The tip of the week

Aaron Judge

Judge shot this glance toward the Yankee dugout Monday night. On the next pitch—thrown by a Blue Jays reliever who admitted he’d handed the Yankees invaluable intelligence—the Leaning Tower of River Aenue hit the most powerful glancing blow of all time.

Say what you will about the Aaron Judge sideways glance Monday night in Toronto. You’re going to say it anyway, of course. But catcher-turned-Blue Jays broadcast analyst Caleb Joseph is way out of line suggesting that, if Judge was looking for a sign based on Blue Jays relief pitcher Jay Jackson tipping his pitches, the Yankee bombardier needs one thrown at his head post haste.

Because, you know, sign stealing the old-fashioned way—picking up on tipped pitches or signs from the field or the dugout, as opposed to an Astro Intelligence Agency off-field based espionage operation—is still a crime against nature. Never mind that that kind of sign stealing is almost as old as professional baseball itself. It may be a little unethical, but it doesn’t rise to the level of felonious grand theft.

Judge’s original response to questions after that game was that he’d heard more than a little chirping from the Yankee dugout, based on manager Aaron Boone being tossed over objections to plate umpire Clint Vondrak’s strike call on a low Jackson service. That bad call ran the count to 1-2.

That’s when Judge shot his now-infamous sideways glance toward the Yankee dugout. Before hitting a subsequent pitch 462 feet into the second deck behind the center field fence.

“I feel like after the manager does his thing, it’s like, ‘Fellas, our pitcher has still got to go out there and make some pitches’,” Judge said postgame. “We’ve got the lead, let’s just go to work here.’ I said a couple of things to some guys in the dugout and especially after the game. Hopefully it won’t happen again.”

The issue became compounded after Jackson admitted in due course that, yes, he just might have been tipping his pitches, a very common occupational hazard in his line of work. Players have sought little “tells” from pitchers from time immemorial. Even the greatest of pitch-shielding pitchers can be prone to giving one up from time to time without even realising it.

So what was with Judge speaking about Yankee dugout chirping? Easy enough. You don’t think he’s really going to give away how his mates picked up on Jackson’s tips, do you? Neither Judge nor the Yankees are going to commit treason if they can help it.

“From what I was told, I was kind of tipping the pitch,” Jackson told The Athletic. “It was  . . . the time it was taking me from my set position, from my glove coming from my head to my hip. On fastballs, I was kind of doing it quicker than on sliders. They were kind of picking up on it.”

Jackson didn’t sound even a fragment as outraged that the Yankees picked up on that tell as Joseph did during a pre-game show advancing Tuesday’s Yankees-Blue Jays contest.

“Everybody’s doing this, folks. Every team in the big leagues, they’re taking what’s handed to them,” Joseph began, giving what amounts to a confession that, yes, boys will still be boys and, so long as they’re not committing 2017-18 Astros-like black bag jobbing, it’s not exactly a call for outrage or vengeance.

Until it is, apparently.

“And it’s only bad until you get your hand caught in the cookie jar,” Joseph continued. “If I’m a mom or dad when I see my kid with their hand in that cookie jar, I’m slapping that hand. So I’m trying to send a message. And there was a time earlier in my career when, yes, messages were sent to me too. Right at my head when it wasn’t good. I would like to see Kevin Gausman come out and send a message.”

Gausman didn’t send any message Tuesday because none was called for. What he did do was get Judge to ground out and strike him out twice. The bad news for the Jays was Gausman’s relief Erik Swanson hanging a 1-0 slider that hung enough for Judge to send it almost as high past the center field fence as his glancing blast traveled Monday night.

Joseph was far less admirable demanding retribution than Jackson (optioned back to Triple-A afterward) was gracious when learning he’d handed the enemy a big break. “If they knew it was coming and he clipped me,” the righthander said, “he clipped me. I’m glad he hit it as far as he did.” The Yankees certainly were.

Jays manager John Schneider didn’t seem to think the Yankees committed Astrogate-style embezzlement, either. Even if he’d prefer his pitchers save their tipping generosity for the restaurant.

“If you’re doing things in plain sight,” Schneider said, “I think that you have to be able to correct them and you have to be willing to have the consequences be what they are. If it’s done fairly, yeah, that’s part of the game, everyone’s looking to help their teammates, everyone’s looking to pick up on tendencies, so anything that’s happening on the field in the right way, totally fair game.”

