Brett Lawrie started this, and Brett Lawrie will not let it end. Even after the hubbub subsided over the weekend, he was still fuming Tuesday night. There is a timeline to al this. It isn’t about the Royals being headhunters or the Royals being reckless bullies. It’s more about taking a stand. As starting pitcher Danny Duffy stated, “I’m tired of seeing my brothers come back to the dugout with bruises.” The Royals lead the majors in HBP. A week ago, their newly acquired right fielder had his hand broken in a HBP. All the stars of the postseason last year have been hit, some multiple times. Last year the team from KC went to the playoffs for the first time nearly 30 years and this year they feel that they’re being targeted. Yes, they celebrate nearly every score together, with complicated high fives and goofy gestures to the dugout when getting on base. They have fun, and most of them came up through the minors together. They act more like a family unit. Apparently all of that goes against the unwritten rules of baseball, where you’re supposed to look down at the ground like a dog that’s been beat whenever something good happens. A firm handshake and a pat on the ass will suffice. With that in mind, onward to the Oakland series:
Friday night, Lawrie slid spikes up into SS Alcides Escobar and then appeared to bring his foot down right onto his leg, stomping on it. It looks pretty ugly. Escobar says postgame that there was no double play to break up and he thinks Lawrie did it on purpose. Up to this point, the Royals had been hit at least a dozen times with no retaliation (and have not retaliated against the Twins, who broke Rios’ hand, even though they’re in the middle of a series right now). Somewhere along here there was some stuff about a text message from Lawrie apologizing, and Esky saying he never received any texts, handing over his phone to Royals management to investigate. That wasn’t really ever cleared up, but there it is …
So it stands to reason that Saturday, Lawrie’s getting plunked. Escobar is out with a twisted knee (that luckily ended up being a minor injury). Last year Esky missed 0 games, he played all 162, so him sitting is kind of a big deal to KC. So, after Yordano Ventura gives up a 3-run shot and the A’s are up 5–0, there it is: Lawrie, plunked and Kauffman Stadium goes wild. Ventura’s tossed immediately and later fined, no A’s are. That should’ve been the end to the nonsense. It wasn’t. Royals fans mercilessly booed Lawrie at every opportunity, and he was clearly not taking it lightly.
Onto Sunday night, the last night of the series. Pregame, we’re hearing all the right things from the Royals: it’s over, Lawrie wore his pitch like a professional, let’s get on to the game and play baseball. Then, with Scott Kazmir pitching, Lorenzo Cain, KC’s star centerfielder, gets plunked. A few points here: first off, Cain was hit in the foot. But if you rewatch the play, he jumped about 3-4 feet into the air, so the ball would have hit him in the knee or thigh if he hadn’t jumped. Secondly, if you look at pitch tracking sites, you’ll see that this was the furthest ball thrown inside by Kazmir this year. He typically has pinpoint location. Lastly, this is also the 3rd time Cain’s been hit in the short season! Anyways, this set off a firestorm, bench clearing, warnings from umps, and Royals manager and pitching coach getting tossed. They were pissed that Kazmir wasn’t tossed even though Ventura had been the previous night. KC probably wants Kazmir out of there because he’s really good and the Royals haven’t been able to hit much off of him, but still. You can kinda see what they’re saying.
Here’s where things go bad. KC’s down by 1, and the first H of the much-heralded Royals HDH bullpen combo, Dominican fireballer Kelvin Herrera is up against Lawrie with two outs. He throws one high and inside at Lawrie and the crowd goes absolutely insane. Emboldened by this, he then throws one behind Lawrie, at the letters. Much has been made about him throwing 100 mph at Lawrie’s head, but in reality it was at the letters, and behind his back. He was not hit. Still, a dick move by Herrera. Herrera and another Royals coach are tossed by the ump, and Herrera motions at Lawrie then motions at his head. Herrera says he was saying, “Think next time!” but Lawrie thinks he was saying that he would aim at his head next time. Fast forward a bit, the Royals win and Herrera is suspended five games, more than several relievers who’ve actually hit a guy have been suspended.
At this point, the hope was that everything was over. Herrera suspended, Escobar back in the Royals lineup and the A’s back in Cali facing their division rivals. Apparently that’s not the case for Lawrie, as he’s still bitching to the press about how the Royals are bullies and calling out the fans. The next time these teams face each other is going to be late June in Oakland. I’m sure this isn’t the end of the story.
There is a bit of intriguing history here as well. After pulling up stakes in Philly, the A’s came to KC for a short stint in the 1960s, and that’s where owner Charlie O. Finley traded in their blue & reds for the trademark green & gold. The teams also fought it out in an absolutely insane Wild Card game last year, where the Royals beat the A’s in extra innings. It would be strange if the Athletics had any lingering anger over that game, as only 3 of their everyday players are still with the team. Oakland also coaxed away the Royals best hitter over the offseason, in Billy Butler. Country Breakfast, as the portly DH is known, probably expected (and got to some degree) a warm-hearted homecoming, and he clearly wanted no part of this bad blood between his old family and new foster brothers.
As a Royals fan, it feels goddamned great to even be considered a part of a rivalry again! This usually happens when teams are good, right? The Royals have been an afterthought for so long, a cushy stop on the way through a season where you can put in your day-game-after-night-game guys and rest your bullpen. Now, the KC club is a force again. It reminds me of the great Yankees–Royals rivalries of the 70s and 80s that gave us The Pine Tar Incident. This is great baseball. It’s not a disgrace. If the MLB wants the average fan to actually be interested in the product, this is the type of drama that other sports have that baseball lacks. It’s fun, its got machismo, its got swagger, and it gives you a hero and / or a villain to root for and against!