On Friday afternoon during a 19-inning marathon between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians, fans experienced firsthand what happens when an umpire single-handedly upstages a baseball game on Canada Day.
Not only was Vic Carapazza’s strike zone an absolute mess, vacillating between outside and high balls that were inexplicably called strikes over and over again, but it was his incredibly egotistical decision to toss both Edwin Encarnacion and John Gibbons out of the game in the bottom of the first inning which came as a horrible insult to the 48,000 spectators in attendance.
It all started to unfold in the blink of an eye which left most viewers absolutely perplexed before they could even find their seats or get settled on their sofas.
In the bottom of the first, Josh Donaldson found himself punched out on a called third strike that was ruled outside. Not marginally, but legitimately. Edwin immediately followed with virtually the same result, only with an ejection thrown in for good measure because Carapazza understood that this was Canada Day – and nothing says Canada like ejecting a Dominican and an American. By the time Justin Smoak followed by striking out on an unreasonably high pitch, it was blatantly obvious that something was terribly amiss and that most Jays fans would soon appreciate the meaning of the term “getting hosed.” Russ Martin’s ejection later in the game was the inevitable culmination of every Jays hitter losing their composure in a freakish record-repeating-itself kind of way during every single at-bat. For 19 innings. Of Vic Carapazza doing his thing. Over and over.
It was almost as if this umpire genuinely believed that everyone in attendance at the Rogers Centre had shown up just to watch him. It was as brazen a display of mediocre umpiring and plate ineptitude which had not been seen around these parts since…the last time this exact same umpire was behind the plate during last year’s playoffs.
And one had the feeling this was a gong show the moment Josh Tomlin ascended the mound – a pitcher with 56 strikeouts in 90 innings coming into this game who magically began mowing down Jays hitters with utter impunity. Right-handers (Donaldson, Martin) and left-handers (Saunders, Carerra) alike were left bewildered and (naturally) took exception to such an inconsistent strike zone.
There were anguished outbursts and visible gesticulations of the head, arms, and feet that made for high drama. But Carapazza has been here before and isn’t afraid of anyone – least of all the league’s reigning MVP or a veteran catcher that’s been to the playoffs 8 of the last 10 years. It’s far easier to simply eject the dissenters and turn a promising contest into one of the most lethargic games in recent memory. It made for some salty television, let me tell you.
Meanwhile, John Gibbons found himself ejected for the 6th time this year after coming to the aid of his fiery DH and it should be noted that he now represents 6.3% of all ejections in MLB this year – a fact which led the broadcast team to remark that “in years gone by, umpires would simply turn away and let the players vent before making a quick hook.” It all sounded like a fairy tale given the circumstances.
It’s a stunning indictment of MLB’s apathy towards keeping umpires accountable that such an experience could conceivably transpire. Fans spend their hard-earned dollars in acquiring tickets, concessions inside the park, subscribing to all forms of media (mostly Rogers), purchasing merchandise, collectables, endorsed products, and always investing in their shared passion for this glorious sport. What they aren’t expecting is to have an umpire influence the outcome of a game through a dubious strike zone or with fickle ejections. It’s happened far too often and has become one of those things we all take for granted. The fans aren’t spending their time and money to see Vic Carapazza – they are doing it to see Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin, with the hopes of being entertained with high scoring affairs and competitive play. Sadly, the sport is letting them down and today was no exception. With the advent of Pitch Trax and countless new ways to measure accuracy and perception, how is it that such a result exists at this level of baseball?
Astonishingly, Vic Carapazza was behind this very same home plate when the Rangers beat the Jays during that legendary 14-inning marathon in game 2 of the ALCS leading both teams to remark how the strike zone felt “too tight” – immeasurably ironic considering the opposite would transpire for over 6 hours on Friday. By the time this game was tied 1-1 (via a timely Smoak blast born mostly out of rage) it was abundantly clear that Carapazza was not finished with his reign of terror. Devon Travis took a high called strike leading off the 8th and shot back one of three disdainful glares. Saunders remained flummoxed in his pursuit of the unenviable golden sombrero. Martin lost his composure entirely and went ballistic in his outburst leaving us with an evening of Josh Thole at-bats (both Canadians finished a combined 1-for-13). How gruesome it was to witness our normally disciplined hitters expanding their plate coverage to the point of a self-defeating exercise?
Lost in the shuffle was a cavalier effort from Marcus Stroman as he let his sinker do the talking while staying focused in producing a quality start for the team. Credit must be given to how he adapted to Carapazza’s amorphous zone of random calls (the randomizer?) when it seemed like he might buckle under the pressure. He finished with 6.2 innings thrown, 5 hits allowed, and a single earned run with 6 K’s and a lone walk – all encouraging considering the extent of his recent struggles and a reason to be optimistic for his next start against Kansas City. Props to Goins and Barney with their herculean contributions out of the bullpen – ones that wouldn’t have been necessary if this game had the right steward for such a special occasion.
And so on this day a 36-year old who also happens to be the son-in-law of former American League umpire Rich Garcia, brimming with limited professional experience and an established notoriety for having a ridiculously inconsistent strike zone, rained on an entire country’s parade. A day which should have been filled with players entertaining their fans through monumental athletic feats and strategic plays involving actual pitchers….instead became one dominated by an umpire whose total indifference to his surroundings and to his sport ended up tarnishing what could have been a Canada Day for the ages.