Ryan Dempster received near universal praise after he intentionally plunked Alex Rodriguez with a 3-0 pitch Sunday night at Fenway Park, and though the Yankees almost certainly disagree, there are many who feel Dempster should have never received the five-game suspension later handed down by Major League Baseball.
But on Wednesday, just hours after news of Dempster’s compulsory time off began to circulate, Jon Niese and Jason Heyward reminded us just how dangerous getting hit by a pitch can be, making a strong case for more substantial bans when pitchers have the nerve to do it on purpose. (Because is it really even a suspension when a starting pitcher gets a paid five-game ban?)
To be clear, there’s no sense that the New York Mets lefty intended to hit the Atlanta Braves outfielder in the jaw in the top of the sixth inning. Via NESN, you can see a GIF of the pitch in question — which came in a one-run ballgame with no previous beef to speak of — below:
Niese was adamant afterward that the beaning was simply an inside pitch that got away, and you can bet he felt even worse when he found out Heyward will need jaw surgery that may end his season.
"It was tough," Niese told ESPN New York. "I wanted to elevate a fastball right there and then it kind of, it didn’t slip out of my hands, but it kind of ran in on him. Obviously no intent but I just felt bad. It’s every pitcher and every hitter’s worst nightmare. I hope he’s OK."
People root for players to get hit, especially when it’s a player the fans don’t especially care for or a guy who “has it coming” after some past indiscretion. But an incident like Wednesday’s reminds us just how much havoc a hurtling baseball can wreak.
Purists will argue that retaliatory plunkings are little more than gamesmanship, and that big league pitchers are skilled enough to hit a guy and send a message without hurting him. But if you can hit a guy in the face when you’re trying to throw a strike, who’s to say you can’t do it when you’re already aiming for the batter?
History aside, pitchers who zip message pitches at and behind batters have no place in the game. It’s a dangerous and cyclical practice that can only lead to more problems. (Remember Zack Greinke breaking his collarbone when Carlos Quentin charged the mound after being hit earlier this year?)
And it’s because of incidents like the one between Jon Niese and Jason Heyward on Wednesday that pitchers like Ryan Dempster deserve a harsher punishment, not a free pass, when they hit guys on purpose — even when it’s just A-Rod.
Now, for some links:
• Heyward wasn’t the only player to take a pitch to the face on Wednesday. Astros rookie Max Stassi recorded his first career RBI when he was hit in the shoulder and face with the bases loaded.