The lazy fly ball to center field didn’t require much effort to catch and Yasiel Puig didn’t expend much. It was a routine play, an easy out.

A second later nothing was routine. Albert Pujols tagged up at first base and was running to second. Puig, obviously startled, threw too late. His strong and accurate arm could not overcome his moment of nonchalance.

Maybe you read about Monday night’s game between the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers. Better yet, maybe you’ve seen the video and the lessons taught. Pujols, still one of baseball’s great players and now playing for the Angels, took Puig to school.

Pujols did it without throwing a punch. Without instigating a dugout-clearing brawl. Without telling his pitcher to plunk Puig the next time the Dodgers’ outfielder came to the plate.

Fingers did wag. Hands did make the universal yeah-whatever gesture. Pujols did an excellent pantomime of Puig casually catching the fly ball. Pujols did show his disgust. Puig, the Cuban defector with the immensely talented skill set disrespects the game of baseball on occasion and Pujols called him on it.

No one tags up at first base on a routine fly to center to take second and especially not Pujols, who isn’t fast and was hobbled by a foot injury last season. And not with a 5-0 lead in the eighth inning.

He risked great embarrassment if Puig threw him out but Pujols had a point to make. He did. That Puig accepted the point by his comments afterward ended the lesson.

Good. Too bad it was countered by another episode of baseball’s archaic code of frontier justice within the same week. Paul Goldschmidt, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ star first baseman was hit by a pitch. He suffered a fractured left hand and is probably lost for the season.

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Ernesto Frieri was working inside and his pitch seemed to be a mistake. The next game between the teams, Randall Delgado of the Diamondbacks buried a 95 mph fastball in Andrew McCutcheon’s back. It wasn’t a whoops pitch despite what Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson says.

McCutcheon was last year’s National League MVP. The Pirates are fighting for a playoff spot, the Diamondbacks are not. McCutcheon suffered a fracture of a lower rib where the tissue of a tendon or ligament in his rib cage pulled away from the rib and took a very small piece of bone with it.

McCutcheon may be lost for a few games, a couple of months or something in between. The season ends in less than two months. An eye for an eye, says one of baseball’s unwritten codes. Unwritten because it’s idiotic.

When Pujols ran on Puig the lesson was about respect for the game. When Delgado drilled McCutcheon it was about players and managers lacking respect for the people who play the game.

Hurting someone with a pitch shouldn’t be part of any code at any level. Aim at someone and it means nothing to say the broken bone was intentional. In 1967 a pitch got away from Jack Hamilton of the Angels and Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro’s left cheekbone was busted, his jaw dislocated and the retina in his left eye damaged.

Conigliaro missed all of 1968 then came back the 1969 to hit 20 home runs and 36 in 1970. But his vision worsened, he was out of baseball as a young man at age 30 and died a young man at 45.

Yes, getting hit by the pitch was an accident. Accidental or intentional, the line between a deep bruise and something far more tragic is very fine. It’s not baseball, either.

This is August, when the good baseball teams jockey for a spot in the playoffs and the not-so-good teams accept their reality. When tempers wear thin, and ballplayers need to take a deep breath and understand who they are and what they’re doing.

Yasiel Puig may remember his lesson. With Pujols standing on second in that eighth inning, Puig caught another fly in shallow center. He seemed to motion for Pujols to tag up again.

Pujols waved him off. The point had been made.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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