Sunday at Comerica Park in Detroit featured a premiere MLB pitching matchup between the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim’s bemulletted Jered Weaver and the Tigers’ Justin Verlander. Although the Tigers won, it was Verlander who took heat for some of his post-game remarks.
Carrying a no hitter and a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning, Verlander faced shortstop Erick Aybar who attempted to finally get things going for his side by bunting, reaching second on a throwing error by Verlander. Frustrated by Aybar’s strategy (and likely his team’s name, which, when translated into a single language, is The The Angels Angels), Verlander said:
I know it was only 3-0, so I can understand there are arguments on both sides, but as a pitcher, we call that bush league. I think he was trying to get his team back into the game, but I also think it was a response to things that had happened before.
Verlander’s reference to “things that had happened before” was an allusion to Weaver’s antics earlier in the game. (On Tuesday, MLB suspended Weaver for six games for throwing at Alex Avila in retaliation for what Weaver perceived as Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen’s attempts to show him up after hitting home runs off him. Weaver plans to appeal the suspension because, why not? Suspensions of starting pitchers for fewer than ten or twelve games is pretty silly, because the reality of teams’ pitching rotation schemes means that Weaver only will miss one start during his six-game suspension.)
Most people seized on the first part of Verlander’s comment that Aybar’s decision to bunt was “bush league,” and most people, including writers in Detroit, agree that Verlander was wrong. His manager, Jim Leyland, was one of the first to take a contrary stance.
And how couldn’t you? The score was only 3-0. Was Aybar supposed to roll over because Verlander had dominated his team for the past seven innings? Baseball is a sport of traditions, superstitions, and unwritten rules. If the score was 10-0 and one of the teams wasn’t competitive, maybe we could have a conversation, but it was a three-run game, and both teams are very much in contention for the playoffs (the Tigers own a two-game lead in the AL Central, while the Angels are two back of AL West-leading Texas).
I don’t fault Verlander for the remark, though. The Detroit ace is a threat to no-hit his opponent every time he starts. Athletes don’t get that way without a certain level of competitive aggressiveness, which can spill over into reactionary remarks made immediately after a high-intensity game like the one on Sunday. The Tigers are a talented team, and they have been for a few years. Their recent success has come from fairly soft-spoken stars, however: Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, and so forth. It’s nice to see one of their players speak aggressively, even if he’s wrong. Verlander isn’t irresponsible; rather, he exudes control, and he’s earned a stray frustrated remark in a press conference after he blew a no hitter on a throwing error following a bunt in the eighth inning.