One of baseball’s most notable “unwritten” rules is that if you hit one of our guys intentionally then we’re gonna hit one of your guys, usually your best player too. It sends a clear cut message that it’s ‘eye for eye’ and that you’re not going to let anyone get away with it.
We saw that unwritten rule play out but in a different way, on Wednesday night when Ronald Acuña, after hitting a lead off home run in three consecutive games for the Atlanta Braves, was plunked on the first pitch by 97.5 mile per hour fastball from Miami Marlins’ starter Jose Ureña. According to ESPN that was the fastest pitch Ureña had ever thrown to start a game.
In typical fashion tempers flared and the benches cleared although no punches where thrown. The pitch hitting Acuña on the arm sadly lead to him exiting the game the next half inning, the Braves down one of baseball’s newest stars.
This happens somewhat frequently in the MLB as teams try to police themselves and often times, the anger boils over and leads to actual fist fights. We saw that back in April when Colorado Rockies’ third baseman Nolan Arenado charged the mound after being thrown at by San Diego Padres’ pitcher Luis Perdomo to cap off a back and forth of plunking batters from opposing teams. Arenado tried his hardest to get in some shots, but Perdomo back peddled until the teams’ benches made it on the field and broke it up. Perdomo receieved a five game suspension, as did Arenado. Rockies’ outfielder Gerarado Para was suspended four games for fighting during the incident and Padres’ pitcher Buddy Baumann was also suspended a game for fighting.
Last year we saw a similar incident in May, after Washington Nationals’ star outfielder Bryce Harper was hit in the hip with a 98 mile per hour fastball thrown by San Francisco Giants’ reliever Hunter Strickland in the eighth inning. Harper charged the mound and both he and Strickland got in their licks. Strickland practically had to be carried off the field by three teammates to get him out of the situation. This was an actual brawl and it even sadly led to the end of Mike Morse’s career after he sustained a concussion. Harper was suspended four games and Strickland was suspended for six. A very unfortunate event that occurs when players feel the need to take it upon themselves to dish out the punishment.
Another brawl happened in August of last season between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees that has ignited a rivalry between the two clubs. When Tigers’ Michael Fulmer hit Yankees’ designated hitter Gary Sanchez with a pitch which seemed to be unintentional and Sanchez didn’t charge the mound nor did the benches clear. The Yankees took exception to Fulmer hitting their player and the next inning Tommy Kahnle threw a 98 mile per hour fastball at Miguel Cabrera. Although it missed him, it caused Kahnle to be ejected by the umpires. While then manager Joe Giardi came out to say his piece causing him to be ejected and Aroldis Chapman coming in from the bullpen, words and shoves were exchanged at the plate between Cabrera and catcher Austin Romine, before it turned into actual fists. There is still tension between these two teams a year later as a result of the incident but we saw a shift in how the league office handles these incidents with the hefty suspensions they issued. Cabrera was suspended for seven games for his actions, Sanchez was suspended four games for sucker punching Nick Castellanos who was trying to break up the fight. Tigers’ reliever Alex Wilson was suspended four games as he threw at a Yankees’ third baseman Todd Frazier after warnings were issued. Romine was suspended two games for his actions and even Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus was suspended a game for Wilson throwing at Frazier.
Wednesday however, was different. We saw a huge shift in response from teams, fans and most importantly both the umpires and the league office. Ureña was swiftly ejected by the umpires after only throwing the one pitch and it didn’t take much deliberation for them to come to that conclusion. This is one of the first incidents where simply hitting someone that appeared intentional resulted in an ejection before any other incidents occurred. On MLB Tonight, Brian Kenny, Greg Amsinger and even Jim Thome all agreed that Ureña should have been ejected. Braves fans and non-Braves fans alike took to social media to condemn the action by Ureña and justifiably call him every name in the book for causing a Rookie of the Year candidate to exit the game from injury. To basically all onlookers, the umpires got it right, and they agreed with the ejection.
The larger question at that point was how would the Braves react the rest of the game and how would the league office react. Warnings had been issued when Ureña was ejected so should one of the Braves’ pitchers throw at or hit one of the Marlins batters, it would’ve surely result in an ejection. However, the Braves didn’t retaliate as we’ve seen so many times in the past, instead they used the incident as fuel and motivation to spark a rally and win the game five to two without Acuña.
As far as how the league office would react, we received our answer on Thursday when Ureña was suspended for six games. Although he may appeal, there’s no way to prove he didn’t throw at Acuña intentionally so the suspension will likely stand. By taking this course of action the league and the Braves have set a really good precedent that this is no longer the wild wild west where opposing batters have to fear getting hit by a pitch for the rest of the game after their pitcher plunked one of your guys.
Wednesday was a shift from the old time baseball where teams policed each other to where we’ll likely see teams let the umpires and league office handle the real punishment. If this is how teams handle these incidents in the future then we’ve likely seen our last mound charge and bench clearing brawl. As exciting as those incidents are to watch as fans, numerous injuries have occurred and careers ended as a result. This will no doubt make the game safer and put more control in the hands of the umpires and league office, plus limit suspensions the league has to issue. But like the old saying, with great power comes great responsibility, the umpires and league office have now set a precedent that they must continue to follow. If they fall back after a specific incident, teams will likely start taking matters back into their own hands.
Ron Wolschleger is a pitchaholic and a Contributing Writer for Beyond the Box Score as well as Bless You Boys. You can follow him on Twitter at @FIPmyWHIP.