More than any other sport, the game of baseball is filled with "unwritten rules," those little head-nod, handshake agreements that exist as sort of an inner police force for the game. Some of these make sense in terms of discouraging players from showboating or piling up unnecessary stats. Others are simply a matter of respect for certain players or positions (usually pitchers).
Many of these rules are common knowledge, though some are perhaps so esoteric as to be somewhat useless or even anti-competitive. For the most part, though, they're all harmless. Well, until you talk about throwing a solid sphere at a high rate of speed in the direction of an opposing player in some sort of misplaced act of vigilantism. Then again, sometimes said act is just dumb, leaving a far worse bruise on your own team than on your opponent's backside.
But before I get into that any further, I want to take a look at some of these unwritten rules:
- Don't talk about a no-hitter in progress
- Don't steal bases when you're way up or way down (unless you're Ricky being Ricky)
- Don't bunt to break up a no-hitter (or against Matt Garza)
- Don't admire a home run (this doesn't apply to Albert Pujols, Barroid Bonds, or Junior Griffey)
- Don't step on the pitcher's mound if you're not a pitcher (hear that, A-Rod?)
- If a pitcher hits a teammate, hit one of theirs (or the pitcher himself in an NL game)
There are many more of these codes, some of which I might even cover in a future Off-Day Offerings post, but it's the last one that I want to review here. Travis Wood headed into the bottom of the 5th inning on Monday night in St. Louis with a 9-2 lead; he was cruising. He opened the frame by sandwiching a Matt Carpenter fly-out between plunkings of Greg Garcia and Jhonny Peralta (whose parents apparently did not observe the unwritten rule of how to spell his name).
No pitcher in his right mind would intentionally put two men on base with the heart of a dangerous order coming up, particularly with a big lead. So it's not as though Wood was exacting some sort of revenge for wrongs the Cards had committed. Not unlike a leadoff walk, the beanballs came back to haunt the Cubs, as the Cardinals went on to score 3 runs in the inning to make the tally a much more manageable 9-5.
Well, that is, it seemed manageable until Travis Wood led off the top of the 6th against rookie reliever Eric Fornataro. I'm going to go out on a limb and surmise that Cards manager Mike Matheny did not call for what happened next; he seems a little too smart for a bush league move like that. So whether Fornataro was trying to establish some street cred with his teammates or simply fancies himself as baseball's version of the Punisher, he immediately beaned Wood.
As pitchers go, Wood is a very good hitter, so there's a possibility that his counterpart was simply trying to take the bat out of his hands. But really? A four-run deficit against a bullpen that hasn't exactly been a shut-down unit and you're going to put the pitcher on base without even making him swing?
Super Emilio Bonifacio followed the HBP with the third of his four hits on the night, Lake moved Wood to 3rd on a flyout, and Anthony Rizzo hit a sac fly to score Wood. Starlin Castro then doubled Bonifacio home before Mike Olt flied out to deep center to end the inning. It's conceivable that Wood would have collected a hit in his AB, but had Fornataro actually pitched to him, he could well have gotten out of the inning with no runs. Instead, the game went to the bottom of the 6th with the Cubs leading 11-5.
How ya feelin' about that HBP on Wood to start the inning now, douchebag?
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) May 13, 2014
Sure, it was a bit uncouth, but I just get all antsy in the pantsies when these little "rules" get either abused or taken too seriously. Maybe it's because it was the Cards or maybe it was the giddiness of the Cubs scoring enough runs to make Antonio Alfonseco remove his other sock in order to keep track of the tally. Whatever the case, I was happy that the BS beanball came back to bite the birds.
I should note, however, that I was all in favor of Carlos Zambrano targeting Jim Edmonds twice in one game back in 2004. The first may well have been an accident, but that didn't stop Edmonds from breaking the 5th rule list above. Big Z was absolutely livid, screaming at his future teammate through his glove as the triumphant hitter trotted. When Edmonds came up again, Zambrano zeroed in on him, beaned him, and headed for the clubhouse before the umpire had even signaled for his ejection.
As hot as the Cubs' bats were on Monday, Fornataro's action probably meant nothing. As evidence of their contagious hitting, even Darwin Barney racked up 3 hits on the night, bringing his season total to 12 and raising his average 35 points to .188 (he also had 2 hits on Sunday, prior to which his BA was a lowly .128).
AJ Walsh wrote yesterday that the Cubs pretty much need to collect 9 hits and score 5 runs in order to have a shot at a win. Well, I think they covered the spread last night in plating 17 runs on 20 hits. Of course, that only served to stoke fear in some fans (I'm one) that this team will continue to operate like an offensive camel and will now go days or weeks without scoring much.
But hey, at least we all got the treat of seeing them bust out last night. Olt continues to hit the ball hard, Lake provided a counter to the argument that he needs to be sent down, and the game was fun to watch. All in all, it was a welcome reprieve from the snooze-fests in ATL.
We'll take what we can get, but boy would it be nice to see this potential even out and become a little more consistent.
Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman
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