- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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This came up in my chat today, so I thought I would address what happened Monday night between home plate umpire Laz Diaz and the Yankees. Readers were calling for MLB to suspend Diaz.
In the eighth inning, Brett Gardner was batting with the bases loaded and no outs against Jered Weaver with the game tied 1-1. The first pitch was called a ball. Then this happened and manager Joe Girardi was ejected.
Diaz doesn't have the best reputation. As Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay intoned, "There always seems to be fun when Laz Diaz is involved." He didn't mean fun as in Diaz has a really good stand-up routine.
The pitch (No. 2 in red) certainly looked like a ball, but look where it plots:
Maybe it wasn't actually a bad call. The pitch from Weaver had a lot of horizontal and vertical break away from Gardner, so by the time it was caught, it was off the plate. But it appears to have caught the bottom of the strike zone. Anyway, Gardner ended up striking out and Derek Jeter grounded into a double play.
After the game, Girardi explained his explosion:
"I mentioned to Laz in a respectful way that I thought the pitch was up to Kelly Johnson earlier in the game, and he gave me the Mutombo," Girardi said, imitating a wagging index finger. "I don't appreciate that. I'm not a little kid. I don't need to be scolded. Obviously we're trying to work together, and I just thought there were a lot of inconsistencies tonight.
"It's the biggest pitch of the game to that point," Girardi said of the 1-0 pitch to Gardner that Diaz called a strike. "It's a lot different [at] 2-0. It changes the whole at-bat. Now the pressure is clearly on the pitcher."
Maybe it was the biggest pitch of the game. The pitch that Jeter grounded into a double play was pretty big as well.
In the bottom of the eighth, Shawn Kelley entered and walked four of the six batters he faced, including Albert Pujols intentionally with a runner on second and two outs. He walked Howie Kendrick with the bases loaded to force in a run. Then this happened as Kelley walked off the field.
It appears the biggest gripe was the 1-0 fastball to Kendrick that caught the bottom of the strike zone but Diaz called a ball. Certainly, you can understand the Yankees complaining considering Gardner had just been given a strike on a pitch at the knees. Diaz actually gave Kelley a generous call on the 2-0 pitch, but balls three and four weren't close. Here are the pitches:
Matt Thornton entered and walked John McDonald on a 3-2 fastball; Diaz didn't miss any calls in that plate appearance. Preston Claiborne came on and walked Chris Iannetta on a 3-2 fastball; again, no missed calls by Diaz.
The Yankees can't blame Diaz for this one. Gardner still had a good chance to do something with a 1-1 count. Jeter still had a chance to do something. The bullpen walked five straight batters with only one missed strike. Girardi could have pitched to Pujols (although it’s understandable why he'd put him on and go after the struggling Raul Ibanez).
OK, so the Yankees were griping after a tough loss. It happens. Should Diaz be suspended? Telling Kelley to "keep going" as he walked off the field was certainly a bush league move. In the ranks of bad umpire etiquette, however, we've certainly seen much worse. I guess I would be more upset if Diaz had actually blown a series of pitches. At the same time, Kelley doesn't appear to make any gestures (we don't know what he may have said, of course), so I don't understand why Diaz had to be a big jerk here (other than still being ticked off at Girardi).
I'd give Diaz a one-game suspension for unwarranted showing up of a player and general bad attitude. The umpires have a tough gig, but taking grief from managers and players is part of it.