Sometimes a pitcher just has to hit somebody

Updated: August 12, 2009

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A couple of pitches over two days connected with hitters, leading to a Tigers-Red Sox fight Tuesday.

Pitchers hit batters all the time. But it's one of those things that you very seldom get them to talk about because all it's going to do is cost them money.

I was in Tampa two weeks ago when the Yankees threw at Evan Longoria, and I said on the air that the Rays were going to get somebody. I had the producers in my ear asking how I knew that and if I was sure. I said I was sure, but I don't know if they believed me. But it wasn't long until Matt Garza drilled Mark Teixeira and, after the game, he said he was tired of them throwing at Longoria and admitted he did it on purpose. Very few people will admit it because of the likelihood of a fine and suspension, but I guess Garza had just had enough. I know how he felt.

It's never really something you particularly enjoy, but often hitting your opponent is necessary to send a message to both your opponent and teammates alike. In my days with the Cubs, I wasn't trying to be "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" or anything, but I knew that if Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson were constantly getting knocked down by opposing pitchers they weren't going to be able to get to that outside corner of the plate and do the damage that they were capable of doing. But that was just part of it. I also wanted those guys knowing that if somebody threw at them intentionally, that I would take care of it.

When I wanted to hit somebody, I would start my fastball toward where the batter's stride would take him. Then, using finger pressure on the ball, I could chase people. For instance, if I'm right-handed and I'm facing a left-handed batter, I'd put the pressure on the ball with my middle finger so it moves toward him instead of running away from him.

We all saw what happened at Fenway Park with the Red Sox and Tigers on Tuesday night. I don't know Detroit starter Rick Porcello personally, but if you watch the pitches he threw to Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkilis, both of them chased the hitter. I certainly don't know what Porcello's intent was -- and the timing was strange -- but I do know that if I was trying to "get" a guy, that would be the type of movement I'd have on the baseball.

The one incident that I remember most is from 1987, when Padres pitcher Eric Show hit Dawson in the face. I wasn't pitching that day, actually a young Greg Maddux was, but I'd had a feeling that the Padres might be out to get Hawk. I even said something to him about it, telling him I didn't have a good feeling. He had hit two home runs the night before and another in his first at-bat of the game. Then, in the third inning, Show drilled him in the eye with a fastball. People may remember that I charged the mound from the dugout when that happened.

Before the game, management had told Maddux that if he didn't get the win he'd be sent down. Knowing that, as I was getting ejected for fighting, I told him to go out and get through the fifth inning to get that win he needed before thinking about retaliating. He wasn't hearing any of that. I reminded him that he needed to get that win or else he was going back to the minors. He told me he didn't care if he got another win in his whole career. And the very next inning with the lead and two out and no one on base Maddux got payback by hitting Benito Santiago in the back as hard as he could. That tells you what kind of teammate Maddux was even starting out. He got sent down the next day, but his teammates knew what kind of guy he was. People might not expect it from a mild-mannered guy like him, but he would protect his hitters as much as any pitcher I ever played with.

Remember though, that unless you are doing this for a living, this sort of thing should not exist. It shouldn't take place in college baseball, high school and certainly not little league. Hitting guys on purpose for whatever reason, even for professionals, can still be too much. Jose Mesa was a young starter with the Orioles near the end of my career. One time he was supposed to hit somebody, but didn't. He came back to the dugout and we asked him what happened. He claimed he tried, but missed. To me, that's garbage. There's no "trying." If you can hit an outside corner with your fastball, do you mean to tell me you can't hit a full-grown man? Please.

Pitchers have to pitch inside, and occasionally they are going to hit somebody. While you don't try to start something, you have to be prepared to retaliate. If you don't, you are not going to get the support from your teammates. I threw at some guys in my time, but I got charged just once in my career. It was in Oakland by Mike Heath. He had done something early in the year that we didn't appreciate, and I told him I was going to get him. I did, and to his credit he charged the mound. It was a lot of fun and we never had a problem after that.

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Tigers at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m. ET

Clay Buchholz has struggled with his command since returning from the minors, walking nine hitters in 10 innings over his past two starts. Justin Verlander, meanwhile, has walked only three over his past three starts -- and has struck out 27.

Phillies at Cubs, 2:20 p.m. ET

The Cubs lost in extra innings Tuesday against the Phillies. They were hammered in Pedro Martinez's Philadelphia debut on Wednesday. So, of course, what comes next? Well, a matchup with Cliff Lee, who is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his two starts since coming over to the National League.

Yankees at Mariners, 10:10 p.m. ET

CC Sabathia is 4-1 since July 12. He is coming off a 123-pitch, nine-strikeout outing in a 5-0 win against the Red Sox. Ian Snell had a hard time locating the strike zone in his most recent outing with the Mariners, just his second with Seattle. He walked six in 1 1/3 innings.

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Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page. For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

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Albert Pujols, STL38FisherBot 3: 3-0, 1 Out. None on.
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Jason Bay, BOS24MinerBot 3: 0-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
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Won first 3+ starts made with Astros
Player Year Starts won
Bud Norris 2009 3
Roger Clemens 2004 7
Randy Johnson 1998 3
Robin Roberts 1965 3
Don Nottebart 1963 3

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Victor MartinezJustin Verlander As the Red Sox look to complete a sweep against the Tigers on Thursday, Boston might look to new addition Victor Martinez in a battle against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. Martinez's career numbers against Verlander are solid, but surprisingly, Martinez did nearly all his damage against Verlander in 2007 (.400 BA, 4 HR, 1.667 OPS) compared with 2008-09 (.267, 0 HR, .533 OPS).

There are a couple of reasons for Verlander's recent success against Martinez. Since 2007, he has not given up a hit on his curve or his change. Martinez was hitting Verlander's pitches away in 2007, especially his fastball and change. Since then, Verlander has learned his lesson and significantly changed his approach against Martinez.

Victor Martinez vs. Justin Verlander
2007 vs. 2008-09
2007 2008-09
Pct of fastballs away 58.3 37.1
SLG vs. FB 1.700 .455
Pct. of changeups away 61.9 37.5
SLG vs. changeups .667 .000

-- ESPN Stats & Information


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