Heard of punching tickets out of town?

2019-07-30 YasielPuig

Yasiel Puig (66) didn’t instigate this Tuesday night brawl between the Reds and the Pirates. Neither did he know just yet that he’d just been traded to the Indians.

Well, now. Baseball government decided a fine but not a short ban was appropriate for Trevor Bauer after his Sunday afternoon tantrum. (“The last baseball Trevor Bauer threw for the Indians landed over the center-field fence,” crowed The Athletic‘s Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark. “And nobody even hit it!”)

The Indians may have decided otherwise.

They had more say in the three-way Tuesday evening deal that rid them of Bauer and brings them Yasiel Puig from the Reds than they had about Justin Verlander punching out thirteen Tribesmen en route the Astros shutting them out, 2-0.

But did the Indians elect to trade Bauer, in the deal also involving the Padres, because his reaction to surrendering a pile of runs and then manager Terry Francona coming out to lift him en route a loss to the Royals was to throw that ball over the fence?

And was some sort of cosmic mischief at play when Puig, still suited up for the Reds, found himself in the middle of a wild ninth-inning, bench-clearing brawl between the Reds and the Pirates that he had nothing to do with starting?

The three-way deal was announced while the Reds hosted and were being blown out by the Pirates. And, shortly before Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett received a visit from pitching coach Derek Johnson in the top of the ninth.

Garrett had gotten Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman to ground out after serving pinch hitter Jose Osuna a two-seam fastball too meaty not to hit for a three-run homer that crowned what proved to be an 11-4 burial. But while Garrett was about to hand the ball off to Johnson—who was managing the Reds at the time, the circumstances behind which to come anon—a little chirping rom the Pirates dugout tripped Garrett’s trigger.

Apparently, it was Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams who chirped toward Garrett. Apparently, too, Garrett previously had words for Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, words some tweeters translated to be “[Fornicate] you!” And the next thing anyone saw, Garrett practically flew solo toward the Pirates dugout, fists flying with the intent of nailing anyone in Pirates’ colours, greeted by a swarm of Pirates with the equivalent intent of making sure he couldn’t get any piece of any of them.

The Reds were probably jolted enough at their man’s audacity that it took a couple of moments before they realised they weren’t seeing things and swarmed toward the Pirates swarm.

Puig was actually a late arrival to the dance. Late or no, he plunged into the swarm, apparently intent on getting Garrett the hell out of there by hook, crook, left hook, anything short of an ambulance populated by men and women in white coats armed with straitjackets.

And Puig probably didn’t know he wasn’t really a Red anymore.

The three-way deal sends Puig and minor league pitcher Scott Moss from the Reds to the Indians, Bauer from the Indians to the Reds, outfielder Taylor Trammell from the Reds to the Padres, and three Padres—Franmil Reyes (outfielder), Logan Allen (pitching prospect), and Victor Nova (minor league jack of most infield and outfield trades)—going to the Indians.

Puig and Reyes would make the Indians’ corner outfield that much more productive at the plate, since the pair of them have more home runs between them (49) than the combination of every players seen in the Indians’ outfield corners all season long. If Reyes was on pace to hit 40 bombs with pitcher-embracing Petco Park as his home playpen, Indians fans can only imagine and pray what he’ll hit with Progressive Field to call home.

But Puig was one of eight ejected as a result of the ninth-inning rumble in the Great American Ballpark jungle. It may be an open question as to whether he begins life with the Indians—a rental life at that, since he becomes a free agent for the first time after this season—on the field or on suspension.

All of a sudden, any of Bauer’s past transgressions, including but not limited to some pointed but slightly absurd accusations that Astros pitchers were putting a little too much pine tar on their pitching hands, seem like boys being boys compared to the Cincinnati gang war.

Keep in mind: the Pirates and the Reds aren’t exactly bosom buddies above and beyond common competition. The Pirates were a lot less than thrilled when Reds outfielder Derek Dietrich hit and couldn’t help admiring a pair of homers clean into the Allegheny River on their pitchers’ dollars, one of which triggered a brawl after Dietrich saw a Chris Archer pitch fly behind his head, prompting Puig to take on almost the whole Pirate roster.

The Pirates also make a lot of other people uncomfortable with their penchant for pitching inside as often as possible and even beyond. The Reds aren’t the only team in the game who think that what the Pirates call merely pitching inside is really headhunting.

