COMMENTARY | It's a drama that has its origins in a game from August 2012, a time when Cincinnati Red's closer Aroldis Chapman intentionally hit Andrew McCutchen with a 101 mph fastball to the arm. Beaning batters to make a statement is nothing new and is almost as old as the game itself. But there is definitely a wrong way to do it, and the Reds have excelled at it.
Take a game on July 17 for example: Chapman was again on the mound to shut down the game, and again threw at another Pirate. This time it was Neil Walker, and this time it was a 100 mph fastball at his head, the kind that can end a career if Walker doesn't hit the deck in a split second. And that was only after Red's starter Mike Leake beaned McCutchen earlier in the game.
But this time, very unlike the Pirates' response last season, someone stood up. Charlie Morton, certainly not the toughest guy on the team, wasted little time in plunking leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo in the calf. First batter, first pitch. The casual fan might not have recognized the significance of that pitch, thinking it was just another Morton meltdown with utter loss of control. But those following the beanball saga knew right away what it meant. It meant that the Pirates weren't going to be intimidated by the Reds and manager Dusty Baker anymore.
Let's clear one thing up here: it's not exactly a one-way street. In the eight meetings between the division rivals this year, 15 batters have been hit. The tally? Nine Reds and six Pirates. Choo himself has taken a majority of those beanings. The Pirates have plunked the team so many times that Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos took to the media after a game on July 18, whining and pouting about how the league should intervene and investigate the matter. If there was any legitimacy to his rant, it was that the Pirates do lead the majors with 39 hit batsmen.
Maybe Latos missed the several times this season Chapman has thrown at batters' heads. Cleveland Indians player Nick Swisher almost charged the mound earlier this year when Chapman threw a fireball at his head. It's no secret around the league that Chapman is a head hunter and seems proud of the fact. Even though the Pirates lead the majors in hit batsmen, how many of those have been even close to the batters' head? And how many of those have been intentional?
The most important part of the story is what happened after Morton plunked Choo. Latos was leaning over the railing in the dugout, literally shouting obscenities at Morton. That's fine, anger is to be expected. Surely Latos wanted to take his anger out on the first batter he faced in the top of the second inning, which just so happened to be Morton. The perfect time for revenge on the perfect batter. But what happened next had to be a mandate from Baker, a firm decision not to continue the beanball. Morton finished his at-bat free of harm and, for now, the matter seems settled.
And for now, it seems that Dusty Baker finally realizes that the Pirates aren't intimidated by his team.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
- Sports & Recreation
- Charlie Morton
- Aroldis Chapman
- Cincinnati Red