July 16, 2013 at 1:01 am

Kurt Mensching

Tigers have to be more pragmatic about how they protect teammates

Jim Leyland takes on a pack of umps after getting the heave-ho during Thursday's loss to Chris Sale and the White Sox. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

You can’t blame the Tigers for getting mad when they feel like an opposing pitcher is throwing the baseball near their heads.

You can’t blame their players for following the unwritten rules of baseball: an action has an equal and opposite reaction, generally sooner than later.

And you certainly can’t blame their manager for doing everything in his power to protect his players.

Yet it’s fair to question whether the Tigers dig deeper holes for themselves with the league every time they respond to an inside pitch with another or when Jim Leyland speaks his mind a little too freely to the press.

That seems like what we saw happen Thursday when the Tigers and White Sox benches cleared following an exchange of inside pitches.

White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale was given the benefit of the doubt -- his body language after a pitch that flew close to Prince Fielder’s head immediately following Miguel Cabrera’s home run served to exonerate him from further blame.

The Tigers, and relief pitcher Luke Putkonen, did not even receive a warning when Putkonen’s pitch flew behind Alexei Ramirez’s back following a grand slam by Chicago.

Putkonen was ejected by home plate umpire Chad Fairchild in moments, and Leyland soon after joined him in the clubhouse.

No warnings were issued.

That’s because the Tigers just aren’t going to get the benefit of the doubt.

The first rule of the unwritten rules is apparently that you do not talk about the unwritten rules.

Leyland, still angry after Rays reliever Fernando Rodney threw a ball near Cabrera’s head in late June, told reporters after that game:

“We will not tolerate that. You can take that to the bank. We won't tolerate that up at the head, with anybody, not (just) Cabrera, but anybody.

“I'm not accusing anybody of anything, but we won't tolerate that. If you're going to just rare back and throw it, you can't throw it there."

When Rick Porcello hit a batter in the first inning the next game, MLB handed him a six-game suspension. Had he acted as if the ball got away from him, had his manager not offered that quote a day earlier, would the league offices have given the same punishment?

If they did, they would have done so from shaky ground with little evidence on their side.

But when the Tigers so clearly make their intentions known, the league has little choice.

Now, the Tigers sound like the trouble makers. Now they face the possibility of being the target.

Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus could knock Omar Infante out of the game with a late slide, but had the Tigers responded they would have been the ones facing league reprisal.

It’s not fair, but they made their beds, and now they’ll have to sleep in them.

They’ll have to decide whether to turn the other cheek or to go out and do something about every perceived sin.

They’ll just have to remember in every exchange they have more to lose. They’re not Las Vegas favorites to win the World Series for nothing. They have a good team with few holes -- and those holes will undoubtedly be patched soon.

The desire to protect your teammates is a natural one. The Tigers -- and their manager -- just have to be more sensible about how they do it in the future.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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