Monday, June 29, 2009

Purpose Pitch?

One of the things I love about baseball is the little games within the game.

Take the 9th inning of the series finale between the Giants and the Brewers. The Giants had lost the first two games of the series but were shutting the Brewers out 7-0 as Milwaukee came up for its last at-bats.

And there was a fascinating scenario to start the inning: Giants lefthander Jonathan Sanchez, who'd been yanked from the rotation after several poor starts, was summoned from the bullpen. At the plate: Prince Fielder, the Brewers slugger who'd hit a huge home run the night before and then smoked a walkoff double to complete a Brewers comeback.

Oh, and by the way, had followed that hit with a preening moment, standing between the mound and second base with arms upraised, awaiting his onrushing teammates.

Anyway, Fielder digs in. Sanchez peers in for a sign and delivers. And it's a fastball right at Fielder's ribcage. He takes the pitch off the back of his right arm and two things are clear: he's in some pain, and he's really ticked off.

Fielder glares at Sanchez for a good long time. Sanchez goes back to work, showing pinpoint control while striking out the next three Milwaukee hitters to end the game. Despite a reported stroll down the runway toward the Giants clubhouse by Fielder after the game, there's no further retaliation. Case closed. Or is it?

The Giants deny Sanchez threw at Fielder on purpose. But is it possible that they thought he crossed the line with his postgame display on Saturday night?

Or could the roots of this be even deeper: the game in May 2006 when Fielder, then a rookie, crashed into Giants catcher Todd Greene on a play at the plate? At the time, some questioned Fielder's tactics, suggesting he went out of his way to nail a defenseless Greene. In fact, Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow invoked the Greene incident immediately after Sanchez hit Fielder.

Now, you should know that Johnathan Sanchez wasn't even in the ballpark the day Fielder blasted Todd Greene. He wasn't called up from the minors until three weeks later.

But baseball scores can take a long time to settle. Todd Greene's been out of baseball for years, and even avid Giants fans may have trouble remembering him. It's entirely possible that a few people kept him in mind.

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