There are a lot of events that will get lost in the shuffle of a 14-inning game that features 16 different pitchers, 415 pitches and lasts five hours and 17 minutes. J.D. Drew’s walk-off line drive in the final frame arguably should have been the one to remember. But the one inning that stood out both during the game and in the aftermath was the bottom of the ninth.
The Red Sox entered the top of the ninth up 7-3 with closer Jonathan Papelbon coming in for the non-save situation. What followed seemed like madness.
Papelbon allowed the first two runners to reach on a single and a walk, just his fourth free pass of the season, respectively before striking out Landon Powell for the first out. The eight-pitch base on balls given to Daric Barton had both Papelbon and catcher Jason Varitek shaking their heads as they tried to decipher umpire Tony Randazzo’s strike zone. With one out and runners on first and second, Coco Crisp lined a God-given double play ball to second baseman Dustin Pedroia. But instead of ending the game right there, the ball dribbled through the sure-handed infielder’s legs allowing Mark Ellis to score from second.
Five pitches later, the ninth hitter in the A’s lineup, Cliff Pennington, lined a double to left to minimize the Boston lead to 7-5. At that point, Varitek “lost his cool,” as he put it, because of a perceived lack of consistency on Randazzo’s part, and the Sox captain was soon given the heave ho.
After just one pitch to Ryan Sweeney (a called strike), the closer turned his back to the umpire and asked his new catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, to come meet him for a conference so that the pair could figure out the strike zone together because he believed the pitch was a ball initially. Randazzo took this as an affront by the pitcher and tossed him out of the game as well before making his way to the mound to talk to Papelbon.
The emotional closer, who said later he had never been tossed out of a baseball game at any level, ran toward the ump and began to hoot and holler over the ejection. As Saltalamacchia and Red Sox manager Terry Francona ran toward Papelbon to calm him down, the righty came dangerously close to brushing Randazzo as part of the confrontation, although he claimed he had failed to do so.
Papelbon said later that whole ordeal was over a basic misunderstanding.
“From my perspective, I had my back turned, then I turn around and he’s got his hands up,” he said. “I wasn’t even talking to him. I was talking to Salty. … I said, ‘Salty, come out here. I need to know where that’s at.’ Because some of the pitches that I was not getting were strikes and then I threw one that I thought was a ball and he called it a strike. I’m more or less trying to get Salty out here and say ‘Hey, come talk to me. Let’s figure out this zone so I know how to go about this.’ Because I had no idea what his zone was. I don’t know he may have jumped to the conclusion that I was talking to him.
“When he threw up his arms and started barking at me, I said, ‘Tony, I’m not even talking to you. I’m talking to my catcher.’ I guess he felt like I may have been coming back at him or I may have been showing him up, which I had my back turned after I had been talking to Salty.”
Papelbon admitted later that his emotional outburst certainly could have been handled better, stating, “Could I have gone about things or done things different? Yeah, of course. But in the heat of the battle, that’s a lot easier said than done. … Between the white lines, emotions tend to get intensified and it is what it is.”
Saltalamacchia was a little bit more forthcoming in how he thought the situation should have been handled by the umpire.
“It’s simple. They’ve got a job to do. We’ve got a job to do,” he said. “I think that that one just got out of hand. I don’t think there’s any reason for it. Pap already turned around and walked the other way so we should’ve just left it at that and moved on.”
The umpiring crew itself refused comment to a pool reporter after the game, saying that it could not saying anything until a report on the ejection was filed with the league offices in New York.
Papelbon later acknowledged that he himself had moved on from the incident, but if he had indeed bumped Randazzo, the closer could face additional punishment for the league. Papelbon said that he wasn’t worried about a potential suspension or fine though.
“I don’t have any concerns. I know, now, after the fact maybe I should’ve handled it different like I said. But I can’t control what I did during the heat of the battle. It happened. I’m out there competing. I can’t do anything about that. If the league wants to come down on me the way they want to whether they believe me or not … like I said, I wasn’t trying to maliciously bump him.”
Although he seems to ready to move on from Saturday’s fiasco, the fact still remains that before the ejection the closer had blown a four-run lead, the biggest blown lead of the season for the Red Sox. As a result, Papelbon’s season ERA ballooned 1.04 points to 4.32.
Given that the situation was not eligible for a save, the easy move would have been to bring in Dan Wheeler, who was also warming up prior to the ninth. However, Francona explained later that the decision was part of team policy.
“We’ve always done it this way,” said Francona. “When he’s up loose [and] when we go to four, he’s going to pitch. When we’re five, we were going to bring in Wheeler. And Pap always knows that. He understands it, and I think he agrees with it. He’s up loose. If you bring up someone else, he’s got to stay up loose and that seems like a waste.”
In sum, Papelbon realized that if maybe for a few minor changes, the inning and entire game itself would have gone differently.
“I think that inning was a culmination of a lot of things. Some bloop hits, just a lot of stuff that went on that inning that just built and built and built and exploded on me.”