You know, for all the talking that goes on in the world about the unwritten rules that have governed baseball for a century, the actual moments that are determined by those laws seem to be few and far between.
That’s why when John Lackey plunked Francisco Cervelli at Fenway Park on Tuesday night, it was an almost-refreshing throwback to the days of baseball yore.
It started innocently enough, with Cervelli launching a moon shot over the Green Monster for a solo homer that put the Yankees ahead 4-2 in the top of the fourth. Despite it being just the second homer of the year for Cervelli, the catcher was quick out of the box and moved rather briskly around the bases.
There was no issue there. The problem was with Cervelli’s exaggerated, two-hand clap as he crossed the plate. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a front-row seat.
Lackey, a guy who learned the game in Texas, took notice. He actually looked flabberghasted, as he stopped chewing his gum and took time to stare in disbelief at Cervelli, who has three home runs in 474 career at-bats.
Does that look like a guy who looked like he’d be forgetting that little celebration any time soon?
Obviously not, because the first pitch to Cervelli to lead off the seventh went straight at his shoulder.
Because to do otherwise would be madness, Lackey would later say the pitch got away from him, that he was just trying to “knock him down” but it slipped inside. And hey, you can’t ever get inside another man’s head and know his intentions. But that pitch wasn’t even close. Cervelli took exception.
And the rest of the Yankees left their dugout so they could all stand in the middle of the field as if they were going to do something. They weren’t, but the pageantry of the Sox and Yankees leaving their benches at Fenway Park is something we haven’t seen in some time.
Even Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay didn’t defend Cervelli, saying, “You can’t clap your hands like that in front of the other catcher when you score.”
Things didn’t escalate too far, though, likely because Lackey hit Cervelli in a spot that’s not at all dangerous. Again, remember, the code.
CC Sabathia, who started the game by hitting Jacoby Ellsbury (4-for-12 this season against Sabathia entering Tuesday) in the elbow, could clearly be seen saying, “That’s [expletive] [expletive], man.”
Nothing beyond that really happened. Mariano Rivera did hit Saltalamacchia in the ninth inning, but Rivera isn’t so dominant anymore that he can just go ahead and hit a batter to bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth. It was a pitch that just barely snuck inside and caught Saltalamacchia on the hands.
Still, the umpire’s decision to award Saltalamacchia first base when it appeared as though he offered at the pitch again got the ballpark fired up. Joe Girardi, too.
Girardi got tossed, but Josh Reddick ended the game shortly thereafter with a hard liner to left fielder Brett Gardner. The Red Sox lost, but the home fans went home knowing they attended a game they’d likely never forget.
Now, there are a couple of reasons to believe that what Lackey did wasn’t right. The first and most obvious is that put a leadoff hitter on base, and he eventually scored an important insurance run. A 4-2 score rather than a 5-2 score would have changed the complexion of the game. The Yankees eventually got the last laugh by winning the game by that very score.
Second, there’s the fact that the Yankees themselves were rather unhappy with a certain home run celebration by David Ortiz at Yankee Stadium earlier this year. You could argue that it’s different when a guy who can match Cervelli’s career homer output in about six at-bats acts like a superstar, but at the same time, you can’t have it both ways.
At the end of the night (a long one, by the way), you were reminded of both the code of baseball and one of the reasons you watch the game. Sure, you always like to see your team win, but there’s a certain element unique to baseball that always keeps everyone — from the players to the managers to the fans — on their toes. You never can know what’s going to happen next.
Photos from AP and screen shots from MLB.com