In today's Hit and Run, Jay Jaffe looks at the blow-ups from Larry Bowa and Joe Girardi over baseball's unwritten rules and Brendan Ryan's scoreless outing on the mound.
1. Bowa's blow-up
Larry Bowa was mad as hell, and he wasn't going to take it anymore. On Tuesday, the feisty 69-year-old Phillies bench coach was at the center of a seventh-inning war of words at Citizens Bank Park, one that stemmed from a quick pitch by Mets reliever Hansel Robles but also called back to Monday night's drubbing by New York, in which it hung 14 unanswered runs on Philadelphia via a barrage of homers en route to a 16–7 win.
With two outs and nobody on base last night, Robles delivered a first-pitch fastball to Darren Ruf while the batter had his head down and was still finding his footing in the batter's box. Home plate umpire Dan Bellino waved off the pitch, ruling that time had been called, but that didn't stop Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur and then Bowa from airing their grievances by coming out of the dugout and onto the field, along with several other team members. Bellino attempted to restore order but quickly tossed Bowa. Several Mets, including manager Terry Collins—under whom Bowa served as third base coach with the Angels from 1997 to '99—joined the fray as well.
Bowa returned to the dugout and prepared to depart, then decided he still had fuel in the afterburner, so he took issue with Daniel Murphy over his two-run sixth-inning homer from the night before, the Mets' seventh of the franchise-record eight they would hit for the night; apparently, Murphy's bat flip raised the ire of the irascible coach. Bowa dropped multiple four-letter words (via the New York Daily News' Kristie Ackert: "Hey you Murphy, that bulls--- flipping the bat, you’re gonna get hit, too. You. F--- you. F--- you.”) and then gestured to indicate that Murphy could expect a pitch in the ribs at some future date, leading the umpires to warn both benches.
Robles eventually struck out Ruf, and the Mets' bullpen preserved the 6–5 lead for their fifth straight victory. After the game, Robles told reporters through an interpreter that Bellino had indicated he could begin pitching. Via the New York Post's Mike Puma, he said, "I saw the batter get into the box and the umpire pointed to him and I was ready to execute my pitch."
Collins, who called Bowa one of his best friends, nonetheless stood up for his pitcher, saying, "Until they make the pitch illegal, you can do it. We see it all the time." That said, replays showed that catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who was aware that Ruf's head was still down, tried to slow Robles down to no avail, and one anonymous Mets pitcher told the Daily News's Andy Martino that Robles' action was questionable. "Would I do that? Maybe in the seventh game of the World Series. Player safety should be first and foremost.”
But whatever point Bowa and the Phillies may have had about the safety of Ruf, they forfeited the high ground when the coach summoned his old-school machismo by calling for retaliation against Murphy. Bat flips are hardly uncommon in this day and age, and Murphy's, which came at a time the game was still close (9–7, expanding the lead to 11–7) wasn't particularly egregious.
As if Bowa needed to look more out of touch, Ackert reported, "Bowa was furious with their pitchers for not even brushing a batter off the plate, according to team sources." Yeesh. Given two more games between these teams in this series, and eight before season’s end, don’t be surprised if they renew hostilities down the road.
2. Gomez gets grief
While Bowa was going nuclear in Philadelphia, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and his team found something to be angry about beyond the 15–1 spanking they received from the Astros, which once again knocked them out of first place in the AL East. With the score 9–0 in the sixth, the mere act of Carlos Gomez showing some amount of disgust with his routine fly out to centerfield led to hollering from New York's dugout. As Gomez was leaving the field, catcher John Ryan Murphy got in his face, and both benches cleared, though nothing more than barbs were thrown and nobody was ejected.
As you can see at the end of the clip, Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay suggested that some of the fervor may have stemmed from Gomez oversliding second base into the legs of Brendan Ryan following his first-inning double, but via replay, that looks innocuous and almost entirely inconsequential, as Ryan didn't even turn around or register any kind of reaction.
Gomez did throw his arms in the air after that slide, but his on-field demonstrativeness is hardly news. While with the Brewers in 2013 he had a spat with then Braves and now Yankees catcher Brian McCann, who was on the bench during Wednesday's game, over Gomez's admiring a home run and then jawing at the Atlanta pitcher, Paul Maholm, who had thrown at him in the past. And last year he was ejected after a brawl was sparked when Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole took exception to the way Gomez didn't hustle out of the box after hitting what turned out to be a triple rather than a home run.
