So last night, the Brewers and Diamondbacks played a fun game, a mini-potboiler that would make John le Carré pleased if he were a baseball fan.
Brewers starter Kyle Lohse hit two batters, including Arizona shortstop Chris Owings in the back of the neck in the sixth inning. You can see from Lohse's reaction that it was clearly unintentional, just a pitch that got away.
Of course, Kirk Gibson's Diamondbacks had to push back. This is what Gibson and GM-in-firing Kevin Towers have stressed to their team. Remember the Yasiel Puig nonsense last year when the D-backs threw at his head? And remember Towers' comments last October when he said, talking about the Diamondbacks need to pitch inside more, "But I think come spring training, it will be duly noted that it's going to be an eye for an eye and we're going to protect one another." Towers would later amend his statement to say he meant, "I'm not saying hit players on purpose. I'm saying if our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way; we need to make the opposing hitters uncomfortable at the plate and pitch in with purpose and take that inner third away."
OK. So Lohse hit Owings. The next inning, trailing 4-3, the Brewers had runners at second and third with one out, Ryan Braun at the plate. The D-backs have a little history with Braun. The Brewers beat them in the 2011 Division Series -- that was when Braun failed a drug test and Gibson had expressed his disgust with Braun last season. The Diamondbacks, understandably, don't like Braun. Their managers doesn't like him. The message was clear: You can see catcher Miguel Montero ordering the knockdown pitch. Evan Marshall hit Braun on the rear end and got tossed, leaving to a standing ovation from the fans and high-fives in the dugout.
That's gritty baseball. That's eye-for-an-eye baseball. That's the kind of baseball that Gibson and Towers seem to demand. New chief baseball operator Tony La Russa also wasn't known to back down from throwing at opponents.
It's a knotty issue, this whole "You hit our guy, we hit your guy" thing. People in the game like to say to let the players sort it out. Even Braun said, "We know the way the game works. I wasn't surprised I got hit; I was surprised I got hit in that situation and circumstances, with the go-ahead run at second base and the tying run at third base, and they were ahead."
But is it the way game has to work? How far does it go?
The last time we left it up to the players to police the game we ended up with players sticking needles in their butts in bathroom stalls and an entire era of the game stained. Leaving it to the players is fine until somebody gets permanently injured with a retaliatory pitch to the head. (At least Marshall didn't throw his purpose pitch up there.)
Brad Ziegler came on to face Jonathan Lucroy, who slugged a grand slam to center field. That's how retaliate. Beat your opponent.
"I think the at-bat Luc had was probably the best at-bat I've ever seen," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "After they smoke our guy ... first pitch [Lucroy] sees, he hits a grand slam. There's just no way an at-bat can get bigger than that."
I guess if there's a bottom line here it's this:
Pitching inside doesn't appear to be making the Diamondbacks better.