Had Rodney not appealed the ruling, his suspension would've started Tuesday night against the struggling Royals on a night when manager Jim Leyland was hoping to give setup man and likely fill-in closer Brandon Lyon a night off.
Rodney's throw in question came after he gave up two runs in the ninth inning but held on to save a 4-3 Tigers win over the Rays. After giving up an RBI single and double, Rodney stranded the potential tying run at third base and go-ahead run at second with a groundout. Rodney got the ball from first baseman Miguel Cabrera and flung it towards the seats behind the plate. The ball hit off the front row of the press seats and bounced into the back of the press box.
Nobody was hit, but it obviously raised concerns about fan and media safety. Rodney insisted afterwards there was no malice intended, and he repeated those feelings Tuesday.
"If you try to hit somebody, you're suspended. I didn't try to hit anybody," Rodney said.
Dombrowski said he was one of the few watching when Rodney threw the ball. He and Leyland met with Rodney that night in Leyland's office at Tropicana Field and heard much the same thing.
"Rodney was very apologetic," Dombrowski said.
It's the first such incident for Rodney, who has become known for his dramatic outings this year on his way to 32 saves but has never thrown a ball intentionally into the stands. Former Tigers closer Juan Acevedo fired a ball into the upper-deck seats behind home plate at Comerica Park after one of his saves in 2002, but was not disciplined.
"I can never condone a person throwing a ball into the stands," Dombrowski said, "but I can say after talking to him [that] I believe he didn't intend to hit anybody. And thank goodness he didn't."
Dombrowski said he was told a "very strong" influence for the suspension was a letter from St. Petersburg Times reporter Marc Topkin, president of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"I think a lot of it was driven by the letter that was written by the president of the association in Tampa," Dombrowski said. "Afterwards, he didn't think that Rodney was at all sorry or remorseful. ... I know he was remorseful when I spoke to him. He was very, very sorry."
Topkin said by phone Tuesday night that the email to Pat Courtney, Major League Baseball's vice president of media relations, wasn't intended to prompt punishment but to make sure they were aware of the incident. Even without the email, Topkin said, "It wasn't as if this would've gone unnoticed."
The email, Topkin said, reflected his observation of Rodney's postgame comments.
"I said in the email that he did not apologize afterward," Topkin said, "nor did he show any remorse that somebody might've been hurt, which was a very real possibility.
Said Topkin: "I'm surprised that the issue of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association talking with Major League Baseball is part of the story. Clearly, Fernando Rodney threw the ball into the press box. Clearly, Major League Baseball was concerned enough to suspend him."
There is precedence for the suspension. A Major League Baseball spokesperson cited former Astros reliever and current D-backs closer Chad Qualls, who threw a ball into the upper deck at Angel Stadium after blowing a five-run lead in the seventh inning against the Angels on June 18, 2007. He, too, was suspended three games and received a $3,000 fine. Qualls' appeal was denied about a month later.
Any loss of Rodney, even for a few days, takes away the centerpiece of the Tigers' bullpen down the stretch in a division race that could hinge on a late-inning victory or two. Leyland rested Rodney the next two days and used Lyon to wrap up Detroit's next two victories at Tampa Bay. Lyon would presumably be the Tigers' closer in Rodney's absence.
That said, the Tigers could use an appeal to table a suspension for a later point. In that aspect, however, an appeal that lasts into the final few weeks could force the Tigers to go without their closer at an even more important point.
Asked if timing any suspension could be a consideration, Dombrowski said, "It might, but I don't know that answer. When you look ahead, those are very important games. But with 26 games left, they're all very important. He's our closer. We don't want to lose him."