Philadelphia Phillies' ace Roy Halladay threw a fastball behind Washington National reserve outfielder Tyler Moore in a spring training game today, an act so pointless that it defies description.
Per Matt Gelb's Philadelphia Inquirer blog post: "Roy Halladay wants to make things clear: The pitch that sailed behind Tyler Moore's back 'slipped' from his hand Wednesday. It was a cold and windy day, the kind of day when it is difficult to grip a baseball. Then, Halladay smiled."
Gelb then stated what was pretty apparent to anyone who saw Halladay's wild pitch: "The half inning before, Chase Utley was drilled on the knee with a Stephen Strasburg fastball. It did not appear to be intentional. Halladay's action was, without him saying it."
Halladay's action was thus perceived to be intentional. If so, it was also absurd, given the context.
"Message pitches" like the one Halladay threw are part of baseball's "code," the unwritten rules that baseball players live by. You throw at one of our guys, we'll throw at one of yours.
It's right up there with "don't steal a base up six runs" and "don't bunt to break up a no-hitter." Logic does not generally come into the analysis.
Even accepting, though, that the occasional message pitch (as long as it's not at someone's head) is no big deal, today's gesture from Halladay was baseless and ridiculous.
It might have been justifiable in the regular season. It probably would have made more sense in the playoffs (though you would not want Halladay risking ejection in a playoff game.)
In spring training, three weeks before Opening Day? It was just pointless.
Yes, the Phillies and Nationals have a history of this sort of nonsense. Most recently, Cole Hamels threw at Bryce Harper in 2012, stupidly admitted to doing it on purpose and got himself suspended.
And yes, Utley has been hit by numerous pitches over the years. Actually, he has led the National League in being hit by pitches three times, and it has happened to him 151 times in 10 years.
They could not all have been purpose pitches. Utley crowds the plate, as is his right. Pitchers throw inside, as is their right. Sometimes Utley gets hit. No problem.
The most prominent pitch to hit Utley thrown by a Washington National, of course, was thrown by John Lannan in 2007. You know, the John Lannan the Phillies just signed to compete for their fifth spot in the starting rotation.
So before Moore stepped in against Halladay, what we had was this:
- The Phillies and the Nationals had engaged in some light "message pitch" exchanges over the last few years, but not so far in 2013.
- Utley, who gets hit all the time anyway, got grazed on the foot by a Strasburg fastball—it bears noting here that Strasburg has no history of throwing at anyone—on a pitch that at least one observer (Gelb) thought legitimately got away from Strasburg.
- Halladay was cruising through an outing that eventually saw him yield two hits and no runs in four innings; not inconsequential, given his troubled 2012.
And with all that, rather than just staying focused on the job at hand, Halladay had his only "control lapse" of the day against a backup outfielder—not even a regular—Tyler Moore!
One last thing: Do not point to a "rivalry" between the Phillies and the Nationals as grounds for this.
From the time the Phillies started winning the National League East for five consecutive years to last year when the Nationals won the division, the closest the teams have been in the final standings is sixteen games apart (2007).
Last year, the Phillies finished seventeen games behind the Nationals.
This is not a rivalry. These are two teams who play in the same division that have little else in common.
And again, it's spring training.
Ironically, young Strasburg had the most accurate take on his elder's wild pitch: "It's spring training. If you're going to throw at somebody or give a message in spring training, go ahead."
Roy Halladay should pick other battles.
Like throwing more strikes and winning more games in 2013.