David Price claims that throwing at hitters is part of the game. That’s arrogance for a guy who never has to face a pitcher with a 95-hour fastball. With the advent of the designated hitter, the “purpose pitch” should be disallowed in the American League, and perhaps in all of baseball as well.
It takes no skill or guts to plunk a hitter with a fastball. Given that the batter has no defense except to hit the ball back at the pitcher, it takes cowardice. It is the equivalent of a sucker punch. For David Price to assert that he has the right to throw at a hitter to send a message it takes a smug sense of privilege that some, but not all, pitchers assume. They hold the ball, no one else. They control the game. Let the batter beware.
When Brandon Workman threw behind a Tampa Bay hitter in retaliation, that was the only defense David Ortiz had, other than rushing to the mound to clobber David Price. Workman was ejected for retaliation, but what else could he do to defend his hitters? Hitters are expected to stand up there as living targets, while pitchers throw with impunity?
When pitchers are struck by a batted ball, we feel compassion and hope they are not hurt. Even hitters may approach the mound to express their well wishes. No one wants a pitcher’s career or season shortened by a batted ball. No one would say he deserved to be hit or that he would be more careful how he pitched next time.
For some reason hitters are not extended this care or concern. They are expected to step into the batter’s box and accept whatever is thrown at them. Of course, some pitches are mistakes. You can see that right away, because the pitcher shows immediate remorse. But some pitches can only be interpreted one way: I don’t like you, and I want you to fear me.
Anyone with the control of a David Price, should never hit a batter. He has the power to maim or kill another person with the speed and accuracy of his fastball. He has a responsibility to use it for good. To use it to keep the hitter thinking about what pitch is coming, not whether it is coming at him. Throw it inside or outside, but not where the batter is standing. He has a right to stand there without expecting to be intentionally hurt.
David Price is a Hall of Fame pitcher approaching the level of Bob Gibson, another headhunter. Gibson was the incarnation of the arrogant pitcher, who thought he owned the entire space from one batter’s box to the other. He scared the piss out of a generation of hitters. But Gibson had to hit, and he expected to take his lumps along with every hitter. David Price will never have to do that unless he reaches the World Series.
Price should not be allowed the privilege of hitting another batter. The next time should be an ejection, no questions asked. He is the one who thinks himself above baseball, because he exploits the unreasonable advantage given to pitchers. Baseball needs to put him in his place.
The Red Sox beat the Rays at their own game Tuesday night, hitting doubles, stealing bases, and hustling the defense into making errors. But they were lucky, too. Gomes hit a grounder just beyond the reach of Longoria, and Iglesias’s chopper bounced barely over the third baseman’s head in the ninth. So let’s not get too cocky.
What the Red Sox could learn from Tuesday night is how Wil Myers and Evan Longoria scored the only two runs the Rays managed in a 6-2 loss. They launched the first pitch from John Lester. He was making first-pitch strikes, and they weren’t about to waste a swing at them. Meanwhile every Sox hitter was giving away the first strike, because the Sox are patient. They have the highest number of pitches per plate appearance in Major League baseball, as Jerry Remy was at pains to point out.
Now patience is considered a prime virtue in Red Sox hitters, and they have produced a lot of runs with patience. But Joe Madden, the Tampa Rays manager, also knows that a pitcher who is trying to get ahead of batters will tend to center his first pitch, so his hitters often go up looking for that first one. This way they get a cut at the most hittable pitch in the sequence. Wil Myers took this approach every time he came to the plate, and he whacked the ball hard on three consecutive pitches, the first for a homer, the second for a double, and the third for a solid line out.
What’s good for the Rays is good for the Sox. The Rays’ pitchers will try to get ahead of every Sox hitter, and that first pitch may be the best one to hit in the sequence. At some point, you should not let them get away with a first strike. In the seventh and eighth innings Tuesday night Napoli and Saltalamachia and Drew went up whaling, and they hit the ball solidly. Really they could have done the same earlier in the game, and there might have been more base runners.
And the same for Pedroia and Ortiz, who are the souls of patience. Often their opponents will pitch around them, and there is nothing to do but take the walk. But if they dare to throw a first-pitch strike, Pedey and Papi should make them pay. This will be most important against the best teams, like Tampa Bay and Baltimore and Oakland and Texas. They will assume the Red Sox will take the first pitch and use that to their advantage.
So a good way to get on top of these teams is to get aggressive. Look for the first pitch strike, but don’t watch it. Take a rip. Not enough to be predictable, to allow the pitcher to take advantage of your aggressiveness, but to surprise them and make them shy about getting ahead on the first pitch. It’s the art of aggressiveness, the art of keeping them off balance. It’s what Madden does so well with his team, and it’s how to beat them.
The moment when Jacoby Ellsbury crossed the plate in the bottom of the tenth inning on Saturday was the beginning of the new Red Sox under John Farrell. The Sox had just beaten the Tampa Bay Rays with the same combination of aggressive base-running and pitching that the Rays had used to dominate the Red Sox in recent years.
The Red Sox held the Rays to one run with a succession of strong pitchers from the new John Lester and revamped Andrew Bailey to the relentless pounding of the strike zone by Koji Uhehara. For the Red Sox of previous seasons extra innings had been like Russian Roulette, with each reliever coming out of the bullpen a possible bullet or an empty chamber. In 2013 the chambers are mostly empty.
The Red Sox scored on a single, a stolen base, an advance on an overthrow and an infield hit. How many times had the Rays used that formula to beat them? The Rays have always been the fundamentally sound team that pushes their opponents into mistakes. That formula has worked consistently against the Red Sox since 2008.
Another way the Rays could beat you was getting run production out of role players with .200 batting averages. On Saturday the Red Sox plated their other run with a home run from their back-up catcher, David Ross. That catcher, if he never hits another home run, will earn his keep throwing out base runners.
Fabric is the key to the new Red Sox. Defensive fabric and offensive fabrication. The beauty of this style of game is that it can produce a victory on any given day, not just the day Will Middlebrooks hits three home runs. The Sox could always win with power. Now they are winning with fabric.