“Hitters are crowding the plate more than ever to hit pitches on the outer corners,” observed Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Nubyjas Wilborn earlier in July. “[Pirates manager Clint] Hurdle and the Pirates want to own the whole plate, and that’s where part of the conflict exists.”

Tuesday night’s shenanigans began when Pirates reliever Keone (Drinkin’ Rum and Coca) Kela threw one up and in enough to Dietrich to trigger a little bristling among assorted Reds in the seventh, including Joey Votto, who had a few sweet nothings to deliver to Kela before home plate ump Larry Vanover urged Votto back to his own lair.

And part of this conflict may also have rooted in Vanover handing both sides warnings after Kela zipped Dietrich, denying the Reds at least a single unmolested opportunity to send a return message. Ignoring the warnings, apparently, Reds reliever Jared Hughes got himself a premature date with the clubhouse shower, when he drilled Starling Marte with the first pitch of the top of the ninth.

Which is how Garrett got into the game in the first place. In between both, Reds manager David Bell got himself the ho-heave when he objected to a strike call with Puig himself at the plate in the eighth. And soon enough came basebrawl.

Hell of a way for Hurdle to celebrate his birthday. Bell got himself into further trouble when, despite having been tossed from the game, he ripped out from the clubhouse to the field on behalf of his players, gave Hurdle a shove, got into and broke his way out of a headlock from Pirates batting coach Rick Eckstein, and barked a little bit at Hurdle.

Bell has his partisans and detractors, too. For every tweeter singing a variation on the theme of Bell “ejected earlier and back on the field being his usual clown self,” there was another singing a variation on the theme of “I would fight a [fornicating] war for David Bell.”

Things looked as though settling down before, for whatever reason, maybe a Pirate hollering what he thought was something out of line, Puig circled back toward the dissipating swarm for a very brief encore before he was finally lured away. He was one of eight Reds and Pirates ejected from the game before the Pirates could finish the 11-4 thrashing they’d begun.

The ejected included Hughes and Reds bench coach Freddie Benavides over the Marte plunk; plus, Garrett and Puig for the Reds; and, Pirates injury-list catcher Francisco Cervelli plus pitchers Williams, Archer, and Kyle (Up the) Crick.

Now the Indians get themselves a Puig-in-the-box who can play baseball brilliantly enough, when he’s firing on the proper cylinders and avoiding the temptations to rumble. The Reds get themselves a million dollar pitching arm attached to a brain that often impresses people appreciative of the pitching talent as being deprived of a few critical resistors.

Almost forgotten in the middle of the trade that didn’t rudely interrupt the Pirates and the Reds replaying The Wild Bunch is that the Padres may have gotten the sleeper of the deal in Trammell, a talented left fielder who’d been the Reds’ top rated prospect and the number 30 prospect in all baseball despite a somewhat slumping season this year at Double-A Chattanooga.

For curiosity’s sake alone, I ran a search for major league baseball players who’ve tangled in bench-clearing brawls while or at least on the same days they were traded. The search result didn’t answer the question directly. But the first result was a headline about Tuesday night’s tarantella. With Puig’s name leading the head.

Some precedents ought not to be wished.

The Mets crank up the MixMatzer

2019-07-27 StevenMatz

Steven Matz put on a a splendid off-speed clinic Saturday night.

Beneath Steven Matz’s magnificent throttling of the Pirates Saturday evening lay a stone cold sobering fact. Mets manager Mickey Callaway, that embattled former pitching coach whose pitching management is under as much fire as almost everything else around the Mets, rolled serious dice to make room for it.

“To do it in 99 pitches is something else,” Callaway said of Matz’s masterpiece of a five-hit shutout. “That doesn’t happen too often. That was tremendous. That was unbelievable. We really needed him to do that.”

All he left out was “stupendous” and “colossal” and wearing a ringmaster’s striped pants, tailcoat, and top hat while rapping his cane on the Citi Field entrances, in describing maybe the single best Mets pitching performance of the season. By a guy who’d been exiled to the Mets’ bullpen for a spell before the All-Star break.

Callaway didn’t dare suggest what might have happened if Matz hadn’t found himself a way to work with efficiency and with a well-balanced blend between his slider, his changeup, and his sinkerball, not to mention if the Mets’ defense hadn’t been just as efficient behind him when he needed them to be the most.

