CHICAGO -- In the convoluted game of baseball you sometimes see hitters get hit by a pitch and have no way of decoding the message.
Such was the case in the 8th inning Wednesday when Cubs reliever Manny Corpas started the frame by throwing a 90 MPH fastball right at White Sox leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza. After standing and staring in disbelief for a few seconds, De Aza made his way to first base.
The play was very likely a response to something that happened the previous inning, when Alex Rios, on first base, attempted a steal that became a fielder’s choice. (Rios advanced to second on A.J. Pierzynski’s ground out.) Rios’ stealing with the Sox firmly in control of the game – holding a six-run lead – would violate one of baseball’s unwritten rules.
This type of message is always interesting to dissect since many comfortable leads evaporate in late-inning bullpen meltdowns. So the question is, when do you stop going the extra mile to score a run as opposed to showing up a beaten team?
In this instance, Corpas was told or decided himself that a message had to be sent to the White Sox.
“They just told him to hit the first guy,” De Aza speculated after the game. “The way they throw the ball, I think it was on purpose.”
Of course, De Aza was hit with a purpose, but the question as to when a team knows it has enough runs is a great one. Back in the 1980s, Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog was asked why he had base-stealers Vince Coleman and future Hall OF Fame Ozzie Smith steal bases in the late innings with four- and five-run leads.
“That’s how we score runs,” Herzog said. “When the other manager starts telling his guys to stop hitting home runs, we will stop stealing bases.”
Gordon Beckham, who broke the game open with a three-run homer in the Sox’s 7- 0 victory, wasn’t certain if the beaning was warranted.
“I don’t know really either way in this case,” said Beckham. “If the Cubs felt they had to hit somebody because what Rios did then they proved their point and we move on. Maybe it was what they had to do. Sometimes that is baseball and we all move.”