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Bat flips, beanballs, and brouhahas

There’s never much love to be found on the South Side.

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Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

You’d think the Royals and the White Sox were two of the Five Families.

Every year, at some point these two teams will go to the mattresses. You enter the season not knowing who the main protagonists will be (especially now that Chris Sale is in Boston) but you do know there will be kerfuffles.

They managed to play five and a half games this year before the benches cleared. By now, you are aware of how it went down: Tim Anderson barreled one off Brad Keller and celebrated not by flipping the bat, rather by throwing it. He treated his lumber not as if it was partially responsible for launching a baseball 418 feet, but as if he couldn’t make contact at all. It was oddly emphatic. Statcast measured his bat throw at 25 feet.

Apparently, the Royals and Keller were not pleased. The very next pitch Keller delivered to Anderson drilled him in the ass.

“A ball got away from me. I’m not trying to put a guy on in a 2-2 game in the sixth,” protested Keller.

Perhaps that was the beauty of the whole plan. Had Keller waited until the two teams met again in late May and plunked Anderson in the first or second inning, everyone would have immediately realized the intent. They would have been expecting it. Maybe even warnings issued in advance. However in this situation—with the game even in the later innings—it didn’t make sense to retaliate. And then consider there were no outs in the inning. It’s Bizarro Keller to throw at Anderson in that situation. You don’t expect it in that moment. And he almost got away with it.

The evidence actually supports Keller’s version where the ball got away…somewhat. He was working his two-seam fastball on the inner half to right-handed batters. Really, it wasn’t so much the inner half as much as it was inside, off the plate.

Of course, there is one pitch that was waaaaaay inside. Oops.

“Keller did the right thing. He aimed for the lower body. Hit him,” Hunter Dozier said.

Well so much for the original line of defense. You can almost imagine ADA Jack McCoy staring at Dozier in complete silence, blinking a couple of times, before demanding to know “Who got to you?”

Objection, your honor!

It was a moment of madness from Keller, one that could have had damaging repercussions beyond his immediate ejection. We’ve seen 17 games up to Wednesday and we all know the longer the relievers stay in the bullpen, the better. Plus, it’s generally a poor idea to put a fast guy on base on purpose with nobody out in the late innings of a tie game. The Royals got out of it, but due to Joe West’s ejection trigger, Keller will surely be suspended for five games and will have a start pushed back. It’s not the time missed, but depending on the swiftness of justice, the Royals may have to scramble for a spot starter which is less than ideal.

Anderson’s reaction was odd, but standard for the way he plays. He was the guy who was in the middle of last year’s fracas when he swore after hitting a home run against the Royals on Opening Day and then apparently did the same thing again later that month in another game at The K. Salvador Perez took offense. Had Perez been in the game on Wednesday, Anderson may not have made it back to the dugout after rounding the bases.

Anderson has a reputation of… let’s just say exuberance.

Something you should be aware of, is that I’m pro-bat flip. The more, the better as far as I’m concerned. Baseball can use the emotion. Everyone is allowed to flip the lumber, heroes and villains. While the timing of Anderson’s bat flip throw was a little strange, it would be hypocritical of me to stand on the soapbox decrying the evils of the flip in a nondescript game between two teams in April who are destined for the second division. So flip away, my man.

As for Keller’s role, count me among those who don’t particularly enjoy the unwritten rules aspect of the game when it comes to throwing at an opponent. If you are a pitcher who doesn’t think a bat flip respects the game, maybe you shouldn’t disrespect the game by throwing a center-cut meatball. A beanball proves nothing. If it irritates you so much that a hitter had the gall to enjoy a moment of connection bliss, the best revenge is to get him out. To that end, I’m not against a little celebration after a strikeout. Give a fist pump, do a dance...We’re probably not too far away from a glove flip.

Keller’s reaction on Wednesday in no way makes him an “ace” as some have suggested. He may have won some clubhouse cred, but he didn’t need to throw a baseball at someone to earn that. He’s gotten his reputation as the best pitcher on this Royals staff because of his results. As it should be. Thinking that throwing a baseball at someone on purpose is the path to becoming an ace is ludicrous. It’s dangerous and ill-advised.

“The pitch got away from him, that’s all I know,” Ned Yost said, perhaps paying homage to the soccer managers insistence, “I did not see the play” when asked to comment on one of his players on the receiving end of a red card.

Yost probably comes out of the fracas looking better than anyone. As the teams were heading off the field and the tempers were cooling down, White Sox manager Rick Renteria inexplicably started shouting at the Royals to get back in their dugout. That prompted Yost to move toward Renteria for a moment of re-ignition.

Yost has plenty of detractors, to be sure. More and more seem to arrive as we move further from the parade. His bullpen management stinks, his lineups don’t make sense, he loves guys who are awful, he doesn’t pinch hit enough. On and on and on. Pick your complaint. But all of the critics seem to miss a crucial point that the players love playing for Yost because he always has their collective back. What we saw on Wednesday simply underscored that. Yost keeps his team together through the good times and the bad. That matters.

The two combatants will go their separate ways—the Royals to New York and the White Sox to Detroit. They will meet again on the South Side on Memorial Day. There may not be fireworks in the next series, but with these two teams, it’s only a matter of time.