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West’s call catches Sox by surprise

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 10, 2010

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KANSAS CITY — What concerns Terry Francona is not that veteran umpire Joe West thinks Red Sox games take too long to play. Plenty of people around baseball share that opinion.

It was how West expressed his displeasure, calling the Red Sox and Yankees “pathetic and embarrassing,’’ that caught Francona’s attention.

“I think it kind of surprised all of us,’’ Francona said last night before the Sox played the Kansas City Royals in the opener of a three-game series. “When you have somebody in charge of running the game without bias and you hear those comments coming out pretty strong, it probably worries you a little bit.

“I don’t agree with Joe coming out and [saying that]. I thought it was wrong.’’

In comments made to The Record of Hackensack, N.J., West blasted the Red Sox and Yankees for playing long games during the opening series of the season. The games averaged 3 hours and 38 minutes.

“They’re the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace. They’re two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It’s pathetic and embarrassing,’’ West said. “They take too long to play.

“I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to make them pick up the pace . . . It’s sad when school kids can’t watch the end of the game because it ends too late.’’

Given that umpires are supposed to be neutral arbiters, Francona is worried that the Sox will be unfairly targeted.

“I don’t think I was. I guess I am a little concerned now,’’ he said.

The reaction was similar in the clubhouse.

“Those words were a little harsh for two of the best franchises in all of baseball,’’ Dustin Pedroia said. “If he doesn’t like doing our games, he shouldn’t do them. The way I look at it, if he’s going to call out two of the best teams in baseball, maybe we’re not the problem.’’

Francona believes the extended game times are largely the result of the Red Sox and Yankees fielding lineups that take a lot of pitches and show patience at the plate.

“Looking back at the series, I can’t say I sit there in the seventh inning and say, ‘Oh, God. Let’s play quicker.’ That’s just the way it is,’’ Francona said. “I know they’re trying to do things [to speed up the game]. I understand that. But at the same time, I know how we feel like when we play the Yankees. If you don’t make a pitch, they don’t swing. It’s tough.’’

According to Pedroia, umpire Angel Hernandez shouted at Derek Jeter when the Yankees shortstop asked for time while at the plate Tuesday night.

“The pitcher gets to throw the ball on his time. There shouldn’t be anybody yelling at you to get in the box,’’ Pedroia said. “Derek Jeter is a Hall of Fame baseball player and the umpire is yelling at him. That’s embarrassing. That should never happen. Being an opposing player, it made me upset. I’m playing against him and I want to see him hit. Who doesn’t? That’s not how it should be.’’

J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury believe part of the reason the Red Sox and Yankees play long games are long pauses for television commercials.

“I have to wait to hit half the time. Pitcher’s ready, I’m ready, and we have to wait for the commercial,’’ Ellsbury said. “Our games are on national television a lot and that’s what happens.’’

Said Drew: “It’s TV and it’s two lineups full of guys who are good hitters and take a lot of pitches. You can’t change that. That’s our job.’’

Major League Baseball has tried to improve the pace of games by threatening teams with fines for not making quicker pitching changes. But Francona can only do so much.

“I’ve had 20 knee surgeries. I’m not jogging to the mound,’’ he said. “I can’t do it.’’

MLB has not yet issued any response to the comments made by West. But the Sox are waiting.

“If a player said something like that he’d probably be in some trouble,’’ John Lackey said. “We’ll see what he gets.’’

Said Pedroia: “If we criticize people, we get fined a lot of money. I don’t know who he answers to, but something should be done.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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