Last night, the game's most exciting player - sorry, King Trout, but it's true - Fernando Tatis Jr. did a bunch of awesome things again, providing even more examples why he's must-watch television for a sport that needs more must-watch television.
After a two-homer, seven-RBI, two-run performance, the 21-year-old phenom now has a commanding MLB lead in those three offensive categories, and is tied with Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski for the MLB lead in fWAR. He capped his MVP-esque dominant night at the new Rangers field inside a giant BBQ grill by drilling a 3-0 pitch out to right-center for a grand slam to put the Padres up 14-3 in the eighth inning.
Pretty cool, right?
Evidently not in the eyes of the "leaders" in the room. Because late last night the most exciting player in Major League Baseball - with the type of swag and on-field charisma the sport should dream of having represent its next wave of stars - was thrown under the bus by his first-year manager and left to apologize for putting a perfect swing on a 3-0 outside fastball. Yes, apologize.
Let's rewind first.
After Tatis Jr.'s grand slam, the 'adults' in the room immediately threw behind Manny Machado on the next pitch.
While we're on the subject of clowns, Rob Manfred handed Joe Kelly a massive suspension for doing, basically, the same thing. If he doesn't exercise consistency and protect the game's young star, it'll add to the mounting evidence he's in way over his head.
Anyway, back to the big losers from Monday night's game. The Rangers' immediate response following a pitching change, a response enabled and encouraged by the club's culture, to being dominated by a 21-year-old was to throw behind the next batter. However, that wasn't the worst part about the sequence. No one, either during the game or after during postgame comments, came to Machado's defense.
First-year Jayce Tingler, who had plenty to say about Tatis Jr. but almost nothing to say about a pitch behind Machado's back, offered zero support. Eric Hosmer, coming off two-straight negative fWAR seasons and in the third year of an 8-year, $144 million contract that will surely lead to a front office's firing unless Tatis Jr. saves them all, was seen telling the Rangers dugout he'll talk to his young teammate and then later cameras caught him doing exactly that. The conversation led to an early favorite for, 'bitch, please' photo of the year.
This is about Tatis Jr., but how do you think Manny Machado feels? The adults pretending - actually, I wish they were pretending - they're baseball's Templars protecting sacred integrity from the game's fiery demise were so caught up in their feelings they, evidently, didn't give a shit about a fastball from a bad reliever whizzing behind Machado all in the name of trying to discipline a 21-year-old for being the baddest dude on the field. By far.
The real circus with the clown show was left for the final postgame act.
Once upon a time, Rangers manager Chris Woodward, whose only MLB grand slam came in the ninth-inning with his team ahead six runs, sent Mike Minor, and his extreme pitch count, back to the mound in his last start of the regular season in pursuit of 200 strikeouts. Last I checked, no one is handed accolades for striking out 200 guys in a regular season. But evidently it was a big deal to the Rangers. When you haven't made the playoffs since 2012 and are stuck in baseball purgatory, I suppose you invent achievements.
Minor, who ended up throwing 126 pitches in that final 2019 start, notched his 200th strikeout thanks to his first baseman purposely dropping a fly ball to give him another opportunity. Yes, that happened. A player purposely dropped an easy fly ball so a pitcher could try to get his 200th strikeout and the manager was okay with it. I don't even do that in MLB The Show. Woodward didn't create much of a fuss about his team showing a lack of respect for the game, an act usually punishable by a fastball near the ribs and a public scolding. Instead, the act could be punished another way.
Prior to that start, Minor never thew more than 120 pitches in any start; so, he ended his career-high in innings with a career-high pitch count all in the name of career-high 200 strikeouts. This season, Minor's four-seam fastball velocity is 90.5 MPH. Last year, the lefty threw his four-seamer 92.5 MPH on average. He's thrown just one pitch harder than 92.0 MPH all season. Coincidence? Probably not. But those are the risks an organization takes when it's led by that type of leadership on the field.
Fast forward to last night and Woodward's feelings were hurt by Tatis Jr.'s actions, via The Athletic:
“I think there’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game. I didn’t like it, personally,” Woodward said. “You’re up by seven in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right. (But) I don’t think we liked it as a group.”
Perhaps Woodward's pitchers shouldn't walk two guys and fall behind in counts 3-0. I'm not an expert, but I've heard those are contributing factors to trailing 10-3 in the eighth inning. Tatis Jr. is such a fantastic competitor he was so locked in he smashed a good 3-0 pitch out to right-center. He didn't look down to third base, but why would he? Tingler, who made a fuss about a missed sign prompting his young shortstop taking the blame publicly, even admitted certain hitters - we'll say it for him: the good ones - have a 3-0 green light.
In one of the strangest images you'll find in sports, the reaction to a player playing the game to his best ability with the best result was bet with mixed reactions by his teammates and coaches, prompting the player to be slightly confused while returning to the dugout. Think about that.
At one point, Woodward mentions the way they were all raised in the game, which is hilarious given Tatis Jr. is named after his father, former MLB slugger Fernando Tatis. Going to go way out on a limb here, but I think the younger Tatis was raised around the game some too.
Keep this in mind: the Padres bullpen, now without Kirby Yates, has been disastrous for a team desperately in a win now mode, and sitting 12-12 after 24 of 60 games. Going to go out on a limb here but I'm not sure any lead is currently safe with the Padres bullpen.
Rather than the baseball world swooning over how awesome Tatis Jr.'s swings were last night and gushing over what he's going to bring to the game for well over a decade, we're talking about what his first-year manager called a "learning opportunity" during a press conference response that threw his face of the franchise under the bus.
Tingler discusses not wanting to take away Tatis Jr.'s spirit and things like that. But that's exactly what he did. Last night, Tingler revealed himself to be unfit for his esteemed position. Baseball organizations are supposed to choose leaders as managers. What Tingler did wasn't a display of leadership. Not even close. Maybe he'll learn. Maybe Tatis Jr. will bolt at the first sign of free agency.
Can you imagine Terry Francona publicly throwing his young star under the bus? Of course not. Imagine if a NBA head coach did this to a superstar. That coach would either be fired or the player would request a trade.
Even if Tingler felt the way he did, nothing good comes from saying that publicly. Combine the lack of reaction to Machado being thrown at, and it's painfully obvious his priorities and leadership principles are misguided. Maybe he learned this loser's approach from Woodward, who provided a sad example of such mentality last night. After all, Tingler arrived from Texas.
Meanwhile, MLB hasn't been gifted a more marketable player in a long, long time. Clearly, I love Mike Trout. But Trout isn't a 21-year-old born in the Dominican Republic with loud hair and loud, Hall of Fame talent, vibrant charisma, and a hint of flair to go with unmistakably vivacious personality. Everything the San Diego star does is exciting - stolen bases, elite arm strength, athletic defense, bad pitches punished with insane exit velocity. Basically, the Padres shortstop is the type of player young people tune in for. And while Trout is too, Tatis Jr.'s style and swag are better suited to grab younger eyeballs.
Fortunately, players, who are passing down their approaches to the game and will eventually lead the next wave, aren't taking the same sad, recycled approach as two managers. And if 2020 wasn't weird enough already, Johnny freaking Bench went to Twitter dot com to support Tatis Jr. and swinging in 3-0 counts.
Yet here we are having another discussion about old dudes and supposed leaders publicly undercutting a superstar all in the name of the sacred nature of a 3-0 pitch in the eighth inning of a 10-3 regular-season game. Turn on MLB Network and you'll probably have some more old dudes enabling the behavior of these managers. And baseball wonders why it has a marketing problem.
Photos courtesy AP Images