The Wednesday Takeaway
Caleb Joseph described the ongoing drama between the Orioles and Red Sox best in just one single word: “Malarkey!” The 80-tool linguist put a mess of a controversy into perfectly agreeable terms, though that only does so much in helping us sort out why and how, exactly, a starting pitcher was ejected from Wednesday’s game after accidentally hitting a batter with a 77 mph curveball.
As with any conflict, we need to find the initial spark which gave rise to the roaring feud baseball now has on its hands. In fact, we must retrace both teams’ steps all the way back to April 21st, when Manny Machado spiked Dustin Pedroia on a slide into second base.
Whether it was intentional or not is up for debate, though this unbiased writer feels it worth mentioning that Machado’s immediate reaction was to help Pedroia, a move which resulted in him being tagged out. It’s also probably worth mentioning that Pedroia saw no problems with Machado’s slide. Regardless, two days later, Boston hurler Matt Barnes threw at Machado’s head, resulting in a four-game suspension.
A week later, Dylan Bundy struck Mookie Betts with a pitch on the hip, and while the intention of this plunking is up for debate, it likely led to what occurred on Tuesday—Chris Sale throwing behind Manny Machado’s knees, a move which acted as the catalyst for a postgame outburst from Machado. As an aside, Statcast would like you to know that Machado dropped 12 f-bombs at a 45-degree launch angle and 24 mph exit velocity. Anyway, back to today.
Kevin Gausman, he of a 5.10 BB/9, threw a looping curveball in the bottom of the second inning that found the left hip of Xander Bogaerts and earned an immediate ejection from home plate umpire Sam Holbrook. This, naturally, resulted in quite a bit of controversy, most of which this time not directed at a player, but at the umpire. The hit by pitch was so clearly unintentional that even Red Sox players couldn’t call out Gausman, and instead much of anger was directed at the umpiring crew and MLB itself.
Hopefully, this conflict has come to a somewhat awkward close, but it’s an ugly reminder of the side of the game which really shouldn’t exist—throwing life-threatening, high-90s fastballs at heads for possibly unintentional slides are reckless at best and barbaric at worst. Fans love baseball for the … baseball, and issues like these make it so you don’t even find out the final score of the game (4-2, Boston, for what it’s worth) until you’ve read 450 words about extracurriculars.
There was a separate bench-clearing brawl on Wednesday too, although luckily even calling this fight a skirmish would be an exaggeration. So I’ll keep my soapbox safely stowed away, and instead we can just take a closer look at a conflict that was less intense than most Thanksgiving dinners.
The whole "thing" started with an, uh, tag from Danny Valencia on Martin Maldonado, which was considered too, uh, firm. You aren’t alone in being slightly confused by that, so allow Seattle’s broadcast crew to break things down for you:
Mike Blowers: “…There’s beef about the tag, you’ve gotta be kidding me.”
Dave Simms: “C’mon! I’m not sure why …”
Blowers: “It was the tag for crying out loud!”
Simms: “It really was.”
Blowers: “I mean, give me a break … aw, for crying out loud.”
Well that was enlightening. It appears that the Mariners' announcers are just as flummoxed as us, probably because this was a pretty silly incident.
In other news, Mike Trout hit a home run—his eighth of the season—and, as terrifying as this may sound, the best player in baseball may only be getting better. Coming off the most dominant April of his career, Trout is showing no signs of slowing down, now notching at least one hit in 16 straight games.
Despite Trout’s contributions, the Mariners still came out on top in the one-run win, in part due to an unbelievable catch by Guillermo Heredia to rob Andrelton Simmons of a possible three-run home run.
While Simmons’ chance of a round-tripper was stolen away by Heredia, there’s no human on this earth who would have stood a chance at stopping this the monster dinger off the bat of Marcell Ozuna.
While the solo shot alone wasn’t a key deciding factor in the Marlins’ 10-6 win, it deserves plenty of attention for the display of sheer power. Pulled home runs simply have a certain aesthetically pleasing factor to them, and when it looks like there’s legitimately no ballpark left to contain the home run, well, that’s how you know it’s a special one. Unsurprisingly, this 468-foot home run was the longest of Ozuna’s career.
