He’s a baseball lifer who believes in playing hard and keeping your mouth shut about what happens on the field. So the surprising admission of Philadelphia Phillies starter Cole Hamels, who revealed he drilled Bryce Harper on purpose in Sunday’s game, was like issuing a bench-clearing challenge to Rizzo’s sensibilities. He considered Hamels’s “I-was-trying-to-hit-him” candor a knockdown pitch to baseball etiquette. For Rizzo, the only appropriate response was to, in effect, charge the mound.
While blasting the pitcher Monday for his “classless, gutless . . . act” in a phone conversation with Post reporter Adam Kilgore, Rizzo urged Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to suspend Hamels. (Selig obliged: Hamels was suspended for five games. On Tuesday, MLB fined Rizzo an undisclosed amount for his public comments.)
As a starter, Hamels usually pitches only once every five days, anyway. With Philadelphia off Thursday, the left-hander began serving his suspension immediately.
The Phillies could easily align their rotation so that Hamels does not miss a start. Selig, though, did hit Hamels in the wallet: He stands to lose about $400,000 of his $9.5 million salary.
Let’s be clear: Hamels wasn’t head-hunting. With his pinpoint control, he probably hit Harper where he intended, give or take a few inches. But what if Hamels’s 93-mph fastball had gotten away from him? And then Hamels broke with protocol in providing on-the-record commentary?
For all of that, Rizzo’s passionate comeback was on point. In delivering a fiery defense of the future (current?) face of the franchise, Rizzo reinforced the growing belief in baseball that the Nationals are no longer pushovers.
Rizzo’s move did more than simply fuel an intensifying regional rivalry between National League East opponents. Whether he intended to or not, Rizzo launched a warning shot to the entire league: The new-look Nationals might not start the fight — but they’ll gladly finish it.
By the time I caught up with Rizzo on the phone Monday, I figured he had cooled down. My bad.
“He tried to pound his chest on the back of Bryce Harper,” Rizzo said of Hamels. “He popped off trying to be a tough guy. Yeah, well, I’m not gonna have it. Not with my player. No way.”
Pitchers have thrown at batters since the days of horse-drawn buggies and handlebar mustaches. So-called “purpose pitches” are as much a part of baseball as chalk.
They’re the game’s most direct form of communication: When pitchers (or entire teams) are trying to send a message, someone gets plunked.
Harper, 19, is baseball’s highest-profile rookie. Harper’s picture was on magazine covers long before he became a multimillionaire after signing with the Nationals at 17. Last year in the minors, Harper angered old-school types by blowing a kiss in the direction of a pitcher after smashing a home run against him.