It’s been more than 45 years since Dock Ellis perpetrated baseball’s ultimate, unprecedented, and unsurpassed act of frontier justice: taking the mound with the intent of hitting every batter he faced, and doing so. Lots of people — fans and players alike — feel that the Houston Astros should face this kind of a firing squad, for the three-year campaign of dishonest sign-stealing, and smugly delivered lies and obfuscation about it, that gave the franchise two pennants and one world championship.
Whatever self-policed fate awaits Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and the rest will have to wait a while longer. Major League Baseball on Thursday postponed Opening Day by two weeks, and the team on their schedule with the biggest ax to grind, the New York Yankees, won’t see them until Houston’s last road trip of the season. (The Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost the 2017 World Series to Houston, do not play the Astros this year.)
Violence is no solution and we don’t condone it in real life, but we acknowledge that some fans pursue it in video games to let off steam. I did so today with the early access launch of MLB The Show 20 and, folks, it is just no substitute. Hitting every Astro, no matter how badly you want to see that happen, is as deeply unsatisfying as Shawn Estes vs. Roger Clemens in 2002.
If you, dear baseball fan, choose to go down this dark path, here is what awaits you, as illustrated by this video:
- You cannot deliberately hit a batter in the head in MLB The Show 20. This has been the case for some time now, probably because neither the league nor the players’ association would want a video game that encourages that kind of dangerous play. You can’t even aim the pitching reticle at a batter’s head, and all of my attempts to throw wide ended up in the back or the ribs. A couple of hitters turned their backs and were struck in the back of the helmet, but it didn’t cause them to hit the dirt.
- Your starting pitcher gets to hit three batters, then the umpire ejects him. There will be no bench-clearing brawls, or furious batters running at the mound. The last time any MLB-licensed game showed the dugouts emptying was, to my knowledge, EA Sports’ MVP Baseball 2004. This means no Astro can be baited into getting tossed, either. In past editions, if you targeted a single hitter (and not the whole lineup), you could get him run after three deliberate plunkings. I couldn’t do it to Bregman in this year’s game.
- Subsequent pitchers will be thrown out after their first hit batsman, or even throwing at one but missing. I had a couple of relievers stay in after a plunking, although their first pitch missed. The longer you go hitting batters, the more you’ll see some of them Matrix-duck out of the way of a surefire beaning. But eventually you’ll connect, and eventually the pitcher will get run out of the game.
- If you get down to one pitcher, he will not be ejected. It’s impossible to substitute a position player on the mound in the first place (it can’t be done either through the bullpen or the main manager’s menu). So if you have only one pitcher left, he can continue to hit as many batters as you want without being thrown out, because MLB The Show 20 (to my knowledge) doesn’t have the means of forfeiting a game. However ...
- When your last pitcher is beaning guys, announcer Matt Vasgersian is very disappointed in you. I like Vasgersian, so I actually felt ashamed hearing him go, “Five in a row; this guy’s a real sweetheart,” and, “Mm. Way to go, tough guy.” At this point, all the malevolent joy has been drained from the moment.
- Analyst Dan Plesac likewise doesn’t have anything good to say. Plesac usually spouts a funny, dirty-uncle line or two when things get weird in this game. But for a plunking war, he just repeats the line about Johnny Wholestaff finishing the game out of the pen.
- By the time you get it out of your system, you’re gonna be losing by a lot. In my attempt, I was down 18-0 when I hit Bregman the third time.
- Alas, C.C. Sabathia is not on the MLB 20 roster. Sabathia, venerated by Yankees fans for the back-havingest beaning in franchise history when he drilled Tampa Bay’s Jesus Sucre at the end of the 2018 regular season, retired over the winter. However, I did find him in the vault of created players shared by users (above). Just search for “Sabathia” — user MovieMan995 did a great job with him.
Baseball fans, your justifiably vociferous feelings toward the Astros are well known, and they are the natural expression of moral outrage. But, as I suspect will be the case in real life, you’re not going to get retribution in a video game, either.