When Joey Votto looked back to find that his foul tip had been caught by Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli for strike three in the Top of the 3rd inning last night, it was easy to tell the Cincinnati Reds 1B was fuming.
Votto spiked his helmet, ripped off his batting gloves, and the course of events that followed featured an one-sided exchange with Gerrit Cole and, apparently, his ejection from the game. He erupted when he discovered he'd been ejected, bumped home plate umpire Chris Conroy, and admitted as much to the media after the game.
But what was it that had him so irate in the first place?
Though the clip above doesn't capture the actions of all parties involved, other camera angles have shown that Cole appears to look at Votto while walking to his own dugout, but never appears to say anything. They weren't conclusive enough to confirm whether he was staring Votto down or merely watching to see what all the fuss was about, but they showed enough for us to know that the only one doing any talking was Votto himself.
"You pitch, I'll hit," Votto appeared to say (with a 'falconhunter' or so nestled in there, as well).
"It's on me."
We can debate the merits of yelling those things at an opposing pitcher all we want, but I get the gist that the nexus of Votto's frustration was pretty well spelled out in that initial outburst.
Let's roll back to the Top of the 1st inning. Both Billy Hamilton and Marlon Byrd had singled to start the game, and they both took off for a successful double steal with Votto at the plate and nobody out. That set up the Reds' best hitter with a perfect chance to get the team on the board early against the recently tabbed National League Pitcher of the Month. The rest of the PA went in Cole's favor, though, as he pounded three consecutive fastballs inside at 97, 97, and 96 miles per hour before a devastating 87 mph slider on the inside of the zone crossed up Votto and induced a weak check swing grounder that didn't score anyone.
Votto's second PA - the one that ended with him getting tossed - was much simpler, though. Cole hummed three straight fastballs at 96, 97, and 97 miles per hour, and after the first was taken for a borderline strike, Votto swung and missed at the next two (the last of which was a foul tip). Couple those two PAs with the three from their meeting on April 8th in Cincinnati, and so far in 2015 Votto is 0 for 5 with 3 Ks, a check swing dribbler, and a weakly hit jam shot ground out to 3B.
In other words, despite Votto's health being intact and the bulk of his 2015 season having reminded everyone of his MVP peak, his matchups with Gerrit Cole have been anything but successful. Maybe more importantly, they haven't been successful because of Cole's ability to continually challenge Votto, not because Votto has had meaty pitches to hit over the plate and has simply not connected to his liking.
I'm sure that's frustrating, yet in a vacuum it shouldn't be enough to incite that kind of rage in a guy as accomplished as Votto. But I get the impression that it's not a vacuum-sealed incident for Votto, and that it's a byproduct of the knee and leg issues that derailed his 2014 season entirely and put a damper on his power output for some two plus years since his meniscus tear in the summer of 2012.
FanGraphs' Eno Sarris had a chance to talk with both Votto and his hobbled-knee buddy Jay Bruce just two months ago, and while the focus initially was on the fundamental issues that come with having strength sapped from a batter's back leg, the always introspective Votto dropped in a few quotes that make it seem like the mental side of his injuriy was just as frustrating.
"I think the thing that made me most annoyed that nobody was afraid of me. It was constant attacking," Votto said.
"I was up at bat yesterday and you know people yell things from the stands, and someone was like 'just attack him.' And I thought to myself the reason they don't attack me is that I punish people. But I couldn't do that last year."
Fortunately, we've all been able to see a healthy Votto back in action so far in 2015, one who has largely put to rest the constant inane chatter about his "approach" and who has most certainly earned the right to think of himself as a hitter to be feared by everyone. But so far, Gerrit Cole hasn't yet caught wind of these developments, and he just so happens to be one of the few pitchers in ownership of a flamethrowing arm capable of pitching to Votto accordingly. Cole has attacked him, pounded him inside, and not just gotten away with it...he's flourished with it.
So perhaps what we saw bubble over last night was a fifth consecutive frustrating ending to a matchup with Cole cause Joey Votto's brains to boil just a bit, and when brains get to boiling they make helmets both too hot to wear and too hot to handle. When brains are boiling, telling them bad news - such as "hey, you've been ejected because of a misunderstanding, and sorry I didn't say it loud enough for you to hear" - usually doesn't go over too well, and Votto's case was no different.
One silver lining we may see in this is that pitchers with lesser talent than NL Pitcher of the Month and former number one overall draft pick Gerrit Cole may now think they can challenge Votto inside. Frankly, I hope they try, and if they do, I suggest buying a lot of outfield tickets this summer, since there'll be a pile of Votto dinger souvenirs flying your way.