Monday, May 9, 2011
Dodgers seething after blown call
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
PITTSBURGH -- Three weeks ago, when Joe Torre visited Dodger Stadium for the first time in his new capacity as executive vice president for baseball operations for Major League Baseball, the former Los Angeles Dodgers manager talked of how his main focus would be on umpires.
Specifically, Torre talked of two things he says he feels should change, those being that umpires need to stop being so quick to eject players who argue and the general need for them to be wound less tightly.
I'm merely hypothesizing here, but I fully expect Torre and his successor as Dodgers manager, Don Mattingly, to have a phone conversation sometime on Tuesday. It won't be for the purpose of reminiscing.
Veteran ump Mike DiMuro, who was working third base Monday night in the Dodgers' 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates before 11,373 at PNC Park, made a mistake on a catch-or-trap call in the seventh inning, one that definitely cost the struggling Dodgers a first-and-third, nobody-out situation and might have cost them a game.
Juan Uribe argues after being ejected for challenging what he felt was a blown call by umpire Mike DiMuro.
And then, when the hitter affected by the call, Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe, told DiMuro what he thought of the call as he jogged out to his position in the bottom of the inning, DiMuro was about as quick as he possibly could have been in giving Uribe the rest of the evening off.
Mattingly, who then came out of the dugout to argue Uribe's ejection after he had spent several minutes arguing the call itself, was soon ejected as well.
This wasn't the sort of scenario Torre had in mind.
"I just said to the umpire, 'Why don't you move over there [toward second], and you can see the ball better,' " Uribe said. "That was when he threw me out of the game."
First, to set the scene: With the score tied 1-1 and the Dodgers, as usual, struggling to score runs in a tightly contested game, Matt Kemp led off that fateful eighth inning by getting plunked with a 3-and-2 pitch from Pirates reliever Jose Veras. The slumping Uribe, who to that point had one hit and nine strikeouts in his past 19 at-bats, then yanked a looping liner toward left that the Pirates' Jose Tabata charged and lunged for.
It appeared to the naked eye, even from what is probably baseball's highest press box, that Tabata trapped the ball. Televised replays confirmed that beyond any question. But DiMuro saw it differently, and that was the only opinion that mattered, especially since DiMuro wasn't at all interested in asking for anyone else's.
Kemp, who already had rounded second, was easily doubled off first, and Mattingly immediately bounded out of the dugout and headed straight for DiMuro.
"My only frustration, more than anything else, was when Mike said he wasn't 100 percent sure," Mattingly said. "I asked him to get help, because somebody else may have seen it [differently]. But he wouldn't do that. ... If we can see [the trap] from the dugout, I have to think the guy at second base might have a little different angle."
DiMuro admitted to a pool reporter after the game that, as Mattingly claimed, he wasn't 100 percent sure. But DiMuro also qualified that statement.
"At the very end, he asked if I was 100 percent sure," DiMuro said. "I told Don, 'Who is 100 percent sure of anything in life?' I got one look. I was the closest umpire, it was my call: catch or no catch. I did not see it bounce. I look for the ball to change direction, and I didn't see it at all."
Tim Welke, the umpiring crew chief, did tell the pool reporter that the replay appeared to show that DiMuro had missed it.
"It was a very difficult call," Welke said. "It looked like it ended up being a trap into a light glove, a tough play, a close play."
As for DiMuro's refusal to get help, Welke said the only way one umpire would overrule another was if the secondary umpire was absolutely certain the primary umpire had missed it. Jim Reynolds, the umpire who was working second base, told the pool reporter he wasn't certain, so he stayed out of the argument.
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"We would never be in a position where one of us was 100 percent sure it was not a catch and not say something," Reynolds said. "We are here to get it right."
In this case, though, they clearly got it wrong. Did it cost the Dodgers (16-20) a game? That's debatable. They wound up going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, and they are 4-for-42 through the first four games of this seven-game trip. There is no guarantee they would have gotten Kemp home from third, even after he got there with nobody out.
And Chad Billingsley (2-2), who to that point was pitching one of his best games of the year, did issue a leadoff walk to Garrett Jones to begin the bottom half, the first shot in what became a decisive, three-run barrage by a Pirates team that is now a game above .500 this deep into a season for the first time in seven years.
"Nothing," Billingsley said, curtly, when asked how the call might have affected him mentally in such a tight, tense game.
There are two things, however, that aren't debatable: DiMuro got it wrong; and the call proved to be critical to at least the inning and possibly more.
"Instead of first-and-third, nobody out, it was two outs, nobody on," Mattingly said. "That changed the game a little bit right there."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.