And there is no doubt that knocking down batters is an accepted and necessary part of the game in the eyes of most major leaguers.
''You do it to protect your players,'' said Jeff Nelson, the Yankee reliever. ''And you do it to get respect from your players.''
Catcher Joe Girardi said: ''It's important. If there are pitchers on the other team coming inside and don't know how to do it, you can't let them take liberties.''
Nelson, 31, acknowledges his reputation for retaliating by throwing at opponents intentionally. Tino Martinez, a teammate of Nelson for years, said, ''Jeff is definitely one guy who, if you need to send a message to another team, he's going to do it.''
Nelson was suspended in 1996 for throwing at Seattle's Joey Cora, after the Mariners' Tim Davis knocked down Paul O'Neill. Nelson knew Davis and says he was sure Davis did not throw at O'Neill intentionally. But O'Neill was certain that Lou Piniella, the Seattle manager, had instigated the incident, and Nelson must defer to the hitters.
''If they get hit, you ask them,'' Nelson said. ''At times I've said: 'Hey, I'm going to go out there and drill someone. Do you want me to hit this guy?' ''
Nelson's thinking is that the core hitters, like O'Neill, Martinez and Bernie Williams, could get thrown at in response to his retaliation. ''If they say, no, no, no, I say fine,'' Nelson said. ''If they say, 'Go drill someone,' I'm going to go drill someone. I don't care about the manager; I don't care about the coach. Even if they told me not to, I'm going to go out there and do it. I'm going to protect my teammates.'' - Buster Olney