Let me be very clear: I hate hit-by-pitches. They are an unavoidable part of baseball, of course, and most of them are unintentional and relatively harmless, but in a perfect world, pitchers simply would not throw baseballs that hit pitchers. I hate when guys on my favorite team get hit; I hate when guys on the other team get hit even more because then you get the same fear of injury of a person playing game and your team’s odds of victory are diminished because you just gave a team a base runner.
When Edmundo Sosa was hit by a Carlos Carrasco pitch on Wednesday afternoon in the bottom of the fourth inning, it wasn’t my favorite outcome, though I was quickly relieved that Sosa seemed to be just fine. It certainly never dawned on me that it might have been intentional–Carrasco is a smart veteran and surely plunking the #9 hitter and putting the go-ahead run on first base was not his idea of smart baseball–and despite the high intensity of the night before, and discussing the potential for fireworks with those with whom I attended the game, this seemed like an honest mistake, not unlike most if not all of the mistakes which had so frequently hit New York Mets batters up to that point in the season.
In the top of the eighth inning, the game’s second hit batter came about, with third baseman J.D. Davis being hit by a 3-2 Génesis Cabrera pitch. It was more reasonable to accuse Cabrera of acting nefariously than Carrasco, because the 10-5 game score meant that a Mets comeback was unlikely even with an extra base-runner (though their odds of victory, per Baseball Reference, did shoot from 2% to 3%), but on a 3-2 count? Against the Mets’ relatively anonymous #7 hitter who had yet to reach base that day? As a pitcher with an unfortunate but by all accounts, including some of his victims, accidental history of occasional HBP wildness? At this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country, localized entirely within Busch Stadium? Again, more likely than that Edmundo Sosa was intentionally beaned, sure, but that’s an awfully low bar.
Call me an optimist, but I didn’t think any of the HBPs on Tuesday night were intentional, either. Why would Aaron Brooks, the extremely borderline St. Louis Cardinals reliever fighting for his Major League career, intentionally hit Starling Marte, a batter he had never before faced in the big leagues, and therefore allow another run? Why would Adam Ottavino intentionally plunk Tommy Edman, thus setting the stage for Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill, or Nolan Arenado to become the game-tying run with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the eighth inning? I don’t think this because I believe baseball teams are littered with pacifists; I think this because I believe the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals want to win baseball games. And Tuesday’s was simply too close for comfort.
But on Wednesday, in the bottom of the eighth inning game, the Mets’ odds of victory were, rounded to the nearest percentage, zero. The Cardinals had a five-run lead and the Mets had just three outs remaining to close it. Which is why when, on the very first pitch thrown to Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals’ best hitter so far in 2022, with the game’s newfound inevitability entrenched, Yoan López went high and inside to Arenado, every single person in the stadium knew what was happening. Both broadcasts knew it; the Mets television broadcast even condoned throwing at Arenado (though they condemned throwing so close to his head). Every player on each team and every one of the tens of thousands inside the stadium knew what was happening. Arenado, although not hit by the pitch, was rightfully incensed, yelling back at López, stepping first to his left out of the batter’s box and then taking a step or two towards López (though he never came particularly close to reaching grass, much less the pitcher) before being held back (reasonably) by catcher Tomás Nido, after which the benches and bullpens cleared.
If you told me on Wednesday that two people would be suspended for what happened, one for two games and one for one game, I would have guessed, without a doubt, that Yoan López would be suspended for two games, given how reckless of a throw he made towards Arenado (despite the fact that he was not ejected from the game), and that Cardinals first base coach Stubby Clapp, who during the fracas had tackled Mets first baseman Pete Alonso and was ejected (look, yes I found this funny, but I get that you have to punish that), would get a game. It turns out I was wrong on both accounts–instead, Nolan Arenado was suspended for two games for, um, getting angry when a pitcher threw at his head, and Génesis Cabrera, who and this bears repeating was not even ejected for hitting J.D. Davis, got suspended for a game.
Practically speaking, the Cabrera suspension meant absolutely nothing–after throwing 29 pitches on Wednesday, he was probably already out of commission for the Thursday night Cardinals victory during which he served his suspension. But as a matter of principle, it is nonsensical. The HBP was so innocuous in the moment that umpires barely thought anything of it. And it isn’t as though Génesis Cabrera had some obvious motivation, unless he perceived the Tommy Edman or Edmundo Sosa HBPs as intentional, a thing that nobody has suggested and which rightfully did not lead to suspensions. It is nearly impossible to imagine a punishment coming down if not for what transpired in the bottom half of the inning, events which did not directly involve Cabrera at all.
Though at least with Cabrera, one can argue that his suspension was the consequence of his own actions, even if his actions lacked malicious intent and even if his actions were met with overly draconian punishment. As for Nolan Arenado, the idea of punishing a player because he got angry when a pitch nearly hit him in the head is ludicrous. Had Arenado charged the mound or used racial slurs, then sure, but getting mad about almost being hit in the head by a baseball in a manner seen by virtually everybody involved on either side as intentional seems like a reasonable reaction. I can tolerate Arenado being ejected from Wednesday’s game–guys get bounced for yelling fairly frequently–but to not eject Yoan López nor to suspend him is indefensible. Being mad about your teammates being hit by pitches is reasonable, but this does not make retribution, particularly at Nolan Arenado, a guy who has, if I am doing my math correctly, hit zero New York Mets batters with pitches, a valid response. Major League Baseball is filling the role of Annoying Guy Who Still Says “Stay Classy” As Though Anchorman Didn’t Come Out A Whole Generation Ago, punishing being mad at the hurling of projectiles more aggressively than punishing the actual hurling.
Nolan Arenado is appealing his suspension, and rightfully so. I don’t know how I would react if a guy threw a baseball at my head, but I am fairly sure that “yell at the guy from a distance” would be a relatively desirable outcome. Punshing that infinitely more aggressively than the agitation itself probably isn’t actually going to set some sort of long-term precedent, but if it does, it’s an extremely stupid one.