Next to the question of former Red Sox bombardier David Ortiz’s prognosis following his being shot in a Santo Domingo ambush Sunday, baseball’s number one question Monday night just might have been, “Who whacked Josh Donaldson and Joe Musgrove with the stupid stick?” Don’t be sure anyone’s in a big hurry to claim responsibility for the deed.
Musgrove pitched to Donaldson in the bottom of the first with Dansby Swanson on third following a one-out double and a ground out advance. The Pirates righthander started Donaldson with a four-seam fastball inside. The ball grazed Donaldson’s jersey so obviously you could see it flap like a flag in the high wind.
It never touched the Braves’ third baseman.
Donaldson and Musgrove shared some glares as Donaldson began walking to first base. Pirates catcher Elmer Diaz stepped forward to try urging Donaldson toward first and Donaldson all but threw him to one side as if hoisting a sack of feed from a warehouse pallet.
Out came the benches. And out of the game went Donaldson and Musgrove, not to mention Pirates manager Clint Hurdle after he hustled to the umps to argue against Musgrove’s ejection.
Some thought Donaldson smirked at Musgrove as he stepped away from the batter’s box. Some thought Donaldson hollered words along the line of, “What the [fornicate] are you looking at, [female dog]?”
I can’t help wondering whether there wasn’t a little mischievious gamesmanship involved in the whole thing to begin with. Leo Durocher, Billy Martin, pick up the house phones. As a Pirates beat writer, Adam Berry, noted aboard Twitter, the Pirates at the moment didn’t have an actual starting pitcher to use for Wednesday’s and Thursday’s games against the Braves. The last thing they needed Monday night was an unanticipated bullpen game to open the set.
But now Musgrove is likely to get the Thursday start, since he only worked two-thirds of an inning before the jersey brush. Except that he was originally scheduled to make his next start against the Marlins come Saturday. There goes that start. And though the Marlins normally make the Pirates resemble the Yankees, this year’s Fish have become known for making a few tough times for a few actual or alleged contenders now and then.
And for better or worse the Pirates seem to be the National League’s leading mound dusters this season. But the last thing they needed Monday was another pitching issue after sending Jordan Lyle to the injured list with a tightened hamstring.
“We’ve had no beef in the past until now,” Musgrove told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the game. “For him to act that way and I did nothing but stand my ground. I hit him with the pitch and he stared at me and tried to intimidate me and I’m not going to let that happen. I looked back at him and he had a few words to say. He crossed the line and came at me. I took my hat and glove off and got ready to fight. I don’t know what else you can do in that situation.”
Musgrove may have been ejected less for the pitch itself than for throwing his hat to the ground angrily as the teams began scrumming. Hurdle still wasn’t happy about his man getting the ho-heave. “The hard part is watching a man cross the line and push the catcher out of the way,” Hurdle said of Donaldson’s shoving Diaz. The pitcher drops his hat and glove and . . .
“Since the time we’ve been on the playground at six-year-old we’ve tried to find ways to stand our ground,” the skipper continued. “I understand that in a vacuum saying that you shouldn’t throw your hat down, but if you’ve played the game or been around sports there’s time when you drop your hat and glove. The hard part is if the batter goes to first none of this happens.”
Is it possible Donaldson was aware enough of that scenario that he was willing to take one for the team in order to leave the already-vulnerable Pirates staff completely at the potential mercy of the Braves’ swingers with their bullpen in earlier than hoped for? The 13-7 Braves win certainly makes it look that way.
Because even though the Braves ended up going calmly in the bottom of the first, and Braves starter Kevin Gausman kept it 1-0 after a leadoff base hit in the top of the second, the Braves broke out the cudgels in the bottom of the second: a leadoff hit batsman, a walk, a runner-advancing ground out, a strikeout that loaded the bases thanks to the passed ball on strike three, and Ronald Acuna, Jr. coming to the plate. Acuna turned on a hanging curve ball from Alex McRae and drove it halfway up the left field bleachers.
If only it was one of Gausman’s better nights. Starling Marte hit the first pitch he saw in the top of the third over the center field fence with Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds aboard and nobody out. Part of it was Gausman’s own fault, after he threw offline trying to force Newman (leadoff single) at second on Reynolds’s grounder back to the mound.
Now both teams were into each other’s bullpens. Ozzie Albies flattened McRae’s hanging changeup on 1-2 and sent it into the left center field bleachers in the bottom of the third. If McRae was trying to take one for his team, what he took was almost cruel and unusual punishment when he walked Swanson to open the Atlanta fourth and Freddie Freeman drove a 2-1 fastball not far from where Acuna’s salami landed.
Geoff Hartleib had the dubious pleasure of seeing the score swell to 9-4 when Nick Markakis drove home his 1,000th career run on a single up the pipe. His teammates toasted him after the game. “It just means I’m getting old,” Markakis cracked to reporters.
Albies made it 10-4 in the seventh with a solo over the center field fence. Marte saw him leading off the top of the eighth with a first pitch bomb off former Met Jerry Blevins. Later in the inning, with Dan Winkler having relieved Blevins, pinch hitter Corey Dickerson shot a two-run single to make it 10-7.
So, naturally, in the bottom of the eighth, Johan Comargo, who’d replaced Donaldson after the jersey brush, singled Swanson home before Markakis, apparently deciding he wasn’t getting that old, hit a two-run homer. And Jacob Webb shook off a two-out walk to sink the Pirates in the top of the ninth.
“Musgrove and Donaldson have no particular history, and these teams are not rivals,” wrote Deadspin‘s Chris Thompson, who called Musgrove and Donaldson steakheads for their trouble. “And the ball that ‘hit’ Donaldson didn’t actually hit him at all. There was no reason for anyone involved to feel proud or pissed or slighted or triumphant, at all.”
But maybe, just maybe, Donaldson wasn’t as much of a steakhead as he looked.