By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Nothing like a few fastballs at the head to make life interesting.
Detroit Tigers reliever Luke Putkonen threw behind the head of Alexei Ramirez, Ramirez charged the mound, and chaos ensued in what was then a 4-3 game in the series finale Thursday.
The umpires promptly ejected Putkonen, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland went ballistic. He tore into all four officials, incensed that they had thrown out his pitcher without issuing any warning, especially since White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale had buzzed Prince Fielder earlier in the game – right after Miguel Cabrera hit a solo homer off Sale the previous at bat.
Sale said it was accidental.
“I wasn’t trying to send a message, I wasn’t even trying to back him off the plate, honestly,” Sale said. “Going out there and doing something childish like that, that’s not who I am. That’s not what I do.”
Sale also said he felt bad that Ramirez got hit – if Putkonen’s throw was intentional – because of his pitch. He watched it on video after the game, confirming what he already knew.
“From the outside looking in, it doesn’t look good,” Sale said. “Even on the mound I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not good.’”
Tigers reliever Phil Coke had a different perspective on whether Sale’s throw was purposeful, mainly because Sale’s control looked excellent to him before and after the throw at Prince.
“The first pitch almost hits Prince in the face,” Coke said. “The next hitter, he’s ‘Bam!’ He’s dotting it … Same thing to Prince right there in the same at bat – not the next hitter, in the same at bat. He just starts darting down and away.”
Tigers catcher Brayan Pena chalked up the incident to boys being boys, even though Ramirez’s reaction surprised him.
“It’s just baseball,” Pena said.
Coke was not letting it go so easily. The key points of aggravation for him – and presumably Leyland, who did not speak to the media at all after the game – were the ejection of Putkonen despite no warnings being issued and the fact that Ramirez remained in the game.
“Who took first action after the pitch?” Coke asked. “He was the aggressor, yes? Usually the aggressor gets tossed, yes?”
Putkonen had little comment after the game but said multiple times that he did not mean to hit Ramirez. Coke seconded Putkonen’s statement.
“I think if Luke was trying to hit him, he would have smoked him,” Coke said. “I seriously do. The guy throws 95 and he can throw it wherever he wants whenever he wants. I don’t think he tried to hit him. I don’t.”
Coke and Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez both mentioned this is the second time in two weeks a Detroit pitcher has gotten in trouble for a high-and-tight throw when opposing pitchers took similar action first and were not penalized.
On June 30 Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello threw at Ben Zobrist after Tampa Bay Ray Fernando Rodney had done the same thing to Cabrera the previous game. Rodney received no punishment, but Porcello got a five-game suspension.
“It is what it is,” Martinez said. “It’s over, so we turn the page and come back tomorrow.”
Coke was less diplomatic.
“Everybody’s able to do whatever they want to us, but if something goes the other way, everybody gets all upset,” Coke said. “Everybody wants to get in the middle of it instead of letting it play itself out. If [Ramirez] gets hit right there, okay, so what, it’s over. There’s no reason to toss anybody. Then issue the warning, then everybody’s good.”