By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The unwritten rules of baseball are, by and large, trash. They serve largely to prevent players from displaying pure exuberance, for fear of retribution. Act like you’ve been there before, even if you haven’t been there before. Why? Because an old, grumpy person said so.
Yet, however you feel about the UNWRITTEN RULES of the sport, you have to at least acknowledge that most of them don’t apply in the postseason.
Nevertheless, TBS color commentator Ron Darling really, really wanted the Boston Red Sox to adhere to these imaginary guidelines during Monday night’s Game 3 blowout of the Yankees.
On multiple occasions Monday night, Darling expressed his dismay at what the Red Sox were doing, once going so far as to say he was outright offended by an Andrew Benintendi swing of the bat.
The first notable instance came in the fifth inning — yes, the fifth inning. Benintendi was on first base. In the top of the fifth inning. He worked a two-out walk in a game the Red Sox led 10-1.
First baseman Luke Voit was holding Bentintendi on, and pitcher Chad Green threw over once in a pickoff attempt.
The Red Sox and Yankees at this point were still playing baseball. Because the baseball game was not even halfway over.
But Darling anticipated that Benintendi might steal second base to get into scoring position, in an attempt to score more runs in the baseball game. (The baseball game was still ongoing, in case you lost track of that.) And Darling didn’t like that.
Darling began a debate that nobody else in the country was having when he started to ponder if Benintendi might steal, and whether that would be a violation of baseball’s sacred code. Forget the fact that a big lead can evaporate in Yankee Stadium, or that it would be advantageous to make life tougher on the Yankees bullpen, or the fact that the game wasn’t even at its midway point. Darling didn’t seem to like the idea that Benintendi might run.
“Well, I guess from the school never taking anything for granted. You don’t usually see that,” Darling mused. “In the postseason, maybe. In the regular season, never.”
Whether it was this steal that had Darling upset with Benintendi later on, or whether the imaginary notebook full of the unwritten rules was jammed in Darling’s back pocket and was starting to pinch a nerve, that remains unclear. But Darling made it very clear that he did not — HE DID NOT — approve of Benintendi trying to get a hit on a 3-0 count in the seventh inning, with the score still at 10-1.
(Yes, that’s the seventh inning. Reasonable minds might note that the Red Sox actually scored all 10 of those runs in a three-inning span, proving quite convincingly that professional baseball teams can indeed score 10 runs in a flash. Alas.)
After Benintendi swung at a 3-0 pitch with a runner on second and two outs in the seventh, Darling really revved himself up while letting the world know that such an act was “offensive.”
“So, I was saying before that, on a 10-1 score, Benintendi took off and ran, stole a base. I found that unusual, but, you know, you can still keep pushing the envelope,” Darling said, really starting to get warm. “But boy, swinging 3-0 in the seventh, with a 10-1 lead … there used to be a book. There’s no book anymore. Everything’s gray. But I would find that offensive. Personally.”
Darling added that he’s a big fan of “letting the kids play,” as Ken Griffey Jr. demanded in a playoff ad that debuted last week. He even said he loves bat flips, in a true “how do you do, fellow kids?” moment. He simply said, that “you have to judge for yourself, if you feel like rubbing it in starts to rub you the wrong way.”
This is just ridiculous commentary.
This is the postseason. There is no “rubbing it in.” (Though, some might suggest that blaring Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” while walking around Fenway Park after a win might constitute rubbing it in. I wouldn’t. But some would. In any event, Darling expressed no distress regarding Aaron Judge’s post-Game 2 celebration.)
There is simply winning. And winning requires scoring more runs than the other team.
Was the lead safe at 10-1? Yeah, probably. But if the Yankees mounted a comeback? Would the Red Sox have been able to go back in time and let Benintendi try to steal that base to get in scoring position for J.D. Martinez? Would they have been able to replay the seventh inning so that Benintendi could get in a healthy hack at a fat pitch over the plate while a runner was on second base?
I’m not an expert on the unwritten rules the way someone like Darling might be, but I believe the answer is no.
And that’s all without mentioning the fact that when you’re on a hot streak, or even when you’re on a cold streak, the last thing you’d ever want to do is give away an at-bat. You’d never want a bad habit to creep in. As a hitter, if you’re seeing the ball well, you want to put that to use and try to ride that stretch as long as you can. Conversely, if you’re seeing the ball poorly, you want to try to climb out of it.
Plus — plus! — there is the element of forcing the Yankees to burn through another reliever. With a clinching opportunity one night later, the Red Sox had the chance to hurt New York’s ability to compete while facing elimination the following night.
As for base running, it never hurts to get experience in getting a jump on a reliever from the opposing team’s bullpen. What if a stealing situation arises in a critical moment of a tied Game 5? Surely having that experience would be helpful for Benintendi.
Also, this is professional sports. If the Yankees “felt” like the Red Sox were “rubbing it in,” then they’ll have to work harder at not losing playoff games by 15 runs. There’s another game the next day, and thus another opportunity to rub it in themselves.
All of that being said, there was actually an opportunity for Darling to point out an instance of the Red Sox “rubbing it in,” so to speak. That moment came in the ninth inning, with the Sox leading 14-1, and catcher Austin Romine on the mound trying to get some desperation outs to spare Aaron Boone from having to use any more real relievers in a lost cause.
After Ian Kinsler walked with two outs, Brock Holt stepped to the plate and ripped a two-run homer down the line. Because this round-tripper secured the cycle for Holt, the Sox’ utility man was pretty fired up. He hollered and woo-hoo’d his way around the bases, pointing into his dugout and looking generally pleased.
Considering the two-run homer was completely meaningless (aside from making Holt the first MLB player to ever hit for a postseason cycle), one could reasonably take issue with this display. The counterpoint would of course be to not use catchers to pitch in playoff games if you don’t want guys to hit home runs, but the celebration could still be considered somewhat over the top, if you are someone who worries about such things.
But Darling didn’t say a peep throughout the celebratory running of the bases. Despite his job requiring him to talk about baseball, he sat in stunned silence. At one point, the broadcast had a full 11 seconds of silence after play-by-play man Brian Anderson finished his call.
Perhaps at that point he was just apoplectic at what he had seen. A baseball player … playing baseball … and celebrating when he succeeds at baseball? That’s just too much.
Hopefully no kids were watching. That was just wrong.
The Red Sox and Yankees play Game 4 on Tuesday night. Ron Darling will once again be on the call. Let’s hope for his sake that neither team tries too hard. We don’t need anybody else getting offended.