As you have surely heard by now, last night’s game against the Rays took an unexpected turn in the bottom of the ninth inning, when both Brett Lawrie and John Farrell were ejected after arguing home plate umpire Bill Miller’s third strike call.
While Lawrie certainly lost his cool and failed to control his emotions, it’s hard to fault him for getting frustrated. By drawing a one-out walk, he would have represented the tying run and been in a position to steal his way into scoring position in a close game against a division rival. Add in that the Rays scored four unanswered runs to erase a rare 3-0 Jays lead on David Price, and it’s easy to see why Lawrie was so amped up in what was a winnable game.
Miller’s calls, however, certainly didn’t help matters, and after repeatedly watching Lawrie’s at-bat, it appeared to be the fourth pitch that actually started everything.
Catching Rays closer Fernando Rodney was former Jays catcher Jose Molina, one of the best pitch framers in the league. In the first pitch of the at-bat, Molina set up outside and tried to briefly frame Rodney’s 82 mph changeup, but it was called a ball by Miller. Then, after a wild throw outside and a foul ball made the count 2-1, the next pitch was critical.
Rodney fired a 95 mph fastball that caught the outside corner of the plate, but it was low. Molina managed to stick his glove, though, and bring the pitch, pictured below, up to Lawrie’s knees, and the offering could very well have been called a strike.
Instead, Miller called it ball three, and while this is pure speculation on my part, he could have recognized that he missed the call on that pitch and decided to make up for it on the next one, providing it was anywhere near the strike zone.
As you can see in these two pictures, though, the pitch was well outside the zone and even made its way over the left batter’s box, so it’s no surprise that Lawrie proceeded to walk down to first base and assume that he had just drawn a walk — something that umpires can’t stand. Stopping dead in his tracks after hearing the strike call, Lawrie walked back to the plate, and although neither Lawrie or Miller said anything to each other, Lawrie stared him down before resuming the at-bat, which Miller probably wasn’t impressed with.
But as Sportsnet’s Mike Wilner pointed out after the game, Miller let his emotions get in the way of making the right call on the final pitch of the at-bat.
“It’s an umpire’s job to call balls and strikes, safe and out and to maintain control of the game. It’s not an umpire’s job to insinuate himself into said game by enacting personal vendettas when he feels slighted, and that’s what Miller did,” Wilner wrote.
In addition to blowing such an obvious call, I was somewhat surprised at how fast Miller threw Lawrie out of the game. It took just a couple of words after turning around for Lawrie to get tossed, which only set him off even further, leading him to throw his helmet on the ground and unintentionally hit Miller with it. In what was a necessary move, Farrell ran out to restrain his third baseman and give Miller a piece of his own mind before getting tossed himself, a display that I thought was important on Farrell’s part and, at the very least, should bring him closer to his players in the clubhouse.
While it’s easy to understand why Lawrie reacted to Miller’s calls, how he reacted after the fact was unacceptable and is almost guaranteed to result in a suspension. My first thought was that he’d receive five games, but considering Roberto Alomar received five games for his incident in 1996 and Yadier Molina received five games for physically brushing home plate umpire Rob Drake last season, Brett Lawrie could receive less, but seven to ten games could also be a possibility.