“In a very real sense,” wrote Paul Dickson in The Hidden Language of Baseball, “responsibility for tipping pitches or plays rests with the team, especially its coaching staff, so it amounts to a team error.” An unforced error at that. Something Mr. Joseph might want to ponder, before the next time he decides a tipped pitch caught, mugged, numbered, and murdered, deserves decapitation.

So what did Yankee pitcher Domingo German do on Tuesday night? He flunked a pre-inning sticky stuff test administered by umpire James Hoye and got himself tossed post haste and suspended ten games. This was after he’d already been warned, earlier in the season, about overdoing that good new fashioned medicated goo, and after he’d promised to use the rosin on the mound more.

“We all had the same opinion,” Hoye said of his umpiring crew about German’s suspect paw. “Shiny, extremely sticky, and it’s the worst hand we’ve ever felt during a game.” Worse than a busted flush.

Not brilliant, when the Yankees had to press Ian Hamilton into quick duty . . . and Hamilton ended up on the fifteen-day injured list after having to warm up too hastily. And when the Yankees just finished convincing those not disposed to believe them the root of all evil that there was nothing sneaky about catching and clobbering a tipped pitch.

Rolen rolls into Cooperstown at last

Scott Rolen

A big enough bat at the plate . . .

When Scott Rolen was in his absolute prime, Sports Illustrated said of him, among other things, that he “could have played shortstop with more range than Cal Ripken.” When he was with the Cardinals following his somewhat unfairly contentious departure from Philadelphia, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked where Rolen ranked among his era’s third basemen, then answered: the best at the moment.

Rolen’s overdue election to the Hall of Fame Tuesday still inspired carping enough among the philistines who think it was just another case of defining the Hall down. Maybe he wasn’t charismatic. He certainly wasn’t the cheerleading or the self-promoting type. But he was just as SI‘s Tom Verducci described him in 2004, “a no-nonsense star who does it all.”

That’s practically what they said about legendary Tigers second baseman and Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer, too. He was so no-nonsense he was nicknamed the Mechanical Man. Rolen was many things at the plate and in the field. Merely mechanical wasn’t among them.

“Rolen played with an all-out intensity,” wrote The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe, “sacrificing his body in the name of stopping balls from getting through the left side of the infield . . . and he more than held his own with the bat as well, routinely accompanying his 25–30 homers a year with strong on-base percentages.”

This son of Indiana schoolteachers did little more than let his preparation and his play do most of his talking. It’s worth repeating further that he didn’t blow up the nearest inanimate objects when a swing missed, a play faltered, or a game was lost. He played to win, but he lived what most confer lip service upon: let’s get ’em tomorrow. I say it again: if Rolen was a fighter pilot, he’d have earned a reputation as the classic maintain-an-even-strain type. The Right Stuff.

He has the numbers to support it, too, at the plate and in the field, where he knew what he was doing with a bat in his hand and didn’t sacrifice his body at third base or on the bases for naught. Once, he dropped into a slide into second base that wasn’t aggressive or out of line but so forceful that he flipped Royals second baseman Tony Graffanino and knocked shortstop Gerónimo Berroa down. Observed Verducci, “[It was] like a bowling ball picking up a 2-5 combination for the spare.”

“Berroa had this look on his face,” said Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris to Verducci, “like, I didn’t even hear the train whistle!”

First, let’s review Rolen one more time according to my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances. This table shows where he stands among all Hall of Fame third basemen who played in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era:

HOF 3B PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Mike Schmidt 10062 4404 1507 201 108 79 .626
Chipper Jones 10614 4755 1512 177 97 18 .618
Eddie Mathews 10100 4349 1444 142 58 26 .596
Scott Rolen 8518 3628 899 57 93 127 .564
George Brett 11625 5044 1096 229 120 33 .561
Ron Santo 9397 3779 1108 94 94 38 .544
Wade Boggs 10740 4064 1412 180 96 23 .538
Paul Molitor 12167 4854 1094 100 109 47 .510
Brooks Robinson 11782 4270 860 120 114 53 .458
HOF AVG .557

You see it right. RBA has Rolen as the number-four offensive third baseman of the group and seven points ahead of the average RBA for such Hall third basemen. You can do an awful lot worse than to say you weren’t quite as great a batter as Mike Schmidt, Chipper Jones, and Eddie Mathews. But you can’t exactly carp when you shook out slightly better at the plate than George Brett, Ron Santo, Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, and Brooks Robinson.

