A fish tank sits behind home plate at Marlins Park. Teams playing at the World Baseball Classic in Miami cannot possibly miss seeing it. But nobody told Robinson Cano about the piranhas that would be nipping at his ankles around second base.
Cano admitted to being angry about getting spiked in the leg — a total of three times, he said — after Nick Punto got him in the seventh inning Tuesday. Cano's Dominican Republic team overcame an early four-run deficit to beat Punto and Italy 5-4 in second-round play, and Cano was cool with that — he just didn't like the country hardball being played around the bag.
Earlier in his career, Punto was among the vanguard of a group of Minnesota Twins that Ozzie Guillen nicknamed "Piranhas" for their spirited, hustling, irritating, obnoxious and overcompensating style of play. Guillen respected, if not downright admired, the Piranhas. I'm not sure Cano feels quite the same way about that kind of style played at all times.
Cano said in the New York Daily News that he was "upset" and "mad" because, he said, Punto's extra effort was unnecessary, as there was no double play to break up. Am I reading another of baseball's "unwritten rules" between the lines here?
He glared at Punto after a 6-4 forceout ended the inning and didn’t seem mollified when Punto patted him on the behind and apologized. Punto said he was only playing hard and safe, and Italy’s hitting coach, Mike Piazza, suggested that the Yankees’ star should move off the base quicker.
“He can look all he wants — it’s good, hard baseball,” said Piazza, who had his share of dust-ups with the Yankees. “I don’t think it was a dirty play. Make the play and get off the bag... In this game, if you run hard and you get one bobble, it can mean a lot.”
Piazza's response resonates logically and even emotionally. It would have made a good closing statement in a trial. There's also a widely held belief that Team Italy has gotten this far in the WBC because it's getting every last drop of effort from itself. Conversely, there's a belief that the ridiculously talented Dominicans have needed a little encouragement.
Once they started to rally, Cano's teammates made it obvious they were emotionally into the game. Screaming begat spirited fist pumps, which begat clapping, which begat jumping up and down. Very Ryder Cup-like out there.
But something tells me it's all a little more important to Punto than Cano, who might feel differently about Punto's sliding tactics were they to happen in, say, the World Series.
Punto simply isn't going to wait for October, is all. Once a Piranha, always a Piranha.
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