Baseball’s unwritten rules lead to more drama

Cubs manager Dale Sveum didn’t hold back. He knows what he saw over the last four days.

“It’s probably one of the biggest butt-whuppings I’ve ever gotten in my career, as a coach or player,” Sveum said last night.

Yeah, that just about covers it.

The Nationals badly outplayed the lowly Cubs over the last four days, crushing 15 homers and outscoring the visitors 31-9 in a four-game sweep.

Five of the Nationals’ homers came from Adam LaRoche, who became just the sixth player in major league history to homer in every game of a four-game series, joining Babe Ruth, Hank Greenberg, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench and Mike Schmidt, all Hall of Famers.

Decent company, I guess.

The Cubs were frustrated last night. They’d been getting pushed around and could do little to either stop the offensive onslaught or do some damage on Nationals pitching.

Bench coach Jamie Quirk watched the Nationals swipe two bases leading by five runs in the fifth inning and then saw Jayson Werth swing at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded. He’d had enough, and started giving Nats third base coach Bo Porter an earful.

Quirk’s complaint, obviously, was that the Nationals should have called off the dogs leading by five at that point in the game. It’s one of baseball’s unwritten rules - when one team has a big lead, they shouldn’t be taking extra bases or going out of their way trying to pile up extra runs.

I have a couple issues with this line of thinking. First of all, a five-run lead in the fifth inning isn’t anywhere close to a large enough advantage for the team with the lead to shut it down. As pretty much everyone in the Nationals’ clubhouse said last night, their game against the Braves a couple months ago in which they led 9-0 and eventually lost shows no game is ever over until that final out is recorded. That certainly includes a game in which one swing by the Cubs makes it a ballgame and there’s still four innings left to play.

Secondly, while I understand the sportsmanship angle and teams not wanting to embarrass their opposition, when did the thought process shift from “We need to stop them from scoring,” to “They really should stop trying to score”?

The Cubs don’t like the fact that the Nats are swinging 3-0 with the bases loaded? Then don’t load the bases and fall behind in the count. You aren’t a fan of the Nats stealing bases up five runs? Then do a better job holding baserunners.

You hear it all the time in football: If you want to stop the other team from running up the score, then keep them out of the end zone.

Again, I understand the meaning of this particular unwritten rule. Stealing bases when you’re up by 12 in the eighth inning is a bit bush-league. I get that. But a five-run lead in the fifth inning? C’mon now.

The Nationals did well to keep their composure during the skirmish, because the last thing they want there is a player rolling an ankle or breaking a hand. Injuries or suspensions coming out of a situation like that hurt the Nats a heck of a lot more than they do the Cubs, who are already booking tee times for October.

Yet again, it’s one of baseball’s unwritten rules which leads to a benches-clearing incident. These players have an interesting code, so to speak, and sometimes it creates a lot more drama than might be needed.

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