The Fernando Tatís Jr. Drama a Welcomed Relief From a Rough Stretch in Baseball

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On Monday night, up seven runs in the eighth inning, Padres shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. swung at a 3–0 pitch and hit a grand slam. Afterward, Rangers manager Chris Woodward complained that Tatís had not respected the game’s unwritten rules and taken a pitch there. The hours that have followed have been just about the best period for baseball in months.

This whole thing has been ridiculous. Finally! A feud that boils down to You embarrassed me is much more lighthearted and delightful than the other two major causes of inter-team hostility we’ve seen recently: You perpetrated perhaps the worst scandal in the sport’s history and You may have exposed me to a respiratory virus that has killed more than 170,000 Americans.

Let’s be clear: There’s no question as to who is right here. Tatís is one of the brightest stars in the game, and only his body should limit what he is allowed to do on a baseball field. And certainly Woodward should not have allowed reliever Ian Gibaut to throw at San Diego third baseman Manny Machado in retaliation one batter later, and they both deserved the suspensions (one game for Woodward and three for Gibaut, who has appealed) MLB levied on them on Tuesday. But as long as everyone can stop firing projectiles at one another, baseball rivalries are wonderful, and we should have more of them. Especially in this bizarre season, with no fans in the stands, the more player-driven pettiness, the better.

At times on Tuesday the Twitter discourse was exhausting. But it usually is anyway, so that’s no real loss. And at times it was genuinely cool: Old-school greats weighed in … in favor of the 21-year-old.

Hall of Fame Reds catcher Johnny Bench tweeted, “So you take a pitch...now you’re 3-1. Then the pitcher comes back with a great setup pitch...3-2. Now you’re ready to groundout into a double play. Everyone should hit 3-0. Grand Slams are a huge stat.”

Hall of Fame A’s and Yankees rightfielder Reggie Jackson tweeted, “Fernando Tatis keep playing hard and playing great, it’s a pleasure to watch you play, love your success and the Padres rise to be a winner. Keep leading the way. It ain’t easy to hit Hrs. Keep bringing energy you have to the game, we need players like you. An All Star”

Mariners third base coach Manny Acta tweeted, “While coaching 3b in Montreal, I held up a runner at 3rd base out of ‘respect’ for the other club. [Hall of Fame outfielder and manager] Frank Robinson almost grabbed me by the ear and said to me: ‘Listen son, you only have enough runs when you’re showering after a win.”

Of course Tatís should be allowed to swing at a 3–0 meatball regardless of his team’s lead. His manager, Jayce Tingler, initially agreed with Woodward’s comments. “We’re not trying to run up the score or anything like that,” he said on Monday night. “It’s a learning opportunity.” And Tatís, sounding chastened, apologized. But by Tuesday before the game, Tingler had walked that back. “They’re trying to kick our ass, and we’re trying to kick their ass and win,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. We can’t sit here and worry about people’s feelings.”

Fortunately, the saga does seem to have been a learning opportunity for Tatís, although not in the way his manager meant it: On Tuesday, up six runs in the fourth inning, with Gibaut on the mound, the kid stole third.

Quick Hits

• Speaking of Machado, this might have been the most outrageous play this season. 

Keep in mind that he’s a third baseman. He was shifted behind second base, but still!

• The Royals are calling up righty Matt Harvey, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. It’s an ironic home for him, since that’s the team against which he made perhaps the most consequential start of his Mets career—eight scoreless innings of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, an insistence on starting the ninth, and then a meltdown that eventually gave Kansas City the title.

“Obviously, I have a little bit of history here,” he told reporters. “It’s more exciting than anything.”

• Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, answering a question about Tatís on Tuesday afternoon, said, “I’m looking forward to somebody in baseball doing something really exciting today so we don’t, as an industry, have to talk about this more.”

A few hours later, Minnesota righty Kenta Maeda took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. Leading off, Brewers third baseman—and nine-hole hitter—Eric Sogard flared Maeda’s 115th pitch over the shortstop’s head. There were no fans in attendance to give Maeda the hand he deserved, but his teammates gave him a standing ovation when he returned to the dugout. (The Twins won 3–2 in 12 innings.)