I thought we were done with this.
After the game Saturday, most of us wanted to forget Brett Lawrie and his completely reckless behavior. In a situation in which his dirty antics were on display for the world to see, he lied through his teeth by claiming he had no intention to hurt Escobar, and his actions clearly warranted payback prescribed by baseball's unwritten rules and solidified the public's opinion of him as completely unlikable. I thought the episode was over. Lawrie angered his opponent, his opponent hit him with a pitch, and that should have been the end of it.
And yet, here we are, still talking about it on Sunday, because the Athletics just couldn't let it go. In the first inning of the deciding game in the series, A's starter Scott Kazmir chose to open the issue anew and actually escalate it further. There were two outs when Cain strode to the plate, and no one outside of the diamond was even thinking about the bad blood anymore; the crowd just wanted to see a 2-out rally.
Kazmir's first pitch was far inside. No, that must have been an accident. There's no way he just threw at Cain, is there?
The ball smacked into Cain's foot and traveled all the way back to the screen. The home plate umpire should have immediately ejected Kazmir. But the A's once again stood there unpunished, though this time the Royals responded to the violent action by arguing their way to an early shower, as the umpires had no qualms about ejecting pitching coach Dave Eiland and manager Ned Yost.
This next part is the most important. After the two teams calmed down and continued to play baseball for another 7 innings, the Royals wanted their Oakland counterparts to leave Kauffman stadium with both a loss, and a reminder for any future games. As Kelvin Herrera entered to pitch the top of the 8th inning, Brett Lawrie would be hitting 3rd. And after a clean first two outs, Herrera wanted to make sure the next time Lawrie found himself sliding into a Royals infielder, he'd do it cleanly, and with no intent for unnecessary harm. And Herrera delivered that message with a ball behind Lawrie's back.
I'll save you the lip-reading, with a note that this is my own speculation. He wanted to make sure Lawrie thought about his next slide against the Royals, and pointed to his head in the universal sign for "think about it next time." I do not know for a fact that this is what Herrera said, but if you have a more logical explanation then by all means, there is a comment section below. Herrera made his intentions crystal clear, and they involved warning the opponent that dirty slides would not be tolerated. A 100 mph fastball delivered 3 feet behind your back from 60 feet away can absolutely scare you from trying to severely injure an infielder with a dirty slide. That got a small reaction from Lawrie, and for that I can't blame him.
Of course, Herrera confirmed this, and because this all my speculation I can't say for sure whether he's telling the truth. Here's his explanation.
If you believe that he tried to commit murder by hitting another player in the head with a 100 mph fastball, but that he's so bad at pitching that he missed his spot by 4 feet, then we will agree to disagree. Same thing if you believe that sliding spikes up into the shins of a shortstop covering the bag for a forceout is a clean attempt to break up a double play.
Royals fans were willing to give the A's the benefit of the doubt. We allowed the assumption that the team had moved on and that Lawrie was acting on his own, especially since some of the A's players didn't seem to be supporting him on the field and manager Bob Melvin wasn't ejected. You can throw that benefit of the doubt out the window now. Feel free to start judging the A's, and judging them hard. Despite a dirty takeout slide and instigating more bad blood by hitting Cain, nobody on the Athletics were ejected from any games.
Now, it absolutely needs to be emphasized that Herrera threw at Lawrie on purpose. Behind his back. To send a message. I mean, call me biased, but if Kelvin wanted to hit Lawrie in the head, or anywhere on his body, he would have. This guy can paint targets when he needs to get outs, it'd be pretty easy for him to hit Lawrie if he wanted to. For proof, look at his reaction when he was ejected. He said "think about it" to Lawrie. He was standing up for his teammate who could have broken his leg on that dirty slide, thus ruining Escobar's season and severely hurting the chance that the Royals do well this season.
The Athletics didn't see it that way. Or, they didn't want to see it that way. They didn't get the result they wanted in the series, and they wanted any excuse to keep on fighting. Manager Bob Melvin, who to that point had done a great job of being a rational human being about the whole situation, seemed perfectly happy with Scott Kazmir hitting Lorenzo Cain with a pitch in the first inning. Why, Bob? Do you honestly think that was worth continuing this feud? Do you not think the commissioner's office, who didn't give a single thought to suspending Yordano Ventura after Saturday, has enough judgement to call this one?
Well, it worked, Athletics. You got what you wanted. We were having a perfectly enjoyable baseball game, and you ruined it. Brett Lawrie took the fun out of the game and turned it into something darker. The A's took a chance to create peace and turned it into a chance to breed more hate. Brett Lawrie had the option of forgiving and forgetting and being a positive role model in this anger-fueled world, and instead he decided to hold a childish grudge and become yet another macho stereotype of a professional athlete. Somewhere in Oakland, a young child saw what happened today and cheered, ecstatic that the player he looks up to tried to stick it to that nasty opponent. And that just breaks my heart.
The Royals went on to win the game. We won another series. If this is the way Oakland plays baseball, then count me out. The A's and Royals were not playing the same sport out there, and I don't ever want my team doing what the children in Green were doing. Shame on Brett Lawrie, and shame on the Oakland Athletics.
The final question is what MLB will do about this. The league has been pushing safety to a high degree in recent years, and sliding dangerously into infielders is one frontier that they have not yet fully tackled. They have a medium-profile player who not only slid intentionally into an opponent but also lied about the intent and actually physically harmed that player in full view of everyone. This is a chance to set an example. If he gets 3-5 games, the league will have failed. If he gets 15 days or more (the length of a DL trip for the next player he hurts), then the league will have set a precedent.
Hat-tip to Athletics Nation for some inspiring words.