The Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs wrapped up their season series Wednesday with a good old-fashioned plunk-fest. The Cubs paid back a day-old plunking imbalance by targeting Colorado’s best hitter, and the Rockies buzzed and/or plunked three different Cubs. The good news is, just as it was getting real stupid, Javy Baez came along and ended it with a badass dinger.
There’s some backstory, the most important parts of which took place Tuesday. Rockies pitcher Peter Lambert plunked Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant twice during a 10–3 Rockies win: first, with two away in the top of the third inning; and again with the first pitch of Bryant’s very next plate appearance, with two down in the top of the fifth. Neither one appeared to be intentional, as Cubs manager Joe Maddon made clear after the game:
“It appeared to me their young pitcher was trying to pitch inside, and that’s what I saw. Still, it’s going to bother you, no question. But I thought (Bryant) handled it great. So I think it’s a method they’re trying to get him out.”
In any other professional sport, “it’s going to bother you” would not register as a big red flag. This being baseball, that line can be interpreted to mean that the Cubs were not happy about the Rockies throwing recklessly inside, whether the HBPs were intentional or not, and when teams are unhappy about something like that they’ve got painful ways of expressing it. Rockies pitchers were still attacking inside Wednesday—Javy Baez was brushed back by a dangerous first-pitch fastball from Antonio Senzatela in the top half of the third inning—and the code of baseball makes it acceptable to discourage that stuff by coming way inside and plunking your opponent’s good hitters. Sure enough, in the bottom half of the inning Cubs starter Cole Hamels sent a first-pitch fastball high and tight toward Nolan Arenado, plunking him above his elbow. Arenado was pissed, and with good reason—the HBP would eventually force him out of the game.
After the game Arenado was more chill about it, saying he had a feeling after Tuesday’s game and the buzzing of Baez’s tower that he might see something inside. What upset him, beyond the “heat of the moment,” was that the pitch Hamels threw at him was as high as it was. But the plunking itself was all but a foregone conclusion. Whether the retaliatory HBP conformed strictly to baseball’s unwritten code or not, it set off an all-too-typical chain reaction. Hamels came up with two down in the top of the seventh and was hit on the foot by a cut fastball from Rockies reliever Bryan Shaw. Having directly punished the perpetrator of the Arenado HBP, the Rockies then sent a fastball into the rump of Anthony Rizzo in the top of the eighth, in what at least looked very much like an in-kind repayment for Arenado. The game was already well out of hand, with the Cubs up 8–0, and the Rockies had shifted over into petty payback mode.
But if there’s one above-board way of emphatically putting an end to this type of foolishness, it’s by immediately punishing an offending pitcher by socking his weak crap into the stratosphere. And that’s exactly what Baez did, four pitches after Rizzo was plunked—he reached down and smoked a Phillip Diehl slider 460 feet to left field, and made sure to take his time enjoying the view.
The Rockies and Cubs do not meet again this regular season. If Baez is lucky, everyone will have cooled down by this time next year and he will not face retaliatory chin music for the crime of having watched a cool-ass home run. But given the context, I wouldn’t bet on that.