After Sunday’s game with the Blue Jays, Major League Baseball suspended Toronto manager John Gibbons for one game and pitcher Aaron Sanchez for three. Gibbons was suspended for returning to the field after being ejected and Sanchez was suspended for hitting Alcides Escobar with a pitch.
Despite their suspensions, I think both Gibbons and Sanchez did the right thing — and that’s probably going to take some explaining.
Some players put their numbers first and their team second
You can make an awful lot of money playing big-league baseball, but if you want the money you have to put up the numbers, and some players find ways to protect those numbers.
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You can’t put up numbers if you’re hurt, so in a double-play situation you’ll often see the base runner on first base jogging toward second. That player is not interested in getting to the pivot man and breaking up the double play. That player will peel out of the base path early because he doesn’t want to get hit by a throw.
And some infielders don’t want to straddle the base on a tag play — they might get spiked. Those infielders will come out in front of the base to receive a throw and try to reach back and make a tag on the runner. It takes longer, but it’s safer for the infielder.
There are also outfielders who don’t want to challenge the wall; they hit the warning track and they’re done. Instead of going into the wall to make a catch, they pull up and play the carom.
And it’s not just protecting their health; there are plenty of other ways players put themselves first and their team second.
Lots of pitchers go for strikeouts instead of using their defense; their strikeout totals look good, but they’re constantly putting their team in a bad spot by throwing too many pitches and leaving the game early.
Some infielders will eat the ball instead of attempting a difficult play: they don’t want to make an error and have it affect their fielding percentage.
Other infielders will play groundballs backhand even when it’s the wrong approach; miss a ball while playing it backhand and it’s more likely to be scored a hit. Get in front of a ball and miss it and you’re probably going to be charged with an error.
Mediocre outfielders position themselves too deep; they don’t want to look bad when a ball goes over their head. They might be killing their team when they let balls fall in front of them, but that’s going to look like the pitcher’s fault — not theirs.
And a whole lot of players will not go on the field unless they’re 100 percent healthy — playing hurt might affect their numbers. Learn what to look for and you can see a whole lot of big league ballplayers protecting their numbers.
So when we see Lorenzo Cain slam into a wall to make a catch, or Mike Moustakas go over a railing to snag a pop fly or Aaron Sanchez protect his teammates at his own expense, we ought to appreciate what we’re seeing — not every ballplayer will do those things.
Aaron Sanchez protected his teammates
On Sunday — whether you agree or not — the Blue Jays felt the Royals pitchers were targeting their hitters. Personally, I thought Edinson Volquez hit Josh Donaldson on purpose; Edinson threw seven pitches to leadoff hitter Troy Tulowitzki without a problem, then missed the strike zone by a couple of feet when Donaldson stepped to the plate. Volquez all but confessed when he later said he thought Donaldson had been “pimping” home runs.
After that, I thought the inside pitches thrown by the Royals were a result of Toronto hitters crowding the plate. But if you were a Blue Jay hitter, you might have felt differently.
At some point a pitcher has to protect his hitters — right or wrong — and that’s why Aaron Sanchez did what he did. He wasn’t going to let Royals pitchers throw inside on Blue Jay hitters without repercussion, so he drilled Alcides Escobar. He was letting the Royals know that if Toronto hitters got plunked, the same thing would happen to Kansas City hitters.
Some pitchers don’t want to do this because they don’t want it to affect their numbers; they don’t want another runner on base and, if the runner comes around to score, they don’t want that run on their record.
John Gibbons protected his players
John Gibbons got ejected when Josh Donaldson started throwing a fit at home plate. John came out of the dugout, got Donaldson away from the umpire and took his place — Gibbons then lit into umpire Jim Wolf knowing he’d get ejected, but Donaldson would stay in the game.
Later in the game — when the benches cleared — John came back on the field to protect his players even though he knew it meant a suspension.
Gibbons and Sanchez put their team first and themselves second
Aaron Sanchez protected his teammates and paid for it with an ejection, a suspension and an earned run on his record: reliever Roberto Osuna gave up a home run to Ben Zobrist, and Alcides Escobar came around to score.
John Gibbons came back to support his players when he knew it was going to cost him a suspension.
I still think Toronto hitters crowded the plate and gave Kansas City pitchers no choice but to pitch inside, but I also think Sanchez and Gibbons did the right thing; one protected his teammates, the other protected his players, and they did it knowing they’d have to pay a price.
I think they did the right thing.