Yankees fans want blood, and it’s understandable in every way. Last night the Red Sox got away with a few transgressions that, whether intentional or not, will rile up a fan base. It was inevitable, then, that at least one of the tabloids would call for retaliation. John Harper took the lead for the Daily News, betting that “fireworks are coming” during the final two games of the series. While that’s a natural reaction based on the emotions of the moment, it doesn’t really do the Yankees any good.
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. Jon Lester certainly didn’t mean to plunk Mark Teixeira in the knee on an 0-2 pitch, and then later hit Russell Martin in the leg with a 1-2 offering. There was just no reason. It was simply Lester’s inability to control the inside part of the plate against righties — a weakness that the Yankees never fully exploited during the game. While the image of Teixeira rolling on the ground and writhing in pain evokes angry feelings, it doesn’t make it any less of an accident.
The stronger point for retaliation comes in reaction to David Ortiz’s home run in the fifth. Hector Noesi, who pitched as well as the Yankees could have hoped in relief of the ineffective Freddy Garcia, delivered a 94 mph fastball on the inside part of the plate. Ortiz turned on it and sent it eight rows back into the right field stands. It wasn’t a moonshot, as Harper described it, but rather a line drive. Ortiz put a short, sweet swing on it and clearly hit it right on the fat part of the bat. The subsequent bat flip seemed more like a “hell yeah!” reaction than anything else.
Again, it’s understandable why there is a faction that favors retaliation. Ortiz showed up a rookie and then took his sweet time getting around the bases. Joe Girardi said that he didn’t care for it, but then said that it was more about protecting Noesi than legitimate offense at the flip itself. While the flip did sting — no one wants to see that when their team just went down 6-1 — I didn’t think it was too over the top. He took a good pitch, 94 mph inside, and got all of it. I can totally understand that, in his moment of elation, that he twirled around and flipped the bat. It’s not as though he blew a kiss at Noesi on his way home (though he did take a long time getting from third to home). It happens in the heat of battle.
(I’m actually more offended by Jon Papelbon’s scream after closing out the game. He was handed the cheapest of cheap save situations, a clean inning with a three-run lead, and he not only allowed a run to score, but faced the No. 4 hitter as the tying run. It’s a relief to get out of that, sure, but to scream in celebration? It’s kind of embarrassing.)
By this point I think I’ve made it clear that I would prefer the Yankees to avoid the retaliation beanball. That’s not only because I don’t think the infraction was too egregious, but also because there are more important matters at hand. While winning and retaliating aren’t necessarily at odds, the latter can make the former more difficult. A.J. Burnett takes the mound tonight, and he has enough trouble throwing strikes as it is. I have little doubt that he will throw at someone; that just seems to be the way A.J. rolls. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right move. I’m not sure how much beaning Ortiz will mean to the Yanks in an emotional sense. But I do know that putting him on base will make the No. 1 goal, winning, a little harder.
(Hell, if I’m Francona I’d consider moving Ortiz up to 3rd for the rest of the series. He’s hitting well enough to justify it, and it would make beaning him that much more difficult. Are they really going to put him on base, even if they’re empty with two outs, with Youkilis and Adrian coming up?)
There are times when retaliation for showboating is warranted. A rookie blowing a kiss after a home run? Sure, drill him in the ribs. A guy staring at the pitcher as he rounds the bases, or unnecessarily yapping at him? Go ahead. But in this case I just don’t see it. The emotions are certainly running high, because of the Yanks’ futility against the Sox this year. But a win, more than retaliation, will make things feel better. I think Russell Martin puts it well: “You never want to see it happen to you, but I guess it’s up to us to do it right back to him.”