MINNEAPOLIS — White Sox manager Tony La Russa apologized to the Twins for Yermin Mercedes swinging on a 3-0 count in the ninth inning of a blowout victory Monday and hitting a home run against Twins position player Willians Astudillo, an old-school response to the unwritten rule about respecting and not showing up an opponent.
“Big mistake,” La Russa said. “Just about the time the guy started making the pitch, I took several steps toward the field, yelling, ‘Take, take, take!’ It looked to me like he was going to swing. I was upset; that’s not the time to swing, 3-0.”
La Russa said third-base coach Joe McEwing gave Mercedes the take sign. While La Russa sent a message to the Twins saying he was sorry, Mercedes wasn’t apologetic.
And shortstop Tim Anderson as well as most fans — if reaction on social media is an indicator — say there’s no need for him to be.
“The Twins knew I was upset,” La Russa said. “Joe had given him the take sign. I just think Yermin was locked in — they know each other from different competitions — and said, ‘I got to get him.’ ”
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said he appreciated that message from La Russa, but it “didn’t quell all of the emotions from all the guys in the clubhouse.”
The homer came on a 47 mph lob and gave the Sox a 16-4 lead. Astudillo, who glared in the direction of the Sox’ dugout after the inning, retired the other three batters he faced. It was his third relief appearance in a season in which teams are saving bullpens by using position players in blowouts. Twins broadcasters saw it La Russa’s way, too.
While not a benching, “there will be a consequence [Mercedes] has to endure within our family,” La Russa said. “But it won’t happen again. Joe will be on the lookout, and I will, too. We’ll go running in front of the pitcher if we have to.”
But Mercedes, who talked to media before La Russa, said he would continue playing the way he plays. He was leading the American League in batting average, sporting a .364/.410/.574 hitting line. He has become a big fan favorite.
“I’m going to play like that,” Mercedes said. “You know, I’m Yermin. I can’t be all of the players because if I change it, everything’s going to change. . . . We’re just having fun. It’s baseball.”
And La Russa, the 76-year-old third-winningest manager of all time, will manage like he always has. Going into the Sox’ game against the Twins on Tuesday, he had managed them to a 25-15 record, the best in baseball.
Part of his concern, La Russa said, would be provoking the Twins to retaliate by throwing at a Sox hitter, and, sure enough, reliever Tyler Duffey threw behind Mercedes in the seventh inning. Duffey was ejected, as was Baldelli after he objected to Duffey getting thrown out.
“I heard [Mercedes] said, ‘I play my game,’ ’’ La Russa said. “No, he doesn’t. He plays the game of major-league baseball. Respect the game, respect the opponents, and he has to respect the sign. When you get the take sign, take.”
On the flip side of La Russa’s take is the changing view that baseball, in an evolving environment in which teams such as the Sox themselves roll with a “Change the Game” motto, should emphasize fun. The matchup of a Twins fan favorite vs. Mercedes, the AL Rookie of the Month for April, brought many fans at Target Field to their feet for the first time in the blowout.
How Sox players feel about it bears watching. On Instagram, Anderson supported Mercedes, saying, “The game wasn’t over! Keep doing you, big daddy.”
Another player declined comment, saying it was a “lose-lose” situation to speak out.
Said another: “If you don’t want him to swing 3-0, don’t throw him a strike. There are unwritten rules in baseball, but at the same time, you’re throwing a position player out there, and if you don’t like it, well, it is what it is.”
“I don’t ever want to give the other team an excuse to take a shot at one of our players,” La Russa said. “You say ‘unwritten rules,’ but they’re just common sense. We were taught from Day 1: Respect the game, respect the competition, respect your opponent.”