David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
While Robinson Cano is waiting around for his $200-million payday, he might want to step off the bag. Either that, or he could land on the disabled list for the start of his stretch run toward free agency.
Apparently, here at the World Baseball Classic, no one got the memo about allowing Cano to sashay around second base with impunity. Just because Cano often makes plays look effortless, it doesn't mean opponents should let him off easy.
By his own count, Cano was spiked three times Tuesday during the Dominican Republic's 5-4 win over Italy. It didn't ruin his day. Cano homered, Jose Reyes also went deep and the DR rallied from a 4-0 first-inning deficit to take the lead for good on Nelson Cruz's two-out single in the seventh inning.
But when Nick Punto clipped Cano with his slide to end the top of the seventh on a 6-4 forceout, a clearly annoyed Cano turned his head and stared at him rather than jog off the field.
It made for a tense few moments. After what happened with the ugly brawl between Mexico and Canada, we've learned things can escalate quickly. Punto defused the situation, however, by popping up off the ground, saying he was sorry and slapping Cano on the butt.
Punto apologized, but he didn't do anything wrong. Since when is sliding hard into second base a crime? Punto didn't go after Cano, who was standing on top of the base and pretty much got what he deserved. Cano is smart enough to know that, but he still behaved like some kind of victim.
"He can look all he wants -- it's good, hard baseball," said Mike Piazza, the hitting coach for Italy. "There's a difference between hard baseball and dirty baseball. I don't think it was a dirty play. Make the play and get off the bag.
"At this point, every game is important, every inning is important. If the guy bobbles the ball, and he's not going in hard, you could hurt your team."
Routine or not, Punto charged for second with the mind-set that the play wasn't over until it was over. Italy led 4-2, and stranger things have happened. Evidently, Italy's max-effort approach didn't sit well with Cano.
"I was upset because it was the third time," Cano said. "I don't care if you slide in a double play. But when it's a forceout at second base, the last thing you want is to get hurt like that.
"[Punto] says, 'You know, I don't want to hurt you.' But that's the third time. I don't want anybody to get me hurt or anything like that because they just want to slide hard."
Here's a simple solution, Robby: Move out of the way. Cano has taken some criticism over the years for his nonchalant, too-cool-for-school approach, but he's so super talented, it rarely, if ever, burns him.
For Punto, and the other 99 percent, the game is played differently. Punto is a 12-year big-league veteran, so it's not as if he grew up in Sicily and gave up soccer for baseball. When asked if he would have peeled off on that play if this had been one game out of 162 during the regular season, he shook his head. "Not me," Punto said. " . . . I'm trying to be safe -- that's it. I was just going as hard as I could."
Even Cano's former manager, Team USA's Joe Torre, seemed to side with Punto. "As long as you don't come in with the cleats up and looking to hurt somebody or cut somebody," Torre said. "If you slide hard into second base, it's really that second baseman or shortstop's job to try to do things a little different so they're not too predictable -- and get out of the way."
Maybe Cano is a little more sensitive about staying in one piece now that the Yankees' roster is so beat up. But for him to take offense at Italy's by-the-book effort while the Dominicans partied like New Year's Eve after every base hit was hypocritical. "There's been some enhanced theatrics in this series," Piazza said. "It's not what we're used to, but you've got to go with it."
Maybe the WBC has a different attitude. But baseball is baseball, and Cano shouldn't be angry with people who want to play it the right way.