This weekend's series between the Athletics and Royals was supposed to just be a rematch of last season's wild and wonderful AL Wild-Card Game, but instead, it turned into a confusing mess of near-brawls and beanings. At the center of the drama: Oakland third baseman Brett Lawrie, who ignited a three-day long fight between the two teams with a hard slide in Friday night's game that led to several ejections and plunkings and a lot of heated words over the next two matchups. It all reached a boil in Kansas City's 4–2 win on Sunday.
A full recap of the weekend's silliness would take a while, so let's bullet point it:
- Friday: Lawrie takes out Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar while trying to break up a double play. Escobar has to be helped off the field with a knee sprain, while both benches briefly empty (though nothing comes of it).
Saturday: Lawrie gets drilled with a 99-mph fastball by Royals starter Yordano Ventura. Benches clear yet again (to no result) and Ventura is ejected, although no warnings were issued prior to or during the game.
- Sunday: Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain gets hit by a pitch on the foot in the first inning by A's starter Scott Kazmir. Despite some angry words from the Royals' dugout, Kazmir stays in the game and warnings are issued for both sides, followed by ejections for Kansas City pitching coach Dave Eiland (for yelling at Kazmir) and manager Ned Yost (for coming out of the dugout to argue after Eiland got booted).
- Later Sunday: Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera throws a 100-mph fastball behind Lawrie in the eighth inning. Herrera, Escobar (on the bench) and fill-in manager Don Wakamatsu are tossed. Herrera, feeling he somehow hasn't made his point clear enough, points at his head on the way off the field. That leads to a stream of words we can't print here from Lawrie and the benches clearing for a third time.
So the final tally: Six ejections, one (apparently intentional) plunking of Lawrie, one (near) plunking of Lawrie, one plunking of Cain, three bench clearings and a dumb gesture by Herrera. The Royals' righthander said later that he “just had a bad grip” on the pitch that nearly hit Lawrie and that his head-point simply meant, “Think about it.” A furious Lawrie, however, was clearly not having it. As he told reporters postgame:
“You don't throw behind someone and then walk away, when you throw 100 miles per hour, and say, 'The next time I face you, I'm gonna hit you in the head.' That's [garbage]. That's some [garbage], and he needs to pay for that. That ain't O.K. This is a game. This isn't going up there and trying to hurt people. This guy doesn't throw 85 mph. He throws 100.”
While it was his slide that started the whole mess, Lawrie does have a point: A 100-mph pitch can very easily cause some serious injuries. What's more, regardless of what Herrera's intent was by pointing to his head, it's a gesture that is only going to inflame things.
What makes it even more strange is that, according to the frontier justice under which baseball players apparently operate, Lawrie had already been “punished” for his hard slide when he was hit by Ventura on Saturday.
And even if Herrera had been retaliating for Cain getting hit, it's rather unlikely that the A's, had they wanted to pay the Royals back for Lawrie's first plunking, would have had Kazmir drill Cain with a pitch down-and-in on the foot instead of the de rigueur pitch to the back or rear end. Herrera not only escalated the situation, he also did so in a dangerous and downright stupid way.
It's clear, though, that the Royals felt besieged all weekend. Kansas City batters have been hit by a pitch 14 times this season, second most in the majors, and the players interviewed after Sunday's game defended Herrera and Ventura for going after Lawrie. As the Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough noted:
Almost all baseball clubs refer to themselves as families, but the Royals continue to demonstrate their belief in this axiom. Major League Baseball will determine the severity of their behavior on Sunday. But the players felt compelled to defend themselves, and they would not apologize for that stance.
“We stick up for each other,” [Eric] Hosmer said. “We’re a family in here. No matter if we’re wrong or right, it doesn’t matter for us, we’re going to stick together as a team.”
Added Jarrod Dyson, “I love this team, the way it responds. I don’t care what anybody else thinks about the team. We’re going to fight for each other in here.”
The Royals may have each other's backs, but MLB probably won't be too supportive of their attempts to make Lawrie see the error of his ways. Suspensions and fines are almost certainly coming, especially for Herrera and Ventura. What's more, the A's aren't likely to forget this weekend's brouhaha. The two teams won't meet again until a late June series in Oakland, but don't be surprised if tempers flare in that meeting as well.