A wild weekend in Kansas City came roaring to a hostile conclusion yesterday afternoon. Little did new A’s third baseman Brett Lawrie know when he slid hard into Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar on Friday night, that he was setting off what has the makings of one of the best baseball feuds in recent memory. Escobar is now day-to-day with a sprained knee.
Here is the slide, which took place in the seventh inning of a 4-4 game.
It was clearly a late slide by Lawrie, who is known for playing the game aggressively. In the late innings of a tie game between two very good ballclubs with playoff aspirations, such a slide should be seen as part of the game. I believe most managers would take issue with a player on their team not selling out to break up a double play in that situation as Lawrie did. Lawrie has a history of being intense but not dirty, and the injury is an unfortunate part of the game of baseball.
Still, anyone who has even the slightest understanding of baseball’s “Unwritten Rules” knew some sort of retaliation was coming Lawrie’s way on Saturday. Just like takeout slides, fastballs to the ribs are a part of the game, whether the league’s safety police like it or not. Whether Lawrie meant to injure Escobar or not, he was going to be hit on Saturday, and all parties involved knew it.
The retaliatory fastball came with very little delay. Royals’ starter Yordano Ventura seized his opportunity in the top of the fourth inning. Following a Josh Reddick home run which capped off a five-spot, Ventura drilled the A’s third baseman with a 99 MPH fastball and was promptly ejected from the ballgame.
That should have been the end of things. In this game, you get one chance to take a shot at a player you feel has somehow wronged a fellow member of your team. Ventura did, and got Lawrie. Time to move on, plain and simple. The game of baseball can accept, and has accepted pitches like this for years. Ventura’s fastball caught Lawrie right between the ribs, the most acceptable and least dangerous place it could have. That the beanball came one pitch after Ventura surrendered a home run while giving up a crooked number is slightly suspect, but can be overlooked in the big picture.
Tensions remained high on Sunday, however. Oakland starter Scott Kazmir caught Lorenzo Cain with a low and inside fastball. This was clearly not intentional. Rarely do teams fire a return shot when a team has a legitimate case for seeking retaliation as they did with Lawrie. The entire Oakland organization should have seen the Lawrie HBP coming a mile away. It is a part of the game, and the Athletics’ own pitching staff will likely take a shot at an opposing hitter before the season comes to an end.
Kazmir was not ejected for the errant pitch, and the game seemed to continue on with very little hostility. Then, Kelvin Herrera took the mound in the eighth inning. If there is one member of the Royals hard throwing bullpen I would expect not to understand the situation, it would be Herrera. The stocky right-hander has a demonstrative personality, a neck beard and wears his hat cocked to the side. Armed with a 100-MPH fastball, he took the mound in a 2-1 game and went about setting off a nuclear bomb that will likely create a season-long rivalry between these two teams.
Herrera’s first pitch to Brett Lawrie backed the A’s batter off the plate. The second pitch flew 100 MPH behind Lawrie’s head. Herrera was shown the door, and the dugouts emptied. As he stepped into the dugout, Herrera pointed at his head and back at Lawrie. An ugly weekend was made even uglier than it needed to be. Lawrie was visibly angry following the game, and he had every right to be so.
This is the kind of incident that leaves only one player and team with egg on their face. Kelvin Herrera should be suspended for this pitch. He can blame it on rain, and tell us that he was motioning at his head to tell Lawrie to “think about it.” All baseball fans know the gesture meant one thing — a fastball to the head. For these actions, Herrera must be suspended by Major League Baseball. A fastball to the ribs is an acceptable part of the game in certain situations, but anything involving the head is out of bounds.
This type of behavior has no place in the game, and the Royals and manager Ned Yost must do a better job controlling their pitchers in this type of situation. I do not accept Herrera’s defense for a second. Pitches do not end up behind a batter’s head because of a wet baseball, especially not when the pitcher has already retired the first two men on only seven pitches. Herrera has decent control, and he knew where that baseball was going. In that situation, Yost needs to make it crystal clear that the Lawrie situation has been put to bed, and it is time to move on and play ball.
The fact that Herrera felt compelled to come back for one last shot at Lawrie does not indicate that the situation was handled properly inside the Royals’ clubhouse. It is highly unlikely that a more mature, level-headed player would have uncorked a pitch behind Lawrie’s head. Perhaps Yost did take control of the situation as best he could, and Herrera still felt compelled to take matters into his own hands. Whatever the case, this is an opportunity for Royals’ leadership to take command of their locker room, regroup as a team, and move on with a more measured approach to the game.
The Royals are an exciting team to watch, and they play the game with a reckless abandon and joy unmatched by most teams. That being said, that style of play cannot carry over into a player’s mindset when it comes to situations like these. Yost must do a better job making his players aware of how a situation like this should be handled. Kansas City will not make themselves any friends in the league acting the way, and they will not receive the benefit of the doubt should a similar situation occur later in the year. There is an acceptable way to handle retaliation in baseball, but the Royals proved this weekend that their young players are not yet mature enough to react properly. Cooler heads must prevail in Kansas City, and quickly.