed a pattern that ought to be sobering even for those recalcitrants among Diamondback fans who’ve been flooding the Net trying to paint the Pirates as the bad guys. “[The Diamondbacks] only seem interested in Protecting Their Own when they’re losing,” Langrehr writes.
Luckily for them, they’ve been doing that a lot this year—only the Rockies (a mess in their own right) and the Cubs (actively trying to be bad) have done worse in the National League. When they hit a batter, Arizona is 8-20 this year. The only time they tried to score tough guy points in a close game, they hit [Milwaukee's] Ryan Braun (for using PEDs against them in the 2011 playoffs) to load the bases, only to have Jonathan Lucroy hit a grand slam on the next pitch . . .
Waiting until a game is out of hand to throw at somebody? That’s being a coward. Using rookies, career minor leaguers, and generic relievers to throw at guys because you don’t want somebody important getting suspended? That’s being a coward. Intimidating those rookies and minor leaguers into throwing at guys because they fear for their roster spot if they don’t? That’s being a coward.
This year’s Pirates are known around the league for a pitching staff that likes to work the inside as well as the outside part of the plate. About that much the fumers among the Diamondbacks’ fans are right. (One such beauty went so far as to suggest the Pirates should be banned from pitching to the inside half of the plate until other teams catch up to their total hit batsmen.) Unfortunately, the strike zone doesn’t go from the middle to the outside part of the plate. The bad news is that pitching inside will produce your share of plunks. But the good news is that, most of the time, if you know what you’re doing, you’re not trying to hit the batter.
The Pirate staff may have a few control issues but theirs isn’t a staff full of Vicente Padillas. Last seen pitching in Japan, Padilla pitched his way out of Texas after one too many instances of drilling opposing hitters and putting his teammates in near-constant fear that they’d be drilled back. Padilla even stamped the ticket irrevocably when he was seen laughing on the Texas bench after the respected Michael Young was drilled in no-questions-asked payback for a no-questions-asked Padilla duster.
McCutchen batted in the first inning Saturday with a man on (Josh Harrison opened the game with a line double) and one out. Allowing that both teams were warned before the game about any rough stuff, Arizona starter Chase Anderson could have done double duty as McCutchen stepped in to hit. Pitchers looking to send a message know how to do it despite the warnings, leaving nothing but doubt about intent. Anderson could have sent the Pirates the “message” and set up for a double play with just such a smart inside pitch.
Anderson got his double play setup—he walked McCutchen on five pitches, none of which got anywhere near hitting the center fielder. Then he struck out the next hitter and got the man after that to ground out to the left side.
Harrison put the Pirates on the board in the third with a one-out bomb down the left field line. McCutchen batted one out later and grounded out. Again, nothing came even close to hitting him. The next time McCutchen batted was in the sixth with one out and the game tied at one. (The Diamondbacks tied it on an RBI single through the hole at second in the fifth.) He slashed a base hit to right. By the time McCutchen batted again, in the eighth, both teams were well into their bullpens and two Pirates were on with nobody out. McCutchen broke the tie with an RBI single and the Pirates went on to enjoy a four-run inning sending eight men to the plate.
Then came the ninth. Then came Delgado following an opening ground out with a walk (Harrison) and a line drive double (Gregor Polanco) setting up second and third. You might think about loading the bases to set up plays anywhere, of course, if you didn’t have Ike Davis (erstwhile Met power hitter) following McCutchen in the lineup. Ball one. Ball two. Then came the payback pitch, right in McCutchen’s back. Bases loaded. Delgado stepping off the mound and heading for his dugout at the moment McCutchen’s back met the ball. McCutchen bending over in pain, then slamming his bat into the ground in obvious rage, until Pirates manager Clint Hurdle urged him to first base.
Down 5-1, either the Diamondbacks’ manager Kirk Gibson or Delgado on his own decided that was “safe” to get McCutchen as payback for Goldschmidt. Eury de la Rosa relieved Delgado and promptly struck out Davis. But the Pirates let the Snakes know just how safe it wasn’t. Russell Martin lashed an RBI single. And Brent Morel followed with a two-run single. Frieri would come in to work the Arizona ninth and manage to close it out despite David Peralta’s two-run homer.
Never mind yet another Diamondbacks loss. By God they’d shown the Pirates who the men around here were. When McCutchen grabbed his left side jogging toward first base Sunday after hitting a sacrifice fly, first it was feared he’d injured an oblique muscle and that it might have ties to the Saturday drilling. It turns out the cartilage binding a muscle to a rib was torn, which could cost McCutchen six weeks but may not have caused by Delgado’s deliberate fastball.
It seems surreal to imagine the Diamondbacks’ (we use the term loosely) brain trust congratulating Delgado in the clubhouse for manning up on McCutchen with a four-run Arizona deficit in the ninth. But surely there were those who had such an imagining. What does baseball government imagine to be the way to put the headhunting Snakes in their place?