Saturday, April 13, 2013
So much for the fun stuff of the season's first fortnight. Stuff such as the Atlanta Braves (so far) looking none the worse for Chipper Jones's retirement. The Washington Nationals picking up where they left off in 2012. The Oakland Athletics doing likewise and to the tune of (so far) the American League's best record. The New York Mets looking at least like they're in every game (most of the time) and with a 5-4 early record. (For the Mets, that's pennant-race respectable.) The Boston Red Sox shaking off 2012, the Empire Emeritus looking merely shaky.
Then the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres (I'm listing them alphabetically by city, just in case) had to spoil everything by playing this season's first chorus of "Take Me Out to the Brawl Game." All because San Diego's Carlos Quentin parked his head up his posterior while leading off in the sixth inning. Keeping it there long enough to forget that no pitcher, not even a guy who might have plunked you twice in the past, is going to think about putting you on base on the house, period, leading off a middle inning in a 1-run game with a full count.
Quentin took a 3-2 pitch from Zack Greinke on the left bicep Thursday night. Then he chucked his bat to one side, took a few steps toward the mound, and broke into a charge toward the right-hander, Greinke crouching low to defend himself as Quentin arrived like a bull who'd just taken an arrow in his tail. The benches and bullpens poured out to the mound area, where Greinke went down in a crowd and came out of it with a fractured left collarbone. One that's going to keep him out eight weeks, at least.
Watch all available replays. There's no way Greinke was looking to drill Quentin. The earliest evidence, after the game score and the pitch count, for the defense should come from Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis. He was caught off-guard completely by the errant pitch. A battery planning a knockdown pitch is going to be set up for just such a delivery. A catcher preparing for it will shift ever so subtly to the farthest possible inside position behind the hitter. A pitcher fool enough to drill a potential tying run on 3-2 with first base open and nobody out is a pitcher who's looking for a heavy fine from his clubhouse's kangaroo court.
What could Greinke have hollered to Quentin as the San Diego outfielder took those first steps forward? Who knows? Earlier in the game, Dodger center fielder Matt Kemp took a brushback pitch from Jason Marquis. Common sense should tell you Greinke wasn't going to wait that many innings, never mind the situation at hand, to send a message via Quentin Express.
Yes, the two have something of a history. As American Leaguers. Quentin, then with the Chicago White Sox, took a couple of plunks from Greinke, then with the Kansas City Royals. Greinke left Kansas City after 2010; Quentin left Chicago after 2011. It's just a little too far to stretch to suggest Greinke has carried a lust for one more plunk for two and a half years. And Quentin has developed a concurrent reputation for using the plunk as an offensive weapon; he's been plunked 98 times since 2008, including Thursday night, and he's known around the game for diving over or crowding the plate for that slight extra advantage.
When the smoke and the melee seemed to clear the first time Thursday night, one or two Padres were said to be hollering words amounting to snide remarks over Greinke's injury. At around the same moment, the word that Greinke's left collarbone was fractured in the brawl enraged Kemp enough to charge toward the Padres' dugout (emptying benches a second time) and, after the game, seek out a postgame showdown with Quentin.
Apparently, the snide remarks about Greinke's injury (thought initially to be a shoulder injury) to one side, even enough Padres were apologetic over Quentin's brain flatulence. That's how Ellis described it when it was all over and, incidentally, the Dodgers put the game in the bank, thanks to pinch-hitter Juan Uribe's eighth-inning solo bomb. (A former Padre, Adrian Gonzalez, had opened the festivities for the Dodgers early with a 2-run blast.) For his part, Quentin would tell reporters only that the entire rumble was unfortunate and "could have been avoided."
Yes, it could. And Quentin himself could have seen to that. He had nothing more to do than drop his bat, take his base, and pray the men following him in the lineup could get him home with the tying run, and maybe do something more while they were at it. Apparently, that's too complex a thought for the mind of a man who thinks a $143 million pitcher would be foolish enough to put the potential tying run on base to open an inning.
That, sirs and ladies, is a man who needs to give his head a good cleansing. An eight-game suspension (Dodger manager Don Mattingly's idea of suspending Quentin until Greinke can pitch again is a heart in the right place and a head momentarily bereft of knowing the rule book on these matters), handed down Friday, ought to provide Quentin with just enough time to get that done. (Yes, there are those who think eight games is far too lenient, including myself.) Padres manager Bud Black, who engaged with Kemp as the latter charged in from center field in the original scrum, could be looking at a little time off for bad behavior, too.
None of which is to say the Dodgers are entirely simon pure. Kemp looked almost as ridiculous charging back out over a few snide remarks from the San Diego dugout, then going to confront Quentin outside Petco Park afterward, a confrontation requiring stadium security, San Diego pitcher Clayton Richard, and a police officer or two to keep from escalating. A couple of games worth of siddown-and-shaddap should set Kemp aright — without removing his respect as a clubhouse leader.
There was, however, at least one thing good for a laugh when all was said and done. Greinke was one of three players ejected for the rumble. Apparently, the idea that nobody's trying to drill a guy on 3-2, in a 1-run game, to put a potential tying run on base opening a middle inning, escapes umpires, as well as hitters.