When I see Porcello gave up only one hit, I think, both correctly and incorrectly: “If he didn’t give up that hit, he would have had given up no hits at all!” It’s true from an accounting standpoint, but less so in the real world, where every event is connected to the one before and after it. In the alternate universe where Logan Morrison doesn’t poke a first-inning shift-beating single to left, it’s possible and likely that Porcello gives up a hit thereafter, just because it’s always possible and likely that pitchers get tagged. (Max Scherzer gave up a homer to Colby Rasmus yesterday.) For the purposes of this column, though, LoMo’s single was the only thing standing between Porcello and a shot at history, and it was entirely preventable.
Chaos theory aside, Porcello probably didn’t have to face Morrison in that spot. He worked two quick outs early before Eduardo Escobar came to bat. The big-hitting lefty -- he has a .299/.351/.575 slash line with 12 homers -- dug in, his right arm hanging over the inside corner, Bryce Harper-style, and Porcello got him on the elbow:
If that looks intentional, it’s for good reason: It probably was. Escobar probably thought so:
We had a chance to talk to Eduardo Escobar in the #mntwins clubhouse after today's 9-2 loss to the Red Sox. He talked about being hit by a Rick Porcello pitch. More on @kare11.com ⬇️https://t.co/oaBViJESoM pic.twitter.com/a3IT1dG8V1— Brandon McCauley (@bpmccauley) June 21, 2018
As did his manager:
Paul Molitor was asked about Rick Porcello hitting Eduardo Escobar: “It didn’t look good.” Escobar was asked and said he wasn’t sure if Porcello hit him intentionally. #MNTwins— Dan Hayes (@DanHayesMLB) June 21, 2018
Let’s back up. In the top of the first inning, in the midst of a four-pitch walk, J.D. Martinez was brushed back pretty aggressively by Kyle Gibson, who otherwise matched Porcello’s brilliance for a few innings. When Escobar stepped into the box with two outs, Jerry Remy later surmised, Porcello saw the opportunity for revenge and took it. It was a purpose pitch that turned into a beanball, and now Escobar’s elbow looks like this:
Here is the bump on Escobar's elbow, Mollie on Escobar/Rosario/Porcello hitting Escobar, and Rosario declaring he will play tomorrow. All from the #MNTwins clubhouse after today's loss. More on @KSTP at 6:50 and 10:20. pic.twitter.com/Av9obHLmDn— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) June 21, 2018
Porcello has never been shy about enforcing the unwritten rules of baseball via brushback pitches, and it sure seems like he did so here. He probably wasn’t trying to hit Escobar, because the best way to do that is to aim for the butt, and Porcello didn’t aim for the butt. Instead, he threw the exact same up-and-in pitch Martinez had faced and clipped him. He did not seem surprised.
I was certainly not surprised. Porcello has done this before and will do this again, not just plunking a batter in retaliation for a perceived slight, but also finding himself in a jam afterward. It happened earlier in the year but I can’t find exactly when (if you remember, tell me in the comments). I would say Porcello just doesn’t learn, but I think the opposite is true. He knows what he’s doing. It’s me that refuses to learn.
Unwritten rules may not be explicit, but the math is part of Porcello’s code, and that of many pitchers. He’s a wins and losses guy, and the wins can’t come at the short- and long-term expense of his sense of his team’s safety, dignity and chance to win. That his concerns are overblown and are mathematically disadvantageous are baked into it all and no better or worse for the team, theoretically, than prescribed off-days that lead to awkward starting lineups -- one of the rare quirks of managing that survived from John Farrell to Alex Cora.
The difference is that hurling of baseballs at high speeds toward humans carries a significant risk of causing a direct injury or indirect one via a fight, but again, I think these are features of a brushback, not bugs. Teams need to let off steam, and pitchers, who live in their own headspace on and off the field, need to let off steam the only way they know how. I still hate when Porcello throws brushbacks, but if he’s not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, neither am I. Until, like, September. Then knock that shit off. Just know that your score settling isn’t free, because yesterday was an example of just how much you can stand to lose.