Know how it's baseball season? Because nary two weeks can pass without teams bickering about the unwritten rules.
Earlier in the month, Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier expressed disappointment in Baltimore Orioles catcher Chance Sisco for bunting during a blowout. On Friday, Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander picked a similar bone with Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.
Anderson drew Verlander's disdain not for breaking up a no-hitter (though he did), but for attempting to steal two bases with his team trailing 5-0 in the fifth inning. Here's Verlander, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle:
"He steals on 3-0 in a 5-0 game, that's probably not great baseball," Verlander said. "Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, I don't know. But he celebrated that, though. And it's like 'Hey, I'm not worried about you right now. It's 5-0, I'm giving a high leg kick, I know you can steal. If I don't want you to steal, I'll be a little bit more aware of you. But I'm trying to get this guy out at the plate.'"
Anderson then tried to take third base on the subsequent pitch as part of a double steal, but Verlander proved too heady for that, countering with an inside move. While Anderson returned to the bag safely, the trail runner Omar Narvaez was tagged out. Verlander and Anderson shared some words and that was that.
Verlander is about as intelligent and accomplished as any pitcher in baseball. But his comments are the latest in a puzzling trend. Seemingly each and every time a ballplayer accuses another of violating an unwritten rule these days, it has to do with trying too hard. (Note that you can perhaps read Verlander's comment as a criticism of Anderson clapping and trying to pump up his dugout after the steal, but the emphasis on so-called bad baseball plays seems to hint at what really got his goat -- the steal attempts, not the celebration thereafter.)
To be clear: a 5-0 lead with Verlander on the mound is pretty safe ... it's just not insurmountable. Sure, the White Sox had their win expectancy above 10 percent precisely three times after the Astros took their lead (the last occasion was following Anderson's first attempted steal), but that's because 1. the White Sox are a bad team, and 2. Houston tacked on another five runs.
As for Verlander's implication that because he wasn't worried about Anderson then Anderson shouldn't steal? Follow the slippery slope all the way to the bottom and one can argue that basestealers should never be allowed to take off on a pitcher who is not actively trying to pick them off. Why even bother with the slide step if the unwritten rules state such a thing? Why even bother playing on if five runs is deemed an unconquerable deficit? Since when did baseball, from the top down, become competitively averse? This is all so very silly.