Collin McHugh may have opted out of pitching in 2020, but the former Houston Astro hasn’t opted out of thinking. Lucky for us. Concerning the Fernando Tatis, Jr. grand slam kerfuffle, McHugh has wisdom the old farts will likely ignore but the young and young-at-heart will receive as writ.
“Swinging in a 3-0 count should not be against any rules, no matter the score,” McHugh tweeted the morning after Tatis’s eight-inning salami on 3-0 rubbed the Texas Rangers the wrong way and got the next San Diego Padres batter, Manny Machado, a pitch thrown right to and past his rump roast.
“Before a game I would always look to see what [percent] a guy swings 3-0,” McHugh continued. “If it’s over 20%, it means I can’t just groove one. The guys who will never ‘give you a pitch’ at the plate are the toughest AB’s.”
Someone among the Rangers brain trust ought to communicate McHugh’s wisdom to Ian Gibaut, who relieved Juan Nicasio after Nicasio’s 3-0 fastball just off the middle of the plate took a ride into the fan cutouts behind the right field fence off Tatis’s bat Monday. Gibaut is the Ranger who thought Tatis’s flouting of the Sacred Unwritten Rules earned Machado a target off his tail.
Tatis wasn’t the only hitter running afoul of the SURs that day. In Atlanta’s Truist Park, Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto had the temerity to send Braves reliever Will Smith’s service on a 445 foot trip to the seats in the top of the ninth and give it a far quicker look of self-admiration than the young Nat has given other such thumps in his young career.
Smith promptly switched his Braves hat for his Fun Police hat and fired an expletive Soto’s way. That’ll teach him. Not only did Smith’s bark prompt Soto to take an even slower trip around the bases than he might have planned, it prompted Nats manager Dave Martinez to play the other side of unwritten law enforcement as Soto’s defense attorney.
“Will Smith said something to Soto that I didn’t really appreciate,” the manager told reporters after that game—which the Braves came back to win on Dansby Swanson’s game-ending bomb. “So I just want to let him know, hey, it wasn’t Juan who threw the ball. His job is to hit so just be quiet and get on the mound. You threw the pitch, make a better pitch.”
Well, what do you know? A piece of me would love to think Martinez might have seen what I wrote earlier Tuesday morning:
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.
But I know better. I have about as much chance of being seen, never mind read and heeded, by the manager of the defending world champions as Donald Trump has of being added to Mount Rushmore. And Rangers manager Chris Woodward has less chance of being seen as a wise man than as an artery-hardened wisenheimer.
“You’re up by seven in the eighth inning — it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0,” you may remember Woodward fuming after the Padres finished what they started, a 14-4 blowout. “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.”
This season has already challenged norms enough. Remember: we’re trying to get through a major league baseball season in a time of coronavirus pandemic. The Show’s government has put into place enough truly dubious actual rules and experiments. The whole thing continues to play a lot like you’d imagine an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents the Inner Sanctum of the Outer Limits Brought to You By Chocolate Cookies with White Stuff in the Middle.
You would have thought the last thing any team wanted to exhume was yet another fruitless debate on yet another violation of the SURs that does nothing much more than make the exhumers resemble the would-be enforcers of a protection racket.
You might also have thought the Rangers had a working sense of their own 21st Century history. We take you back to 22 August 2007, in Camden Yards, when a different group of Rangers could have been brought up on charges of human rights violations for the 30-3 massacre they laid on the Baltimore Orioles that fine evening.
The abuses included a ten-run top of the eighth—including Travis Metcalf grinding salami—with the score already 14-3 . . . and a six-run top of the ninth when the casualties amounted to 24-3. I don’t remember if the Orioles raised any objections to any SURs that may or may not have been violated during the carnage, but I did wonder at the time whether they’d suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome.
McHugh isn’t the only pitcher present or past who thinks the Rangers should have spent more time making solid pitches and less time complaining because one not-so-solid pitch got demolished on 3-0 late in a blowout-to-be.
“I’m old enough that I grew up in a game that a lot of older guys had all the power and they would tell you how to act, what to do, and you did what they told you to do because that’s how it was,” said Ron Darling, once a world champion 1986 New York Mets pitcher and now a Mets broadcaster.
“Unwritten rules only work if everyone knows the unwritten rules,” Darling continued. “By their very definition, nobody knows an unwritten rule, so what you have now is you’re trying to make a decision that a 3-0 count in a seven-run game is off limits. I’m just not with that at all.”
How about we ask Zach Davies, the Padres’ starting pitcher Monday night, who might have a thing or three to say about whether the SURs ought to overthrow such game facts as the Padres bullpen entering the game with the third-highest collective earned-run average of any Show bullpen? Such bullpens make even seven-run leads feel about as secure as a bank whose vault is left open after closing time.
“A lot of guys talk about unwritten rules of baseball, but you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re gonna try to get your pitch as a hitter and he didn’t miss,” Davies told The Athletic‘s Dennis Lin.
So you can’t really fault him for that, in my opinion. Some guys feel differently, but everybody has their own opinion on it. Make sure your 3-0 pitch is a little bit better. I’ve been hit on 3-0 and homers have been hit off me, maybe not in the same situation, but that’s something that everybody kind of has a little bit different opinion on.
Would Tatis have escaped scrutiny (and would Machado have escaped a sailer toward his seat) if he hadn’t hit a three-run homer an inning earlier? That one made the score 10-3 in the first place. Grinding salami in the next inning regardless of the count could be taken by some teams and their pitchers as putting out the first insult’s fire with gasoline.
Meanwhile, it looks like San Diego’s Wil Myers taught the Rangers and their Tuesday starting pitcher Mike Minor a little lesson in manners in the top of the first. With two out and the bases loaded, Myers caught hold of a Minor changeup that hung like a condemned man and hung it into the left center field bullpen.
Then Tatis exacted his own revenge on Gibault in the top of the fourth, after Jurickson Profar belted a two-run homer. With Tatis singling to left with two out and Machado drawing the walk that pushed Minor out of the game, bringing in Gibault in the first place . . . Tatis stole third.
He was stranded, and the most the Rangers could muster was a four-run bottom of the fourth, kicked off when Joey Gallo bombed San Diego reliever Javy Guerra for a three-run homer with nobody out.
But the real messages were sent and re-sent. Including Gibault and Woodward being suspended for their upholding of the SURs Monday night. Gibault appealed his three-game suspension and thus was able to get Tatis’s return message; Woodward served his suspension Tuesday.
Another former major leaguer, Chris Singleton, tweeted a political campaign-style T-shirt emblazoned, Tatis-Machado ’20: Take the Cake. Sounds like a winning ticket to me. Neither actual presidential campaign has yet devised a campaign slogan that snarkily creative, which figures. And letting them have fun is just about the last thing the country needs.