In the first inning of tonight's Braves-Cubs game, Ted Lilly plunked Edgar Renteria, possibly in retaliation for Alfonso Soriano getting hit by a pitch to lead off yesterday's game. After Renteria was hit, home plate ump Jim Wolf appeared to issue warnings to both benches. When Lilly came to argue with Wolf, he was tossed from the game.
Though it's obviously impossible to determine Lilly's intentions, it certainly seems the beaning was done on purpose. Though many expected Andruw Jones to receive the retaliation, it makes more sense to hit Renteria with two outs and nobody on base rather than Jones to lead off an inning, because it is far less likely to lead to an Atlanta run.
Now, I'm not in favor of intentionally hitting anyone, even though it may be a necessary part of the game, as J.C. Bradbury argued in his book The Baseball Economist. However, if you have a system in place where pitchers are warned before receiving an ejection, then either warn the pitchers before the game or don't eject a pitcher for the first infraction.
When you have one set of rules in practice and decide to enforce another, bad things happen, like the Merkle Boner. I know that this is a judgment call, so MLB can't really standardize the rules, but they should still make an attempt.
Renteria then tried to steal second. As he slid in safely, it was fairly clear that he gave a forearm to Cubs second baseman Mike Fontenot. For this, Renteria went unpunished, although believers in poetic justice will note that he left the game later with a bruised hand.
At this point, a friend said to me, "There's going to be a fight before this game is over." I agreed; this was an action designed to escalate the situation, and I thought that was exactly what would happen. If the umpires were willing to eject Lilly without advance warning, why not Renteria as well? A hit by pitch should not have different standards from other plays.
Did Lilly's ejection cost the Cubs the game? It's impossible to tell, but certainly it hurt the Cubs' chances of winning, and it further taxed an already tired bullpen. The Cubs now go into their matchup with Houston tomorrow having thrown over 15 relief innings in the past two games.