We live in an age of impunity. The failure to hold people, particularly the most powerful people, accountable for their actions breeds a sense of invincibility and promotes further bad behavior. The exceptions make big news, but across so many dimensions of American society, scandal after scandal continues to unfold right out in the open. I hope, but do not expect, that today’s Mariners-Angels game will be one of the exceptions.
Today’s drama actually began last night and with an unlikely source: Erik Swanson. Swanny’s been dynamite this year. Coming into last night, he’d struck out 27 across 18.1 innings, while allowing just a single walk and hitting no batters. Here’s what his pitch chart looks like for those 18.1 innings:
For whatever reason, last night, he didn’t have his command. Here’s what the pitch chart looks like for that outing:
That dot in the uppermost left would have hit Mike Trout in the helmet if Trout hadn’t gotten out of the way, which, it is worth pointing out, he did.
As you can see from the video, this pitch came in the ninth inning of a two-run game with the tying run at the plate, not the middle of a blowout. Sometimes guys lose their command. And although the pitch in question was the first and only time that Swanson missed drastically inside, Mike Trout had some choice words about it after the game.
Given the game situation, it was obviously not intentional, so I don’t know what he’s on about with “if you’re gonna hit me, hit me in the ribs.” And as for the attack on commandless pitching going inside, well, given that this was Erik Swanson and not, say, Yohan Ramírez, my response to this quote alone is as follows:
Keep in mind, this is the same team that Shohei Ohtani plays on—the guy who dances out of the box and gives a “can-you-believe-it” look every time there’s a pitch on the inner half of the plate. Like last night:
Now, in fairness, maybe Trout got so worked up because his teammate was hit in the head the last time these teams played each other. I believe we have video of that.
Ah, yes, that’s right. Justin Upton plays for the Mariners now, and it was Mike Trout’s Angels that hit a batter in the head. Anyway, for some reason, the Angels were not satisfied with this bizarre Trout quote. Rather, news came down this morning of a surprising decision by Angels manager Phil Nevin. Even though Anaheim had previously announced that José Suárez would start today’s game, he decided to use Andrew Wantz as an opener before bringing in Suárez. Immediately, the press knew what was up, with the pre-game show speculating that there would be some beanball.
From the moment I walked into Angels stadium this morning it was clear there was going to be a fight. Even the fans and employees were talking about it. If the umpires weren’t aware that’s absolutely ridiculous. I get tuning out the noise but context is important.
— Jen Mueller (@JenTalksSports) June 27, 2022
And that’s just what they did, executing a plan by Manager Phil Nevin to throw the first pitch to Julio behind his head. Despicably, there were no ejections. You see, no “warnings” had been issued. In MLB, the first team to throw at a batter gets a freebie. You may recall from the iconic clip in which Tom Hallion declared that his ass was in the jackpot, the reason the Mets were so upset about Hallion tossing now-Angel Noah Syndergaard for intentionally throwing at a batter is because no warning had been issued.
This is, and I don’t say this lightly, the absolute stupidest thing about Major League Baseball. In my opinion, beanball has no place in the sport at all, and when intention is clear, someone needs to get tossed and suspended. I accept that not everyone agrees with that. But even if you don’t, how is the problem with the status quo not obvious? If you give a free pass to the instigators, you leave the victims defenseless. If the Mariners had wanted to retaliate for the Angels intentionally throwing at Julio, the Mariners would have been the ones punished. As I said, we live in an age of impunity.
Don’t miss Grant’s superb piece on the Angels’ choice to throw at Julio, which I’d hate to get buried as it was published in between today’s three game threads.
After the throw at Julio, the umpires did issue warnings, and the game went on its merry way. Marco Gonzales pitched his half of the inning like a professional athlete, bringing Wantz back out to the mound. But that’s when things really went off the rails.
Unsatisfied with having thrown at Julio, the Angels threw at Jesse Winker on the first pitch of the inning, with Wantz apparently under orders to throw at Mariners hitters until he got ejected. Winker got clearly upset, but his immediate reaction was pretty reasonable, all things considered. Except, unsatisfied with having thrown at both Julio and Winker—again, for no good reason—the Angels also felt the need to step out of the dugout onto the field and yell at Winker. Why? Who’s to say; they’re the ones who threw at him. But it was again clearly part of a plan: The first Angel out of the dugout was Anthony Rendon, who’s on the IL for the season, thus immune from harming his team’s chances of winning by getting ejected.
The brawl was long and extensive and real. This was not an everybody-stand-around-talking sort of brawl. Real violence took place, with tens of players and (Angels) staff throwing actual punches. Several separate rounds of fighting broke out.
To be sure, the Mariners committed sins here as well. Jesse Winker should have kept walking toward first base, despite being taunted. And when he did eventually return to the dugout, he flipped off the crowd, for which he’s said he’s sorry. It must be noted though, that the crowd was chanting “Let’s go Angels” during the brawl. And J.P. Crawford clearly threw hands. He shouldn’t have. But in my view, his actions are somewhat mitigated because to my eye, they were all aimed at various Angels that were currently engaged in hitting other Mariners. To be explicit, mitigation is not the same thing as excuse.
