When Paul Konerko fell to the ground clutching his bloodied face after being struck with a Jeff Samardzija splitter, it triggered a number of emotional responses, not all of which were extinguished by the pitcher's apparent concern for the well-being of the White Sox captain.
One of the long-cited benefits of National League play was offering an opportunity to assuage the outrage over Konerko being knocked out of the game; Jeff Samardzija was leading off the next inning
Revenge in baseball these days has a long list of immediate drawbacks. The consequences start as simple as extra baserunners, and evolve quickly to ejections, suspensions, and whatever bad results provoking a beanball war or brawl might bring.
That probably played a factor the decision to let Samardzija's at-bat go by without incident, but the option of letting the incident go completely by the boards had its drawbacks as well.
Samardzija may not have been quite a snarling menace deserving of all-out war, but he had been busting the White Sox hitters inside all day. He nearly beaned Alexei Ramirez when he leaned in for a bunt attempt--and his track record hardly indicated that he ventured inside on hitters with a great amount of care.
If the Sox did nothing, they risked paying for Samardzija's mistakes with more injured players, much in the way they suffered the bruises of the Cleveland Indians' control problems the last two seasons.
To that end, Philip Humber's delayed retaliation--a heater thrown behind Bryan LaHair--was perfect, in a coldly efficient way. It provided no visceral thrill, or satisfaction for those of more fiery ilk, such as Jake Peavy, who was seen attempting to inspire his teammates to strike back.
It also didn't leave Bryan LaHair particularly pleased, who actually expected retaliation--even if he was an unexpected target--but would have opted for something farther away from his head.
"I'm all right with getting hit. I understand. But you start getting around people's heads, that's kind of dangerous. It could be scary. I didn't get hurt or anything, so just kind of move on from it."
LaHair's concern is more than understandable--it is his head after all--but falls on deaf ears on a day where someone actually suffered the fate he feared.
What the pitch did accomplish was to be aggressive enough to bring about umpire warnings for both dugouts. That removed Samardzija's margin for error, lest he wished to cede the game to the Cubs' poorly-regarded bullpen. The Shark wasn't seen brushing back any more Sox hitters on the afternoon.
Humber would wind up walking LaHair anyway, but stayed in the game and pitched around it. And he'll likely avoid suspension, because he learned the lesson of Cole Hamels, that violence and retaliation can survive in baseball, so long as empty gestures to hide it persist.
"That one just got away from me,'' said Humber, the grandson of an East Texas preacher. "Just one of those things that happens during games.''
His subterfuge was matched by his manager, who proved apt at looking Phil Rogers in the eye while protecting his players from suspension.
I asked the White Sox manager if there was a purpose to the 91-mph fastball that sailed behind LaHair's head on its way to the Wrigley Field screen.
"No,'' said Ventura, who then turned his brown eyes on me for what seemed a long time, not blinking.
I asked him if the pitch was one that just got away from Humber.
"Yeah,'' he said.
Whatever they need to do so Humber makes his next start is fine, since Paul Konerko won't be making his.