Inside story: In pitched battle, fists fly

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

May 06, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff WriterNew York Times News Service

NEW YORK — For 125 years, the centerpiece of major-league baseball has been the war of wills between pitcher and batter, the endless guessing game of whether the pitcher will throw a 3-2 fastball and where the hitter expects a pitch.

But, in recent weeks, the war has leapt from the mental plain to the physical, with batters and pitchers confronting each other with more than just their wits.

Monday night, the Phillies and Padres emptied their benches at Veterans Stadium after San Diego pitcher Andy Ashby, a former Phillie, hit Mariano Duncan in the second inning, then fired a pitch at Duncan's chin in the fourth.

The next night, three more players from those teams were hit by pitches, one of which struck San Diego outfielder Phil Plantier on the wrist, forcing him to leave the game.

Not to feel left out, the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox staged their own little rugby scrum in the third inning Tuesday night at Fenway Park. Seattle's Eric Anthony charged the mound when Red Sox pitcher Paul Quantrill walked him intentionally.

Quantrill, who had come in to replace the injured Frank Viola, had thrown a wild pitch behind Anthony earlier in the count and the two exchanged words that led to a scuffle as the Seattle outfielder made his way to first.

"The only guy that was under me was Anthony, and I felt bad for him," Quantrill told The Associated Press. "He had about 100 guys on top of him, and both of us were down there looking at each other. We didn't say anything. We were too busy trying to swat each other."

Even the normally placid Orioles have been involved in minor dustups, with the Mariners and the Angels, with the most serious incident coming when Chris Hoiles was plunked on the helmet by California's Scott Lewis on April 27.

Why is "Let's get ready to rumble" threatening to replace "Play Ball" as the call of choice to start ball- games?

The answer has two separate, but equally combustible parts: pitchers' desire to reclaim the inside part of the plate and batters' anger when an inside pitch strays too far.

"It [pitching inside] is part of the game," Plantier said. "When I face a left-hander sometimes, I know in my mind I try to hang in there as much as I can. And when you do that, it's a little harder to get away."

But the hitters' ire is compounded when a "purpose" pitch, intended to back a batter away from the plate, or in response, perhaps, to a home run in a previous at-bat, comes in at or around his head.

"That's baseball," Anthony said. "But if he is going to throw above my shoulders, he's jeopardizing my living."

However, pitchers reply that batters charge at the slightest provocation, without considering the game situation.

Witness the most notorious brawl of the season, an April 13 slugfest in Montreal, when the Expos' Pedro Martinez hit the Cincinnati Reds' Reggie Sanders with an 0-2 pitch in the eighth.

Even though Martinez had retired 22 batters to that point and lost a perfect game bid by hitting Sanders, the Reds' outfielder took umbrage and went after the pitcher.

Sanders received a five-game suspension and a hefty fine from National League president Leonard Coleman but continued to maintain that Martinez -- who was involved in another scuffle last week when San Diego's Derek Bell charged the mound after Martinez threw an 0-2 fastball under his chin -- had thrown at him.

"I don't want to see anyone get hurt, but that stuff happens," Seattle manager Lou Pinella told The Associated Press.

"The hitters are more sensitive, and tempers will flare." NEW YORK -- Gene Orza, associate general counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said yesterday that he and National League president Leonard Coleman will hold discussions with players to find out why hitters are charging the mound so often this season.

"The time has come for some heavy thinking to see what we can do to curtail the incidents," Orza said. "Someone's going to get seriously hurt one of these times."

Orza said he expected American League president Bobby Brown to participate in the arrangement.

Brown was not in his office late yesterday to comment on the idea.

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