Understandably, much of Kansas City — including the Fitzpatrick household — has been in a near frenzy since Friday’s Royals-Oakland A’s game, when A’s third baseman Brett Lawrie barreled into Royals’ shortstop Alcides Escobar with spikes high, spraining Escobar’s left knee.
Lawrie’s intimidating and dangerous move set off a retaliation sequence that probably won’t end with the last out of Sunday’s game, which the Royals won 4-2, thanks to dramatic eighth-inning doubles by Lorenzo Cain and Kendrys Morales.
I was at Sunday’s game, and it was one of the most intense regular-season games I have ever seen.
But after thinking about all that happened during the three games and reading reports by Royals’ and Athletics’ reporters, I am afraid that the Royals ultimately sacrificed the moral high ground, if you will.
On the Kansas City end, the refrain from Kansas City Star reporters and Royals TV and radio commentators is something like, “These Royals will not back down.” (That’s the headline on Vahe Gregorian’s column on The Star’s website tonight.)
Not surprisingly, Oakland reporters see it through a different-colored lens.
Consider this from a blog post tonight by John Hickey, A’s beat reporter for the Oakland Tribune.
The Royals were the best feel-good story of 2014, a scrappy, hustling team that put a full-court press on opponents and ran them out of the gym, in the process running themselves into the World Series.
Six months later, the Royals have an entirely different persona. They’ve become angry. They’ve become nasty.
With hostilities unresolved and clashing perspectives abounding, the next Royals-A’s series — in Oakland at the end of June — is likely to be very ugly. There will almost surely be some hit batters, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there’s a big fight.
The Royals ceded the high ground, in my opinion, with two specific actions — one Saturday and one Sunday.
Incident No. 1
Everyone within a two-hour drive of Kansas City is now aware that Royals’ pitcher Yordano Ventura plunked Lawrie in the elbow in Saturday’s game, which the A’s won 5-0.
Ventura was perfectly justified in hitting Ventura to even the score for Lawrie’s reckless slide into Escobar the night before.
But here’s where Ventura screwed up — and, perhaps tellingly, I got this from an Oakland reporter’s account, not from anything I heard or read in in local reports:
Ventura apparently smiled at Lawrie after hitting him…Not smart.
One of the worst things a player can do under baseball’s unwritten rules is to show up an opponent. It’s OK to exact non-lethal revenge against an opponent, but you can’t give him the “gotcha” smile when you do it. You keep a straight face, turn your back and act like nothing out of the ordinary happened.
But Ventura, a young and emotional guy, indulged himself in obvious delight when he evened the score.
Lawrie, for his part, was professional. He didn’t even look at Ventura. He was expecting to be hit; took the pitch in the elbow; and headed straight to first base.
Normally, that would have been the end of the skirmish: You got us; we got you.
But it resumed anew on Sunday, and — who knows? — maybe that damned smile was responsible.
Incident No. 2
I arrived in the bottom of the first inning, and as I walked along the concourse behind the seating area, thunderous booing was underway. I looked up at a monitor in time to see Royals’ manager Ned Yost giving an incredible ass chewing to home plate umpire Greg Gibson. Their faces were so close that if Yost had bad breath, Gibson would be able to report if it was from onions or bananas.
After Gibson gave Yost the heave-ho, I asked a bystander what I had missed. I was told A’s pitcher Scott Kazmir had hit Cain with a pitch…Hit him in the foot, I learned later.
I also learned later that pitching coach Dave Eiland had gotten tossed before Yost. Apparently both were arguing — probably sprinkling their assertions with the verboten “f” word — that Kazmir should be thrown out out of the game, just as Ventura had been kicked out Saturday after hitting Lawrie.
Ejecting Kazmir might have calmed things down, but he stayed in the game, and the Royals decided more retaliation was in order.
It came in the top of the eighth. With Lawrie at the plate and the game tied 2-2, Royals’ reliever Kelvin Herrera threw a low and inside pitch that made Lawrie do a little jump-back. Watching from my seat behind the netting on the first-base side of home plate, I thought that might be sufficient.
But no. On the next pitch Herrera threw a fastball behind Lawrie’s head. Gibson, the home plate umpire, immediately threw Herrera out of the game. Just as quickly, Herrera gave up the ability to claim the wild pitch was accidental: On the way to the dugout, glowering at Lawrie, he pointed to his own head and mouthed some words.
Lawrie and the rest of the A’s interpreted that to mean Herrera had intended to hit him in the head. “He needs to pay for that,” Lawrie said after the game.
For his part, Herrera said he yelled, “Think about it,” at Lawrie while making the finger-to-head motion.
…Two problems for the Royals here: First, you should never throw at or near a player’s head intentionally. Obviously, that could result in serious injury or even death. That’s going over the line…And then, to point to his head, regardless of what message he was trying to send to Lawrie, was incredibly ill advised.
More than protecting his teammates — which is what a retaliatory pitch is intended to do — Herrera put his teammates in harm’s way. When the Royals go to the Oakland Coliseum in June, I will be watching and cringing with every A’s pitch to — or at — Royals’ batters.