Nelson Cruz gestures at Justin Verlander after being thrown behind

Mark Townsend
May 14, 2014

Whether or not Justin Verlander intended to throw behind Nelson Cruz in the fourth inning on Wednesday is up for debate. How the Baltimore Orioles slugger responded is not.

After the 1-0 fastball breezed by the numbers on the back of his uniform and bounced off the backstop behind him, Cruz immediately turned to Verlander to stare him down before not-so-subtly making an inappropriate gesture.

No translation needed there.

There was also no hesitation from home plate umpire John Tumpane to issue warnings considering the bad blood that has developed between the two teams this week. During Monday's series opener, Orioles starter Bud Norris plunked Torii Hunter after giving up the lead in the eighth inning. That led to a benches-clearing dust up that featured no punches, but did include the awkward exchange between Hunter and umpire Paul Nauert.

A response to the beaning was antcipated at some point in the series, and with Detroit up by a seemingly comfortable five runs early on Wednesday, it's logicial to speculate that Verlander chose to be the messenger then and there. Of course, that much was flat out denied by Verlander and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, but even the local media wasn't buying that completely.

From MLive: 

"It just slipped," Verlander said.

No matter what Verlander or Tigers manager Brad Ausmus say, it certainly appeared as if the pitch was a message sent in response to Bud Norris hitting Torii Hunter with a pitch Monday night. That pitch, a 94-mph fastball that hit Hunter in the ribs, came two pitches after Ian Kinsler hit a two-run home run.

"As skilled as these pitchers are at this level, balls get away from pitchers sometimes," Ausmus said, "just like I'm sure the ball got away from Bud Norris."

Slip or no slip, Cruz was not happy. But once he settled down and stopped with the gesturing, he'd go on to win the fourth inning battle with a clean single to right field, which helped set up Baltimore's first run of the afternoon. In his next at-bat, though, he'd do one better, connecting for a three-run homer off the former AL Cy Young and MVP, which cut the deficit to one.

As he rounded first base, Cruz appeared to deliver a verbal message of some sort. What was said and whether or not Cruz was speaking directly to Verlander was unclear in the aftermath of Detroit's eventual 7-5 win. Cruz's postgame comments on the situation were minimal and focused on keeping things positive.

''We're not going to focus on what happened in bad situations,'' Cruz said. ''We're going to focus on whatever we did good on a daily basis, and that can get you going through the season.''

Fair enough. But there are two things we can say with certainty. The first, it's a good thing Detroit was scheduled to leave town immediately following the game, because it's clear this thing had a chance to linger if the series continued. Second, it's rare that even the best hitters get the last word on Verlander, so homering in the same game in which the hard thrower whistles a pitch behind you is certainly worth barking about.

Then again, Verlander did go on to get the victory despite allowing a season-high five runs on six hits with only four strikeouts over six innings. He improved to 7-0 in eight career outings at Camden Yards, so we all know who got the last laugh, yet again, in Baltimore.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!