ST. PETERSBURG - It was just one play in a game the Blue Jays weren’t likely to win, but it’s certainly another indication that Major League Baseball’s umpires aren’t going to forgive or forget Brett Lawrie any time soon.
In the top of the eighth inning of Tampa Bay’s 8-5 win over Toronto Tuesday night, Lawrie was on first base when Yan Gomes hit a one-out flyball to centre field. Lawrie initially broke for second base, slid into the bag, then surveyed the situation, saw the ball caught in the outfield and retreated to first base.
When the ball came back to the infield, Lawrie was called out at second because he had not re-tagged the second base bag. Umpire Rob Drake maintained Lawrie had made a move toward third after popping up from his slide and, indeed, there might have been some intent on doing so by Lawrie, but his right leg remained squarely in the baseline between first and second.
The obvious question is whether this marginal call gets made if Lawrie had not tossed his helmet last week, hitting umpire Bill Miller in Toronto. Or was it another example of not-so-subtle payback by the umpires?
In this case, Lawrie didn’t argue but he did approach the umpire.
“All I wanted to know was what was going on,” said Lawrie following the game. “I didn’t know what happened. For me, I didn’t go toward third base, so that was my only question. He said ‘Don’t argue with me.’ I didn’t get a chance to say anything. I just wanted to know what the play was.
“If I’m getting called out for something, I’m wondering why I got called out. I just didn’t get an answer tonight.”
Lawrie wisely backed away from any suggestion that umpires are targeting him.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” he said. “It’s tough enough to play this game against nine other guys. It’s tough to play against everybody.”
Manager John Farrell had not seen the play on video but he is concerned that Lawrie needs to be on his best behaviour.
“There’s no question he has to keep his emotions in check,” said Farrell. “What was interpreted was more body language than anything he said. But when he made an aggressive move toward Rob Drake, the antenna certainly went up.
“Those are things that are discussed and reminded and he is clearly in a learning curve right now with respect to keeping things in check in between the lines.”
“I have no idea what notification, if anything, has been circulated through the umpires but I will tell you this: it’s human nature. It’s human nature to have seen the videos of the recent incident up in Toronto. I can’t say whether he’s targeted in any way. I certainly would hope not. At the same time, Brett’s a young player, earning his stripes here in the major leagues and these are some of the things he’s learning along the way.”
At the end of the game, home plate umpire Sam Holbrook stood close by the Blue Jay dugout staring belligerently at the Jays bench as if expecting someone to say something. That, in itself, would indicate a level of tension between the Jays and the umps.
“I hope it isn’t an issue,” said Farrell. “But I do know one thing. If calls don’t go our way or if they are questionable, we have to maintain our composure. We have to continue to execute when certain things inside the game don’t go in our favour. Most importantly, I want our guys to be themselves and go out and play with the passion and energy that they all possess. But, as we reminded guys in spring training, yes, it’s important to be yourself but when it starts to take away from our team concept, then we have to reel it back in.”
The Rays led 6-0 after a five-run fourth inning against Toronto starter Drew Hutchison, keyed by Carlos Pena’s 452-foot, three-run blast to centre field.
“The three-run homer to Pena was the one that dug the hole a little too deep,” said Farrell. “I will say that, down 6-0, we took advantage of some wildness of Moore, scored four runs and climbed back into the game.
“To Tampa’s credit they kept swinging the bats and putting up runs. We were down too much to overcome that.”
Tampa starter Matt Moore came completely unglued in the top of the fifth and his teammates only added to the trainwreck. Toronto scored four runs on one hit, three walks and a pair of costly throwing errors.The Rays touched reliever Evan Crawford for a run in the fifth and then the teams exchanged home runs in the sixth. Gomes with his second for Toronto and B.J. Upton for his fourth for Tampa Bay.