On Tuesday afternoon, Angels reliever Jacob Barnes drilled Evan Longoria in the back with a pitch, creating an image that is both wild and painful to see. Longoria stayed in the game. Later, reliever Shaun Anderson threw high and tight against Mike Trout. Twice. The umpiring crew got together and decided not to eject Anderson from the game, and after the game, both managers claimed that the pitcher was not intentionally throwing at Trout.
Trout, to his credit, looked visibly frustrated, holding out his hands in a “what was that for, man?”-type posture. As some Twitter users have pointed out, the future Hall of Famer simply doesn’t get angry that often. He still has never been ejected in his career (although that may be coming with the state of the strike zone this year), and in his most infamous on-field conflict, a headline afterward read “Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura’s anger only puzzles Angels’ Mike Trout“. Thus, for a series of pitches to even draw a tiny hand gesture from Trout demonstrates a level of exasperation. And all of the following argument is moot if Trout takes issue with the Giants and demands retaliation in the form of pitch below the letters. In that case, by all means, throw a few to keep your superstar happy. But for some reason, I doubt Trout is barging down Maddon’s door, firmly requesting justice for his injuries.
Grant Brisbee of The Athletic broke it down, and I tend to agree with him that the Giants did not throw at Trout intentionally, despite the fact that some of my colleagues have expressed disagreement. They point out the fact that Giants manager Gabe Kapler frequently makes some of the most ridiculous in-game decisions, underscored by the moment when he brought in a Hoby Milner who hadn’t thrown any warm-up tosses. That Kapler is the San Francisco skipper brings some pause to my thoughts, but I still err on the side of caution, and I generally never like to assign blame before I know that the blame lies at its correct source.
So if Anderson’s pitches were accidental, where do the Angels go from here? Recent history of the team illustrates a verbal policy of non-confrontation. Mike Scioscia didn’t like to retaliate, and even though there was an incident involving Elvis Andrus in 2018, Scioscia claimed it was an accident. Last season, Noé Ramirez seemed to take matters into his own hands when he threw at Jake Marisnick for bowling over Jonathan Lucroy, and skipper Brad Ausmus ended up getting suspended in the bargain. The Angels would proceed to go into a three-game tailspin that included a near no-hitter by freaking Mike Leake of all people and a dashing of the team’s playoff hopes.
With two more games against the Giants, the opportunity is there. Maybe Ramirez will go rogue again. Maybe it will be another one of the merry band of brothers in the Angels ‘pen. Maybe Joe Maddon will even order one of them to do it. Plenty of Giants ought to satisfy the tit-for-tat criteria. Mike Yastrzemski is a big name who is hitting for an OPS over 1.000 at the moment. Donovan Solano is flirting with .400. Brandon Belt has been a Giant for ten years. Evan Longoria played good ball for Maddon’s Rays and was the one who initially got drilled. Pablo Sandoval has postseason heroics for these Giants.
All of this is a distraction. Deciding who to hit is a distraction. Discussing this in press conferences is a distraction. The team is ostensibly still trying to win games, facing a cellar-dwelling Giants team that they must beat to have any shot at getting back into the postseason race, and anything that distracts from the goal is moot. The reason Anderson’s defense even worked in the first place is because the Giants bullpen is so poor that he has to be on the roster! As evidenced by Monday night’s game and the showing over the weekend against Oakland, San Francisco’s relief corps have been so abysmal that the Angels should be winning these games easily. Yet, the pitching on the Anaheim side has also been weak. For that reason and solely for that reason, the Angels should not be gifting the Giants free baserunners, no matter what the inning, no matter what the score. (Didn’t we just have a discussion on letting up when the game appears out of hand or something? 😀 )
Although I generally do not condone throwing at a batter, and I definitely never support throwing at a batter’s head, I do recognize that under some circumstances, it may be necessary. HBPs are generally bad for the league’s value. The single base a player gets is a minuscule reward, and there is always the injury risk of taking out one of MLB’s stars. (There’s a nifty little remark under the comments section of that article that Trout is the only player in the league who reduces his team’s value by getting hit by a pitch.) If a team is throwing too tight on your hitters, maybe you brush them back a little. Throw in a little deterrent. Make their pitchers think twice about coming up and in on Trout. If there is a justified reason, retaliation can work. It doesn’t work when the reason is stupid (see Woodward, Gibaut, and that other fiasco), and it doesn’t work when hitting a batter will intensify, not deescalate, a situation. If the Angels hit Belt, maybe the Giants think, “Hey, they got Longoria and Belt, and we didn’t really get anyone,” and before you know it, they throw at Rendon, and we have a whole beanball war starting over a span of a four-game series. Maddon gets suspended just as he’s entering his comfort zone with the team, and this interruption jars the team and prevents them from settling in. The Giants are not the enemy. They won’t be competing with the Angels for a playoff spot (possibly not for the rest of humanity), and they sure aren’t division rivals that we need to show dominance over. Let this one go, win the games (if you’re supporting that kind of thing), and move on across the Bay to a team we actually do wish with which we had a rivalry.
In the end, it’s really up to Trout. Like in the cover picture above, he truly does walk alone, and he now wields a power that could shape the next few games and even the rest of the season. The greatest show in baseball is on television nightly, and fans must, once again, watch to see if the rotating cast of characters can just provide enough support for Trout to drag them to the playoffs for twice in his life. On Wednesday and Thursday night, we can also see if the supporting cast decides to support Trout in a different way as well.