July 8th: In defense of Ichiro (who's graceful even when getting unexpectedly shoved), Jason Ellison gets up on his tippy toes and challenges Kentucky Joe Blanton.
Today's edition of Impartial Announcing is brought to you by Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse:
In hockey, when someone on the other team runs one of your star players, there's an unwritten code by which you're more or less obligated to get in the other team's faces about it, regardless of whether the initial aggression was clean or dirty. The intent of the hit doesn't matter; above all else, you have to be loyal to your teammates, and that means letting the other guys know that you won't stand for being knocked around.
What usually happens is that one of your tough guys will go after the guy who delivered the hit in order to send a message. They'll exchange a few words, throw a few punches, sit a few minutes, and get both of their benches feeling a little more energized. But sometimes emotions are running so high that one of your little guys steps in instead. And in case you've never seen it before, take my word for this - there is nothing that gets a hockey team more fired up than seeing one of its runts flip a tizzy and go after the aggressor. It makes no difference if he gets his ass kicked. For a little guy to willingly throw down when it's so wildly out of character is the ultimate show of allegiance, and there's no quicker way to ignite a smoldering bench (and crowd).
I don't hate Joe Blanton for doing what he did. I don't even really blame him. While it all looks silly and immature when you watch it on replay, it's easier than you can imagine to get pissed off, lose your cool, and do something stupid on the field of play. Blanton had just given up a three-run double that put the M's in the lead. He was bound to be upset and look for a way to vent his frustration. Since he doesn't have a pattern of bad behavior, I'm willing to give him a pass.
But at the same time, I'm so proud of Jason Ellison. He was the quintessential nobody, a little guy who rarely played, yet the instant he saw the gigantic Blanton give Ichiro an unnecessary push out of the way, he immediately jumped in to defend his team's greatest player. Given the size difference, that took some massive balls. Neither Blanton nor Ellison really got the chance to land any blows before other players intervened, but the gesture read loud and clear - the Mariners had Ichiro's back. A team message in a game of individuals.
Not only did Ellison get his bench fired up, but as the ejected Blanton left the field accompanied by his good friends Crotch Grab and Four-Letter Vocabulary, it was the visiting Mariners who had the last laugh. Ichiro was all smiles, seemingly entertained by the whole ordeal more than anything else, and a lot of the guys stood around on the field joking with each other while the A's retreated to their dugout. This was the kind of team-building exercise that most corporate managers can only dream of. Regardless of how much you believe in the significance of this kind of thing, that day in Oakland might've been the very day the Mariners started to feel like a family. God knows Ichiro felt it.
Jason Ellison may not have thought this far ahead at the time, but because of his contributions to the team, both present and future, he'll never have to buy a drink in Seattle again as long as he lives. He'll just have to make sure he tells his name to the bartender.