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Why throw at Mauer in the first place?

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • August 24, 2012 - 9:01 AM

 

First, a bit of the fallout from last night:

 

1) Nobody in their right mind -- certainly not us -- believes Roy Oswalt's explanation for how he hit Joe Mauer just above the numbers on his back (quite close to the head) on a 3-0 pitch: "For some reason, I can’t keep the ball true on the left side. He’s been beating me away, away, away. I was trying to get him out in and just dropped my elbow. I don’t know the reason why the ball is coming back on the left side of the plate. I can keep it true on the right side. The left side I can’t really keep it true and I dropped my elbow and it kind of sailed on me."

Whatever.

2) The Twins were right to retaliate. Where they probably erred was either in doing it so quickly afterwards and/or in Diamond sailing the pitch at Josh Hamilton's head. Those things made it both obvious and dangerous, giving cause for an ejection even without a previous warning. That said, it also seems fairly ridiculous that the Twins can lose their top pitcher for essentially doing the same thing as the Rangers' fill-in pitcher. It had a major influence on the game, which means nothing but pride for the Twins but means plenty to Texas (more on that in a minute).

The big question we have: Why on earth was Texas throwing at the mild-mannered Mauer in the first place? Our first thought was that Mauer has perhaps killed Texas in his career and the Rangers were just sick of it -- not a good reason, but a reason that batters do get hit. But Joe has just a .256 career average in Texas, his worst road average in any existing AL ballpark. And he's just a .246 hitter overall against the Rangers -- lowest against any AL team. Sure, he hit an RBI double in the first inning, but that's hardly something that would trigger a beanball.

We happened to DVR last night's game, so we went back and looked at Mauer's first at-bat and the second at-bat up to the beaning. We wondered if maybe he was looking back at the catcher to sneak a peak at location, but no evidence of that could be found. So we moved onto another theory: Was he getting tipped off on pitches another way?

There is at least some fodder for a conspiracy here (though we don't believe in it). When Mauer hit his RBI double, Ben Revere had just moved to second base. In the third inning, Revere was also at second base. And, well, it wouldn't be the first time Mauer and the Twins were accused of some theft when it comes to signs if you'll recall the late-season flap in 2009 (that time, Mauer was the baserunner at second). At the time, Tigers catcher Gerald Laird said the Twins are known for being good at stealing signs. Rangers catcher Geovany Soto moves into position very late, so Revere couldn't have been giving Mauer a location signal based on his movement. And Texas was, as all teams do, using a complex set of signs with a runner on second. Is it crazy to think the Twins cracked the code and Revere was giving Mauer some tips? Not entirely. But again, we'll guess no.

Perhaps more likely: There was a base open when Mauer came up in the third. Josh Willingham wasn't playing, and Ryan Doumit -- hitting cleanup -- had already looked foolish in one at bat behind Mauer. On a 3-0 pitch with no known history of bad blood brewing, the Rangers had to know the worst that could happen was Oswalt would be warned if he beaned Mauer. That would leave the Twins defenseless to retaliate unless they wanted to sacrifice their best pitcher (or wait until later in the game). As it turns out, Oswalt wasn't even warned. But when Diamond went high on Hamilton the next half-inning, he was tossed anyway. A 2-2 game stayed close for a while, but losing Diamond -- even if he wasn't terribly sharp early on -- certainly had an impact on the loss. Could it have been a tactical move? Possibly.

The best answer, though, could be the settling of some old grudge from some weird game that nobody remembers. We like that better, at least, than trying to believe ol' Roy that the pitch simply got away.

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