Baseball has a strict code, and the behavior of the players can be confusing if you are unaware of it. Wednesday night, as the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays hollered at one another near SunTrust Park’s home plate, it was all about the code.
So here’s what happened.
First of all, you have to understand that Wednesday night’s 8-4 Braves win was the third game of the four-game series. The first two were played in Toronto, and the other two are in Atlanta. In those first three games, of which Atlanta won all three, seven Braves were hit by pitches – an unusually high number in Major League Baseball because the pitchers tend to have good control.
The seventh player to be plunked was star Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who was putting together a career year and now may be out an extended period of time because of that hit-by-pitch. This is the first part of baseball’s code relevant to the situation.
If an opponent keeps hitting your players, your pitcher needs to retaliate.
Freeman was knocked out of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, and the very next inning, Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz hit Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis in the leg. That’s part of the code: when you retaliate, hit the batter in the lower body or the middle of his back. If you go any higher, the intent is very different, and that’s not something a pitcher should do.
At that point, things seemed to be even, and in the moment, there was little controversy over the hit-by-pitch. What happened in the seventh inning may have been a result of bubbling tension, or it could have been completely unrelated, but …
Don’t try to deceive the batter.
Braves relief pitcher Jason Motte came in to pitch the seventh inning, and with two outs, he faced Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar. With two strikes against Pillar, Motte decided to try to “quick pitch” Pillar in an attempt to throw him off-guard and get an easy strikeout.
Pillar struck out, and he was not amused.
While I certainly don’t condone Pillar’s choice of words – he appeared to use a homophobic slur, which MLB is now investigating – he had reason to be upset at Motte. Sure, he was in the batter’s box, so he should have been ready, but if a batter attempts to deceive a pitcher, he usually gets hit, and that’s within the code. Pitchers should abide by that code as well.
Then Jose Bautista violated pretty much every part of the code.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista is voted the most hated player in the league on an annual basis. Heck, his behavior got him punched in the face last season.
Nevertheless, Bautista stepped to the plate in the top of the eighth inning still upset about either his teammate getting pegged or his other teammate getting deceived by a Braves pitcher, and did this:
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start at the top.
First, Toronto is trailing 8-3 and this homer made it 8-4. Flipping your bat shows up the other team, and that’s dumb to do after a virtually meaningless home run. Also, Bautista is in the midst of an extremely disappointing start to his season, so it’s a little comical to see someone flip their bat when they have a batting average of .208.
As he rounds the bases, first baseman Jace Peterson says something to Bautista, which he’s entitled to do after Bautista flipped his bat and stared down pitcher Eric O’Flaherty. Bautista’s response is to do a little skip and finish his home-run trot, so now he’s also showing up the first baseman. At this point, catcher Kurt Suzuki has no choice but to say something to Bautista when he reaches home plate. It’s in the code – if a catcher feels his pitcher is being shown up by the hitter, it’s his responsibility to say something.
Here’s where I’ll cut Bautista some slack: although it’s hard to see exactly what’s being said between him and Suzuki, it appears by his body language that he’s apologizing for his antics. It should also be noted that both Pillar and Bautista expressed regret for their actions following the game.
But O’Flaherty didn’t seem as willing to make amends after Wednesday night’s game, and baseball’s code gives the Braves the right to throw at Bautista the next time they meet. These teams won’t see each other again the rest of the year after the series finale Thursday night, so this might raise the odds of retaliatory measures by the Braves.
Add to that the fact that the entire free world saw Bautista get punched in the face last season, and since players don’t seem to like him all that much, there could be a brawl brewing Thursday night.
Despite all of those reasons to fight, here’s one reason they probably won’t: baseball fights are extremely rare. Baseball hollering matches are less rare, but what we saw last year with Bautista actually getting punched only happens about once a decade. What’s more, the Braves just lost their best player indefinitely to an injury, so getting into a fight probably isn’t the smartest thing for a team that’s currently in second place in the National League East.
It’s probably in the Braves’ best interest to ignore the code and all the nonsense and go for a series sweep that would keep their winning streak alive, but we’ll see Thursday night if that’s the road they choose to take.Follow @Sean_Breslin