You’d think a major league baseball team might have more important things to worry about these days. But no. The Texas Rangers didn’t like San Diego Padres superstar-in-the-making Fernando Tatis, Jr. hitting a grand slam in the top of the eighth Monday. On 3-0. With the Padres already leading 10-3.
Just to be certain there could be no doubt whatsoever how little to their taste was Tatis’s blast the other way, Rangers reliever Ian Gibaut threw one right past Manny Machado’s rump roast. The good news, if you can call it that, is that at least Gibaut didn’t aim for Machado’s dome.
That may have been the only good news of that entire little comedy that was about as funny as a beach club in Antarctica. Yes, children, thanks to Tatis and the Rangers we’re back to the Sacred Unwritten Rules yet again. Just when you thought the pandemic and baseball’s extraterrestrial ups and downs playing through it might have given us more grave thoughts to think.
“I think there’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game,” said Rangers manager Chris Woodward to reporters, after the Padres finished what they started, a 14-4 blowout in which the Rangers mustered only four runs on four hits against four San Diego pitchers.
Apparently, four isn’t the Rangers’ lucky number this year. So far.
“Yeah, I didn’t like it, personally,” Woodward continued. “You’re up by seven in the eighth inning — it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis, so just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right. I don’t think we liked it as a group.”
The skinny after the game had it that Tatis may have missed a take sign. Tatis himself said he wasn’t liable to make that mistake again, having grown up with the game and learned the SURs good and well.
It almost doesn’t matter. Because if the Rangers are so P.O.ed that Tatis saw a fastball from Juan Nicasio just meaty enough to swing on and just so happened to send it into the fan cutouts in the right field seats, hitting one right in the chops, it beggars the question of how and why Nicasio threw the pitch and how and why the Rangers let the Padres bang ten runs home on ten hits in the first place.
It also beggars the question of whether the Rangers are current on baseball history. Teams have been known to make comebacks from seven runs or more in the deficit column. The Padres have been on both sides. Four years ago they lost a game they once led by ten. Last year, they won a game in which they were down seven at one point.
Andujar’s Law (Joaquin, that is): In baseball, there’s just one word—you never know. Somebody’s law (I know I’ve seen it before, but I can’t summon the source): In baseball, anything can happen—and usually does.
You let a hitter get into a 3-0 count with or without the bases loaded? That’s on you. You throw him something he can meet with the bat at all? That’s on you. You want to scream bloody murder because he didn’t thank you nice fellows by taking strike one and his medicine after you were already so generous as to let him and his take a seven-run lead on you going in? That’s on you, too.
Oh, yes. Tatis already embarrassed you an inning earlier, with two on and nobody out, when Jesse Chavez threw him a meatball down the pipe on 1-0 and he hit it over the left center field fence to make it 10-3 in the first place. There isn’t a jury on earth who’d say you were unjustified being humiliated like that.
But humiliation doesn’t justify letting a kid with a bat that live into a 3-0 count with one out and the bases loaded courtesy of a leadoff infield hit and a pair of walks. The Rangers should count themselves fortunate that the maximum home run anyone can hit is a grand salami.
I bet they wouldn’t have been half as furious if Tatis swung and missed, grounded into an inning-ending double play, or at worst whacked something into the shallow outfield for maybe one measly run, maybe two. That’d be merely embarrassing, not humiliating.
And I’d bet concurrently that maybe the sole reason the Rangers might have felt compelled to remind Tatis and the Padres about what to do and not to do on 3-0 in a blowout was because Nicasio, understandably, didn’t much like being taken for salami when he was already in with the task of keeping the Padres from adding insult to injury.
Tatis and the Padres might care to know they have a Hall of Fame ally. “So you take a pitch…now you’re 3-1,” tweeted Johnny Bench, eleven of whose lifetime 389 home runs were salamis. “Then the pitcher comes back with a great setup pitch…3-2. Now you’re ready to groundout into a double play. Everyone should hit 3-0. Grand Slams are a huge stat.”
A Cincinnati Reds pitcher of today, Trevor Bauer, whose tendency to shoot from the lip is often six parts wisdom and half a dozen parts wisenheimer, tweeted four words of advice to Tatis: “1) Keep swinging 3-0 if you want to, no matter what the game situation is 2) Keep hitting homers, no matter what the situation is 3) Keep bringing energy and flash to baseball and making it fun 4) The only thing you did wrong was apologize. Stop that.”
The apology to which Bauer referred, apparently, was Tatis telling reporters after the game, “I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. Those experiences, you have to learn. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”
Don’t let that happen, kiddo. If they’re fool enough to throw you something to hit on 3-0 while you and yours have a fat lead, the SURs be damned. Don’t be so generous with their ignorance.