clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Blue Jays' focus diverted from baseball to "the game within the game" and it could be costly

It's all fun and games until someone injures their calf.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Blue Jays should have been focusing on one mission right now: to win baseball games so they can enter postseason play, then win games in the postseason so they can capture a championship. But last night, instead of focusing on the actual game of baseball, which was tied 1-1 in the second inning, the team decided to stir things up against the Yankees.

As a result, Joaquin Benoit, who has become one of the most important pieces of the Toronto bullpen, left the ballpark in crutches. Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae likened Benoit’s calf injury to the one that knocked reliever Brett Cecil from the playoffs last season. However, as I remember it, Cecil got hurt while making a play in the baseball game, not because he was running towards a dumb brawl.

I’m not sure exactly who tumbled out of the bullpen in an attempt to join the fracas in the infield, but someone—quite possibly Benoit—fell hard onto the turf. After the fracas, Benoit was seen limping off the field and into the dugout.

We’ll likely get more details about the extent of the injury and how it happened later today, but this should be embarrassing for the Blue Jays even if Benoit comes out with just a bruise and a scrape. However, I don’t know if the team actually feels embarrassed about what happened.

The Jays—or perhaps just J.A. Happ—took exception to a Josh Donaldson hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the first inning even though the ball just grazed his elbow and was thrown by Luis Severino, who obviously wasn’t in full control of where his baseballs were going last night.

Because a star player was hit by a young kid, and because the Yankees have been throwing hard and inside all series, Happ felt that he needed to "protect" his position players and threw at Chase Headley, the first Yankees batter in the second. It took him two tries but he finally got Headley right in his butt with a 91-mph fastball.

Instead of tossing Happ for clearly hitting Headley intentionally, home plate umpire Todd Tichenor gave both benches the warning, a move that usually just upsets both teams.

We all knew what was going to happen next. Severino, who struggled in the first, had an elevated pitch count already, and pitching for a team out of the playoff picture, had little to lose by retaliating against Justin Smoak in the bottom half of the inning. However, he missed in his first attempt. Tichenor’s body language showed that he was ready to follow through with his warning and eject the Yankees’ pitcher, but instead he decided to dust off the plate.

What was Severino going to do? Pitch to Smoak like nothing happened? Of course he drills Smoak—with a 99-mph fastball to his legs, where there’s significantly less cushioning than Headley’s butt. Then, as we all expected, the two teams emptied their benches and bullpens and did some shoving and pushing. During that silliness, the Blue Jays had a key reliever (and possibly a starting second baseman) suffer an injury that could affect their ability to win games going forward. And the Commissioner’s Office may even hand down suspensions to some key players. All during the last week of a season where the Jays have a tenuous claim to a playoff spot.

And for what? Improving relations between teammates? To satisfy the old-school baseball code that pitchers need to "protect" their team’s star hitters by throwing a baseball at the other team’s third baseman with a .714 OPS?

Sportsnet’s "manalyst" Gregg Zaun felt that Happ did the right thing, saying that the adults throwing baseballs at each other was part of "the game within the game." I'm no baseball insider but I know that the Blue Jays are paying Happ $10 million to play and win at the game of baseball. Happ eventually finished another good outing, but he could've easily been ejected and forced John Gibbons to tax his bullpen all game.

As Jays fan, my mind usually finds ways to defend the team’s actions, no matter how wrong or deleterious it may be, but I really can’t do it this time. The team, led by Happ, took their focus away from finishing the sweep against the Yankees and put it on trying to settle a score. If it were the Orioles or Tigers or some other rival who was pitching inside and hitting their players, or if it was during a dry spell and felt they needed something to rally around, I could almost see myself defending some sort of retaliation. But I can’t do it here because it came during a three-game winning streak against a team that they have dominated over all season and is out of contention. Why get into a fight with someone who has little-to-nothing to lose?

I really hope that Benoit’s injury turns out to be less serious than it appears to be right now because falling on the turf on the way to a fight that was largely provoked by the Blue Jays is a pretty friggin’ stupid way for his—or perhaps even the team’s—season to end.