As much as things change in the Major Leagues to keep baseball current and relevant, there are decade-old traditions that continue to linger and occasionally make a nuisance of themselves.
For example, there was a thud last Wednesday when Miami Marlins righthander Jose Urena fired his first pitch, a 97-mph fastball, directly into the left elbow of Atlanta rookie sensation Ronald Acuna, Jr. Coincidentally, it was the fastest first pitch Urena had ever thrown in his career.
The Braves certainly heard the pop and did not believe it an innocent accident. There was hard evidence supporting their point of view. Acuna had hit homeruns in five straight games. Four came in three games against Miami. Three were lead-off blasts on the first pitch he saw.
To the action came a natural (for baseball) reaction.
It led to the ejection of Urena, just the fourth time in the last 110 seasons a starter had been tossed after hitting the only batter he faced.
And in response, MLB handed Urena a six-game suspension, which the Marlins originally decided to appeal. But on Tuesday, they changed their mind.
Aware of baseball’s unspoken law calling for revenge in these kind of cases, the Marlins dropped the appeal just in time for Urena to miss his scheduled start this weekend against the Braves.
“There seems no reason to open that [the incident] back up,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “We don’t need that.”
Theoretically, Mattingly is correct. Baseball does not need Urena’s presence on the mound to stir an eye-for-an-eye mentality inside the Braves clubhouse. If that happened, there is no telling when the beanball war would come to an end.
But by removing Urena from the equation, is Mattingly setting up one of his position players to take the hit? Rest assured, the Braves will retaliate one way or another. Maybe they wait until they see Urena again, like the Mets with Roger Clemens after the Mike Piazza bat-throwing incident in the 2000 World Series. It wasn’t’ until 2002 that Clemens got in the box against the Mets – to much fanfare and anticipation – and Shawn Estes, a pitcher who wasn’t even there in 2000, drew the assignment … and missed the target.
Last season, the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox got into a sniff after Manny Machado took out Dustin Pedroia with a hard slide that injured the second baseman’s ankle and knee and forced him to miss three games.
In the aftermath, even though Pedroia urged Boston’s pitchers not to retaliate, Red Sox righthander Matt Barnes threw one behind Machado’s head in eighth inning of a game the Sox were already winning 6-0 in Baltimore. Barnes got tossed.
Even though Pedroia had previously exonerated Machado of malice, and Barnes and Red Sox manager John Farrell denied intent, everyone in the game knew what was going on.
Take that, Machado. That one was for Petey.
And so it makes you wonder: What will the Braves do this weekend to defend Acuna’s honor, even though the rookie was well enough to play the next day?
“It’s great,” Acuna told The Athletic before his return. “Especially after what happened (Wednesday) night, being hit by a hard pitch. It definitely hurt a lot when it happened, so it’s a relief to be able to come here and be able to play.”
The fans at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park gave Acuna a standing ovation when he came to bat in the first inning in his return. He promptly singled up the middle against Colorado starter Jon Gray.
“What happened, I didn’t really like that,” Acuna said. “I was upset. It was the first time I led off and had someone throw that pitch into me like that. … It seemed kind of intentional.”
It’s interesting to note that after Braves manager Brian Snitker was ejected following the melee, he specifically asked Walt Weiss, his bench coach, not to make amends. The umpires had already warned both dugouts and Snitker knew retaliation would be met with action that would ultimately tax his own pitching staff. So everything stayed cool.
Now we will see what happens when the teams play again. The umpires are likely to warn both sides to chill before the series begins.
Then again, the Red Sox and Barnes knew all eyes were on them after the Machado-Pedroia incident. And Barnes still sailed one head high.
What are you going to do? That’s baseball.