Scott Rolen

. . . and an Electrolux at third base.

Now, let’s put Rolen at third base. Only one of those Hall of Famers has more defensive runs above his league average than Rolen does (+140) above his—Robinson (+293). And, only two of them join him among the top 24—Schmidt (+129) and Boggs (+95). The eye test told you that Rolen was willing to throw himself under a train to make a play at third. It also told you what the meds confirmed in due course, that injuries were going to grind him into a harsh decline phase, as happened after his last solid St. Louis season.

“[He’s] the perfect baseball player,” then-Brewers manager Ned Yost said of him not long after he reached the Cardinals in the first place. “It’s his tenacity, his preparation, the way he plays. He tries to do everything fundamentally sound. And he puts the team first—there’s no fanfare with him.”

Maybe the Phillies should have had Yost to lean upon instead of Larry Bowa (manager) and Dallas Green (advisor) during Rolen’s first six-and-a-half major league seasons. Green especially dismissed him in 2001 as “satisfied with being a so-so player. He’s not a great player. In his mind, he probably thinks he’s doing OK, but the fans in Philadelphia know otherwise. I think he can be greater, but his personality won’t let him.”

That was at a point when Rolen struggled at the plate though he was making plenty of plays at third base. Rolen finished that season with a splendid enough .876 OPS and the second of his eight Gold Gloves. His personality won’t let him. Again, the misinterpretation of Rolen’s even strain as indifference.

Call it a classic case of not knowing what you had until he and you were both gone, but Bowa offered a far different assessment upon Rolen’s Cooperstown election. “To be honest with you,” Bowa told MLB-TV, “I thought he should have gotten in a few years ago. I was very happy for him.”

This guy is the ultimate professional, played the game the right way. As a manager, as a coach, you looked at guys like that, very few mental mistakes, always on top of his game. Played the game as hard as you could play for nine innings. There was really nothing Scott couldn’t do on the baseball field. He was a hitting machine, he drove in runs, hit lots of doubles, unbelievable third baseman. He had a tremendous pair of hands, a great arm. If he didn’t play a game, it was because he had an injury or something like that. This guy posted every day. His work ethic, off the charts. This guy was a tremendous baseball player.

That’s the manager who ripped Rolen a few new ones and demanded then-Phillies GM Ed Wade trade him, after Rolen called out the Phillies’ penny-pinching anticipating the arrival of Citizens Bank Park. “Fans deserve a better commitment than this ownership is giving them,” Rolen told then-ESPN writer Jayson Stark. “I’m tired of empty promises. I’m tired of waiting for a new stadium, for the sun to shine.”

In St. Louis, Rolen found a home and three postseason trips including a World Series ring, yet he ran afoul of manager Tony La Russa, who soured on him for—the horror!—injuries he incurred during honest competition on the field. Then-GM John Mozeliak eventually traded him to the Blue Jays, a deal Mozeliak came to regret by his own admission.

When former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty landed in Cincinnati and discovered Rolen wanted to play closer to home, he didn’t hesitate to wrest him from the Jays onto the Reds. He helped those Reds to a couple of postseasons while he was at it—even after a brain-scrambling concussion and lower back issues.

If you should happen to be traveling through Smithville, Indiana, you may come upon a facility known as Camp Emma Lou. It’s a retreat built by the Enis Furley Foundation, created by Rolen and his wife Niki in 1999, aimed at children and their families struggling with illness, hardship, and other issues and giving them expenses-paid weekend retreats. The foundation and the camp are named for two of Rolen’s dogs.

That’s also the current Indiana University director of baseball player development, who got the call from the Hall and granted a request from his son immediately following a call to his parents with the news. “[I]t’s about thirty degrees here, supposed to snow twelve inches,” he told a reporter, “but there we were, about fifteen minutes after the call, in the driveway having a catch. I’ll remember that forever.”

It’s not every son who gets to have a catch with a freshly-minted Hall of Fame father.

Sorry, Charlie

Charlie Montoyo

Montoyo takes the fall for somewhat less than gets other managers executed.

