Justin Masteron held up his hands and shrugged his shoulders on the mound, because he was surprised and he didn’t know how to act. He had never been warned by an umpire before, and Jim Joyce, the home plate ump, was pointing right at him.
Masterson had just whizzed two balls close to Torii Hunter to lead off the third inning, the first a slider up and in, the second a sinker behind Hunter. The pitches were troubling to Masterson not because they were intended to be thrown at Hunter, but because they were intended to not be thrown at Hunter.
“I was trying to throw it right down the middle,” Masterson said. “It was just how erratic my pitching was, especially in the early going.”
By that point in the game, Masterson had already walked three batters and hit another, and he loaded the bases twice in the first two innings. By the time his night ended after six innings, he walked four and threw only 65 of his 105 pitches for strikes. But he allowed just two runs, a testament to his grit and his improvement in the later innings.
The most striking example of Masterson’s lack of control came against Hunter.
“I’ll tell you, I couldn’t throw a strike,” Masterson said. “The looks of it were not that good. There was no intention whatsoever on that pitch behind him. I left a slider up and in on him, and I was trying to get through a sinker. It ends up my body is going towards home plate, and my arm is about two hours behind my body, and it just left it behind him. Walked two guys before that. So no, no intent on anything by it. It was kind of the epitome of my early-on day, of not being able to throw a ball anywhere I wanted to.”
Joyce told Francona he knew understood Masteron’s pitches weren’t intentional, but circumstances made him act. The last time the Red Sox visited Anaheim, Josh Beckett earned a five-game suspension for inciting a bench-clearing incident by throwing a ball that nearly Bobby Abreu in the head. Both teams had been warned by Major League Baseball beforehand that inside pitches would be watched closely.
“I don’t think [Joyce] overreacted,” manager Terry Francona said. “He’s got a good feel. Because of the situation, he just tried not to let something happen. I understand. I didn’t bitch at him. He gave me a good explanation. He was great to me. I told him it wasn’t intentional. He said, ‘I know. I just have to do that.’ ”
The Angels wanted more from Joyce – Masterson out of the game.
“Under the circumstances, certainly there’s an argument for an ejection,” Scioscia said. “If they’re going to take the trouble to warn us before a game and give us a head’s up, there’s obviously something they’re looking for.
“They’re trying to sift through intent and sometimes it’s a tricky thing. I think what happened last time we were here, and especially after giving us a head’s up, I think if the pitcher can’t pitch inside and do it with some kind of professionalism he loses that privilege. I think that something should have been done.”
Hunter, who was ejected after the benches emptied last time, did have as extreme a view as his manager.
“I don’t think it was intentional,” Hunter said. “Not in that situation, 1-1 game, leading off, they don’t want a base runner. It was kind of weird the ball got away from him that much. Straight fastball. It probably slipped out of his hand. I don’t know why that he would do that. When I got thrown out, it was because of the umpire. I don’t think there’s anything there. It just wasn’t the right time, the right situation. Close game, putting me on base, I might score.”
Hunter would ground out, and Masterson remained in the game and continued working through his control issues, which he couldn’t quite finger. But he eventually settled into the game, walking only one more Angel after the second inning. “I don’t know, there was just something,” he said. “Everything started flowing better.”
He remained just as miffed at his lack of command. Masterson typically controls the strike zone efficiently, but he lost his feel last night. It seemed strange watching him.
“It was strange to pitch,” Masterson said. “I’ll tell you, it was the weirdest thing. You get 3-0, have a four-pitch walk. I’ve had four-pitch walks before, but it’s just, ‘Wow.’ It’s just not even close. We’re trying to work through. Fortunately tonight, we were able to.”
Masterson could learn from outing without worry. His team won. Ultimately, he allowed two runs in six innings, a quality start by definition.
“And, hey,” he said, smiling. “I got my first warning.”