Washington’s Jonathan Papelbon has been suspended for three games in the wake of Wednesday’s hit batsman incident with Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles. Papelbon is appealing the suspension, which stems from him hitting Machado in the head area in the ninth inning of the Birds’ victory at Nationals Park. The apparent “cause” of this was the impression that Machado admired his homer two inning previously.
Perhaps Manny did stand at home plate for a bit too long – I’m really not sure, and in reality it’s all in the eye of the beholder. However I’ll say this; regardless of what anyone says, hit batsmen are part of the game – intentional or otherwise. This is only speaking for myself here, so take this commentary at face value. But if a pitcher feels that a hitter showed him or one of his teammates up, I honestly don’t have a problem with them throwing at the guy…
…but as always with me, there are a couple of provisos on that statement. First off, you hit someone at the risk of your teammates. I have no issue with you hitting a batter, so long as you recognize that in doing so you’re potentially putting one of your teammates at risk. Bryce Harper is a guy on whom I’ve been fairly hard in the past. However he truly seems to understand the workings of baseball’s unwritten codes in this instance (quote courtesy of FOXsports):
"I mean Manny freaking hit a homer. Walked it off and somebody drilled him. I mean, it’s pretty tired. It’s one of those situations where it happens and, I don’t know, I’ll probably get drilled tomorrow."
Courtesy of Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Again if you feel that an opposing hitter has in some way shown your team or your pitcher up, I say go ahead and thrown at him. Just understand however that you’re putting a teammate in the line of fire, potentially causing further harm to your team. In this particular case, the Orioles opted not to hit anyone – and I actually think that was smart. The Birds at this point have slightly more to lose than does Washington. However this story also got national media, and Papelbon was truly made to be the villain. Perhaps that was enough.
But let me go back to the point about how I see no issue with throwing at a guy as I said above. That may well be “frontier justice” in a sense as part of baseball’s unwritten codes. But there’s also an unwritten code inside of that unwritten code, and Papelbon violated it big time. You never – and I mean NEVER – throw at someone’s head.
Papelbon threw the first pitch high and tight towards Machado’s head. Machado’s body language indicated that the location of the pitch “registered” with him, however Papelbon then followed that up with a slider low-and-away. So at that point perhaps Machado relaxes a bit in thinking that the ball had maybe slipped out of Papelbon’s hand or something along those lines. Then on the third pitch Papelbon “goes for the kill” and hits Machado on the upper shoulder.
Incidentally, Machado was correct in refering to Papelbon as having committed a “cowardly act.” Throwing the ball at someone’s head like that is pretty gutless in my view. There’s a proper way to hit someone, and in general pitchers are told to bury the ball in the hitter’s back, thigh, or derriere. Had he been hit in one of those areas (on the first pitch, that is), it might have even gone unnoticed. But targeting someone’s head is way over the top.
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That’s the reason why Papelbon was ejected immediately, and why he’s now been suspended for three games. And incidentally, he’s appealing the suspension – which means he’s still eligible to play. More on that in a moment, however again…you don’t EVER throw at someone’s head. That’s far beyond bush league, and there’s not a player in the league today who would agree that Papelbon had the right to put that ball where he did.
Papelbon of course is allowed to play during the appeal, however as soon as it’s
Courtesy of Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
heard he has to begin serving it immediately (presuming it’s not expunged). However it’s also a bit of a “punk move” to appeal a suspension for something so serious and so blatant. Therefore if I were MLB I’d wait until the last day of the season to render a decision.
Maybe at the end of the day they shorten the suspension to two games or something along those lines – or leave it as it is. However that would require part or all of the suspension to be served at the beginning of next year, forcing Washington to begin the regular season with only 24 men on the roster – as well as having to potentially play between one and three games with a short bullpen. To Washington’s credit, many of the players seemed to back away from Papelbon’s actions, basically admitting that their teammate had done a bad thing. So while yes it’s unfair to make those guys pay the price, it also drives home the point that when you do things like this it affects your entire team.