There is a very simple solution to this stupid unwritten rules controversy involving Chris Woodward and Fernando Tatis Jr.
MLB needs to give its managers a white flag option. At least, give Woodward the option.
The Rangers manager is upset that Tatis hit a 3-0 pitch over the fence for eighth-inning grand slam against his club Monday night. He’s upset because the score was 10-3, with the Padres leading. He’s upset because he thought Tatis should have let that pitch, which was in the strike zone, pass by for Strike One.
For some reason, Woodward’s adherence to the unwritten rules of baseball told him that Tatis — because his team had a seven-run lead late in the game — should have quit trying.
Think about that for a minute. Because the Padres had dominated the game — a professional contest, between teams with highly compensated players on both sides — Woodward thinks his opponent should have stopped trying its best.
Woodward wanted Tatis to quit because, in his estimation, the game was already over (it wasn’t, but more on that in a moment). If the game was over, and Woodward truly thinks his team was not going to be able to come back, then he should be able to quit.
Call the game. When the Padres loaded the bases and Tatis stepped to the plate, Woodward should have walked out to the home-plate umpire, waved a white flag and ended the game.
“Hey ump,” Woodward could have said. “There’s zero chance we can win this game, down seven runs, even though we still have six outs left, a lineup of professional hitters and we’re facing a shaky Padres bullpen. Because, really, we don’t think our pitcher will be able to get Tatis out here, which means they’re probably going to score more runs and then we’re really going to be done today. And because they were so very much better today, we’re just going to fold our tent and go home.”
That’s no more absurd than expecting the other team to quit trying, right? I mean, if anything, the team that’s losing should be the one to quit, not the team that’s doing all the winning. And, hell, in a 2020 season with a condensed schedule, seven-inning double-headers and magic runners in extra innings, why not try it?
For real, what if MLB gave managers the option to end a game early? Then, we’d see how many managers would actually stop the game. You want the other team to quit trying? OK, now you can really quit. Put your actions behind your words.
This will never happen, of course. And it shouldn’t. Baseball should be played hard, the whole way through. Don’t like being beaten? Play better.
A couple of Hall of Famers agree with that sentiment.
So you take a pitch...now you're 3-1. Then the pitcher comes back with a great setup pitch...3-2. Now you're ready to groundout into a double play. Everyone should hit 3-0. Grand Slams are a huge stat. @tatis_jr https://t.co/4D3ilsD9Sh— Johnny Bench (@JohnnyBench_5) August 18, 2020
Fernando Tatis keep playing hard and playing great, it’s a pleasure to watch you play, love your success and the Padres rise to be a winner. Keep leading the way. It ain’t easy to hit Hrs. Keep bringing energy you have to the game, we need players like you. An All Star— Reggie Jackson (@mroctober) August 18, 2020
But let’s try to work through this embarrassing debacle anyway. Woodward didn’t like that Tatis swung at a 3-0 pitch, right?
But Tatis earned that 3-0 count, dammit. He didn’t walk up there with a three-balls, no-strikes advantage. The Rangers knew he was dangerous. He’d already smashed one home run in the game, giving him 10 on the season. and that’s likely a big reason the first three pitches were nowhere near the strike zone. He earned the right to swing at a pitch that he knew had a high probability of being in the strike zone.
And, realistically, what would have been OK? If Tatis had hit the grand slam with the count at 2-0, would that have been OK? How about 3-1? Those are still hitters' counts. What’s so magical about a 3-0 count that, suddenly, a manager expects charity?
Traditionally, selective hitters have taken 3-0 pitches, but that’s not because they’re being nice to a pitcher. No, they take that pitch because if the pitcher’s already thrown three straight pitches out of the strike zone, chances seem good he might throw a fourth out of the zone, too, giving the batter a free pass to first base. It’s not charity, it’s strategy.
Here’s another thing: The Padres were up by seven runs. Even in little league baseball, mercy rules typically start at 10-run leads. This game was only seven runs.
The season is three-and-a-half weeks old. Know how many times a team has scored at least seven runs in a game? Here’s the answer: 150 times. In a season that’s 25 days old, every day we’ve seen an average of six teams score at least seven runs in a game.
Heck, 32 times this year teams have scored at least three runs in either the eighth or ninth inning. Three or four runs by the Rangers in the bottom of the eighth makes it a completely different game, especially with the state of the San Diego bullpen.
That’s another HUGE factor here. Padres relievers have a 6.19 ERA so far this season, including Monday night’s game. They have not been good this year, and they had been especially bad recently. Padres relievers allowed three runs in a 5-4 loss at Arizona in the previous game and six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Diamondbacks the game before that.
So for Woodward to suggest that a seven-run lead was insurmountable against that bullpen, in today’s high-scoring era, is frankly pretty insulting to his own team.
And here’s one more thing: Shame on Jayce Tingler, the Padres manager, for not standing up for his player after the game. And shame on Eric Hosmer, the Padres first baseman, for “talking to” Tatis during the game to explain what the written rules said he did wrong.