TBS analyst Ron Darling raised eyebrows, if not ire, during Game 3 of the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees playoff series by declaring himself offended at Boston’s attempts to tack on more runs while already holding a large lead. Meanwhile, a few comments by the former major league pitcher during the series have offended others.
Most notably, Darling received criticism for being insensitive in analyzing the outing Saturday by Masahiro Tanaka, a Japanese pitcher who started for the Yankees in Game 2. “A little chink in the armor for Tanaka here,” Darling said (via Yahoo Sports). “It’s the first inning where he’s lost a little of his control.”
“Earlier tonight I used an expression while referencing Masahiro Tanaka’s recent pitching performance,” Darling, who is of Hawaiian-Chinese descent on his mother’s side, said in a statement. “While unintentional, I apologize for my choice of words.”
It wasn’t a turn of phrase that irked many viewers Monday so much as an apparent return to an informal code that Major League Baseball itself is eager to move past. With the visiting Red Sox up 10-1 over the Yankees in the fifth inning of a game that would end in a 16-1 rout, Darling reacted with some surprise when Boston’s Andrew Benintendi stole second.
“Well, I guess from the school of not taking anything for granted. You don’t usually see that,” the 58-year-old analyst said on TBS’s telecast (via Awful Announcing). “In the postseason, maybe. Regular season, never.”
Benintendi then went too far, in Darling’s eyes, in the seventh inning, with the Red Sox still leading 10-1. The 24-year-old outfielder swung at a 3-0 pitch, and although he was only able to foul it off for his first strike, Darling expressed dismay at the scene.
“So I was saying before that, on a 10-1 score, Benintendi took off to run and stole a base. I found that unusual, but you know, you can still keep pushing the envelope,” Darling said. “But boy, swinging 3-0 in the seventh with a 10-1 lead.
“There used to be a book. There’s no book anymore,” he continued. “Everything’s gray.
"But I would find that offensive, personally.”
Darling, who spent 13 years in the major leagues, most notably with the New York Mets in the 1980s, was clearly referring to the so-called unwritten rules of baseball. According to that code, acts that could show up or embarrass the opposition — such as flipping the bat after a home run or, in this case, trying to pad a lead when the outcome appears no longer in question — are frowned upon.
Of course, in addition to the importance of winning that game, which determined which team would take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, it’s not hard to argue that few leads of any size can be considered safe against these Yankees, particularly in their stadium. After all, New York hit by far the most home runs of any team in the regular season, and it scored five or more runs in an inning 16 times (per Baseball Reference).
Naturally, Darling’s remarks about the Benintendi’s “offensive” play garnered pushback from more than a few Boston-area observers, including WBZ sports reporter Michael Hurley. He noted that Darling appeared aware that he might be coming off as a curmudgeon — the analyst went on to assert during Monday’s telecast that he was a fan of bat-flips and “letting the kids play” — only to claim that “you have to judge for yourself, if you feel like rubbing it in starts to rub you the wrong way.”
“This is the postseason. There is no ‘rubbing it in.’ . . . There is simply winning,” Hurley wrote. “And winning requires scoring more runs than the other team.” He also pointing out that, by maintaining an aggressive approach on offense, the Red Sox could have forced the Yankees to dig deeper into their bullpen, potentially providing Boston with a useful edge in Tuesday’s Game 4.
Not coincidentally, “Let the kids play” is the tagline in an ad MLB has been running to promote its playoffs. The point of the commercial is that some, if not most, of baseball’s brightest young stars are chafing under an oft-invoked code that seeks to promote conformity and self-effacement.
Meanwhile, the Yankees' Game 3 starter, Luis Severino, was annoyed by Darling’s suggestion that he was being too cavalier about his professional duties. At an earlier point in Monday’s telecast, Darling told viewers that the pitcher did not begin his bullpen warmup until 7:32 p.m., just 10 minutes before he was scheduled to take the mound against the Red Sox.
When the 24-year-old right-hander left the game after giving up six earned runs in three-plus innings, Darling said, “Severino started warming up late, he exits the game early.” After the game, an agitated Severino said of the analyst, “How does he know what time I normally go out?”
“I go [to the bullpen] 20 minutes before the game, I play catch, and then I always get on the mound 10 minutes before the game,” Severino added. Catcher Gary Sanchez told reporters that the pitcher had followed “his normal routine,” while Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Darling’s concerns were “a little bit blown out of proportion.”
“I don’t take it back,” Darling said to the New York Post on Tuesday of his remark about Severino’s exit. “I think that would be weak for me to take that back.”
Darling was back in the TBS booth Tuesday for Game 4, giving viewers all the more reason to tune in.
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