You see it all the time: One team will throw at the other's cleanup hitter — intentionally or not — and in the next inning, the opposing pitcher will respond with a beaning of his own. It's a simple procedure of baseball.
What else is a standard procedure of baseball? Learning how to deny, deny, deny if anyone asks you whether you're hitting people on purpose. It doesn't matter it you're believable or not; even Joba Chamberlain, he of pinpoint control and blazing fastball, manages to keep a straight face as he insists he has nothing against Kevin Youkilis.
Matt Garza has never been the most composed guy in the dugout. He did, after all, try to fight his own catcher right before the Rays took off on a tear through the AL East in 2008. It can be a good thing — because everyone in Red Sox Nation knows that passion breeds victory — unless you don't know how to channel it properly.
Garza doesn't appear to have that filter.
The young Tampa Bay ace, who owns a 7-8 record and a 3.69 ERA in 2009, faced the Yankees last Wednesday and plunked slugger Mark Teixeira with a fifth-inning pitch because he was unhappy about opposing pitchers making a victim of Evan Longoria.
Loyalty is great. Telling the national media that you're throwing at Mark Teixeira, on the other hand, is not.
"They can take whatever they want from it, but I just kind of got tired of people brushing [Longoria] back," Garza told Yahoo Sports. "You can go after our best guy. Well, we'll make some noise, too, and that's what happened."
Making noise is fine as long as, by the time it quiets down, you're sitting by your locker with wide, innocent eyes, pleading ignorance. Acting like a tough guy is easy when you're a pitcher in the American League, when nobody can throw at you. It's charming and everything that Garza is trying to play the hero, but what good could possibly come out of admitting to a cheap shot?
A-Rod knows what I'm talking about.
Even Longoria refused to admit that Garza's wayward pitch was intentionally wayward. After the Rays' 6-2 loss to the Yanks, he told Yahoo Sports, "That's just the way the game goes. I don't know if it was intentional or if it was a way to kind of stir up our dugout. I don't have any hatred or negative feelings. It's just part of the game."
Transparent? Yes. Diplomatic? Also true.
Boston takes on Garza on Tuesday night at the Trop, and the Sox have never been shy about their feelings toward the pesky Rays. Starter Jon Lester is no troublemaker, so if Garza is looking for an excuse to drill David Ortiz or Victor Martinez, he won't find it in the southpaw's fastball.
But if Garza takes exception to, say, Ortiz's recent headline-grabbing or V-Mart's five-hit explosion on Sunday, then expect a grand old plunking on Tuesday. And expect him to have learned nothing from his Yankee experience and own up to it right after.
Valiant? Questionable. Completely inappropriate? Absolutely.