Over the weekend, perhaps the two biggest stars in the game, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, were hit by pitches. In neither case does it seem that the pitcher was actually throwing at the batter. On Saturday, Jim Joyce ejected Ramon Ramirez for hitting Rodriguez with one out and a runner on base in a 2-0 game, in the seventh inning. A warning had been issued in the first inning, but it seems extremely unlikely that Ramirez was throwing at A-Rod. I have a certain sympathy for Joyce in this situation, in that any Yankees-Red Sox game is a powderkeg and he was most likely trying to keep anything from starting. But it seems clear there was no intent here, and Ramirez was unfairly tossed. Not that it mattered; the Red Sox wouldn’t have scored if the game had gone twenty innings.
On Sunday, it happened again; Pirates closer Matt Capps, who had just blown a 3-2 eighth-inning lead by giving up a two-run homer, hit Pujols, and was ejected by Mike Estabrook. Tony LaRussa thinks that Capps was throwing at Pujols, but I generally ignore anything LaRussa has to say, and Pujols in his turn (though he stared out at the mound) said he didn’t think Capps was throwing at him. (Capps, of course, denied it, but that’s meaningless.)
I think in both cases the umpires overreacted, but were overreacting in a situation where it’s understandable, because things could get out of hand. I should point out that in both cases the HBP (and maybe the ejection) cost the pitcher’s team. Rodriguez scored on a bases-loaded walk, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead that might as well have been 30-0. Pujols scored in front of a Ludwick double as the Cards broke the game open. There’s already a cost to hitting a batter, and it’s why you generally aren’t going to throw at anyone in a close game. It’s in the blowouts that the umpires need to be cautious.