After the fight seemed to finally be over, something weird happened.
I have no explanation for this. In the moment, I knew this was funny but was not ready to laugh at it. Enough time has passed that I am now giggling at it while embedding the tweet. As Dave Sims would say during one of the various times he recapped the brawl: “Oh, you’re such a badass. Go get somebody!”
Mercifully, there were no meaningful injuries. But ejections inevitably followed. For the Angels: Manager Phil Nevin, and relievers Wantz, Teperra, and Iglesias. For the Mariners: Manager Scott Servais and the lineup’s only healthy, competent hitters Crawford, Winker, and Julio. Four ejections each you see because both sides. As I said, we live in an age of impunity.
I was whining about this lineup before Seattle’s best hitters were ejected. But after? Well, as one of my earliest baseball influences, Anglea, put it: “How is Umpire Scorecards going to rate the umpire advantage on this one?”
After the game, Julio told reporters he was confused about why he was ejected since he wasn’t fighting, and crew chief Adrian Johnson told Daniel Kramer, “That will be in the incident report to Major League Baseball,” which I believe is bureaucrat for “whoops.”
What’ll happen to the umpires for their actions, including not ejecting Wantz and Nevin after throwing at Julio in the first place? Almost certainly nothing. As I said, we live in an age of impunity.
As for the players and coaches, the ejections settled the issue for the game, but further consequences are coming. And they are necessary. More than two years ago Commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN:
It’s really dangerous, really a dangerous undertaking, and … we will be issuing a memorandum on hit by pitches which will increase the ramifications of that type of behavior.
It is simply not appropriate to express whatever frustration you may have … by putting someone physically at risk by throwing at them. It’s just not acceptable.
Those comments were made in the context of the possibility that teams would throw at the Astros in 2020 because they cheated and faced no consequences from the League. As I said, we live in an age of impunity.
It’s now up to Manfred to live up to his word. I, for one, will not be satisfied with anything less than a permanent ban from MLB for Phil Nevin. This was not a case where some red-assed players let their emotions get the better of them. This was a premeditated plan executed by the guy who’s supposed to be in charge of shutting this kind of thing down. He’s the one who pulled Suárez. He hasn’t even expressed remorse, as evidenced by his postgame comments:
Just listened in on Nevin’s postgame press conference. Said he has been proud of his team and how they have battled through adversity and even prouder after today.
Also said twice that these things can happen when two teams face each other 8 times in 10 days.
— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) June 27, 2022
If your kid played on their high school baseball team, and the opposing coach ordered their pitcher to start throwing at your kid, what would you think should happen? This has absolutely no place in baseball. No matter how badly the Mariners play, no matter how cheap John Stanton gets, I will continue to watch and be a fan because I love baseball. But repeatedly failing to exact meaningful consequences on aggressors is how MLB will lose me, because this bullshit isn’t baseball at all.
Somehow, Seattle and Anaheim still had eight innings of baseball left to play. For two sub-.500 teams playing with what were basically AAA rosters, they managed to make the stakes feel incredibly high, with the Mariners fan base desperate for a win. But unlike Julio’s hero moment after the Mariners were similarly victimized in Houston, the Mariners couldn’t pull this one out.
The offense did essentially nothing all day, rolling over to José Suárez. It was unsurprising given that from the second inning on, Eugenio Suárez and Taylor Trammell were the only MLB-caliber bats in the lineup. The lone offensive bright spot was Abraham Toro hitting a home run, off a lefty no less.
On the other side of the ball, though, Marco Gonzales had a classically Marco Gonzales day, by which I mean his FIP went up, but his ERA went down. Marco buckled down to get through six innings without damage, most impressively getting Mike Trout to strike out looking and collecting groundball after groundball. His biggest spot of trouble in the first half of the game came in the fifth when Manny Acta intentionally walked Trout with a runner on second base, first base open, and one out. Marco then allowed successive hard hit balls from Ohtani and David MacKinnon, but they both found gloves in the outfield, and we all exhaled.
Marco did a remarkable job of keeping this team in the game, and for that he wins today’s Sun Hat Award for notable achievement, somehow keeping his cool under impossibly adrenaline-pumping circumstances. He only allowed two runs, a solo shot by Luis Rengifo, and a walk to Monte Harrison, who would come around to score after Marco got pulled. Those would be Anaheim’s only two runs, but that was tragically enough to finish off the Mariners.
Now, today’s baseball was ugly, so I’d like to encourage everyone to treat each other with as much respect as possible when commenting across the site this week. Tensions are high already for reasons both baseball and non-baseball, and beanball and brawls can draw out strongly held opinions.
I’ve only given mine here, and in that opinion, we can only wait and see what the league office decides to do. I humbly hope they will not let the Angels, and Phil Nevin in particular, act with impunity.