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Ump Giveth and Ump Taketh Away

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Jul 7 2011 @ 4:12 pm In Philadelphia,Philadelphia Phillies | No Comments

Nobody likes blaming the umpire for blowing a game… but what happens when a blown call affects two games, or three… or when poor decisions become bad [1]habits? Umpires have taken a lot of abuse over the years from managers, players, fans and even for a period in the 1980s – from Morganna the Kissing Bandit!  Desultory fans, irate ballplayers and irascible managers have thrown every possible concession (both consumable and non-consumable) not to mention epithets at umpires.

[2]Usually the result is ejection (managers) or expulsion (unruly fans) – but baseball’s constables have fortified [3]themselves with unionization, teamwork and defending their brethern. Players have unions and grounds crews work together as well so this is not a new concept. The difference being that umpires generally maintain the final word on disputed calls. No one can eject the umpire to end an argument nor can they expel an umpire for making a bad call.

[4]While the game of baseball has evolved through mass media, scoreboard replays, electronic monitoring systems and of course the moderated use of instant [5]replay (HR balls in dispute only) it remains very much in the hands of the umpiring crew – much as it did in 1876 or 1976. Managers have always pushed umpires to their limits while in the midst of a heated argument, kicking hats, bumping chests and even tossing bases in angry response to disputed calls – largely because argument with the umpire does not change the call. Umpire decisions are final – despite being wholly subjective and limited to what the umpire could or could not see.

[6]In a recent relatively meaningless series played between Philadelphia Phillies and Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida there seemed to be a pronounced number of skirmishes between the umpires and members of both teams.

One night Florida Marlins players Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck were ejected by umpires in separate incidents – the latter of which resulted in the lone run of the contest. Marlins manager, Jack McKeon, came out to argue (claiming the disputed run was “tainted”) and was summarily asked to join his players for an early shower. Kerwin Danley was the home plate umpire that July 4 evening and was held responsible for the disputed call involving two seemingly unrelated incidents.

[7]Bonifacio was ejected after arguing and throwing his helmet in the fifth inning as he took exception to the call by first base umpire Vic Carapazza, who said he (Bonifacio) was tagged out by Phillies pitcher Vance Worley.  Replays appeared to show that Worley’s glove did not touch Bonifacio as he was racing down the first base line – in fact Worley was behind the baserunner and not able to catch up to the speedy Bonifacio. Carapazza was stationed just beyond first base – in a position that precluded him from seeing the separation between Worley’s attempted tag and Bonifacio.

[8]In the ninth inning, Marlins catcher John Buck was ejected for complaining to home plate umpire Kerwin Danley after Phillies Domonic Brown walked. Buck not only didn’t agree with Danley’s strike zone, but didn’t like how the umpire hovered over him after the walk had been issued.

“I think everybody saw me get down in my squat and him [Danley] stand over top of me and say stuff to me,” Buck said. “It’s funny how they can do that.” Buck admitted that he complained to Danley about the strike zone directly after the Brown walk.

“I told him I didn’t agree with the pitch, or the strike zone, and that obviously upset him,” said Buck, who had been himself called out on strikes by Danley in the third inning on an inside pitch.

The Marlins’ complaints didn’t end there, though.

[9]The game had been scoreless until the seventh when Phillies supersub Michael Martinez singled to center. The aforementioned Domonic Brown tried to beat the throw home by Marlins OF Bryan Petersen. Replays showed later that Brown’s foot might have been in the air — above the plate — when Buck applied the tag. This would be an extremely close play but conclusive evidence that the baserunner was out and the run should not have counted.

“I thought we had ‘em,” said pitcher Ricky Nolasco, who was backing up the throw. “It looked like we got him from where I was standing.” Catcher John Buck thought so, too – as did Marlins Manager Jack McKeon – who in his 80s has 50+ years experience in the game.

[10]“When you only score one run and that’s tainted, there is no doubt in my mind that both clubs’ pitchers did an outstanding job,” McKeon said. “It’s a shame either pitcher has to lose – but on a blown call it is that much more painful.”

“If they made an honest mistake, why run the guy?” McKeon said. “Fine him $100. People don’t come to see umpires. Why do they have to be so macho? Have some common sense.”

