A warning to all pals and chums of Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo: When Montoyo describes a recent conflict as “agua under the bridge,” you are advised to continue wearing sturdy armor on the tender parts of your person, lest Montoyo’s somewhat counterintuitive habit of honoring detentes via violent retaliatory action leave you with a gnarly bruise, to say nothing of hurt feelings. When Montoyo said the agua was under the bridge following his team’s beef with Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays, what he meant was the agua is also on top of the bridge, and on both sides, and in fact the agua is all over the place.
This volatile agua situation was painfully established in the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s series finale between the two teams. Kiermaier, who’d kicked off the feud Monday by swiping a card from Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk containing sensitive scouting and strategy details and passing it along to the Rays dugout, came to the plate with the bases empty and his team up six runs. Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki, on for mop-up duty and perhaps a little unclear on the specifics of the agua situation, greeted Kiermaier with a 93-mph sinker between the shoulder blades. Kiermaier was pissed. He and Borucki exchanged words and the dugouts emptied, although the players never came together on the field for a proper rumble.
Umpires met for a brief discussion near the mound, which resulted in crew chief Joe West tossing Borucki. This set off Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker, who stormed from the dugout to give a dramatic performance of righteous anger and bewilderment. I suppose if the Blue Jays hope to spare their reliever a suspension they’ll need someone to put on a good show of insisting it was purely an accident when the very guy responsible for initiating the beef took a first-pitch heater to the spine. Walker gave it the old Sally Field try, and for his histrionics he too earned the boot.
After the game, Borucki insisted that the plunking was unintentional, that he in fact “wanted to go down and away” but “felt the ball slip” as he came forward. Borucki insists that he misses arm-side “a lot”—far be it from me to give career advice to a professional baseball player but this habit of spraying the sinker could perhaps explain why Borucki’s thrown just 22.2 innings in the majors in 2021, almost none of them in high-leverage situations—but for whatever it’s worth this would be the first time in his MLB career that he’s missed to the arm side quite so dramatically:
Montoyo, too, insisted the team had not targeted Kiermaier, but acknowledged “what it looks like” and said he understands why the Rays were upset. It’s a delicate situation, involving sensitive information and possible unearned advantages, and features a type of gamesmanship that rubs uncomfortably close to the scars of baseball’s recent sign-stealing scandal. And the Rays make good villains, for practicing a bloodless cheapskatery that makes all of their successes seem somewhat illicit, especially in the post-Astros era. On the one hand it’s very funny that Kiermaier scampered off with Kirk’s scouting card; on the other, the Rays are maybe the last team I’d want to gain an advantage from possession of such a thing, and the Blue Jays are the last or second-to-last team I’d want to see disadvantaged.
But these teams will not meet again before the end of the regular season, and if they eventually tangle in the playoffs, hopefully the Blue Jays will have cooked up enough intel that the information on the scouting card is no longer useful or relevant. Ultimately this is just a good beef, and we should all be thankful that it has been reheated to serving temperatures. Certainly we should try to do a little bit better job than MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman of keeping the whole thing in proper perspective:
What if it was an urn containing a beloved grandparent’s ashes that came tumbling out of Kirk’s uniform? Or the title to Kirk’s car?? What if it was Alejandro Kirk’s firstborn child that had been tucked inside his wristband??? If you’re worried about the slippery slope of possessions changing hands during home-plate collisions, probably the thing to do is to simply calm down.
But that advice should not extend to the participants in the beef. Baseball needs (or at least benefits from) exactly this sort of drama, all the more when it features division rivals, and especially when those division rivals are both headed for the playoffs. Kiermaier is ready for more: Wednesday night he rejected the possibility that the plunking was unintentional, and said he hopes “we play those guys” and that “the motivation is there.” Agua everywhere! Viva la beef.