Let’s see. The Phillies sat 22-29 and having lost 11 of their previous 17 when they executed manager Joe Girardi in favour of Rob Thomson—whose team has gone 24-14 since.

The Angels went from 27-17 to 27-29, the first team in major league history to plunge from  ten games over .500 to a twelve-game losing streak, and sent manager Joe Maddon to the guillotine in favour of Phil Nevin. Nevin’s crew has gone 12-21 since, including 2-11 to open July.

The Blue Jays went 46-42 through Wednesday morning but suffered a five-game losing streak after opening July with a win, went 1-7 against one American League West wild-card contender and one of the division’s weaker teams, and awoke Wednesday at 2-12 for the month to date. Thus did they decide manager Charlie Montoya had a date with the firing squad despite the Jays beating those Phillies Tuesday.

Bench coach John Schneider was handed the bridge with the usual “interim” tag. The Blue Jays’ first act under their interim commander was to beat the Phillies to sweep a two-game set. Thomson’s been a steady skipper thus far; Nevin’s been little more than an apprentice seaman. One win isn’t enough to make the call on Schneider.

But something stunk about Montoya’s firing at first that was a little more profound than the fragrances surrounding the Girardi and Maddon executions. The timing especially.

Earlier this month first base coach Mark Budzinski’s seventeen-year-old daughter Julia was killed in a tubing accident. On Monday, Montoyo—who’d left the dugout with Budzinski in the middle of a doubleheader on receiving the news—joined other team reps in attending Julia Budzinski’s funeral.

Maybe collapsing to a 2-12 July opening gave the Jays enough reason to think Montoyo had to go, but with the All-Star break approaching it’s not unreasonable to think they might have waited just a short while longer, maybe on the eve of the break itself, to align the firing squad.

This may have been the second most cold-blooded managerial firing in modern major league history. The first would have to have been the Yankees dumping pennant-winning manager Yogi Berra in favour of the man who beat him in the 1964 World Series, the Cardinals’ Johnny Keane, the day after the Cardinals won in seven, a move that was planned back-channel before the Yankees put on the stretch drive (going 30-13) that nailed their pennant in the first place.

It looked even worse if you thought about was Montoyo having managed the Jays to 91 wins and a near-miss to the 2021 postseason despite the continuing coronavirus pan-damn-ic compelling the team to make three different cities the site of their home games.

But as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic pointed out in the immediacy of Montoyo’s execution, the Jays may have their still-euphemistic “compelling reasons” to give the command to fire. If that’s true, maybe they shouldn’t have let him stay on the bridge with a one-year extension and a couple of option years to follow to open the season in the first place.

Like Girardi and Maddon before him, Montoya bore the burden of a misconstructed team even if it’s a team still in the new but dubious wild card hunt. It wasn’t Montoya who delivered a bullpen that finds as many bats as it misses or a starting rotation whose rear end resembles the northbound end of a southbound moose.

They opened July in second place in the tough American League East, but hitting the skid let the re-horsing Red Sox and the Rays pass them in the division standings while letting the Mariners match them for the third wild card thus far.

Now it comes forth, too, that some in the Jays clubhouse thought they needed a somewhat firmer hand when they hit the skid and Montoyo, as loved and popular as he was on the bridge, wasn’t quite the man to offer that hand.

Athletic Blue Jays beat reporter Kaitlyn McGrath found at least two players willing to talk about the clubhouse atmosphere, one anonymously but another willing to go on the record. Of course.

The anonymous Jay told McGrath that hitting the skid required what Montoyo apparently lacked. “When you’re [in a] 1-9 [slump], you’re looking for someone to come in and either kick you in the ass or pump you up, just something, some guidance,” the player said. “And you could have it as players, for sure, and we did, but you really do need it coming from the top and that just wasn’t happening . . . If we were playing better, this wouldn’t have been as much of an issue, but we weren’t, so you’re looking for leadership and a lot of us felt like it wasn’t really there.”

But even that didn’t erode the respect the Jays’ players have for Montoyo the man, if you take the word of pitcher Ross Stripling, who earned the Wednesday win against the Phillies with six strikouts but eight ground outs and ten fly outs in seven innings during which he surrendered two earned runs on two hits.

“I don’t think anyone would ever think that he doesn’t want us to have success individually or as a team, the whole Blue Jays organization,” Stripling told McGrath.

