A lesson in the unwritten rules of throwing at a batter

Since the outlawing of public executions at the turn of the 20th century, nothing satiates a crowd’s primal lust for blood like a pitcher throwing a 95 mph fastball at another human being’s head. Admit it, you love a good beaning. Even more so, we all love the hours of debate that follow. The big question: Was it intentional? In a conversation of five different baseball minds, you’re sure to hear five different opinions.

Thursday night in Baltimore, the debate began. Did Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz intentionally throw at Adam Jones? As of 5 p.m. Friday evening, the question was still raging in the MASN studios. To help your quest for knowledge, I’ll fill you in on part of the conversation. It’s great insight to the unwritten rules of intentionally throwing at a batter.

O’s manager Buck Showalter clearly felt the beaning wasn’t an accident. When asked after the game he curtly replied, “We’ll file that one away.” Code for, “When the time is right, get ready for some retaliation.” For the record, the Orioles will see the Red Sox two more times this season. The first will be Sept. 21 at Fenway, then a week later the two teams square off again at Camden Yards. Get your tickets now. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Kevin Gregg got the call to bean Big Papi? Nothing like a rematch of two big, slow dudes who would prefer walking on hot coals over having to act like they’re fighting again. Maybe David Ortiz is practicing his show punches right now while on the disabled list.

As to the matter concerning Jones Thursday night. My MASN colleague, former World Series MVP Rick Dempsey, believes Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia probably gave the signal himself after being plowed over by Jones at the plate the previous night. A clear-cut case of retaliation. Dempsey said he used to give the signal quite a bit behind the plate. The objective was to take a guy mentally out of the game before he got on a roll.

MLB Network Radio host and former Orioles general mannager Jim Duquette was also in on this conversation. His take: Jones’ play at the plate was kosher and so was Buchholtz beaning Jones the next day if the Red Sox pitcher believed it wasn’t kosher. Duquette dropped some knowledge on the conversation. Why didn’t the Orioles retaliate in that same game? The Orioles were winning by two runs when the beaning took place in the third inning. The obvious: It would be stupid to hit a Boston batter, put him on base and allow the potential tying run to come up to the plate next. Not exactly smart baseball.

Also, an unwritten rule of beaning: You hit our best player, we hit your best player. What many of us hadn’t noticed was the Red Sox’s two best players, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, were the final two outs of the top of the third inning. The incident happened in the bottom of the third. That meant the Orioles would have had to wait until Pedroia came back up to bat in the fifth inning. By then, the game was tied 3-3. Not a good time to just give the opposition a free base. Especially Pedroia who can wreak havoc on the base paths.

And so, we wait until Sept. 21.

MASN analyst and former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson keyed me in on a part of the game I never knew. Rarely does the manager tell a pitcher to hit a batter. It’s not a position the manager wants to be in if a player is asked why he hit someone. Johnson told me never in his big league career did a manager tell him to hit a batter. Usually, he said, a pitcher knows what happened and will ask his teammate involved if he thought it was a dirty play or unsportsmanlike or whatever. Then, the pitcher makes his own decision on when to retaliate. Usually the beaning will come in a two-out situation when a game is not close, or early in a game. That way, putting a runner on base who could potentially score won’t hurt the team’s chances of winning.

By the way, Jones was hit by Buchholz with only one out. Because of that, Johnson said he wasn’t so sure it was intentional.

As I said, ask five different people, you’ll get five different opinions. What did you think?