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Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians grow testy over unwritten rules of baseball retaliation

ST. PETERSBURG — For three days, the Indians carried a grudge. Eventually, they carried it too far.

And so it is that 60 or more grown men found themselves on a ballfield Sunday afternoon yelling insults and threats because of a stolen base three days earlier. And an attempted retaliation three days late.

In a game where spitting is fine and scratching oneself is considered normal, there are still rules of etiquette that must be followed. Even at 96 mph.

Which brings us to the eighth inning Sunday when the Indians apparently brought Kerry Wood into the game with the sole purpose of putting a fastball in the ribs of Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. A well-timed purpose pitch has its place, just so long as it's delivered the right way.

"I know they were trying to send a message. That's fine," Rays closer Troy Percival said. "But you send a message the next at-bat. Or you send a message with the guy that's on the mound. You don't bring a guy in throwing 97 with two outs in the last inning. Now you're saying, 'Look, we're not sending a message, we're trying to hurt you.' There's a big difference."

You don't always have to like a purpose pitch, you just have to accept its validity. And that is at the root of this disagreement.

Go back to Thursday night's game when the Indians were beating the Rays 9-0 going into the bottom of the sixth. Upton led off the inning with a walk and promptly stole second base. Then he stole third.

Old-school propriety says that's a no-no. When a game is that lopsided, the unspoken agreement is that neither team will go overboard with strategy or false hustle.

"They've got to show respect to get respect," Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez said Sunday. "You don't see nobody (expletive) stealing 9-0 in the sixth or seventh inning."

The problem is baseball's unwritten rules do not take into account smaller ballparks, bigger scores and the role of the modern day bullpen. Whether Upton's stolen bases had anything to do with it, Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona fell apart that inning.

And, even though the Indians went on to win comfortably 11-7, they were forced to go to their bullpen sooner than they would have liked, which may have played a role in the games that followed.

If baseball's book of manners was written a century ago, Rays manager Joe Maddon says it is horribly out of date.

"There's a lot of pages out of the book that need to be burned," Maddon said. "You have to understand that the game is different today."

Maybe it wasn't just the stolen bases. Maybe it had something to do with Upton's joyous home run trot in Friday's walkoff victory. Maybe it had something to do with Martinez accusing J.P. Howell of throwing brushbacks. Or maybe it was just that time of the series.

Whatever the provocation, the response seemed obvious enough. Indians reliever Matt Herges had just struck out Michel Hernandez for the second out in the eighth when Wood was brought in to face Upton.

"The more I think about it, bringing a closer in to get one out in the eighth?" Upton said. "I probably should have been heads-up in the box anyway."

Wood's first pitch was a 94 mph fastball that was thrown behind Upton. Maddon had been discussing strategy in the dugout and saw the pitch out of the corner of his eye. The second pitch was 96 mph and moved Upton off the plate.

"After the first pitch I looked out at B.J. and said, 'Was that behind you?' I could see him mouth back to me, 'Yes.' At that point, it was too late for me to react," Maddon said. "The next pitch was not too late for me to react.

"It was blatant. And you cannot let a blatant situation go any further. I want to let our players know that the staff is going to support them all of the time. That's the right thing to do from a manager's perspective."

So Maddon began walking out of the dugout and shouting at Martinez. When the catcher began yelling back, the dugouts cleared.

"He was yelling at me, saying throw the ball over the plate. He has to worry about teaching his (expletive) players to play the game the right way," Martinez said. "Now he's getting mad because he's getting one of his players thrown at? He better worry about teaching them to play the game the right way first."

Keep in mind, Martinez is the clown who yelled at Howell after a pitch sailed over his head in a 7-6 game on Friday, even though Martinez later said he did not think the pitch was intentional.

At any rate, Rays players said they appreciated Maddon's anger.

"It's always fun when El Jefe comes out of the dugout to say, 'You're not doing that to one of my players,' " Percival said. "It's good to know he's there for us."

It's just a question of manners.

Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians grow testy over unwritten rules of baseball retaliation 05/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 23, 2009 12:38pm]
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