Because sending Matz back to the mound late in games or the third or more time around the enemy batting order was previously a balance between a tightrope ride and a flying trapeze act that includes buttering the bar.

Matz came into Saturday’s game with the opposing order posting a lifetime .278/.323/.431 slash line against him when he’s still in for a third time around it. He’s least vulnerable historically the second time around the order and most vulnerable the first time, for all his talent. But it was still a considerable risk to let Matz even think about shooting for the complete shutout.

It would have been about twenty times the risk for Callaway to even think about going to his bullpen. Especially when Matz entered the seventh with a mere 1-0 lead that everyone in Queens knows is rarely if ever safe once the bullpen gate opens and out comes another bull. Clearly the skipper had to think fast. With about minus two seconds worth of time to think.

But closer Edwin Diaz, who’s suffered enough misuse and abuse so far, was deemed available somewhat officially, except that when he’s nursing a sore big toe on his landing foot you’re liable to be nursing a ninth-inning beating if you send him out and his delivery is hijacked.

Late-inning option Luis Avilan worked in three straight games before Saturday. Seth Lugo, who saved Friday night’s 6-3 Mets win, worked in two straight. Callaway might not have wanted to trust mightily struggling Jeurys Familia, even though Familia hadn’t pitched in a game in two days but was lit for two earned in two thirds of an inning against the Padres two days before the Pirates sailed into town.

And, perhaps re-learning a lesson about prudent bullpen usage, Callaway probably didn’t want to burn Justin Wilson—arguably the least arsonic Mets reliever the past week plus (five gigs, four innings, one earned run, four punchouts)—a second straight night.

So with Matz getting all those ground outs Callaway stood by him. And how could he not, when Matz put on a clinic in finding and using something other than pure raw power to get outs, something other than a howitzer to pull himself back from behind.

“The changeup got me back in some counts,” said Matz, who got first pitch strikes on only half his 31 batters. “So I just think, really mixed everything . . . It was just a recipe.”

Be gone, food processors. Welcome home, old-fashioned Mixmaster. Control the blending more directly. Between speeds when need be. Take that, all you guys trying to throw the proverbial lamb chops past the proverbial wolves. No wonder the game took a measly two hours and ten minutes and Matz missed a 100-pitch tally by one.

All of a sudden it didn’t seem all that tough to let Matz begin the seventh with a mere 1-0 lead. Oh, yes, he even shook off first and second and one out in the sixth by getting Melky Cabrera to dial an Area Code 5-4-3 that went around the horn smooth as whipped cream.

Then Michael Conforto made only the second Met hit of the game off Pirates starter Trevor Williams count with a drive into the right field seats in the bottom of that sixth. “Unfortunately for us,” Williams said after the game, “I was the one that blinked first.”

Matz and the Mets were so efficient that they almost blinked through the top of the seventh despite a two-out single. But in the bottom, after Todd Frazier reached on a one-out pop that Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang inexplicably let fall to the ground, J.D. Davis hit the first Williams service of the plate appearance, a four-seam fastball right down the chute, right over the center field fence.

Then Matz zipped through the top of the eighth with three straight ground outs and shoved Kevin Newman’s leadoff single aside in the top of the ninth to put the Pirates away on a fly out, a strikeout, and a ground out.

The Pirates played most of the game without manager Clint Hurdle, who was ejected in the first trying to keep Starling Marte from ejection after Marte huffed over a called third strike that ended the inning. Hurdle wasn’t thrilled about plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt’s slightly generous strike zone, and it did look as though Wendelstedt pulled a slightly too-swift trigger on the skipper.

But in fairness Wendelstedt blew a pocketful of strikes against both sides. One minute, Williams and Matz got strikes that were obvious balls, the next both pitchers got balls that were obvious strikes, just a little too often. It didn’t stop Williams from no-hitting the Mets through four and two thirds and pitching his own splendid seven innings ruined only by the pair of Met bombs. Any more than it stopped Matz from running the speed dial full spread against the Pirates.

The game left the Mets 9-5 since the All-Star break and the Pirates losers of seven straight and 2-15 since the break. Nobody’s quite ready to pronounce the Pirates officially doomed, nobody’s quite ready to pronounce the Mets officially back from the living dead, either, but it sure felt like the Mets got real old-fashioned pennant-race pitching.