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Is the retaliation rule unfair?

Posted at 9:06 AM on June 11, 2007 by Chris Dall

I don't know how many of you caught the Cubs-Braves tilt on ESPN last night, but it was an interesting case study on MLB's zero tolerance policy on knockdown pitches, which has been an object of contention since umpires started applying the rule more strictly during the 2001. Under the rule, after a knockdown pitch occurs, an umpire can issue a warning to both teams not to throw at any more hitters, and if a pitcher retaliates, an ejection usually ensues.

In the first inning of last night's game, Cubs starter Ted Lilly was ejected after hitting Braves shortstop Edgar Renteria. The pitch, and the ejection, were most likely a result of an incident from the previous game, in which Braves pitcher Tim Hudson hit Alfonso Soriano. Some observers felt Hudson's pitch had something to do with Soriano hitting three home runs in the Friday night's 9-1 win over the Braves, though he claimed otherwise. Hudson was not tossed from Saturday's game, and according to the the ESPN announcers, no warnings were issued by the umpires prior to the Sunday night game.

So the Cubs were without out their starting pitcher after only two outs, and were forced to blow out their bullpen just to make it through the game. And during the next at-bat, Renteria stole second base and went in hard, so hard that his forearm ended up in the face of Cubs 2nd baseman Mike Fontenot. The Cubs fought gamely, but ended up losing 5-4.

Needless to say, Cubs fans are a bit ticked off. ESPN's Jon Miller and Joe Morgan both thought the ejection was unwarranted. Braves fans, on other hand, weren't too bothered. From MLB's perspective the ejection served the greater purpose of averting an ugly brawl, which might have been the result under the "let the players police the game" policy that had been in place prior to 2001.

As an objective fan (ok, not really. I can't stand the Braves), it seems the Cubs got hosed on this deal. One of their best hitters got knocked down, they lost their starting pitcher after two outs, and their second baseman nearly had his nose broken. The Braves, one could argue, instigated the whole thing (with Hudson's knockdown of Soriano) and got to retaliate too (with Renteria's slide into second), all without consequence. Does that seem fair?

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