Kevin Gorman: Pirates' retaliation plans go all wrong
A controversy that started with Anthony Rizzo's takeout slide of Elias Diaz at home plate Monday devolved into a debate that completely missed the point.
This wasn't isolated to whether Rizzo's slide was clean or dirty, within the letter or spirit of MLB Rule 6.01(j) or a concept from the old school of thought or new.
No, this was all about the unwritten rules and whether the Pirates would do something Tuesday that they didn't in their 7-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Memorial Day at PNC Park.
Instead of wondering whether Cubs manager Joe Maddon was being facetious — or is fasciitis? — in his assertion that the fault was actually with Diaz, the big question was whether the Pirates would respond by plunking Rizzo with a pitch.
“The best retaliation,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, “is to beat them.”
It was a pathetic plan.
The Pirates didn't just get punked by the Cubs — with Maddon stirring the pot — they punked out in the ninth inning and again Tuesday.
Rizzo's slide in front of the plate to break up a double play cut Diaz at his ankles, caused his throw to sail into right, allowed two runs to score and left Diaz crumpled in pain.
But Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez missed the opportunity for retribution in the ninth, instead throwing a wild pitch that allowed runners to advance to second and third base and then serving up a two-run single to Rizzo.
That was discussed in the closed-door clubhouse meeting after the game, one in which Pirates veterans expressed their displeasure with the reaction.
Retaliation isn't about right or wrong, clean or dirty or the spirt or letter of the rule. It's strictly about standing up for a teammate.
“My teammates will always protect me,” Diaz said. “That's the culture here. That's who we are. We'll protect each other, and I've always felt that protection.
“Unfortunately, we didn't see an instant response, but it's in the past, we're going to play baseball today. We're going to move forward.”
It's one thing to allow an NL Central rival steal a game, another to let them take your pride. That's what the Cubs did, turning the Pirates into a punchline.
Rizzo sure wasn't worried about getting drilled, not after being hit by 30 pitches in 2015 and 24 times last year.
“I can probably sit here and make a promise to everyone that I will be hit by the Pittsburgh Pirates again in my career at some point,” Rizzo said. “They've probably hit me the most in my career to this point, so if I get hit (Tuesday), if I get hit (Wednesday), if I get hit when we play them again, it happens. Hopefully, it's in the right spot.”
Rizzo is right that the Pirates had hit him more times (16) than any other opponent in his eight seasons.
They should have made it 17 in his first at-bat and ended the controversy.
Rizzo was roundly booed in every at-bat but wasn't pegged by the Pirates. Instead, they walked Rizzo twice and hit catcher Wilson Contreras twice.
That'll show 'em.
Rizzo doubled down the right-field line, popped out to short in the fourth and was intentionally walked in the fifth, so it wasn't a surprise the Pirates pitched to him to lead off the seventh.
Per his wish, the Pirates put it in the right spot. Rizzo responded by smashing Edgar Santana's 1-1 pitch over the Clemente Wall, where a Cubs fan leaned over the railing to catch it, to tie it and spark a three-run rally.
The Pirates didn't protect their teammate or their lead in the 8-6 loss, getting Rule 6.01(j) right and the unwritten rule all wrong.