I thought we were done with this.
After the game Saturday, I wrote about Brett Lawrie and his refreshingly responsible behavior. In a situation in which his possibly reckless play could have made him the villain, his public acceptance of wrongdoing and his calm reaction to the specific punishment prescribed by baseball's unwritten rules turned him back into a sympathetic figure. The episode was over. Lawrie angered his opponent, his opponent hit him with a pitch, and that should have been the end of it.
And yet, here we are, still talking about it on Sunday, because the Royals just couldn't let it go. In the eighth inning of a 2-1 game, Kansas City reliever Kelvin Herrera chose to open the issue anew and actually escalate it further. There were two outs when Lawrie strode to the plate, and no one outside of the diamond was even thinking about the bad blood anymore; the crowd didn't even boo him this time when he came up.
Herrera's first pitch was far inside. No, that must have been an accident. There's no way he's throwing at Lawrie again, is there?
Herrera's second pitch left no doubt. It sailed behind Lawrie's upper back and all the way to the screen. The home plate umpire immediately ejected Herrera, as he should have. Lawrie once again stood there quietly, though this time his lack of response was born of utter confusion rather than calm acceptance.
This next part is the most important. As Herrera was being dragged back to his dugout, he shouted at Lawrie and pointed at his own head.
I'll save you the lip-reading, with a note that this is my own speculation. Herrera was either signalling that he was aiming for Lawrie's head, or that he planned to in the future. I do not know for a fact that this is what Herrera said, but if you have a more logical explanation then by all means, there is a comment section below. Herrera made his intentions crystal clear, and they involved injuring another player intentionally in a life-threatening way. A 100 mph fastball delivered to your head from 60 feet away can absolutely kill you. That got a small reaction from Lawrie, and for that I can't blame him.
Of course, Herrera denies this, and because this all my speculation I can't say for sure whether he's telling the truth or covering his butt. Here's his explanation.
Kelvin Herrera says his grip slipped on that pitch to Brett Lawrie. He said he pointed to his head to say "Think about it."— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) April 19, 2015
If you believe that he happened to lose his grip on two straight pitches to the specific player his team was recently furious with, right after looking totally normal as he retired the first two batters of the inning, then we will agree to disagree. Same thing if you believe that loudly and angrily pointing to the body part you just threw at was a simple misunderstanding.
In my column yesterday, I gave the Royals the benefit of the doubt. I allowed the assumption that the team had moved on and that Yordano Ventura was acting on his own, especially since some other Royals players didn't seem to be supporting him on the field and manager Ned Yost wasn't ejected. You can throw that benefit of the doubt out the window now. Feel free to start judging the Royals, and judging them hard. Kansas City had two managers ejected from this contest, plus another coach, and Alcides Escobar himself even got tossed.
Now, it absolutely needs to be noted that A's pitcher Scott Kazmir did hit a Royal with a pitch. In the ankle. In the first inning. I mean, call me biased, but that was clearly a pitch that just got away from Kazmir. For proof, look at the Royals themselves; when they hit a batter on purpose, they carefully pick their spot by waiting until they're out of a game, or at least waiting until the late innings when a short reliever can be the scapegoat. No starting pitcher puts himself in a position to be ejected in the first inning, thus ruining his team's bullpen for the next week.
The Royals didn't see it that way. Or, they didn't want to see it that way. They didn't get the reaction they wanted from Lawrie on Saturday, and they wanted any excuse to keep on fighting. Manager Ned Yost, who to that point had done a great job being a rational human being about the whole situation, got himself ejected complaining about Lorenzo Cain getting plunked by Kazmir. Why, Ned? Do you honestly think Kaz did that on purpose? Do you not think the umpire, who didn't even give a second thought to the notion that the HBP was on purpose, has enough judgment to call this one?
Well, it worked, Royals. You got what you wanted. We were having a perfectly enjoyable baseball game, and you ruined it. Kelvin Herrera took the fun out of the game and turned it into something darker. The Royals took a chance to create peace and turned it into a chance to breed more hate. Alcides Escobar had the option of forgiving and forgetting and being a positive role model in this anger-fueled world, and instead he decided to hold a childish grudge and become yet another macho stereotype of a professional athlete. Somewhere in Kansas City, a young child saw what happened today and cheered, ecstatic that the pitcher he looks up to tried to stick it to that nasty opponent. And that just breaks my heart.
The Royals went on to win the game. Whatever, you can have it fellas. If this is the way baseball is played in Kansas City, then count me out. The A's and Royals were not playing the same sport out there, and I don't ever want my team doing what the children in blue were doing. Shame on Kelvin Herrera, and shame on the Kansas City Royals.
The final question is what MLB will do about this. The league has been pushing safety to a high degree in recent years, and throwing at batters is one frontier that they have not yet fully tackled. They have a high-profile player who not only threw intentionally at an opponent but also called his shot and physically threatened that player in full view of everyone. This is a chance to set an example. If he gets 3-5 games, the league will have failed. If he gets 15 days or more (the length of a DL trip for the next player he hurts), then the league will have set a precedent.