Apparently, it is now acceptable baseball code to taunt and show up the pitcher off whom you just crushed a monstrous home run, because said pitcher objected to a teammate’s possible showboating on a similar bomb four innings before you delivered yours.
That pitching duel between Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver was crusing along nicely enough—if you didn’t count Magglio Ordonez’s one-from-the-memory-banks bomb and his uncharacteristic slow step up the line to watch the ball disappear—until Carlos Guillen unloaded on Weaver.
Guillen didn’t just hit a towering bomb. He stood and watched. He took a step. He took another step. He cocked his head just a fraction toward Weaver, then extended his right arm and dropped his bat. He turned his head full to look at Weaver once again. Then, he hopped. And then he began his long, strange trip around the bases.
Weaver, maybe one of the Show’s three best pitchers this season, since you’d have to align Verlander himself plus CC Sabathia, made his own fatal mistake with the next batter, Alex Avila. He threw a fastball right at Avila’s head. Avila wasn’t the criminal here. The six-game suspension Weaver has incurred for that pitch was entirely justified. Combine that with the six-game sit-down Carlos Carrasco of the Cleveland Indians earned for the same offence, winging one at the head of the batter following the one who took him over the fence and showboated the bomb, and maybe baseball government is beginning to get the idea.
If Weaver or any Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher had waited until Guillen’s next time at the plate to teach him a little lesson in manners, they would have been justified completely in sending Guillen to the dirt. Behaving like a dig-me! jerk when you hit a long home run, because your teammate got “shown up” four innings earlier, is just as brainless as throwing at the head of the next guy in the lineup after you got taken downtown.
Weaver apparently wasn’t thrilled with Ordonez’s little routine out of the box after hitting his bomb. He may or may not have misunderstood the intent, since it could have been argued that Ordonez—who isn’t even half the hitter he used to be anymore—was actually watching to see whether his shot would end up foul. Of course, a veteran such as Ordonez might have remembered that you run it out no matter what. If it proves foul, you just pull up and go back to the plate.
Still, it is something of a tradition that a showboating home run has a 50-50 chance of getting the next guy up a message pitch. There couldn’t have been any question even in the Detroit Tigers’ minds that Avila was going to go on his seat. There was no such question in home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt’s mind, which is precisely why he warned both benches after warning Weaver himself.
Weaver, of course, had no intention of heeding that warning, and impatience isn’t exactly a virtue even if you understand his thinking in the moment. The day that juvenile taunting, showboating, and deliberate embarrassment becomes accepted procedure for “standing up for my team,” which is what Guillen called his ersatz Charlie Chaplin routine after hitting his bomb, is the day baseball really does become something like the way disgruntled fans once prayed it to become—a little more like the National Football League.
Guillen was probably too thick to comprehend that he might have done his team—and, especially, his pitcher, who was still working on a no-hitter at the time—a bigger favour by heeding the counsel of Ryne Sandberg when that remarkable second baseman, who may yet become a remarkable major league manager, spoke during his induction to the Hall of Fame:
Make a great play, act like you’ve done it before. Get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases. Hit a home run, put your head down, drop the bat, run around the bases, because the name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back. That’s respect.
And if the pitcher thinks the home run hitter is more concerned for the name on his back than the name on his front, then he or his relief should think about waiting until the bomber bats again, or until the next time they meet in a game if he doesn’t in that one. Then, knock him on his ass. Alex Avila wasn’t Weaver’s enemy.
Of course, there are some who think the Angels still managed to stick it to the Tigers when Erick Aybar led off the next inning with a bunt. Oh, the horror! He’s bunting to try to bust up that no-hitter! Who is this fool and what planet did he drop from?!?
Which would have been a legitimate complaint . . . if the Tigers accompanied Verlander’s pitching virtuosity with a blowout in the making. Except that the Tigers had nothing more than a 3-0 lead, and Aybar isn’t exactly a power hitting threat. (For the record: Aybar bunted back toward the box, and Verlander himself threw wide trying to bag him at first, scored an error but keeping the no-no alive, for a little while, anyway.)
A three-run lead doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right (the right, mind you, which is just how some people think of it) to have your man’s no-hitter left unmolested. Anyone who says the Angels (who are in a pennant race just as the Tigers are) weren’t within their rights to try whatever legitimate means necessary to try to come back from a mere three down to win the game should probably be picking up his or her diploma from Carlos Guillen Nursery School.