These foolish things

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins

Braves catcher Brian McCann with the ball that just zipped behind Jose Urena, squarely in his mitt, squarely behind Urena’s leg . . .

It didn’t take even an eighth as long as it took Hunter Strickland to let Bryce Harper have it over a pair of monstrous postseason home runs. But it took long enough, and was just as stupid. The other difference is that the Braves’ Kevin Gausman threw behind, not into the Marlins’ Jose Urena in the second inning Friday night.

If you need to know what Gausman intended, you don’t remember what happened last 15 August. When Urena threw what ESPN Stats & Info determined was the hardest and fastest pitch he’d thrown all year to that point right into Braves Rookie of the Year in waiting Ronald Acuna, Jr.’s elbow to lead off the first.

Urena simply didn’t like Acuna treating the Marlins like batting practise pitchers. If they couldn’t get him out, Urena was going to try to take him out. And the warnings were handed out immediately after the umpires then tossed Urena on the spot.

Friday night, there were no warnings issued going in, not until Gausman—who’d just surrendered the tying run on an infield ground out after hitting Marlins third baseman Jon Berti with a pitch—sailed one behind Urena’s thighs.

When Urena drilled Acuna last August, he was condemned almost universally but quite rightfully for hitting him after he’d put on a long distance show for two nights running. Gausman himself suggested there might be consequences for that after that game.

“I think he decided he was going to handle it a certain way,” Gausman said after that game, which the Braves went on to win 5-2. “I don’t agree with it, but it’s his career and he’s going to have to deal with the consequences.”

You might have thought the consequences would have come sooner than Friday night. Usually though not exclusively someone else in the Marlins lineup might have faced a message pitch. On the same night. Even despite the warnings.

But none went forth that night last August. Or, in the subsequent set between the Braves and the Marlins in Miami later that month, one of which games Gausman himself started. Urena got a six game suspension for drilling Acuna, which a lot of people thought was impossibly lenient in the circumstance, and didn’t face the Braves in that Miami set.

Having sort of telegraphed it after last August’s postgame remarks, Gausman didn’t exactly deny premeditation after the Braves banked their 7-2 win Friday night, either. “Obviously, the umpire thought that there was a reason behind it and decided to throw me out of the game,” the righthander told reporters. “Obviously, MLB’s going to look at it, investigate it, so I’m not going to really comment anything further than that.”

Obviously, too, Gausman had his chances to send the Marlins a message last August if he wanted to. He could have replied in kind when the Marlins batted in the top of the second after Acuna was drilled, despite the warnings, sending one up and in just enough to drop the hint.

If those warnings were too much for him to think about, he could have sent the message later that month when the Braves went to Miami and he started one of the games.

He didn’t do it either time. Whether it was a mutual agreement among the Braves’ pitchers to wait until they might face Urena himself again isn’t known as I write. Just as Urena looked to one and all as though committing a premeditated act last August, Gausman looked the same Friday night.

At least Urena got the start for the Marlins this time, a mere eight months after drilling Acuna. It’s not as though Gausman had three years to plot revenge.

But the late Don Newcombe had a policy of going after the opposition’s hottest lineup hand whenever he thought they needed an immediate message to be sent, whether it was over their pitcher knocking down or hitting a Dodger batter or—as he did once with the Phillies—silencing a bench coach throwing racial insults at the Dodgers’ early black players by dropping Del Ennis, at the time the Phillies’ hottest hitter.

When Cubs pitcher Bill Hands opened a critical September 1969 showdown with the onrushing Mets by knocking Tommie Agee down leading off, Mets starter Jerry Koosman—following Newcombe’s policy—sent one up and in tight to Hall of Famer Ron Santo in reply the next inning.

“I knew right away I was going to go after their best hitter,” Koosman said years later. (Santo led the National League with 112 runs batted in at the time.) “You mess with my hitters, I’m going after your best one. I’ll go after him twice if I have to.” Santo got hit on the wrist as he fell away from the chin music.

“If it didn’t hit his arm,” Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda said, “it would have hit him onside his head.” Mets bullpen coach Joe Pignatano had another verdict: “Koosman won the pennant for us that night.” (Agee didn’t exactly shrivel, either: when he faced Hands again in the third that night, he sent one over the fence.)

Urena looked cowardly drilling Acuna last August after Acuna’d been a wrecking crew at the Marlins’ expense. But Gausman had his chances to send the Marlins a message last year and he didn’t take a one of them. He doesn’t look all that much better than Urena did. And there’ll be those saying his possible five- or six-game suspension won’t be sufficient, either.

The old school, which is discredited often enough and with cause these days, says there do come times to take one for the team. Especially when the season is still young and you’re less likely to cost your team something critical that you would be down the stretch of a pennant race. The Braves may be lucky it happened the third night of May.

If you doubt Gausman’s or the Braves’ premeditation, be advised they called up pitcher Touki Toussaint before Friday night. Guess who went out to pitch for the Braves after Gausman got the ho-heave, stopped the second inning bleeding, and pitched four total innings of one-run, six-strikeout ball to give the Braves’ bullpen a respite.

“In the end, the biggest failure in this situation has to fall on the umpiring crew,” says Call to the Pen‘s David Hill. “Anyone who saw that the Braves called up Toussaint, and that Urena was the opposing starter, had to know what was going to happen. That both benches were not warned prior to the start of the game, or that Gausman was ejected after throwing that pitch, is entirely their mistake.”

Not theirs entirely.

“From the beginning, they were saying I did it on purpose,” said Urena about the Acuna drill and Friday night’s festivities, “but look at how they did it. That’s the way they claim they are professional?” Unfortunately, when it comes to professionalism, Urena isn’t exactly in any position to talk.