While I normally wouldn’t advocate throwing at players, there definitely comes a time a team must stand up for its self and I would say three different such moments came and went with little response during this week’s series in Atlanta. No matter how you slice it, there is no freaking way an opposing team should be permitted to take free shots at Derek Norris, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp in the same series without some sort of response. Simply put, failing to protect your own is embarrassing.
So, my question is this; how in the world did the San Diego Padres not respond after watching the Braves take shots at Derek Norris, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp throughout the series? Never mind, I already know the answer to my own question: the Padres didn’t retaliate because they’re Charmin-soft. Granted, they sort of “threw at” Andrelton Simmons in game three and kind of cleared the benches when Kemp was beaned in game four, but I’d argue a closer look at both incidents is further evidence of a general lack of toughness.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s start by going back to Tuesday’s game two when, with the Padres leading 5-4, Andrelton Simmons tried to score from second on a single to right field. Despite being given a clear lane to the plate by Padres’ catcher Derek Norris, Simmons went out of his way to slide to the infield side of home plate, extend his left knee, and strike Norris in the groin with it. It was clearly intentional. It was also dangerous, unnecessary, and, most importantly, it was dirty. Given the nature of the play and the fact that it was perpetrated against the Padres’ emotional leader, it was a virtual lock they would respond; right? Wrong.
Yeah, yeah; I know, Tyson Ross “threw at” Simmons on Wednesday. Spare me. If that half-assed bean ball was Ross’ idea of protecting his catcher, that young man has a lot to learn. The idea isn’t to throw near or behind Simmons, it’s to hit him; and if I’m being completely honest, a big league pitcher who understands the importance of protecting his players doesn’t miss with his fastball in that situation. But then again, I guess that epic fail was a microcosm of Tyson’s season considering the next spot he hits with his fastball will be his first.
It’s bad enough Ross missed an attempted bean ball, but it is inexcusable that Bud Black didn’t see fit to finish the job with what essentially amounted to three full games remaining in the series. Apparently close was good enough for Buddy, a manager who is apparently more concerned with being diplomatic than protecting one of his leaders. He may not say anything publicly, but I’d be shocked if Norris isn’t at least mildly irritated over how that particular exchange went down.
Then, after watching Williams Perez go high-and-tight on Justin Upton without even the slightest reaction on Wednesday, the Padres saw Julio Teheran drill Mat Kemp during Thursday’s game four. Kemp took it like a man and was headed to first base when Teheran came off the mound, followed him down the first base line and started talking trash, irritating Kemp and inciting a benches-clearing incident (sorry, I refuse to describe that as a brawl). So, if the benches cleared the Padres surely made their point, right? Not so fast, chief.
Let me count the ways in which this incident was half-hearted on the part of the Padres. For starters, Kemp waited until the home plate umpire was directly between he and Teheran before deciding he wanted a piece of the Braves’ pitcher. Second, it took the Padres’ bench longer than one would expect to come to Kemp’s aid given the circumstances. And finally, San Diego players seemed far more interested in shaking hands and laughing with opposing players than they appeared to be in standing up for themselves. There was no real angst, there were no bad intentions; simply a bunch of guys who felt obligated to run onto the field.
Of course, Bud Black was the embodiment of this sentiment. Sure, he was on the field, but what was he doing? He was embracing Atlanta third baseman Juan Uribe. Ever the gentleman, Buddy even went so far as to escort Uribe back to the Braves’ bench arm-in-arm, apparently concerned he might trip over the third base line on his way off the field. It was a moment so worthy of summer camp that I was convinced someone would light a campfire on the mound.
Some will say the Padres played it just right. They rushed the field, they made their point without having anyone get ejected, and, more importantly, they won the game. I call BS. Why? Because these players need to know Black has their back and, I’m sorry, but settling for a half-hearted, limp-armed toss behind an opposing player doesn’t cut it. Not dotting one of the Braves top players could cost Black the locker room if the players don’t believe they can rely on their manager to protect them.
Look, I get it; not every hit by pitch is intentional and major league teams can’t take everything personally or retaliate every time they feel slighted. The game would get ugly fast and people would get hurt. I get it. But simply put, when a team’s three best players are victimized by either a dirty play or a bean ball in three straight games, that cannot go unanswered. Only a soft team lets that happen and there is no doubt in my mind they were following Black’s lead.
At the end of the day baseball shouldn’t be about bean balls and dirty slides, but neither should it be about letting the opposing team walk all over you. While I don’t condone throwing at players or charging the mound bat in hand, I do believe a manager is responsible for protecting his players. In my opinion, Buddy the Diplomat is far too concerned with being nice to recognize just how important that is, I just hope his lack of action didn’t cost him the locker room.