Last week, as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts recalled it, he relayed a take sign to Mookie Betts. The Dodgers were pounding the San Diego Padres in the fifth inning. The count was 3-and-0. A runner was at second base. Luis Perdomo was on the mound at Dodger Stadium, struggling to keep the home team from increasing a seven-run lead. Betts followed orders and took the pitch for a strike. He blasted the next pitch for his third home run of the game.
The Padres were on the opposite side of a similar situation in the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers Monday. But Fernando Tatis Jr., their superstar 21-year-old shortstop, missed the take sign. Instead, he hammered a 3-0 pitch for a grand slam to expand the Padres’ lead from seven to 11 runs. The Rangers, angry, responded by throwing a pitch behind the next batter, Manny Machado.
After the game, Rangers manager Chris Woodward voiced his displeasure with Tatis swinging at a 3-0 pitch with that lead. On Tuesday, he was suspended for one game. Ian Gibaut, who threw the fastball behind Machado, was given a three-game ban that he is appealing.
The episode launched another debate about baseball’s unwritten rules. It also unearthed a reality long overdue in 2020: That chapter in the unwritten rulebook is slowly being erased.
“I think the unwritten rules have changed, should change,” Roberts said before the Dodgers faced the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. “And each passing day we’ve got to continue to break some of those rules, and that’s a good thing.”
Roberts had Woodward on his staff as the Dodgers’ third base coach from 2016-20`18. He also comes from a time when those unwritten rules were adhered to, but he said he saw both sides to the argument, one filled with ambiguity. At what point do you hit the brakes on scoring? Is there a difference between Tatis homering on a 3-0 pitch or waiting to club the next one as Betts did? Does that warrant enough rage to throw behind a hitter?
“Personally, I flipped a little bit more to just playing to win the game and keep playing,” Roberts said.
Angels manager Joe Maddon said there’s “an un-talked-about courtesy” in those situations. He said staffs and veteran players educate younger players on those situations when “it just might be wise” to take the pitch. But he also noted the thinking is antiquated, in part because large leads don’t seem as safe.
“If you went back into baseball lore and researched it all the way back, I would imagine it has something to do with that,” Maddon said. “And my argument against that has always been back in the day it took 10 singles to score six runs. Now it happens like with three three-run homers.”
The Padres, a young club attempting to meet lofty expectations, entered Monday’s game on a five-game losing streak. They had squandered late leads. Their bullpen recently lost closer Kirby Yates to injury. Finishing games strong was a point manager Jayce Tingler emphasized.
Active and former players, including Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Johnny Bench, expressed their support for Tatis Jr. on social media. And yet, after the game, Tatis Jr. apologized for swinging at the 3-0 pitch and Tingler told reporters he didn’t want to run up the score. He said he saw it as a learning opportunity for Tatis.
Tingler backpedaled on those comments Tuesday. He insisted he wasn’t criticizing his best player. Instead, he clarified, he wanted Tatis Jr. to take the pitch because Juan Nicasio, the Rangers’ pitcher, was struggling with command.
“Maybe I didn’t word it exactly right last night,” Tingler said. “I was talking about the signs, and I believe that with all our guys. We’ve missed signs throughout the year, and we addressed those things. I think I said it earlier: I’m glad he missed this one. It was something for me to learn.”
Tingler spent 13 years with the Rangers and served as the organization’s major league player development field coordinator last season, Woodward’s first as the team’s manager. He and Woodward are close friends. They spoke Tuesday.
“They’re going to feel how they feel and he’s going to feel how he feels,” Tingler said. “And they’re trying to kick our ass and we’re trying to kick their ass and win. And that’s the bottom line. So, we can’t sit here and worry about people’s feelings.”
The Rangers’ feelings were hurt Monday. In the past, their handling of the situation would’ve been met with shrugs, if not celebrated. In 2020, another debate raged.