I know from my Twitter feed that Braves fans are irate over the four-game suspension dealt Jonny Venters for plunking Prince Fielder — oddly enough, nobody seems all that miffed that Bobby Cox also gets docked a game — but here’s where I play Bad Cop and say, “Come on now. What did you expect?”
We’ll never know if Venters meant to dust Fielder on Saturday — MLB has QuesTek to assess balls and strikes but cannot yet read minds — but these things aren’t about intentions as much as appearances. And you’ll have to admit it looks pretty fishy when …
A player hits a home run and, his next trip up, is greeted by a pitch over his head. (The Braves’ defense of Venters goes thusly: It was a slider, and you don’t send a message with an 84-mph breaking ball.) The plate umpire then warns both teams not to throw at anybody else. And the very next pitch …
Drills the Prince in the back.
The moral of our story: If you’re going to hit a guy, try not to do it with the first pitch after a warning. That attracts attention. It all but forces a reaction from both the other team — two Braves were hit by Brewers’ pitching Sunday, including Jason Heyward with what turned out to be starter Manny Parra’s final delivery of the day — and from MLB.
Brewers manager Ken Macha griped after Saturday’s game that his hitters were being targeted, and umpires can hear/read. Surely that’s how Milwaukee’s David Riske got away with not being ejected when he drilled Troy Glaus on Sunday two batters after both teams had again been warned. According to Cox, plate umpire Scott Barry said he didn’t think Riske meant to hit Glaus.
And that tells us this umpiring crew — which also features Angel Hernandez, who ejected Cox and Venters on Saturday, and Cowboy Joe West — believed the Brewers had a case. (Fielder had also been hit on Friday by Tommy Hanson after Ryan Braun hit a home run.) As it happened, Milwaukee pitchers hit three Braves in the series to Atlanta’s two, but Venters’ two pitches were the ones everyone remembered.
And I know Braves fans will cry conspiracy — the commissioner lives in Milwaukee, remember — and will cite this as further proof the umps have been out to get this team for the past two decades, but every team’s fans feel exactly the same way. Except maybe the Brewers. They know Bud Selig will protect them. That’s why Milwaukee has won 14 consecutive division titles. (Wait. You say it hasn’t?)
Chances are Venters will appeal his suspension, and chances are it’ll get reduced a game, maybe two. But let’s not go all Pollyanna and pretend the good-guy Braves would never ever stoop so low as to hit somebody on purpose. Because sometimes they do.
I’m not saying that’s what happened with Fielder. I’m only saying it does happen. It’s part of the game. And now we move on.