He had our backs all the time and wanted us to win baseball games. And it’s a shame—he’s been here since 2019, when this kind of young core got going—that he’s not going to be there to see a lot of their success and where they go and where we go as a team. But I think everyone would say thank you to him and the effort that he gave us for the years that he did and that we love him and wish him well.

General manager Ross Atkins, who carried the execution forth, said it’s not “necessarily” good starting pitching and good bullpens alone that contend and win. “Look at the history of the game,” he said, “good teams win championships. The person to look to is me. I’m the one that needs to be accountable. And we will continue to work hard in every area of our team to improve.”

In other words, don’t blame me because Charlie couldn’t make do with shallow starting and bullpen bulls.

For now the Phillies have lived a somewhat charmed team life since Girardi’s dismissal, even while losing Bryce Harper to a thumb fracture after the right fielder was limited to DH duty thanks to an elbow injury. They’re only nine games out of first in the National League East, though they have a formidable wall to climb with the first-place Mets and the second-place (and defending World Series champion) Braves making life none too simple.

The Angels? They could bring Casey Stengel back from the dead and still sputter. Especially since, in addition to their still-usual pitching problems not named Shohei Ohtani, the bottom of their order became such a trainwreck that it didn’t matter what the bigger bats did. It comes into sadder play when such bigger bats hit the slumps to which all bats are prone, even those of future Hall of Famers.

Nevin’s tenure has been a plane crash thus far. Especially when he landed himself a ten-game suspension for being none too subtle about looking to avenge a ninth-inning Mike Trout head hunt the night before and sending an opener to start the game and exact revenge. The Mariners may have had it coming, but one behind-the-back pitch and a subsequent plunk was out of line.

And while the umpires sounded mealymouthed in not starting the game with warnings after Trout was inches from decapitation in the ninth the night before, the ensuing brawl after Andrew Wantz hit Jesse Winker in the hip cost Nevin a key relief pitcher (Archie Bradley) for a month, at least, when he hopped over the rail to join the fracas and broke a bone in his pitching elbow.

It’s gotten to the point where the published calls for the Angels to start thinking about the once-impossible: trading both Trout at this year’s trade deadline and Ohtani before he reaches his first free agency, the better to get a replenishing return (hopefully, with pitching slightly above the level of arthritic cleaning crews) while the getting is prime—aren’t waiting until their season is all but officially dead.

So the Blue Jays aren’t exactly that bad off just yet. It’s still too soon to call a single win under a new bridge commander the beginning of an in-season resurgence. Who knows what Atkins might move upon as the trade deadline approaches? But there’s still something badly disconcerting about the Montoya execution. The man’s been a class act who’ll probably get another chance to take another major league bridge soon enough.

There may yet be more to come in the way of deeper details. As often as not, there usually are. And it’s not impossible to ponder whether Atkins himself might now be on a seat whose temperature rises a little more as the season goes forward.

Listen up, Bleacher Creatures

Derek Rodriguez, Mark Lanzillotta

Derek Rodriguez (in his Yankee hat and Aaron Judge T-shirt) hugging Mark Lanzillotta gratefully, after Lanzillotta handed the boy a sixth-inning bomb Judge hit in Rogers Centre.

Recall if you will that I went to Opening Day in Anaheim with my 28-year-old son. From the moment he became a baseball fan in earnest at age six, his dreams included catching or otherwise obtaining one bona-fide major league baseball at the ballpark. On said Opening Day, 22 years later, I managed to make his wish come true.

An Astro lined a foul into our section during batting practise. Thanks to a small but clustered group of fans standing up adjacent to us, neither Bryan nor myself could see which Astro hit the ball. No matter. It bounded around a few times before making its way beneath my seat, where I snatched it and handed it to him.

Neither Bryan nor I cared that it came off an Astro bat, even if he (and I) might have preferred it courtesy of an Angels bat. It was a baseball, major league regulation, a simple but profound little prize of fandom that you can go a lifetime without obtaining, regardless of how often you’re at the ballpark.

My son’s gratitude was boundless, of course, even at age 28. “You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living,” Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella once said, “but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.” Savouring and rooting and appreciating this game means the same thing when you’re watching at home or at the ballpark. Even professionally.

