Dunlap: Kingham In A Tough Spot Tonight

Richard Rodriguez forced Kingham into a no-win situation

Colin Dunlap
May 29, 2018 - 11:48 am

© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Rodriguez didn't handle business. 

Now it becomes Nick Kingham's business. Business that never should have fallen onto the plate of Kingham because, well, Rodriguez should have handled it. 

Of course I'm talking about what should have been done in the aftermath of Cubs first baseman (and noted good guy) Anthony Rizzo swooping in Monday afternoon and doing something seemingly out of character and ridiculous as he wiped out Pirates catcher Elias Diaz with a wholly unnecessary take-out slide at home plate.

Rizzo deviated from his normal course of travel with the sole intention of crashing into a blindsided Diaz even as Diaz had given Rizzo ample --- and by rules --- room and a path to slide into home. It was dirty. It was late. It was unnecessary. It was disaster averted as Diaz doesn't appear to be injured. It was a play baseball has made a point to try to eradicate, even as they got the call on the field (and then on replay review) wrong. 

It was also a play that should have spawned a quick and very pointed response from the Pittsburgh Pirates, most notably Rodriguez. If it was "old school" or "hard-nosed" of Rizzo to go in there the way he did at Diaz, it would have been the exact same to plunk Rizzo during his next at-bat. That's what you do in this eye-for-an-eye baseball world. That's how you play it when you see your catcher prone in the grass on his chest protector clutching his leg, unsure of how badly he's injured. That's what you do when your manager gets tossed because he's upset that one of their guys went after your guy with a very iffy slide.

If Rizzo was "playing the game the right way" in his eyes, then so too is getting immediate retribution. Rodriguez should have gotten that retribution in the ninth inning when Rizzo came to bat with first base open (after a wild pitch) in a 5-0 game. He should have made Rizzo wear one. The right way. In the backside from the belt loop area down, going by that sometimes-archaic baseball code. 

Instead, know what happened? 

Ball.

Ball.

Foul ball.

Foul ball.

Bases-clearing double.

What? What in the world just happened. If there was ever a time in all of Rodriguez's career where the stars aligned perfectly to drill someone, it was in that AB with Anthony Rizzo. And it should have happened. It definitely should have happened. It was then to have Diaz's back.  

A huge point in all of this is whether or not Rodriguez was given a directive --- by Tom Prince, Joey Cora or someone else left on the Pirates bench --- to not hit Rizzo. Such a directive would take the onus off Rodriguez and make you wonder why in the world Hurdle and his staff would be OK with getting emasculated by the Cubs time and again. If there was no directive given, you have to wonder about how Rodriguez is viewed by his teammates, most of all Diaz. 

Either way, the point is, you have to wonder. You have to wonder why in the world Rizzo didn't catch a fastball in the buttocks on Memorial Day. 

Someone with a gold 'P' on their cap failed. Someone did. It is just a matter of who. But make no mistake, someone failed. 

And with all of that it spins forward to Tuesday night and leaves Nick Kingham --- who had positively zero to do with this situation --- left to clean up a mess he never should be involved in. Kingham will be making his fourth career start. He's fighting for his Major League Baseball life and future at 26 years old. He wants to be a steadfast and reliable part of the big league rotation. He wants to show everyone he can have success at this level. He wants to handle his own business. He wants to make a good impression on both the bosses in his organization and his teammates while at the same time pitching well. 

How does he satisfy all of those? Truth is, it might be impossible to tonight. 

Should Kingham plunk Rizzo and potentially derail a good outing all for the sake of getting even on some "baseball code" scoreboard as well as staying in good graces with his teammates? I mean, you got to be a team guy first, right? 

Should he just go out and pitch and ignore the events of Monday, risking his teammates arriving at a point where they think he doesn't have their back? I mean, that wasn't his mess anyway, right? 

What if he's given a directive to not hit Rizzo? Should he do it anyway, realizing his reputation in the clubhouse and with his teammates could be bolstered astronomically by such an action? 

It is all so complicated. This will all be such a puzzling proposition on Tuesday night for Nick Kingham when Rizzo steps in. 

Know what? It shouldn't be. It shouldn't have even fallen to him. Richard Rodriguez had the chance to do something about Diaz getting clipped and his inactivity --- whether he decided himself or was directed to not act --- made this situation one in which now involves Kingham. 

Someone failed. Someone owes Nick Kingham and apology that he now has to deal with all this.

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