Having to watch Rhys Hoskins’ super slo-mo victory lap Wednesday figured to be punishment enough for Jacob Rhame, who enraged the Phillies first baseman the previous night by going double-barrel with a pair of 98-mph fastballs up around his noggin.
Justice was served, right? Hoskins not only got his revenge by taking Rhame into the leftfield seats, he stretched out the moment for as long as humanly possible, taking a Statcast-record 34.23 seconds to jog around the bases.
The Phillies won the game, 6-0, and enjoyed every morsel of karmic payback. What was left?
But to Major League Baseball, this was a teachable moment, and the lesson was handed down Thursday afternoon by sticking Rhame with a two-game suspension for “intentionally throwing a pitch in the area of the head” of Hoskins.
Joe Torre, the league’s czar of discipline, easily could have said two pitches. Rhame threw the first one entirely behind Hoskins, roughly neck-high. The next went over his head, prompting Hoskins to fling his bat away in disgust before walking to first.
All this happened with two outs in the ninth inning, and the Mets leading 5-1, so it was the perfect low-risk spot for retaliation, if they were indeed still peeved about having both Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil drilled in Monday’s series opener. But plate umpire Scott Barry didn’t eject Rhame and only warned both benches.
So why the harsh penalty? Just consider this part of MLB’s ongoing push to curtail such potentially harmful behavior, and it didn’t matter that Rhame failed to hit Hoskins. Torre already had a handful of precedents to choose from, primarily by starting pitchers.
The most recent was just two weeks earlier, when the Pirates’ Chris Archer gunned a fastball behind the Reds’ Derek Dietrich. Finding the flashpoint in that feud wasn’t quite as nuanced as the Rhame-Hoskins case, however. Two innings before, Dietrich hit a towering blast off Archer that flew out of PNC Park and splashed down in the Allegheny River. Dietrich dropped his bat, rocked back on his heels, then lingered in the box to admire the ball’s flight.
The next time up, Archer sent the first pitch sailing behind his backside, around waist-high, so the message was clear. Still, plate umpire Jeff Kellogg only issued warnings to both sides, and Archer remained in the game. Afterward, he told reporters that he “missed my spot.”
Regardless, Torre’s ruling was that Archer’s actions were intentional and he received a five-game suspension, which is typical for a starting pitcher. Even so, Archer didn’t hit Dietrich or even throw up around his head. Firing a pitch behind him was enough. And Archer ultimately dropped his appeal, serving the whole five games.
Going a little further back, to September 2017, the Astros’ Mike Fiers received a five-game suspension for throwing a pitch way over the head of the Angels’ Luis Valbuena. The only chance it had of hitting Valbuena was if he were sitting in the fifth row. Still, you didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to determine guilt in this investigation. Three innings before, Valbuena executed a monster bat flip, and Fiers displayed his irritation the next time up. Again, the umpire only issued warnings, but Fiers sealed his fate with his postgame comments that day.
“What he did to me, I took it as disrespect,” Fiers said then. “When you do something like that, as disrespectful as he did, you’ve got to send some kind of message.”
Not a lot of plausible deniability in that statement. The other incident that comes to mind involved the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman, in September 2014, when he fired a fastball around the head area of the Orioles’ Caleb Joseph. The possible motivation? Joseph blocked the plate with Jose Reyes trying to score, and stepped on his hand in the process.
Stroman wasn’t ejected, but O’s manager Buck Showalter called his behavior “borderline professionally embarrassing.” Stroman denied any wrongdoing, saying, “I would never intentionally throw at anyone.” The league sided with Showalter, but the initial six-game suspension was trimmed down to five on appeal.
Where does all this leave Rhame? At the moment, up in Syracuse, as the Mets’ reliever was optioned before Friday night’s game against the Brewers. But he also is appealing the two-game suspension, which won’t be served until he’s summoned back to Flushing.
Unlike a few of the previous cases, Rhame did maintain some wiggle room for a defense, but MLB clearly is growing less tolerant of such attacks. Plus, both Rhame and Mickey Callaway didn’t try to duck responsibility. Rather than go with the typical excuses, they offered no apologies, and even showed some teeth when faced with the questions afterward.
Told of Hoskins’ anger, Rhame replied: “What do I make of it? He’s probably pretty [ticked]. I was throwing pretty hard.”
On Wednesday, Callaway said he didn’t believe the Mets were being purposely targeted — despite his players being hit 15 times this season — but they were ready for whatever fallout ensued.
“Obviously, if you feel people are throwing at you intentionally, you probably feel the need to protect your players,” Callaway said. “But I think at this point, we just go out there and beat people and win.”
Whatever is expressed publicly after these episodes, MLB really doesn’t have much choice but to come down hard on offenders. And at the highest level of the sport, pitchers don’t accidentally throw behind hitters — unless the conditions are extremely poor, like a soggy mound or slippery ball.
Hoskins had reason to be furious at Rhame on Tuesday night, and both teams reached the dugout dirt as tempers briefly flared. Fortunately, no one wound up hurt in the aftermath — or in the series finale — with only Rhame’s ego getting bruised by Hoskins’ blast and subsequent stroll.
By suspending Rhame, MLB is hoping the matter is closed before the Mets visit the Phillies next month. But we won’t truly know for sure until that series starts.