There is a right way, and a wrong way, to retaliate in baseball. Apparently, the Arizona Diamondbacks don’t know the difference.
In baseball, retaliation is a part of the game. Whether you think retaliation is stupid, or you are Diamondbacks skipper Kirk Gibson, there is nothing to suggest it is going away anytime soon. Equally true is that there is a right way, and a wrong way, to retaliate.
When the Arizona Diamondbacks hit Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Andrew McCutchen a few nights ago, they did it in exactly the wrong way. On paper, it was a simple case of retaliation: the Pirates had accidentally hit Paul Goldschmidt the night before, breaking his hand and probably ending his season. For this offense, the D-backs hit the best player on the Pirates. Seems simple enough, right?
Not really. Let’s go to the tape.
There are two main problems with this: the pitch itself, and the timing.
It is pretty obvious why the pitch itself is an issue: it’s dangerous. In this situation, you absolutely cannot hit him that high. Retaliating is one thing, but retaliating with the intent to injure is a whole different beast, and is never okay.
Also, the timing is suspect. As McCutchen said after the game, “They had all game to retaliate. They had the first inning to retaliate. They had that first pitch to retaliate and missed.” McCutchen is completely correct in criticizing the D-backs on when this pitch was thrown. Baseball is essentially a series of one on one battles, and by hitting Cutch in the 9th, the D-backs essentially told him that they weren’t going to give him a chance to punish them at the plate. If you feel like you have to retaliate, do it immediately after the first incident, and get back to playing the game.
Clearly, the Diamondbacks didn’t watch Clayton Kershaw handle business a few weeks ago against the St. Louis Cardinals. Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez had just been hit for the second time (both accidental) in the top of the inning. In the first pitch of the bottom half of that inning, Kershaw hit Matt Holiday with a pitch.
The difference between the two is clear: Kershaw retaliated immediately and safely. He hit Holliday where it couldn’t possibly injure him, and that was the end of it. It was intentional, and everyone in the stadium knew it.
Compare that to the Diamondbacks. After missing on the first pitch, Randall Delgado throws a slider, as if to make it look like he isn’t just targeting McCutchen (like anyone would fall for that).
What’s more, after the game D-backs manager Kirk Gibson actually tried to claim that the pitch just got away from Delgado. On the other hand, when Kershaw hit Holliday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after the game, “We’re going to protect our guys”. He owned it, and it ended there.
In principle, I am fine with Arizona throwing at McCutchen. I understand that, with Paul Goldschmidt out, the Diamondbacks feel they need to back their teammate up. Personally, I think it is stupid and arcane, but I still understand it. That said, you have to tread with extreme caution, and the D-backs’ brazen retaliatory shot stands as an example of how not to play the game.
This incident will do nothing to cure the Diamondbacks rep as “The Dirtiest Team in Baseball“. As Cork Gaines put it, “the Diamondbacks have repeatedly shown that they will put the careers of other players at risk over the slightest of offenses”.
While I am usually not an advocate of this type of move, I would support MLB stepping in and issuing either a fine or a suspension (or both) to Delgado for that pitch. MLB has already shown it is willing to be the arbiter of the unwritten rules, and if there is ever a place to step in, it is here. If you are going to use the unwritten rules, use them correctly. If you can’t do that, then there should be a strong punishment.
Do you think Arizona got it right, or wrong? Comment below, or hit me up on Twitter.
Edited by Justin Peroff.