Columnist Peter Schumuck thinks it's time for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred "to end this nonsense before somebody really gets hurt." (Baltimore Sun video)
Major League Baseball has had enough of the brewing feud between the Orioles and Boston Red Sox, and commissioner Rob Manfred and chief baseball officer Joe Torre told both teams on a conference call Wednesday "all right, that's it."
A pitch behind the back of Orioles third baseman Manny Machado on Tuesday night set Machado off on a profane tirade after the game, leading the MLB to intervene and demand an end to the hostilities, which began April 21 at Camden Yards when Machado slid into second baseman Dustin Pedroia, injuring him.
The clubs weren't issued warnings before Wednesday night's game, but when Orioles starter Kevin Gausman hit Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts in the back with a breaking ball in the second inning, home plate umpire Sam Holbrook ejected him without hesitation. Center fielder Adam Jones was also ejected for arguing after a swinging strikeout in the fifth inning.
It was a zero-tolerance approach to umpiring many felt was required days ago, and which seemed to be a direct result of the call.
"There's enough smoke on either side to know there are strong feelings and, of course, what has contributed to that is that they've played so many times in a short period of time," Torre said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun earlier Wednesday. "That doesn't give it time to sort of calm down. I understand the passion. I respect that passion. Basically, the commissioner [Rob Manfred] and I were on a phone call with both managers and both general managers to express our feelings and let them know, "All right, that's it." The commissioner was very emphatic that he's had enough of it."
The message reached Orioles manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette, who have at least publicly tried to steer their club toward competing on the field and away from things such as throwing at hitters. Showalter wouldn't discuss the conference call, but Duquette said, "Major League Baseball would like to see the focus on the game on the field, and the rivalry that's developed between the Orioles and the Red Sox has been very spirited."
"Some of the on-field behaviors, Major League Baseball is discouraging so that we can keep the focus on the best players and keep the best players on the field," Duquette said. "Our concern is that, you know, that our players have an even playing field on which to compete, and our guys compete within the rules. I'm really proud of the way that our players have represented the Orioles, and play under very stressful conditions. I mean, our guys have performed. They've kept their poise, and they've performed admirably."
Duquette said the Orioles do not, as a rule, throw at players to retaliate, and indicated by noting that that Boston had. Pedroia missed several days with a knee injury after Machado's slide, and pitches inside two days later from Eduardo Rodriguez, then a pitch behind his head by reliever Matt Barnes set tensions off last month.
Machado has been breathlessly booed at Fenway Park all series, and responded with a pair of home runs, including one Tuesday after Chris Sale threw a pitch behind him in the first inning.
Showalter said he considered taking Machado off the field after that inning, such was the danger he thought the circumstances of only warnings issued by the umpires created.
"I took Manny down the runway there after the first inning because I was leaning towards taking him out of the game," Showalter said. "It was obvious that it didn't seem like he was going to be protected by the umpires in that situation, and I didn't trust them not to do it again. I had a good long talk with him. If he gets thrown out of that game or does something to get suspended, then they win. I just didn't want that to happen."
After the game, Machado explained his frustration in the most explicit way possible, going on a tirade that said he lost respect for the Red Sox players and coaches and called on them to either hit him and get it over with or move on.
"They've got to do something about it," Machado said. "If you're going to hit somebody, go ahead. Hit him. But it's [expletive] [expletive]."
Torre said punishment for Sale is still being discussed, but on a larger scale, Manfred and Torre chose the course of league intervention, which before Wednesday night's game was mostly hopeful. Showalter said it's "always a tough call" as a manager to decide between self-policing and mandates from on high, but many believed a dangerous situation for the two clubs was brewing.
"This is what it turns to," former All-Star outfielder and current MLB Network analyst Cliff Floyd said. "So, what about when something really happens? When a guy really beans you on purpose or really tries to, as Matt Barnes did, tries to hit you in the butt but ends up near your head. Where's the end? There has to be an end. And I think that's where we are today. It makes me sick to have to consistently talk about something in between the lines that, in my mind, absolutely should not be part of what we're trying to achieve and what we're doing in major league baseball today."
ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez, who called Monday night's game at Fenway Park as part of their "Monday Night Baseball" crew, said it was "pretty obvious [Chris Sale] was trying to send a message" Tuesday.
“As soon as that happens, if you want it to stop, right then and there as an umpire, you have the right to say, ‘That’s enough—you’re gone,’<TH>” Perez said. “Then, you see how that impacts the game. You take Chris Sale out of the game. You issue warnings to both sides, and you put zero tolerance on it. As soon as you put zero tolerance on it, everything changes. … You send a message, clear, cutthroat. That’s where it should have been nipped in the bud. Instead, you send warnings out and continue to let it linger. That’s where you can lose control of the situation.”
Both analysts understand the clubs' motivations, having been former players on both sides of such equations, but perspective away from their playing days has removed some of the machismo associated with the retaliation culture in baseball's proverbial unwritten rules.
Torre felt the same way, though baseball seldom punishes pitchers for what Sale did.
When two teams get to the level the Orioles and Red Sox have, it usually takes a bench-clearing fight to warrant punishment. Seldom are suspensions doled out for throwing at a player when teams don't brawl, though Barnes received one. Suspensions usually don't span more than five games — which is a couple of outings for a reliever or one start for a man in the rotation.
Barnes received the only such suspension so far this year, while Atlanta Braves reliever Jose Ramirez (three games) and late Kansas City Royals starter Yordano Ventura were disciplined last season.
Notably, in 2015, Washington Nationals reliever Jonathan Papelbon was suspended three games for throwing at Machado. New York Mets reliever Hansel Robles was also suspended at the end of 2015 for an intentional pitch at an opposing batter. Both were suspended three games.
The goal in Wednesday's call seems to be to prevent it from getting any closer to that point — or going past it into an ugly fight.
"I expressed my feelings as a former manager and impartial observer that these two clubs figure to be in a pennant race, and I hate to have retaliation and revenge really take precedent over trying to win a ballgame," Torre said.
Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo, like those at the league office above him and many in the clubhouse with him Wednesday at Fenway Park, wanted the focus to return back to the game itself.
"I'm only going to speak for myself, but we have Manny's back," Trumbo said. "I think it's unfortunate that this has continued. It'd be great if we could focus on the baseball part of things, because there's some really good things happening on the field that are probably going relatively unnoticed while so many other distractions are going on. It would be nice for everyone, and for us as players and as fans, to focus on the things that are really important. I'm not sure when, exactly, we'll be able to do that, but the sooner the better."