So imagine easily how it felt for a nine-year-old boy in Rogers Centre Tuesday, wearing a Yankee T-shirt with Aaron Judge’s surname and number 99 on his back, praying to God and His servants in the Elysian Fields that maybe, just maybe, he might catch a ball hit by his hero. He got the absolute next best thing.

A Blue Jays fan named Mike Lanzillotta sat in the second deck behind young Derek Rodriguez and his father, Cesar, Venezuelan natives living in Toronto the past five years.  Somehow, the boy’s eagerness got to Lanzillotta throughout the game. He didn’t have to imagine when lo! Judge batted a third time in the top of the sixth inning, against Jays pitcher Alek Manoah, who’d struck him out twice earlier in the game.

Not even Mark Harris, W.P. Kinsella, Ring Lardner, Bernard Malamud, or John Updike could have sketched this one. I’m nowhere in their league so I’m not sure I’m doing it right.

Judge caught hold of a fastball sailing a little inside and drove it . . . right into Lanzilotta’s hands. As Judge rounded the bases, Lanzillotta kept the promise he made to himself and handed Derek the ball. The boy’s gratitude poured into a hug around the older man’s neck and shameless tears of joy. Television cameras caught the moment and it went viral almost at once.

“I almost started crying,” Lanzillotta admitted to reporters. “For real, I almost started crying.” The father soon enough faced a question from his son: “I said, ‘If you were young, and the same thing happened to you, but with a home run off of Derek Jeter, what would you do?’” the boy revealed. “And he said I would cry the same. And fun fact, I was named after Derek Jeter.”

Aaron Judge, Derek Rodriguez

Derek got to meet his Yankee hero before Wednesday’s game.

Funner fact: The tale of Derek Rodriguez, Mike Lanzilotta, and Aaron Judge’s blast reached Judge himself after the Yankees demolished the Jays, 9-1. Reporters told Judge of the Kodak moment. (Oops! Today we’d call it an iPhone moment.) Known for being as fan friendly as the day is long, Judge himself seemed almost overcome by the revelation.

“That’s what’s special about this game, man,” the Yankees’ Leaning Tower of River Avenue told reporters, after grinning and observing you’ll find Yankee fans around the world. “It doesn’t matter what jersey you wear, everybody is fans, everybody appreciates this game. That’s pretty cool. I’ve got to check out that video. That’s special.”

He did more than just check out that video. Before today’s game, Derek got to meet his Yankee hero, who signed the home run ball for him. The still boyish-looking Judge looked as though he’d been taken back to his own boyhood for a few shining moments.

The Blue Jays didn’t exactly appreciate being blown away by the Yankees Tuesday, but it didn’t stop the team from giving more than a tip of the beak to Lanzillotta. They dropped a special team gift package on him for his sportsmanship. Cesar Rodriguez called him a friend for life. His cell phone was all but nuked with texts and calls following his gesture.

“I spilled my beer” retrieving the Judge home run ball, Lanzillotta said, “but it was worth it.”

Now listen up, all you Bleacher Creatures around the Show. You, the mental midgets who think it’s funny as hell throwing the opposition’s home runs back onto the field, pouring  abuse upon an opposition pitcher known to struggle with clinical depression, thinking it’s funny as hell throwing garbage and other debris on the field when an opposition fielder is injured on a play.

You should be made to watch that Judge bomb, that Lanzillotta gift to nine-year-old Derek Tuesday, and the boy’s meeting with Judge today. You might learn or re-learn a few things about sportsmanship. About real baseball rooting and caring. About plain human decency.

The dog ate his homework

Baltimore Orioles

Manager Brandon Hyde and his Orioles after one of their own got drilled following back-to-back bombs in Camden Yards Saturday night. They know damn well Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah didn’t just slip a runaway fastball inside.

Here’s the Saturday night scenario in Baltimore: A rookie pitcher surrenders back-to-back home runs. He hits the next man up squarely on the bicep with the first pitch. He gets ejected post haste, then speaks to the press post-game.

“I tried to get that fastball in and it slipped away,” said Alek Manoah, the Blue Jays righthanded rook who drilled the Orioles’ Maikel Franco in the fourth inning, right after Ryan Mountcastle hit the first one-out, one on service over the left field fence and D.J. Stewart hit a 2-1 pitch over the right field fence.

The dog ate his homework.

And the Blue Jays overthrew the 5-2 lead Mountcastle and Stewart provided to gorge on the Orioles with a six-run ninth and a 10-7 win. It’s gotten that bad for this year’s Woe-rioles. They can’t even claim safety in a three, then a four-run lead.

