Time To Do Some Plunkin’ In D.C.

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - April 19, 2006
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No one expects the Washington Nationals to do much this year. Picked to finish fourth in a five-team division, they are a squad with some bite in Alfonso Soriano and Jose Guillen, and Livan Hernandez, but not much else to get anyone excited - certainly nothing to challenge the Braves or the Mets for the division title.

But, that’s not the problem with D.C.‘s newest team.

The problem is that they’re soft.

Two weeks ago the Nationals became a three-time victim of a Pedro Martinez rib buster - twice to Guillen alone. In fact, the Mets pitchers rang up six Nationals batters for free passes. For whatever reason, the umpires saw no need to take any one of those pitchers out of the game, but that’s their problem. The reaction to all that chin music was the Nationals’ problem.

Faced with a pitcher hellbent on plunking his hitters, Nationals manager Frank Robinson did nothing. Well, he did very little. Washington reliever Felix Rodriguez did hit Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca in retaliation, and both Robinson and Rodriguez were tossed.

Following the game Robinson told the Associated Press, “I just wanted to get it out of the way. That way, it’s not hanging out there.”

Which is all fine and dandy, but nowhere near enough. Robinson needed to send a stronger message than having a middle reliever pop an average hitter. He needed to show the league that his team will stand up for itself.

Last Wednesday D.C. got that chance and chickened out. Facing Martinez for the second time in a week, the Nationals let him off with neither a bruise nor even a knock down during his three at bats.

It’s an unwritten rule as old as the game itself: You hit mine, I hit yours. Any opponent will do, but if the chance comes to get the guy who started the mess, you have to take it. Robinson owed it to his team to go after Martinez. If the manager wouldn’t order it, Washington pitcher Tony Armas Jr. should have taken it upon himself to deliver the shot.

Robinson is old school. One-room schoolhouse old. As a player no one was more intimidating, and if you think he’s since mellowed, just check the tape of last season’s 45-second staredown with home plate umpire Jim Wolf. Robinson was Bob Gibson with a Hall of Fame swing. The guy USA Today writer Steve DiMeglio said could “make an onion cry.” Great line, by the way. Don Baylor, a former teammate, said things were simple back in the day. You did exactly what Frank said. Period. Hopefully, nothing has changed.

Both teams were told before the game that they will be looked at hard this season because the league is tired of the two teams playing more beanball than baseball. That’s fine. Baseball is just doing what it has to do.

So should the Nationals. They need to send a message that the inside of the plate belongs to their hitters and that any attempt by their opponents to take it away with either brush backs or shots to the midsection will be met with the same.

Washington can do nothing about the superior talent of the teams ahead of them, but what they can do is let their opponents know that they are in for a fight. And if that means paying a fine to protect their hitters than so be it.

If the Nationals don’t toughen up, the other teams will take advantage of that and a season that will be difficult will become abysmal.

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