With one remark after the dustup settled, the game ended, and the Pirates finished blowing out the Reds, 11-4, Tuesday night, Pirates pitcher Keone Kela exposed himself the jerk of the week. He also restored attention yet again to the continuing inanities within baseball’s so-called unwritten rules.
Because it was Kela who re-ignited tension between those two teams that climaxed in one of the most sanity-challenged brawls baseball’s seen in recent seasons. Over something that exploded but was presumed settled in the season’s second week.
Few pitchers like to admit they’re up to something when one of their services dusts, brushes back, hits, or nearly decapitates a hitter. Kela not only wanted to send Derek Dietrich a fresh message in the eighth inning Tuesday night, he had no intention of covering it up.
“People could say it’s overdue,” Kela said after the basebrawl game. “At the end of the day this is baseball, and I have to protect my teammates. I have to do what I feel is right. Not only that, you have to pitch in. That’s part of this game.”
Protect his teammates against what? A mammoth home run hit over three months earlier? As if Dietrich’s 7 April shot into the Allegheny River could re-ignite, fly back out of the river, and keep flying in all the weeks to follow until it hit one or another Pirate in the face? Either someone whacked Kela with the proverbial stupid stick or he thinks everyone else listening to him forgot to have their bolts tightened.
Chris Archer—a man who isn’t exactly unknown for celebrating here and there whenever he strikes a hitter out—sent one behind Dietrich’s back, first pitch, close enough to his head, the next time Dietrich batted after that river shot. The benches and pens emptied at once. Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig tried taking the entire Pirate roster on by himself.
Message sent, however dubious. It got Archer a five-game, not a five-start suspension. The Reds fumed especially because all Archer provoked otherwise was an umpire warning to both sides, instead of an immediate dispatch, since nobody with functioning eyes could possibly miss the meaning of a pitch behind the head of a hitter who’d played “Wade in the Water” on his dollar the previous time up.
The Reds got the best revenge of all that time when Dietrich batted again in the eighth and hit one that traveled only as far as the right field seats. They can’t all be splash hits. And that should have been the end of it once and for all. Except that nobody sent the Pirates the memo.
If you can consider it good news, neither Archer nor Kela waited as long as then-Giants reliever Hunter Strickland once waited to drill Bryce Harper over a pair of division series bombs. If you think Kela sending a message over an almost three-month old incident is ridiculous, you should have heard what they called Strickland hitting Harper in the hip with the first pitch of an inning almost three years later.
Kela never faced Dietrich until Tuesday night. He also has the nerve to suggest he’s being made an example for simply being honest, receiving a ten-game suspension for his role in opening Tuesday’s festivities. Kela should consider himself fortunate that a ten-game siddown-and-shaddap is all he got.
But he doesn’t. He actually has the nerve to appeal the sentence. If baseball’s discipline chief Joe Torre still has a shred of intelligence, he’ll rule, “Appeal denied.” For once in its life baseball government sends a powerful message. A starting pitcher getting a five-game suspension gets, basically, nothing. A relief pitcher getting ten games hurts an awful lot more.
On Tuesday night, home plate umpire Larry Vanover issued warnings to both sides after Kela bent Dietrich, who jerked back to save himself a hole in the head, before striking him out to retire the side. A few Reds including Joey Votto had a few sweet nothings to chirp toward Kela. “You’re a pussy, bro. That’s pussy shit,” Votto hollered. “[Fornicate] off!” Kela appeared to chirp back. “This is how we play [fornicating] baseball!”
Reds manager David Bell got himself ejected later in the eighth after arguing a questionable strike call against Puig. Reds reliever Jared Hughes decided for himself what the warnings didn’t mean when he drilled Starling Marte on the first pitch when Marte batted in the top of the ninth. Hughes was ejected promptly and Amir Garrett was brought in to relieve him.
After getting Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman to ground out, he threw pinch hitter Jose Osuna so meaty a two-seam fastball that Osuna probably had no choice but to make a three-run homer out of it. Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson, managing in Bell’s stead, came to the mound to take the ball.
As Johnson arrived, a Pirate or two including pitcher Trevor Williams chirped toward Garrett, who had some choice words, expletive included, in reply to Pirates first baseman Josh Bell at least. Then, as if hearing a starter’s pistol only he could hear, Garrett jolted Johnson, the Reds, and everyone else in Great American Ballpark when he charged the Pirates dugout, fists swinging, greeted by a swarm of Pirates intent on burying him alive.
The Reds looked so jolted by their man’s charge that it took them a few moments before they finally swarmed the Pirates’ swarm. This time, Puig came a little late to the party, from his right field position, but his initial intent seemed to be getting Garrett the hell out of there, in one piece if possible.