But Franco looked distinctly unamused after he got that very pronounced plunk, and as Manoah stepped down from the mound walking toward the plate area. He looked as though he couldn’t decide whether he’d like to have Manoah for dinner or have him crucified on the warehouse behind the yard.

“I was confused by his reaction,” Manoah said. “I was questioning ‘What’s going on? What’s wrong?’ Those were my hand gestures as I was walking toward him. I didn’t understand the frustration there.”

“Even rookies don’t usually have to be told that a guy who can’t hit with a telephone pole this season doesn’t understand why he’s being made to pay because you just surrendered long distance back-to-back on your dollars,” said my long-distance pitching acquaintance, Sticky Fingers McSpidertack, on the phone this morning.

“So you’re telling me the dog ate his homework?” I asked, without a single thought of being a wisenheimer.

“Dig,” McSpidertack replied. “That Mountcastle guy took him out over the center field fence with one out in the second. And who’s that guy, Cedric Mullins? Took him out over the right field fence with two out in the third.”

“So Manoah’s a little on the frustrated side,” I replied. “Didn’t anybody in the minors teach him even for a few minutes that the best pitchers in the business are going to have days where they’re going to get slapped silly? Happens even to the Hall of Famers, Stick.”

“He spent, what, three games in Triple-A,” McSpidertack answered. “Maybe that’s not long enough to teach a few baseball life lessons, maybe it is. I’m the wrong guy to ask. I didn’t get much past Single A, you know.”

“I know, but you don’t have corn flakes for brains, either. I don’t think I ever saw you try putting a hole in the next guy’s anatomy after you got hit for a skyrocket shot.”

“Of course not,” McSpidertack said. “And Franco’s not the one who hung that slider, kept that fastball’s feet tied at the ankles, or threw him a melon even a guy below the Mendoza Line could have given a ride.”

“A ride? OK, Mountcastle’s shot in the fourth just barely made it out, hit the rail behind the fence or something. Got a fastball to hit for that first shot in the second, this time he gets the breaking ball and breaks it because it didn’t really break.”

“Right”

“Then Stewart turns on 2-1 and hits it right onto the Camden Yard promenade. Maybe it landed a few feet from where Boog Powell used to have and run that great barbeque pit.”

“Oh, yeah. I remember that pit, too. There wasn’t one single healthy thing coming off that pit, thank God.”

“Now it’s Franco. Compared to him this year, Mario Mendoza looks like Monster Mashup. The last guy on the planet, or at least on the Orioles, who’s going to take him into the ether. And Manoah throws one right up and into the poor guys’ upper bicep.”

“Or lower shoulder ball.”

“Well, let’s not get technical.”

“Fair enough,” McSpidertack said. “So when it’s all said and done, what’s the take?”

“What the hell do you think it is, Stick?”

“You’re gonna make me say it, aren’t you.”

“That’s my job, Stick.”

“Yeah, I know. OK, here it is. Manoah was full of manure last night.”

“I had to open my big mouth, didn’t I?”

“Your fault, buddy,” McSpidertack said, laughing. “Now tell me what all that was when skipper Hyde comes out of the dugout looking like he wants to take someone in a Toronto uniform apart but also looks like he doesn’t want his guys to do anything of the kind.”

“You need me to tell you that? I don’t think he wanted to take someone apart himself. I think he just wanted Manure—sorry, Manoah—thrown out of the game post haste. Which is exactly what he got. After he returned a few, shall we say, vulgar mash notes from Charlie Montoyo.”

“The Blue Jays manager.”

“Yeah.”

McSpidertack excused himself a moment to refill his morning coffee. I needed another coffee jolt myself while he was at it. When he came back, I said, “Did you see Manure–sorry, Manoah again—talking to the press after the game?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you hear him say he tried to slip that fastball in and it got away?”

“Yeah,” McSpidertack said. “And if I had a dollar for every time I tried to get a fastball in that got away, I could buy that Antarctican beach club of yours.”

“No you couldn’t, Stick,” I said. “You said yourself your career was over before it really began. You didn’t really have time to learn how to slip runaway fastballs inside. At most you’d have had enough to buy me a new set of guitar strings.”

“Then the dog ate his homework.”