Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Dynamics Of A Bench Clearing "Brawl"

  • Marlins 4-Mets 3:
After Aaron Heilman's atrocious ninth inning tonight, it's clear the duel between the Mets and the Phillies down the stretch is going to come down to which team's bullpen coughs up
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the fewest games; right now it's a coin flip and that's with the Phillies getting such a stunning comeback year from Brad Lidge. Lidge has had his own issues with blowing big games and having it affect him for an extended period (see Pujols, Albert; 2005 NLCS). That's neither here nor there in the story of tonight's game because of the bench clearing dance the teams exchanged after Mets starter Mike Pelfrey drilled Marlins outfielder Cody Ross.
I have great respect for Cody Ross. He's rung every single ounce of ability out of his small frame; has bounced from the Tigers to the Dodgers to the Reds to the Marlins trying to find a place where he was going to get a chance to play; he got his chance with the Marlins and has proven himself to have surprising (though streaky) power, a penchant for getting big hits and a toughness that's hard to find. This is a player who was hit in the mouth by an Oscar Villareal fastball two years ago
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and insisted on getting right back into the lineup. With that, it's hard to believe that even Ross thinks that Pelfrey was throwing at him in the second inning of tonight's game. Pelfrey also hit Ross on August 10th and does hit a greater than usual number of hitters, but that's only because he tries to pitch inside and gets a lot of natural movement on his pitches.
After Ross was hit, he cussed loudly and slammed his bat and elbow protector to the ground; Mets catcher Brian Schneider was watching Ross closely to see if anything was going to happen and sure enough, as he was walking to first, Ross let Pelfrey know what he thought of him and from reading his lips and due to the circumstances, he certainly wasn't wishing Pelfrey "luck". Pelfrey responded in kind and the next thing everyone knew, both benches cleared and there was the general milling around that goes on during a bench clearing "incident". There were no punches thrown, but even when there are actual fights on a baseball diamond, they always end up pretty much the same way.
There's the one guy who got angry at the other guy and the two wind up screaming at each other; then the benches empty and the players start holding their teammates back; then there are the guys who started charging in and try to appear as if they want to fight whether they really do or not. Tonight, that character was played by Marlins first baseman Mike Jacobs. Jacobs ran onto the field, got spun around and held back in what looked like an audition to make sure he got as much face time on SportsCenter as humanly possible to show how tough and great a teammate he is because he wants to "fight" for his comrade. Then the bullpens come charging in and things cool down...until someone says something and the teams start moving toward one another again. Then order is restored and everyone returns to playing the game. It's the same script just about every time and it's tiresome; if these guys want to fight, then
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get on with it. None of this running around and charging in and yelling and screaming, and it's always the loudest ones who go crawling out of the pile of bodies during the fight
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and head for the nearest exit; it happens every time.
I was involved in a bench clearing fight when I was nineteen, playing on the sandlots and still harboring delusions of being able to play professionally. This was a legitimate fight with guys actually throwing punches, but for the most part, everything else played out predictably with guys holding each other back, trying to protect teammates from getting hurt and showing some solidarity so they look like they're willing to fight even if they're not. In this particular incident, I was holding back one of the main participants along with a couple of players on the other team. (Much like "The Most Interesting Man In the World" with his ice cold Dos Equis, I'm a lover, not a fighter; but I'm a fighter too, so don't get any ideas.) One guy on my team----the biggest guy as it turned out----got knocked to the
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ground and had a cut lip after he yapped long and hard to one of the opposing players during the festivities. This was a prime example of what goes on during these things. (I joined the team we were fighting with the next season.)
In general, a baseball team and it's rosters work out this way when it comes to fighting: there are four or five guys who can actually fight, but don't do it unless they have to; six to eight guys who think they can fight, act like they can fight and charge around like they can fight, but get a brutal beating when they do fight. (I'm not suggesting that Mike Jacobs is one of those guys----he could be the best baseball player/fighter since Billy Martin, but he sure was acting like one of those guys.) Then there are the rest of the players who try to keep the posers and the fighters from hurting themselves or anyone else and keep guys from getting suspended. The number of times in which actual punches are thrown in comparison to the number of times benches clear can't be very good considering that a potential fight is the reason that the players ran out onto the field in the first place.
This also doesn't suggest that there haven't been some genuinely tough baseball players; guys you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Ray Knight was the former Golden Gloves boxing muscle behind the 1986 Mets; Dave Parker was called "Cobra" for a reason; and of course, there was Billy Martin; but then there are the guys who think they're tough, yell like they're tough, but never do much of anything like Josh Beckett and Roger Clemens. The main thing is that these incidents never amount to much because the dynamic is almost always the same, as are baseball players. Sometimes pretense is the better part of valor and it's better to look and act like a guy who's ready to drop the gloves than to actually be a guy who's ready to drop the gloves. Stay thirsty my friends.
  • The 2008 Yankees are ready for the coroner (figuratively):
In a reference from The Sopranos to quote Carmine Lupertazzi from when he decided to shut down the construction of the Esplanade in retaliation during an ongoing back-and-forth
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between the Lupertazzis and the Sopranos: "I haven't wanted to do this..." but he did do it because it was necessary; now, I must do the same thing and declare the Yankees dead.
After today's latest bullpen meltdown and series of mental and physical errors, the Yankees had to sit and watch both the Rays and the Red Sox win to increase their respective leads over the Yankees to 11 1/2 for the Rays and seven for the Red Sox. It's going to be all but impossible for the Yankees to catch up to either team especially with the wounded and journeyman-laden starting rotation and woeful bullpen. Add in that Robinson
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Cano is playing like a guy whose head is everywhere but on his job; that Johnny Damon can't play center field; that Alex Rodriguez is hitting poorly in the clutch and in bad luck; that Joe Girardi is learning on the job; etc, etc, etc.
It was bound to happen eventually and it might have happened had Joe Torre been managing the team instead of Joe Girardi, but their luck has run out and the Yankees of 2008 are officially being taken off of life support, at least in my hospital. Speaking of Torre...
  • Dodgers 6-Diamondbacks 2:
As terribly as the Dodgers have played during the last week in which they lost eight in a
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row including three straight to the Washington Nationals, their win tonight over the Diamondbacks puts them 3 1/2 games out of first place with a record of 66-70. By season's end, no one's going to care if either team makes the playoffs with a record of 81-81 or 80-82 or whatever.
As difficult as I was finding it to diagnose what was wrong with the Dodgers after their flashy acquisitions of Manny Ramirez, Greg Maddux and Casey Blake, it's just as hard to diagnose what's wrong with the Diamondbacks who acquired a power bat/on-base machine in Adam Dunn; a set-up reliever who can close in Jon Rauch and a respected veteran in Tony Clark; they also have the best 1-2 punch of starting pitchers in baseball in Brandon Webb and Dan Haren and they still can't put the Dodgers away.
Some say that it's better to be lucky than good, but Joe Torre's luck from the Yankees seems to be following him to Los Angeles because no matter how awful the Dodgers look, the Diamondbacks are bent on matching them and with that, they're well on their way to blowing this division that they should have wrapped up already given the talent on their roster, how they've augmented it and how far the Dodgers have gone in an attempt to eliminate themselves; but they're still there and the Torre-luck is something that the Diamondbacks aren't going to want to tempt because if they do, they're going to lose.

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