My friend Rogers has watched a little baseball over the years, and he saw trouble coming Thursday night after Yordano Ventura hit Jose Abreu with a pitch in the fourth inning of the Royals-White Sox- game at U.S. Cellular Field. Abreu defiantly headed to first base in full sprint, his way of telling Ventura the plunking didn’t hurt a bit.
“We’re going to see a brawl tonight,” Rogers declared.
The teams already had engaged in some beanball tomfoolery during their season–opening series in Kansas City, with six batters hit as the Royals were completing their three–game sweep.
When Chris Sale promptly avenged Abreu by drilling Mike Moustakas with a pitch that, had it sailed six inches higher, might have caused serious damage, trouble became as inevitable as foul weather for April baseball.
Ventura, as high–strung and clueless as he is talented, was the instigator, making an elaborate show of cursing out Sox leadoff hitter Adam Eaton, as if retiring him on a harmless comebacker in the seventh inning of a tie game wasn’t satisfying enough. No sooner had Eaton responded with disbelief than both benches emptied, followed by the bullpens, and within minutes a scrum more lively than most baseball dust-ups was underway between home plate and first base.
Jeff Samardzija, dispenser of two of those Kansas City beanballs, was the main event, scuffling with Royals star Lorenzo Cain, among others. Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez was another committed combatant. Though his intent seemed to be removing teammates from harm’s way, Sale cost himself a potential third win by getting ejected, along with Ventura, who is developing an unsavory reputation for head-hunting.
Boys, we know, occasionally will be boys in baseball, but Sale apparently was unwilling to let the matter drop. His post–ejection attempt to resume the dispute with Ventura off the field no doubt was a factor in the five–game suspension he received when MLB passed judgment Saturday.
Samardzija also got five games, as did Volquez. Cain got two games, same as Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera. Ventura, with a prior involving Mike Trout on his rap sheet, got seven games.
All six defendants plan to appeal, but as it stands now, the top two pitchers on each team will miss at least one start. The Royals’ best all–around player will sit two games, as will one of the arms responsible for manning the American League’s best bullpen.
Satisfied, fellas? Got it out of your system?
Macho posturing is a rite of ancient baseball culture. Ballplayers aren’t as physically imposing as their football and basketball counterparts, and their skill–driven game doesn’t require the inherent toughness of hockey. But they want to be known as tough guys, so they occasionally resort to compensatory rituals such as charging the mound and/or provoking bench-clearing incidents like Thursday’s.
Describing them as “brawls” is a misnomer, as they usually involve a little pushing and shoving and a lot of milling around. But this fracas was wild— — Samardzija looked like a college–town bouncer clearing out a frat–boy bar as bodies flew around him. Why, though? It’s one thing to be a stand–up guy and a good teammate, but what if he’d broken his hand on an enemy forehead or landed on his shoulder at the bottom of a pile?
Samardzija, a former football star, has no need to prove his machismo. His former boss, deposed Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, once was asked if Samardzija had the gumption to succeed as a closer. Hendry answered the question with a question: “How many major-league pitchers have gone over the middle against USC or Florida State?”
The answer: One.
Sale’s recklessness is just as senseless. If he can fracture one of those spindly limbs jumping off a truck, why would he risk any of them in the unpredictable, uncontrolled environment of a baseball scuffle?
Not that Kansas City is blameless. The Royals established themselves as one of baseball’s soundest, most balanced teams during last year’s run to Game 7 of the World Series. This year, they’re also one of the most bellicose, as incident after incident reveals their intent to erase the memory of all those years when they were meek pushovers.
And Ventura is just a head case. Carlos Zambrano, anyone?
The fight overshadowed the fact that Abreu got back at Ventura by smoking a game–tying double off the center–field wall in the fifth inning. That’s how it ought to be done.
Grow up, guys. You’re being paid to win ballgames, not fistfights.