Brett Lawrie did a reckless thing. He did a reckless thing, sliding late with his right spike high and colliding into another man’s leg, taking that man out of the game with a play that eventually cleared both benches.
So it was reckless, how the A’s third baseman slid into Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar in the seventh inning. It was dirty, too, because even with context, there is no need for Lawrie to come in with his spike high and off the base — directly into Escobar’s leg.
But there is no reason to believe it was malicious, and there is an important distinction here.
The Royals beat the A’s 6-4 at home on Friday night. They kept a two-game losing streak from stretching to three, but this is one of those games where the outcome is secondary.
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Because for a moment, it looked like Escobar — who hasn’t missed a start since 2013 — was seriously injured. Omar Infante, playing second base, went stiff and put his hands on his head.
Royals manager Ned Yost and trainer Nick Kenney rushed out to Escobar. Salvador Perez, the Royals’ catcher, at one point started running toward Lawrie before the whole thing was broken up and Escobar was carried off the field, unable to put any weight on his leg.
Amazingly, Escobar was diagnosed by a training staff that tends to be conservative with these things as having suffered merely a mild left knee sprain and contusion. His availability is said to be day-to-day, though the Royals are likely to make a roster move to add another infielder.
“We dodged a bullet there,” Kenney told Yost.
It is the latest bit of horseshoe fortune for the Royals with injuries, right there with watching Yordano Ventura writhe in pain like his arm exploded and then be diagnosed with a thumb cramp.
But this was different, because this was an injury caused by another player.
Maybe any anger from the Royals was tempered by the fortuitous diagnosis, or maybe they just didn’t want to start a verbal war. It will be interesting to see if Ventura — the Royals’ starter on Saturday — comes inside with a pitch against Lawrie.
But Yost made a reasonable case for why the slide was not malicious or dirty. It was a weird play, Josh Reddick’s hard grounder bouncing off Royals pitcher Kelvin Herrera and toward third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Moustakas gathered the ball, and threw to Escobar for the force out. Yost makes the case that Lawrie was surprised, and reacted late — but not dirty.
“You gotta go back and look at it,” Yost says. “It was a hard slide, but I don’t think Lawrie was anticipating a throw from Moose when Moose made that play. When he looked and saw Moose (throw) he slid late. That’s the way it looked to all of us.”
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer referenced Lawrie and Escobar playing together in the Brewers’ system in arguing that there was no intent.
“I don’t think he meant anything by it, honestly,” Hosmer says.
There is no way to know intent, of course, but it’s hard to see how Lawrie came in with malice. He appeared to try to console Escobar after the play, for instance, and it’s not hard to read body language in these situations. His teammates stuck by him during the delay.
“I would never try to cleat anybody,” Lawrie says. “That’s totally not it. I wish him all the best and there was zero intention of ever wanting to hurt him. Even the thought of that would never even cross my mind. I’m sure I’ll reach out to him.”
The Royals have had a busy start to this season, already. They’ve been hit by 13 pitches — tied with Texas for the most in the American League entering the night — and had an incident in Anaheim when Perez turned into a bar bouncer and led Ventura away from an exchange with Mike Trout.
Perez’s initial reaction against Lawrie — not to mention the minds of many of his teammates — may very well have been fueled by the possibility that the Royals are being targeted.
After Perez, Escobar is probably the Royals’ most irreplaceable player. This is a team built on speed and defense. Escobar provides both, is hitting well so far this season, and the Royals have no reliable alternative at shortstop. Surely, that had something to do with the reaction.
As it stands, the Royals have to feel lucky. Escobar was said to be in good spirits after the game, though unavailable to reporters while receiving treatment, and what initially looked like a serious injury will apparently be gone in a few days.
The Royals are playing nice here, with nobody publicly calling Lawrie out. That’s admirable, in many ways, and there is something to be said for Lawrie’s remorse and lack of obvious intent.
But the slide was dirty. Lawrie and the A’s can’t defend that. He slid late, with his right cleat high, coming in off the bag and directly into Escobar’s leg. Lawrie would do well to apologize for that, just as the Royals would do well to see it as a reckless but non-malicious mistake.
In the meantime, the Royals won a game and apparently won’t lose their shortstop for an extended time. In so many ways, this could have been much, much worse.