ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A not-so-subtle message was delivered by Toronto Blue Jays rookie right-hander Pat Hentgen to Orioles rookie outfielder Luis Mercedes. It came in the form of a fastball that caromed off Mercedes' left ankle.
Nobody charged the mound and no warnings were issued, but there was little doubt the pitch was a delayed payback for an incident that led to a suspension for Mercedes from the International League last year. In that incident, while leaving the field, Mercedes answered a taunt from Syracuse's Tom Quinlan by flinging his helmet in the third baseman's face, causing considerable damage.
Hentgen and Quinlan were teammates last year at Syracuse, Toronto's Triple-A farm team, and both were in uniform for yesterday's game. Afterward, both Mercedes and Orioles manager John Oates said Hentgen hit the outfielder on purpose -- and that they wanted the incident closed.
Mercedes, however, indicated that might not be the case. "I know it was intentional," he said, "because he [Quinlan] yelled to me, 'That was easy. The next time will be hard.' "
Mercedes also said he had been told there was a bounty if someone hit him in the head. "I made a mistake and I apologized," Mercedes said of last year's brawl.
"If they want me to apologize again, I'll apologize again. I am trying to be a more smart player. I don't want anybody to get hurt -- and I don't want to get hurt, either."
Oates did not make an issue of yesterday's incident, but said he knew it was intentional. When asked if Mercedes had received a delayed payback, Oates left no doubt about his feeling.
"I know it was," he said. "As soon as it happened I turned to Greg Biagini [the Rochester manager last year] and asked if he [Hentgen] was on that team. Now I hope it's over with and we can just play baseball. Luis has admitted he made a mistake and apologized."
It wasn't until the Orioles had returned to their training complex after the game at Al Lang Stadium that the charges of vengeance were made. The Blue Jays had departed for their camp in Dunedin and were unavailable for comment.
After being hit in the fifth inning, Mercedes was easily thrown out trying to steal on the next pitch -- a pitchout. Earlier, he had singled to set up the final two runs in the Orioles' three-run third inning.