ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier had quite the week.
To be fair, the Rays veteran centerfielder brought it on himself with his initial Monday decision — however innocent and uncalculated as he claims — to pick up the Toronto pitching data card that fell out of catcher Alejandro Kirk’s wrist band during a play at the plate and bring it to the Rays dugout.
It became kind of a big deal. Sportsnet, the Jays regional sports network that broke the story, framed Kiermaier’s actions as cheating and unnamed Jays being mad about it, and the story took off in two countries.
Plus Sportsnet had video that made it all look a little suspicious, especially how Kiermaier discreetly handed the card off to coach Paul Hoover in the Rays dugout.
That led to Kiermaier initially explaining his actions Tuesday to Sportsnet, then defiantly defending himself to a larger media group before Wednesday’s game, insisting he did nothing wrong.
That led to Rays manager Kevin Cash apologizing to Jays officials and Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo, declaring the matter closed after Tuesday’s game.
But that led to Kiermaier getting hit square in the back by a Ryan Borucki pitch in his final at-bat of Wednesday’s final regular-season game between the teams.
That led to Kiermaier after that game calling the Jays’ actions a “weak move” and touting how motivated he would be to face them in the playoffs. Then taking another shot Friday when asked about MLB’s decision to suspend Borucki (three games) and Montoyo (one): “I’m happy. They deserved it.”
All of which has led to a lot of questions.
First, was what Kiermaier did wrong?
Even under his nothing-to-see here scenario, that he first thought it was the positioning card he keeps in his pocket then realized it wasn’t as he headed back to the dugout, would he have been better off flipping it to the ground or giving it to the ump rather than carrying it to the dugout?
Would most other players in that situation, knowing how much information rules the sport and any edge matters, also have also picked up the card? Kiermaier said there’s been several times this year when his outfield card fell out of his pocket and opponents, most recently Detroit’s Niko Goodrum, tried to grab it.
Should there be more blame on Kirk for losing the card? Or, to be a bit ticky-tacky, the Jays staff for not having more secure wristbands that hold the cards?
Should players even have the cards, which now are common in some form for fielders, catchers and even pitchers (in some cases, as with the Rays, to provide indicators on sets of signs which are changed frequently with runners on second amid suspicions of peeking into pitchers’ gloves and/or teams still using cameras to get signs)?
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Was this much different than a clubhouse staffer finding a scouting report that a visiting team left behind? (Or, in football, a team being given a playbook that, say, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady left in a hotel room?)
Is there anything on the card that actually would be beneficial to see? This one detailed how Tayler Saucedo, a fringe Jays reliever since been sent down, should attack Rays hitters. This late in the season, don’t division opponents pretty much know that anyway?
Are the Jays wise in making this incident a big deal given speculation Rays starter Tyler Glasnow floated earlier this year that they were stealing signs when he was pitching against them in Dunedin? (Or is that why the Jays are doing so?)
If Montoyo said Tuesday the incident was over, why did Borucki intentionally hit Kiermaier the next day? Did he go rogue? Is this in any way a sign the Jays players didn’t/don’t follow Montoyo’s orders?
Did pitching coach Pete Walker, who is likely to be suspended for his vehement protest of Borucki’s ejection, order the code red? Why didn’t Jays Tuesday starter Alek Manoah, who was chirping from the dugout Wednesday, hit Kiermaier himself? Will this carry over to the playoffs, if the Jays make it, or to 2022?
So many questions.
Longo vs. Rays?
Maybe the most compelling World Series matchup for the Rays would be facing former star Evan Longoria and his Giants. Careful to note his team had a lot to do to get there, Longoria acknowledged it would be “pretty special.”
Longoria, 36 in October, is signed through 2022 with a 2023 team option. The Rays and Giants should play in 2023 under the current schedule rotation plan, but where has not yet been determined.
“I hope to have the opportunity to have that happen,” he said, “That would be something that would be a long time coming. I don’t think that I’m going to have the opportunity to go back to Tampa Bay to play. So hopefully this is that opportunity.”
By playing in his 100th game last week, catcher and team MVP Mike Zunino maxed out his 2023 team option at $7 million; the Rays also have a $1 million buyout. … How big is the Brett Phillips story getting? The Washington Post sent top writer Dave Sheinin to Tropicana Field this week to work on a profile. … Another interesting media note related to the team’s pursuit of a new home: A reporter from Le Journal de Montreal was at Tropicana Field on Friday and Saturday. … Reliever Nick Anderson may have used the vocabulary word of the year (a synonym for askew) in explaining the complexities of working back into form, such as getting his velocity up, after a months-long elbow injury rehab while pitching in meaningful games: “I can’t go out and just try to throw the ball 100, because then I’m going to be all cattywampus and then it’s not going to work out.” … MLB Network’s Ron Darling, on the first player he’d take if he was starting a franchise today: Wander Franco. “(He) is going to be what every player wants to be.” … Joe Ryan, one of the prospects traded to the Twins for the Nelson Cruz rental, is 2-1, 2.45 in four starts with 25 strikeouts in 22 innings. … The Rays’ playoff path could include three matchups with teams run by former executives: Red Sox (Chaim Bloom), Astros (James Click), Dodgers (Andrew Friedman) or Brewers (Matt Arnold). … All the player shuffling the Rays do at the big-league level has a trickle down effect on Triple-A Durham manager Brady Williams, who still found ways to field a championship-level team anyway while juggling usage restrictions and development requests from his big-league bosses.
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