Ultimately, the hurt feelings in these situations involving Gomez and other Latin players—Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, against the Braves in 2013, and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, against multiple teams in 2013 and 2014, were both involved in such high-profile incidents—often come down to interpretations of "playing the game the right way," without acknowledging that "the right way" is relative. As former major league catcher John Baker wrote in an illuminating essay for Fox Sports earlier this year:
"The longer I played baseball, the more I realized that across America, that cliché—Play the game the right way—actually means something very specific: Play the game MY way."
…I challenge baseball fans to learn a little more about the players and the situations that lead to confrontations in baseball; ask questions that go beyond whatever statistical acronym we create next. When and where did your favorite player grow up? Who taught him the game? If we’re supposed to “act like we’ve been there before,” how come the power hitters that go there the most often are the ones we allow to stand at home plate and watch their home runs?
…When we discuss these things unwritten, there are no absolutes.
Back at Yankee Stadium, Girardi didn't take things to a Bowa-esque level, but he did explain his team’s point of view. Via the Daily News's Roger Rubin:
“Some guys took exception to the way he flipped the bat and started yelling to the ball, and we’re getting beat 9–0, and then when he came back he started yelling at me,” Girardi said. “I wasn’t the guy that said anything. It’s a kid that, he plays hard but there have been a number of clubs that have taken exception to some of the things that he does on the field and it just got a little heated.
“I just told him play the game the right way. They’re kicking our rear ends and show a little professionalism to the pitcher. I know you missed a pitch and you’re frustrated by it but I just think it’s a little too much.”
Gomez defended himself, saying his bat toss wasn’t intended to show anybody up. Via Rubin: “If they feel I disrespect them when I throw my bat out of frustration, they are taking it the wrong way because I don’t mean to do that."
3. The (Brendan) Ryan Express
Following the Gomez dust-up, the slugfest received a bit of comic relief, as Girardi called upon Ryan, who had been playing second, to do what starter Ivan Nova and relievers Nick Rumbelow and Chris Capuano had utterly failed to do: Keep the Astros off the scoreboard. Mission accomplished, as Ryan held Houston scoreless for the eighth and ninth, throwing 28 pitches (20 for strikes) and yielding singles to Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Marisnick in the eighth but otherwise escaping unharmed. He didn't walk or strike out a batter, but he did get two swings and misses: one by Marisnick, the other by Colby Rasmus, Ryan's former roommate with the Cardinals.
Via Brooks Baseball, which classified 21 of Ryan's 28 pitches as sinkers and the rest as four-seamers, curves and sliders, Ryan topped out at 86.1 mph with a four-seamer and averaged 78.3 mph with the sinker. Ryan, who hadn't pitched since his senior year of high school in Sherman Oaks, Calif., had made known his willingness to do so if such a circumstance arose. Via Twitter, his wife Sharyn found the silver lining in the blowout, as did the official Yankees feed:
Not happy about this game, but Brendan got to live out a little dream! My husband, the pitcher?!😁— Sharyn Ryan (@SharynRyan17) August 26, 2015
Ryan became the second Yankees position player to take the mound this year, following Garrett Jones's 2/3 of an inning against the Rangers in a 15–4 loss on May 23. His was the 24th appearance by a non-pitcher this season, but just the second to last longer than one inning. The aforementioned Jeff Francoeur threw two innings and a whopping 48 pitches for Philadelphia against the Orioles in a 19–3 loss on June 16, one that foreshadowed manger Ryne Sandberg's resignation 10 days later.
Ryan became the first Yankees position player to throw more than an inning since Gene Michael—like Ryan, a light-hitting infielder at the time, and now a vice president and senior advisor for New York—threw three shutout innings to finish a blowout by the Angels in the second game of a doubleheader on Aug. 26, 1968. The day before that, slugger Rocky Colavito went 2 2/3 innings in the first game of a doubleheader against the Tigers—and got a win! The Yankees had also played a doubleheader on Aug. 23 and would do so again on Aug. 27, then five more times over the next 2 1/2 weeks, so understandably, manager Ralph Houk needed every extra arm he could get.