Jim Leyland's not talking about it -- but his team is. Thursday's incident between the Tigers and White Sox is just another in a continuing saga of the Tigers feeling like they're on the wrong side of MLB decisions.
The latest episode came Thursday with the White Sox visiting Detroit. In the bottom of the fifth inning, White Sox starter Chris Sale buzzed Prince Fielder's head on the first pitch following a home run by Miguel Cabrera. Leyland immediately took exception, gesturing at the home plate umpire from the dugout as it to ask for an appeal. You're not going to let him get away with that, are you? Home plate umpire Chad Fairchild was. He later said he saw no indication from the pitcher or hitter there were bad feelings present.
In the top of the sixth, following a grand slam that chased Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez from the game, reliever Luke Putkonen tossed a pitch behind White Sox batter Alexei Ramirez. Fairchild immediately ejected Putkonen. Meanwhile, Ramirez took a few steps toward the mound before being held back, and members of both benches and bullpens made a show of gathering in the infield in typical baseballian manner.
Leyland, too, earned an ejection, though he got his money's worth, vehemently stating his case on three separate occasions before returning to the clubhouse. He declined to speak to the press after the game. That was the right move.
Multiple Tigers, though, did speak to the press, and some expressed their displeasure with the fact other teams are allowed to throw at them -- or in the case of the Blue Jays, send second baseman Omar Infante to the disabled list with a dangerous slide at second base late in a blowout game -- without the league office issuing any punishment at all. But as soon as they even appear to retaliate, suspensions and ejections are issued.
"[A]fter the Toronto thing, it's like everybody's able to do anything they want to us, but if something is to go the other way, everybody gets all upset."
Game management by the umpires should receive some of the blame for Thursday's conflict. When Sale threw a fastball near Fielder's head, warnings should have been issued. Yet when the Tigers appeared to retaliate Fairchild bypassed warnings entirely and went straight to the ejection. Fairchild explained his reasoning, via MLive's Chris Iott:
"There was no reaction from Fielder. He said nothing," he said. "There was no reaction from anyone else. The only reaction I saw was from Sale, who made a motion like, 'Damn, it got away.'"
Sale claimed later on all he loved that the pitch got away from him, and his manager, Robin Ventura, says he has been known to overthrow when he's frustrated -- and he was clearly frustrated after the home run. What else is he going to say? Yeah, I threw it at him. I was pissed. Of course not.
The Tigers certainly earned their frustration. Yet they should not expect to receive any benefit of the doubt, because Leyland let his mouth get the best of him earlier in the month -- a fact that likely led to his decision not to speak to the press Thursday. On June 29 against Tampa, Rays closer Fernando Rodney threw a pitch close to Cabrera's head. After the game, Leyland spoke out:
"We will not tolerate that. You can take that to the bank. We won't tolerate that up at the head, with anybody, not (just) Cabrera, but anybody. I'm not accusing anybody of anything, but we won't tolerate that. If you're going to just rare back and throw it, you can't throw it there."
Rick Porcello hit a Rays batter in the first inning the next day and later received a six-day suspension, though he was not ejected at the time of the incident. The league felt like the pitch by Porcello was revenge and likely used Leyland's quotes as a deciding factor. Likewise, the quotes set up a theme of retaliation by the Tigers. When Sale threw a pitch near Fielder's head and a White Sox player was on the receiving end of an inside toss himself, the logical conclusion was another incident of retaliation by the Tigers.
So what would the impartial observer see in this case?
Sale's body language should lead one to believe he threw at Fielder on purpose. And the Tigers' past would lead one to think Putkonen retaliated.
Whether baseball chooses to punish Sale is up for debate; but the league will almost certainly punish Leyland and Putkonen.
The next time you hear from Leyland, expect him to backtrack. He knows this all comes back to what he said two weeks ago. And he knows no matter how exciting his antics appeared to his team Thursday, they did little good. I would not be surprised to hear Leyland use the word embarrassed, or at least a form of the idea, or even apologize.That's just the price the Tigers have to pay to get back on the right side of MLB's "law." You can't fight Selig Hall.
They can get mad about it. They can play with a chip on their shoulder if they like. They just shouldn't believe they're going to find sympathy -- because they won't. This is the situation they're in.
All they can control is how they react to it -- and it's clear what they're doing isn't going to work.