In the first inning of the Angels/Red Sox game, Josh Beckett looked back at Chone Figgins three times at second base.
He then began to serve a fastball to Bobby Abreu, but home plate umpire Paul Schreiber jumped out, signaling for a time out. A startled Beckett buzzed Abreu near the head, causing benches to clear and four Angels to get ejected (centerfielder Torii Hunter, reliever Justin Speier, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and later manager Mike Scioscia).
Who was in the wrong? What caused this event to occur? Let's take a look and try to pin down what happened and who is at fault.
Beckett can't be blamed for the pitch, in my opinion.
In the embedded video at the end of this article, you can see that Varitek was set up away. No incident had occurred previously in the game to indicate Beckett was out for blood.
Pitchers who already have begun their windup when time is called tend to continue the windup to avoid a sudden stop and injuring themselves. In this case, they have enough time to calibrate and toss the ball to the catcher. If the time out is later in the windup or in the stretch, they'll catch themselves and send the ball sailing. Or they'll simply pop it in just to avoid any injury or significant mechanical breakdown. They are taught to continue the delivery rather than suddenly stopping.
Beckett's stretch is rather quick, and he had already started it. He was completely unable to arrest his stretch and even his pitch. He was committed; he was unable to suddenly softly toss the baseball, never mind stop the stride.
Beckett did try to change his location, whether it was a sudden decision to throw it away or not to give away the location to Abreu. I certainly don't think he could have thought quickly enough to decide that Abreu called time (which he did, but sometimes umpires do it on their own) and send him a message.
"I've never hit anybody in the head," said Beckett. Even notorious headhunters or extremely protective pitchers (Pedro Martinez) know that the head is sacred. You do not throw at the head, period. It's part of what got Manny's ire up at Roger Clemens back in 2003.
I believe Beckett tried to adjust on the fly without hurting himself. That meant continuing his commitment but easing up on the pitch so he didn't have maximum exertion. In those situations, the ball is prime to slip out of your hand, the mechanics to become slightly flawed. A million things can happen, and that resulted in a buzzing of Bobby Abreu. Not intentional, not personal.
Beckett would go on to say "I know Bobby Abreu. He knows I'm not trying to hit him in the head."
Of course he does. There was no reason to. I think Abreu was just startled and complained to the umpire. I then think he tried to game it to his team's advantage, calling for Beckett to be ejected.
Here's where blame starts falling.
Beckett should have stayed on the mound. Instead, he walked up to Abreu after Abreu pointed to Beckett while talking to the umpire. That flared things up and the benches cleared. If Beckett stays on the mound, that probably doesn't happen... but he's a Texas bulldog. You aren't going to point a finger at him in anger and expect him to walk away.
Beckett also shouldn't have been goaded by Mike Scioscia a few minutes later which made the benches agitated again.
That was Beckett's fault. But the Angels' fault was escalating it and seeing four Angels get ejected.
Torii Hunter originally was playing good cop, but something the umpires said made him upset, which led to his being ejected. Justin Speier, for whatever reason, took it upon himself to be the head cheerleader for the anti-Red Sox faction. That got him ejected.
Mike Scioscia was rather adamant that Beckett should be ejected. I can understand trying that in the beginning, simply to gain an edge. But he and the other Angels took it way, way too far.
There were no warnings (nor a need for one) prior to the pitch. No indication of bad blood. A situation where the pitcher was thrown off-kilter and a pitch unfortunately thrown in a tough location—but one which didn't strike a person.
Umpire Joe West: "Did he throw it up and in? Yeah. Do we believe he threw it at Abreu? No. Would we have warned him had both benches not emptied? Probably not. But because both benches emptied, we did issue a warning."
So why did the Angels go so far in demanding Beckett be thrown out?
Despite evidence to the contrary, they felt the pitch was on purpose.
"What happened there was blatant," said Torii Hunter. Justin Speier added that "What he did was totally uncalled for. ... It was total disrespect for us and for the game. ... But the fact is Varitek was set up low and away and he threw it at Bobby's head."
Sorry, guys. I'm not buying it.
I don't understand how it's "blatant." And it's not me with my red-colored glasses on, either. Put Joba Chamberlain on the mound and David Ortiz at the plate in that exact situation, and I'd feel the same way.
The Angels overreacted and were the aggressors. There was no indication that Beckett threw at Abreu—nor was there a reason for Beckett to.
Detractors will say Beckett was not pleased that Abreu called time so late. They'll say that he wanted to send a message. Not buying it.
Beckett knew he was taking a long time. I'd be shocked to hear he didn't expect time out to be called in some form. I was expecting time out to be called after the second time Beckett glanced at Figgins.
I don't think he had that time to register what was going on and decide to throw at Abreu before the ball flew out of his hand. He had an involuntary physical reaction to time being called—trying to slow his exertion but not injure himself. The ball ended up near Abreu's head.
Unfortunate. Not on purpose.
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