Boston reaffirms its standing as Beantown
Boston earned the nickname Beantown because of what the Boston Globe terms an "early colonial obsession with Boston Baked Beans." These days Boston could be called Beantown because of the baseball team's proclivity for hitting batters with pitches.
The Red Sox have finished among the American League's top three for hit batters seven times in 11 seasons from 2000 through 2010. Boston currently leads all of baseball in the category with 50 hit batters, which is 10 more than second-place Toronto. They extended that lead this weekend by plunking the O's.
Make no mistake, the Orioles have had their troubles with hitting batters in the past as well. The O's have finished in the American League's top three for hit batters three times in that same span from 2000 to 2010. However, the Orioles are currently last in all of baseball for hit batters with only 18, which, in light of this weekend's events, raises an interesting debate about pitching inside.
The Red Sox are good; the Orioles are not. But that doesn't grant the Red Sox the right to pitch inside while taking the same right away from the Orioles, which is exactly what Boston tried to do in this series.
When is it okay to pitch inside?
A primary question underlying the entire situation at Fenway this past weekend is this: "When is it okay to pitch inside - sometimes, always, or never?"
Given that the Orioles were down 10-3 at the time of the altercation between David Oritz and Kevin Gregg on Friday night, I would think - and to a certain degree could understand - that Ortiz was frustrated by the timing of the inside pitches. In that case, his answer to the above question would be sometimes.
However, based on Ortiz's comments about the situation, Big Papi's answer to the question in fact seems to lean toward never.
“He’s a guy who I’ve always faced and he’s never pitched [me] in,’’ Ortiz told the Boston Globe. “He threw a whole bunch of pitches inside and I’m sure he was trying to hit me. No question about that.’’
Here's Ortiz's logic in a nutshell: Throwing inside = Trying to hit me.
Big Papi isn't dumb. He knows he gains a considerable advantage by not having pitchers throw inside on him regardless of the score. So he never wants it to happen.
Pitching inside is part of baseball and an important part at that.
Derek Jeter doesn't crowd the plate and jump back theatrically from balls that nearly catch the inside corner because he wants a career in acting after his baseball days are over. Rather, much like the Duke basketball team has perfected the flop in order to draw charges and thereby gain a defensive advantage, Jeter recognizes a competitive advantage in taking away the inside part of the plate from a pitcher.
Aside from anger, what you saw from Big Papi and his teammates this weekend was gamesmanship. There's a faulty logic at work, however, when you assume that a team's record reflects their understanding of baseball's unwritten rules and how to "play the game the right way." In truth, some of baseball's best teams use those subjective, unwritten rules to their own advantage, especially when it comes to matters like pitching inside. That's exactly what Boston did.
The Red Sox are following a model that the Yankees seem to have perfected in recent years where they attempt to dictate certain rules to other teams without actually following the same rules themselves. (See, for example, Roger Clemens' career in pinstripes.)
No matter whether you're in first place or last place the same "rules" should apply evenly. The better teams know it's in their best interests if they don't.