Rarely, almost never, does a major league pitcher admit to hitting a batter on purpose. He would just get fined or suspended or both. And seldom do baseball broadcasters call out pitchers — particularly ones from the team they cover — for such behavior. The broadcaster either works for the team or still feels like he's on it.
Right-hander Frank Francisco of the New York Mets stuck to the manual Thursday afternoon, saying his plunking of Washington's Jayson Werth was not intentional. It sure looked intentional, though, and Mets broadcaster Ron Darling held Francisco accountable. And he didn't mince words in doing so.
Werth reacted angrily after Francisco hit him in the back with a 3-0 pitch with no outs in the top of the eighth inning, and Darling said he had reason to.
"Boy, that was obvious," Darling said. "For you folks at home — and you hear me all the time say 'That wasn't intentional.' Well, this one was intentional."
Gary Cohen, his broadcast partner, asked Darling why Francisco would do such a thing with his team trailing by three runs and a Nationals runner already at second base.
"Because he's a fool — that's why," Darling said.
Hello! Other than that, Mr. Darling, how did you like the pitch?
"I mean, that's the silliest thing I've ever seen," Darling continued. "Base open, behind in the count, nails him in the back. You know what that does? It gets one of your players hit in the next inning. Put [Francisco] up to bat next inning.
"These things aren't forgotten, and if it's not forgotten this season it won't be next year, either."
Nats pitchers never retaliated but, sure enough, Werth executed an aggressive takeout slide on infielder Ruben Tejada at second base one batter later. Tejada was lucky, the Mets broadcasters said, that he wasn't injured. Werth got revenge on his own.
"That's how you answer," said Darling, himself a longtime pitcher with the Mets and others.
Now, this is not to endorse Werth reacting emotionally and — apparently — trying to hurt another Mets player. He probably wouldn't have felt OK about it if Tejada had been seriously hurt. But what Werth did was understandable, given the heat of the moment. And if you side with Darling, Francisco started it all by throwing a baseball at Werth.
After the game, Francisco — who was making his third appearance of the season after healing an elbow injury — made his denials. Manager Terry Collins said he, too, didn't think it was on purpose. He's got other things to worry about anyway.
Francisco probably didn't realize it, but Friday is the anniversary of his most infamous moment in the major leagues: As a rookie with the Texas Rangers in 2004, he participated in a brawl with fans at the Oakland Coliseum. Francisco's the guy who threw a folding chair and broke a female fan's nose. He was arrested and sued.
— Jeff Lackinghair (@FreeBald) September 12, 2013
It's kind of dogged him for his entire career, though he's never acted out in that way again. Yeah, you'd hope not. He's actually been more funny, or silly, than anything. But his reputation also is one of unpredictability, and it's probably one of several reasons why Darling assumed Francisco hit Werth on purpose. Werth didn't say anything after the game, but if you read his lips as he walked to first after getting hit, he said: "That's [messed] up."
"He can say whatever he wants," Francisco said [of Werth]. "I was trying to locate my pitches and obviously I was all over the place."
Asked if he had any history with Werth, Francisco added: "I haven't hit a guy in two years, bro."
It's possible he's telling the truth. But if a guy can lose his cool enough to throw a chair at a fan, it follows that he'd hit a guy on purpose if he was frustrated about being unable to find the strike zone. We'll never get inside his mind, and that's OK. But it's fun to listen to guys like Darling try.