Boys will be boys, but little by little, piece by piece, the Kansas City Royals seem determined to prove they can set a record for going from Cinderella boys one season (2014) to public enemy number one with their dirty diapers the next. If their weekend in Toronto is any suggestion, losing two of three to the Jays won’t prove half as significant as will the Royals finishing 2015 as either the single most hated team in baseball or one of the top three.
In fairness, Sunday’s basebrawl game at Rogers Centre shouldn’t even have been allowed to get as far as it got. And you can lay the blame for that at the feet of plate umpire Jim Wolf, whose failure to enforce the law he laid down early had almost as much to do with the dancing between the Royals and the Blue Jays as the Royals’ nursery schoolers did.
When Royals starter Edinson Volquez drilled the Jays’ Josh Donaldson on the first pitch he threw the third baseman in the first inning, Wolf warned both dugouts post haste. But in the third, Volquez served Donaldson one a little too far up and a little too far in to be taken as a pitch that got away. Not a pitch that would have had a violent meeting with Donaldson’s face if he hadn’t jerked back.
The least surprising act in its immediate wake was Jays manager John Gibbons leaving the dugout to confront Wolf. It’s the plate umpire’s call as to whether or not he thought the pitch was thrown with intent. Donaldson wasn’t necessarily crowding the plate, and a pitch that might have drilled a hole in his face can’t possibly be left open to debate.
By the seventh, Volquez had been relieved and Ryan Madson drilled new Jay Troy Tulowitzki square in the arm. Again, Wolf did nothing much of anything. The next Jay up? Donaldson. Where did Madson serve him? Up and in. It was the third time in the game Donaldson took either a plunk or a pitch too far inside for comfort.
Donaldson walked around the plate area on his dugout’s side and barked a bit at Wolf. Credit Wolf here with not deigning to toss Donaldson, as some umps might have done, but Gibbons took no chances. He hustled out of the dugout looking to protect his player. And Wolf threw Gibbons out of the game practically on a dime.
“If Jim Wolf doesn’t issue that warning in the first inning,” noted the Jays’ broadcasting team, “none of this would have happened.” Indeed. Now, here’s the funny part, if you consider all this a laughing matter: Until Sunday afternoon, Wolf hadn’t ejected any player, coach, or manager all season long.
Until Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez plunked the Royals’ Alcides Escobar near the knee in the eighth, earning himself and Kansas City bench coach Demarlo Hale a quick ho-heave, not one Toronto pitch threatened to kiss one Kansas City hitter’s cheek or any other part of his assorted anatomy.
Four beanballs were thrown at Jays’ hitters and the only three ejections all game long wore Blue Jays fatigues. Wolf was like the kind of old-time gym teacher who stood and did nothing while the class bullies bounced the poor mild-mannered kid off the walls and the lockers, then had the victim hauled to the principal’s office for fighting when the poor kid dared to take a swing back against his tormentors.
After the game, indeed the Royal bullies behaved as though they’d been the victims. Volquez, for one, while calling Donaldson a big baby: “He hit a lot of homers in the first couple of games and he was pimping everything he does. Somebody hits you, you’ve got to take it, because you’re pimping everything you do.”
Well, now. If Volquez’s intent was to send Donaldson a message about proper etiquette after hitting one into the ether, or about getting too comfortable at the plate in its wake, the message was sent the first time. Throwing Donaldson up and in a second time, and Madson throwing one somewhere between Donaldson’s nostrils and lips to follow, wasn’t sending a message, it was a declaration of war.
Royals manager Ned Yost had nothing but praise for Wolf and his fellow umps’ “restraint.” Restraint, my foot. Wolf and his fellow umps all but sat on their hands until Sanchez caught Escobar’s knee. If you didn’t necessarily know better, you could have been forgiven if Wolf and his fellow arbiters had handed the Royals a free pass to put as many holes in Blue Jay craniums as they could.
What a surprise that Jays slugger Jose Bautista tweeted that he lost a lot of respect for Yost after that. Which prompted Yordano Ventura, a Royals pitcher who isn’t allergic to throwing at hitters in his own right, tweeting his own mouth off at Bautista: We’ll meet again later and if you do that with me, you’ll see what I’m about. I don’t care about anybody. I used to respect you, but you’re a nobody . . . You got lucky this time, but MLB doesn’t get canceled after this season. Keep running your mouth . . . You’re gonna get it from me for being fresh and you really are a nobody.
Ventura backtracked as fast as his mouse could travel and apologised to Bautista while he was at it, but not before cyberspace discovered the hard way that he’d just called a six-time All-Star who’d spent the day before the basebrawl game taking the Royals deep twice a nobody. Bautista, for his part, praised Ventura’s ability while suggesting he needs to mature enough to let his ability make his name in the game.
Jays started R.A. Dickey, who won his third straight start Sunday afternoon, a fact almost lost in the bristling over the scrumming, took his own high road but probably spoke for a lot of people who don’t necessarily wear the same uniform: I think they’re used to pushing people around. So when they come onto the playground and there’s a kid that’s bigger than they are for a day, I think it probably (ticks) them off. And I can’t blame ‘em.
Actually, yes, you can blame them. With a trifle to spare for Wolf and his crew for letting it get past the first duster in the first place.