In an irony that’ll be talked about most of the rest of the season, Puig wasn’t even a Red anymore: the news broke minutes before Garrett’s charge that he was going to the Indians in a three-way deal that brought the Reds talented but tortuous pitcher Trevor Bauer and sent Padres bombardier Franmil (The Franimal) Reyes to the Tribe. Puig didn’t yet know he was standing up for technically former teammates.
Come Thursday, after whatever dust settled from the new single trade deadline doings Wednesday, there came the word of who was being punished how, beyond Kela’s ten-game sentence:
Garrett—eight games, for charging the Pirate dugout like a bull.
Osuna—five games, for whatever he was doing during the rumble near the dugout.
Hughes—three games for drilling Marte.
Pirates pitcher Kyle Crick—three games for, presumably, swinging fists.
Puig—three games, likewise, for “aggressive actions,” probably because he returned to the pile after seeming to depart after trying to extract Garrett.
Bell—six games, for being foolish enough to return to the field and join the party after he’d been ejected over the Puig strike call.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle—two games, not just over the Tuesday night scrum but because one of his pitchers was stupid enough to throw at Dietrich again after another did it in April.
Except for Hurdle, who began serving his sentence Friday, they’re all appealing.
There’s a perverse dignity in Kela’s comment upon receiving his ten-game suspension. “Me being honest, I guess the truth will get you crucified,” he told reporters. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to sit here and bald-faced lie. The game sees enough of that.”
It may be refreshing to see a pitcher actually cop to trying to decapitate a hitter who offended him or his team. But what about a pitcher trying to decapitate a hitter over a months-old incident that was presumed reasonably to have been settled business? Kela can plead all he likes that at least he didn’t hit the man, but admitting he threw at and over his head (this is how we play [fornicating] baseball!) is a dangerous look.
Will Dietrich be under a life sentence of brushbacks, knockdowns, and attempted decapitations whenever he faces Pittsburgh pitching? Will the Pirates come under closer scrutiny for the apparent penchant toward inside pitching that seems often enough as though their pitchers don’t care whether even non-plate crowding batters get hit?
Actually, they just might. With Torre’s plain statement singling out “multiple intentional pitches thrown at Dietrich this season,” plus previously known formal complaints from the Cubs, the Cardinals, the Diamondbacks, and the Reds prior to the Tuesday night dance, the Pittsburgh (This is How We Play [Fornicating] Baseball) Pirates now have an official headhunting reputation.
That’ll last longer than any of the suspensions will. And it’ll keep baseball government more than a little on edge, too. The Pirates and the Reds have six more meetings before this season ends. Three in PNC Park in late August; three more in Great American Ballpark to end the regular season. Don’t be shocked to see S.W.A.T. teams deployed strategically at each ballpark until those sets end without further ado, if they do.
Pushing a plate crowder off the plate is one thing. Trying to assassinate a guy who’s guilty of nothing more than hitting a couple of over-three-month-old, glandular home runs, and admiring his handiwork in a moment he doesn’t expect to be that glandular, makes you look smaller than a garden slug.
Kela has something of a reputation for trouble even without the Tuesday night soiree. The Rangers may have been pitching needy at the time but it didn’t stop them from shipping him out of town and to the Pirates at last year’s old non-waiver trade deadline after a number of unsavoury incidents with his Texas teammates.
A week before the rumble with the Reds the Pirates suspended Kela a pair of games over a fight with the team’s performance coach Hector Morales. On Wednesday, a report at MLB Trade Rumours suggested the Pirates talked to the Brewers about a trade that would send Kela to Milwaukee. Even headhunters have their limits with their own.
As in April, I’m reminded of something Nats reliever Sean Doolittle said last fall, when proclaiming himself all in on baseball’s reputed drive to let the kids play. “I promise you, they’re not disrespecting the game,” Doolittle said last fall of the those batters who dial long distance, if not the river, and celebrate on the spot.
If you’re the pitcher who surrenders such bombs, Doolittle had a further message: “If you got your feelings hurt, that’s on you. If a guy hits a home run off me, drops to his knees, pretends the bat is a bazooka, and shoots it out at the sky, I don’t give a shit.”
Concurrently, if you’re the hitter who just got struck out stylishly enough by the enemy pitcher, it’s on you if you take offense should the pitcher simulate fanning a pistol (Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley did that now and then) or shooting an arrow into your hide. Letting the kids have fun should work both ways. Doolittle knows it.
Maybe that’s one reason why he’s enjoying a successful season as perhaps the only Nats relief pitcher who wasn’t prone to throwing gasoline on fires for too long while the Pirates sink deep into the NL Central basement. Maybe, too, they ought to post Doolittle’s words in the Pirates’ clubhouse and bullpen. The Pirates’, and everyone’s.