MINNEAPOLIS — White Sox manager Tony La Russa apologized to the Twins for Yermin Mercedes swinging on a 3-0 count in the ninth inning of a blowout victory Monday and hitting a home run against Twins position player Willians Astudillo Monday night, an old school response to an unwritten rule of respecting opponents and not showing them up.
“Big mistake,” La Russa said. “Just about the time the guy started making the pitch I took several steps toward the field yelling ‘take, take, take!’ It looked to me like he was going to swing. I was upset, that’s not the time to swing, 3-0.
“There will be a consequence he has to endure here within our family.”
La Russa said third base coach Joe McEwing gave Mercedes the take sign. While La Russa sent a message to the Twins saying he was sorry, Mercedes wasn’t as apologetic.
And a lot of fans, if Monday reaction on social media is an indicator, say that there is no need for him to be.
“The Twins knew I was upset,” La Russa said. “Joe had given him the take sign. I just think Yermin was locked in, they know each other from different competitions and said, ‘I got to get him.’ ”
The homer came on a 47-mph lob pitch in the ninth inning and gave the Sox a 16-4 lead. Astudillo, who shot a glare or two toward the Sox dugout after the inning, retired the other three batters he faced. It was his third relief appearance in a season when teams are saving bullpens more and more by using position players in blowout games. Twins broadcasters saw it La Russa’s way, too.
“There will be a consequence he has to endure within our family,” La Russa said of Mercedes. “But it won’t happen again, Joe will be on the lookout and I will, too. We’ll go running in front of the pitcher if we have to.”
But Mercedes, who talked to media before La Russa, said he would continue playing the way he plays. He has six homers and is leading the American league in batting average, sporting a .364/.410/.574 hitting line.
“I’m going to play like that,” Mercedes said. “You know, I’m Yermin. I can’t be all of the players because if I change it, everything’s going to change. … We’re just having fun. It’s baseball.”
La Russa, the 76-year-old third-winningest manager of all time, will manage like he always has, adhering to the mindset of never show up an opponent. Part of his concern, he said, would be provoking the Twins to retaliate by throwing at a Sox hitter.
“He’s not going to do that again,” La Russa said. “I heard he said, ‘I play my game.’ No he doesn’t. He plays the game of Major League Baseball. Respects the game, respect the opponents and he has to respect the sign. When you get the take sign, take.”
On the flip side of La Russa’s take is the changing view of fans that baseball, in a changing environment where teams such as the Sox themselves roll with a “Change the Game” mantra, should emphasize fun. The matchup of a Twins fan favorite versus Mercedes, the AL Rookie of the Month for April, brought many fans at Target Field to their feet for the first time in a 16-4 loss.
One Sox player asked to comment declined, saying it was a “lose-lose” situation.
“My opinion is if you don’t want him to swing 3-0, don’t throw him a strike,” another player said. “There are unwritten rules in baseball but at the same time you’re throwing a position player out there and if you don’t like it, well, it is what it is.”
“I don’t ever want to give the other team an excuse to take a shot at one of our players,” La Russa said. “You say ‘unwritten rules,’ but they’re just common-sense. We were taught from Day 1: Respect the game, respect the competition, respect your opponent. And the way you respect is you both go out and play as hard and good as you can. And if someday, the other team is having a tough day, and the decision is final, then you don’t steal, you don’t hit 3-0. When is that? That’s every manager’s decision.”