A wild pitch, Brandon Phillips and two ejections
As he was getting dressed into street clothes after Saturday night's 5-1 loss to Cincinnati, Washington relief pitcher Miguel Batista glanced up at the group of reporters converging on his locker stall and deadpanned: "What happened?"
Batista knew full well the line of questioning that was to come. He knew he would be asked about hitting Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips in the ribs with a 93-mile per hour fastball in the top of the ninth inning, about his ensuing ejection from the game and whether the pitch was an premeditated response to Phillips' showmanship during the previous inning.
So Batista let slip a grin, and then began to deliver his take on a sequence of plays that had little - if any - effect on the outcome of the game, but was the center of attention regardless.
Did Batista hit Phillips intentionally?
"No, just playing baseball," Batista said with a straight face. "Everybody knows Phillips, you got to go way in and way out. To be honest, I throw mostly fastballs, like I did to Cabrera. The only difference is with (Phillips) you have to go way in, and that one got away. I mean, he knows he did wrong. He got booed by the fans, so we're here to win. We're not here to be fine with everybody who do wrong against us. Everybody thinks we're walking on egg shells here because of all the things that have been going on around the league and players are very sensitive, but no. We're just here to play baseball."
The whole ordeal began in the top of the eighth with a 91-mile per hour fastball to Joey Votto dealt by reliever Sean Burnett. The wild pitch skirted behind home plate, sending Phillips - who had singled in the previous at-bat - racing toward second base.
Shortstop Ian Desmond said he figured at the time that with as hard as Phillips was running and with as wide a turn as he took around second, Phillips likely was headed for third. So, standing in the basepath, Desmond turned and began to run in the direction of third base, as well. He said he was planning to back up the play at third.
Phillips "was pretty much coming after me," Desmond said. "He was obviously trying to come after me for the obstruction. I just ran to third. And I thought I did all I could to get out of the way, but, you know, I guess it wasn't enough."
When asked to clarify if he meant to say Phillips was intentionally trying to come into contact with Desmond, the shortstop replied in the affirmative.
"If you're a good baserunner that's the kind of stuff you look for," Desmond said. "You look for opportunities like that to advance to the next base. I don't think he did anything wrong. It was just I couldn't really go anywhere else. If I slowed down, he would have ran into me. If I went left he would have ran into me. He did it right. It was the right call. What are you going to do?"
Phillips and Desmond made brief contact between second and third base, at which point third base umpire Dan Bellino immediately signaled fielder interference. The throw from catcher Wil Nieves to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was in time, but Phillips was ruled safe due to the called obstruction.
In the dugout, Manager Jim Riggleman caught only a glimpse of the contact between Phillips and Desmond. He said he was more focused on the wild pitch and Nieves's efforts to retrieve it.
Nonetheless, he marched onto the field to object to the interference ruling. Riggleman said the explanation he was provided - that there was contact - was unsatisfactory. Riggleman was ejected from the game.
"I'm arguing somewhat blindly," Riggleman said. "I didn't really know what took place, but I know the explanation that I got didn't satisfy me, so I argued that. It just didn't make a lot of sense to me. I just basically am arguing on behalf of the ball club, and if you do enough of that you're going to get thrown out."
Votto walked three pitches later. Scott Rolen then hit a grounder to Desmond, who rifled a throw home in an attempt to get Phillips out at the plate. Nieves said the throw was "a little bit to the side," which forced him to lose track briefly of Phillips. The catcher never secured the ball in the pocket of his glove, and Nieves said when he turned back toward Phillips to make the tag, he didn't know how far away Phillips was.
Or, in this case, how close Phillips was. Phillips collided with Nieves, forcing the ball loose from the tip of Nieves's mitt. The runner was ruled safe.
As Phillips walked away from home plate he did some gesticulating that the Nationals didn't particularly care for.
"I think it's part of the game," Nieves said. "It was no problem with me when he run me over. It's part of the game. What he did after, you know, is what I didn't like. It looked like he scored a touchdown or something the way he celebrated ... I thought it was really unprofessional."
As Phillips dug into the batter's box with two outs in the ninth inning, Nieves said Phillips asked him, "Are you okay, Papi?" Nieves still was too upset about Phillips's showboating the previous inning to respond.
"He's that kind of guy that he's a good guy out of the field," Nieves said. "Maybe if you play with him you like him. But if you play against him, the things he does you kind of don't like it. I'm pretty sure he's a great guy off the field ... But maybe when he hit me and the whole situation he got really happy and that's the way he did it. But I'm pretty sure he knew he did it wrong. Hopefully. And hopefully he won't do it again."
Nieves said Phillips knew what was going to happen next. Desmond said everyone at Nationals Park knew what was going to happen next.
Batista's first offering drilled Phillips in the side. Nieves said Phillips did not say a word as he trotted down to first base.
"We didn't throw it at his head," Nieves said. "We hit him in the ribs. I think everybody in the ballpark kind of knew that that was going to happen. So he got hit, and I thought he got hit where he was supposed to. Not in the head. Obviously, we don't play like that. Miguel hit him in a good spot."
Crew chief Joe West, who was working behind home plate Saturday night, immediately ejected Batista from the game.
"In that kind of situation it looks suspicious, but Joe West is doing his job," Batista said. "If it looks suspicious he has the right to throw me out, but he was the only one that thought it was intentional. His bench was quiet. Ours was quiet after he threw me out. If you notice, there was a couple of pitches inside to Cabrera. He swung. Phillips, he actually got hit."
When asked if he felt he should have been warned, rather than tossed, Batista said:
"The way they got umpires now they don't actually give them enough room to call the game the way it is. They want everything to be too professional, and they're taking the human part of it. Pitchers make mistakes, throw the wrong pitch, guys will drop the ball, umpires will make a bad call, but that's what makes the game human. And I believe sometimes they're getting too much pressure to get things under control, and now sometimes you can't pitch too much inside, and as a pitcher you're just trying to back up a guy off the plate. If you're going to back him up, you have to throw way in just to scare him off. But they got orders to follow, and we got a game to win."
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