[11]Not all the iffy calls went against the Marlins. The umps looked like they missed a call in the third inning when Florida’s Hanley Ramirez appeared to be nowhere near the bag at second when taking Nolasco’s throw for a called force. Baseball aficionados usually refer to this as the accepted “Neighborhood play.” All of it added up to the third 1-0 loss for the Marlins since June 7. And the Phillies continued their mastery over the Marlins in South Florida, where they have now won 20 of the past 24 contests in their rivalry. Florida had been in virtual freefall over the past month, dropping 6 of their last 10, 23 of 26 in June and 26 of 43 home games – falling to the NL East basement and losing their manager in the process. Even worse, the following night the Marlins would be drubbed by the Phillies 14-2.

[12]In the series finale, more tempestuous fireworks would prevail but these were not belated Independence Day festivities so much as residual frustration. Rookie Domonic Brown learned a baserunning lesson in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s series finale. The scoreboard read “Phillies vs. Marlins” but the umpires would have a say in the outcome once again.

Brown led off the sixth by lining a shot in the gap to left center. He chugged around the bases, heading for third with what he thought was a triple. Brown had barely dusted himself off, when the Marlins appealed, and umpire Kerwin Danley called him out for failing to touch second base.

At first glance it appeared that the Phillies right fielder caught the corner of the base with his right heel. While video replays were inconclusive the umpire’s decision was not in question nor was it subject to video replay. Brown did not argue the call and dutifully made his way into the Phillies clubhouse. No doubt he vented his frustration in private while reviewing the replay. However, if a guy touches second base, squarely, definitively, without a “reasonable doubt” as they say at trial, everything else is moot.

As fate would have it, John Mayberry, Jr. followed with his second home run of the night. Of course without Brown on base, it was a solo shot, rather than a two-run blast. That run made all the difference.

[13]It wasn’t a particularly good night for Brown. He also misplayed a ball in right, costing the Phillies a run. The Phillies as a team played some sloppy and costly defense. They blew a 4-0 lead. Brown’s triple was hit so hard that he might have had time to return to second base and beat the throw, salvaging a double and the difference-making run. After Mayberry’s homer in the sixth, Philadelphia didn’t score another run the rest of the night. It also didn’t help that starter Kyle Kendrick couldn’t make it past the fifth inning – being pulled after 80 pitches. These factors all conspired in the outcome.

What was the eventual outcome? 7-6 extra-inning loss to the Marlins. It would have been a Phillies win in nine innings had Brown not made the base-running blunder – or the fielding blunder. It figures that the Marlins’ Mike Stanton (who had gone homerless in 84 at-bats), suffering from blurred vision and headaches bordering on migraines, would hammer a walk-off monster moon shot to win it. We’re not talking Kirk Gibson limping to the plate in the 1988 World Series but the struggling Stanton certainly managed to focus his eyes on Danys Baez’s hanging slider and watched it launch into Sun Life Stadium’s left field upper deck. Good night, everyone. Drive home safely. Stanton get the lights on your way out!

[14]After Wednesday night, the Phillies will take full advantage of Thursday’s day off. Travel home, regroup, recharge and gear up for the weekend series with the second-place Braves. All of a sudden, it’s an important series as Atlanta (52-36) sits just 3 games back of Philadelphia (55-33) in National League East. Despite taking 2-of-3 in Miami, Phillies and Braves sport the two best records in baseball. This series will lead both teams up to the All-Star Break .  

[15]Friday 7/8 @ 7:05 PM rookie Brandon Beachy (3-1, 3.23 ERA) vs. defending Cy Young Award Winner Roy Halladay (11-3, 2.44 ERA) who sits atop the NL leaderboard in practically every important pitching category. He is first in complete games (6) and innings pitched (136 1/3), second in strikeouts (131) and WHIP (1.03) and third in ERA (2.44). Halladay is perhaps at his best right now coming off [16]back-to-back complete games, allowing a combined four earned runs. Saturday 4:05 PM Tommy Hanson (10-4, 2.52 ERA) vs. Cliff Lee (9-6, 2.92 [17]ERA). Lee had been the hottest pitcher on the planet until he allowed seven runs in 7 1/3 innings Sunday in Toronto. The NL Pitcher of the Month went 5-0 with a 0.27 ERA in June, including three straight shutouts. Hanson continued his All-Star-caliber season in his last start against the Rockies, allowing a run in seven innings. He has gone 5-0 with a 1.97 ERA in his past five starts, and his 2.52 ERA is among the best in the National League. Series and First Half Finale on Sunday afternoon 1:35 PM Derek Lowe (5-6, 4.21 ERA) vs. Cole Hamels (10-4, 2.40 ERA).

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