Since we’re on the topic of home runs, I should probably point out an important pair that occurred during the Yankees' 8-6 victory over the Blue Jays. The first came off the bat of designated hitter Matt Holiday, who drilled the 300th home run of his career. In an era with so many transcendent bats, it’s easy to forget that the 37-year-old Holliday has been one of the best pure hitters of the past decade, as his .303/.382/.515 career line points out. He’s showing no signs of stopping this season, either, and carries a 155 wRC+ through a month and change of work.
Hitting two spots behind Holliday in the Yankees’ lineup is an awfully good hitter in his own right, Aaron Judge. In fact, Judge has been one of the best power bats in baseball this season, if not the best. With his 13th home run of the season on Wednesday, Judge now stands alone with the top spot in baseball’s home run leaderboard.
Although bats were primarily used to punish pitching in this 8-6 game, Brett Gardner used his lumber to take out some frustration on the team’s recycling bin. Gardner was left furious because of what he considered an inconsistent strike zone, and he channeled his anger into the first official dugout object casualty of 2017.
The Yankees weren’t the only New York team that generated some offense last night, as the Mets’ lineup broke out in a big away against the Braves. The 16-5 win was especially promising for Mets fans, as several struggling yet important players made major contributions. Jose Reyes, he of the .172 batting average and .260 on-base percentage, matched his RBI output on the season with five. Curtis Granderson, owner of a .137/.186/.242 line, pitched in two doubles, scoring three times. Neil Walker, who is hitting just .211 on the season, also had a two-hit showing, doubling and scoring a couple times. All told, the final six hitters in the Mets' lineup went 15-for-31 with 13 RBI, 11 runs, and five doubles.
Witnessing the Mets score runs was pretty strange, but the weirdest moment of the night came from an inning thrown by the Royals’ Nathan Karns. Karns was dominant over six shutout innings, giving up just one hit and one walk, but the highlight of his start came in the top of the sixth inning, when the righty struck out four hitters.
On the day Vin Scully was inducted into the Dodgers’ Ring of Honor, the Giants and Dodgers went 11 innings in a tight game. After 10 full innings, the score remained tied at one, with Julio Urias and Jeff Samardzija each looking strong. The Shark, in particular, was dominant, going eight innings and allowing just one unearned run on three hits. The former college wide receiver struck out 11, placing him third in the National League in strikeouts.
Both teams' defenses did all they could to limit the scoring, from a sliding stop from Brandon Belt to a flying catch by Andrew Toles. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, defense just wasn’t enough to stop the notorious power of Gorkys Hernandez, who laced a bases-loaded double in the 11th that would be enough to give San Francisco a 4-1 victory.
Another pitchers’ duel (of sorts) occurred in the capital, where the Nationals beat the Diamondbacks 2-1. While Arizona struck first in the opening frame, Gio Gonzalez was somehow able to work around seven walks to allow just one run over five innings. On the other side, Robbie Ray came out throwing strikes and pitched his way through six whiff-filled innings. Ray’s slider was dominant, and he used it in tandem with a mid-90s fastball and suddenly-plus curveball to strikeout 10 batters.
Ray was handed the loss after giving up a sixth-inning double that gave Washington the lead, but he did extend the Diamondbacks’ streak of 10-strikeout outings from their starters to an MLB-record nine games. Oh, and about that double, it came from the NL’s Player of the Month, a red-hot Ryan Zimmerman, who went 2-3 o raise his average to .427.
Defensive Play of the Day
While there were several excellent plays in the field on Wednesday, I have a soft spot for the good ol’ layout, and Byron Buxton did his best imitation of Superman with an incredible grab to rob Khris Davis.
What to Watch for Thursday
After no day games yesterday, Thursday will feature quite a few interesting afternoon games. It’s worth keeping an eye on the first contest of the day at 12:35 pm ET, when the Pirates take on the Reds. Ivan Nova will toe the rubber for the Bucs and look to continue his excellent start to the season.
Elsewhere, Max Scherzer will likely do Max Scherzer things against the Diamondbacks when the Nationals play Arizona at 1:05 pm, and more must-watch baseball will begin just five minutes later when two young arms in Danny Salazar and Michael Fulmer face off in Detroit. It’ll also be worth keeping an eye on the Red Sox and Orioles game…hopefully both clubs stay civil after Wednesday’s early-game ejection of Kevin Gausman, but if the past couple games are any indication, who knows what will happen.