Dirty Water

A good majority of the 37,181 people that were at Fenway Park last night paid to see the Boston Red Sox.  A not insignificant number paid to see the St. Louis Cardinals.

None of them paid for an #umpshow, but Chris Segal gave them one anyway.

Before we go into that and how it played out in the ninth, we probably should put in the caveats.  The Cardinals are to blame for the loss.  They are the ones that stopped scoring after the second inning.  They are the ones that got cut down trying to score.  They are the ones that served up the pitches that got hit.  The Red Sox won the game, the Cardinals lost it.

However, as we have seen many times in history, just because an umpire doesn’t lose a game for a team doesn’t mean that he doesn’t affect it.  Don Denkinger didn’t lose Game 6 (well, the non-David Freese Game 6) but his blown call did probably mean the Cardinals didn’t win it.  It’s a fine distinction.  Call it a not-win.

An umpire is supposed to keep a baseball game in a certain shape.  Let’s use a cube, for example.  That’s the shape that both teams are expecting to be playing in.  That cube is never perfectly symmetrical, but the best umpires try to keep it that way and most often do a fine job of it.  Sometimes, though, that shape becomes distorted.  The cube bulges in spots, turns into more of a cylinder, things like that.  It becomes unstable.  It’s not the conditions teams were planning to play in.  While they have to adapt, and some do, it’s an extra complication in an already difficult job.

There is no doubt that Segal’s strike zone last night moved the game away from that cube shape that it was supposed to be in.  I’m a terrible one of judging pitches by watching TV–so often I think it was a good pitch and the FoxTrax will show it a good bit high or outside–but it was pretty obvious even to me that the zone seemed more generous when the Red Sox were batting.  Numerous examples were shown on Twitter of pitches on GameDay in the zone but called balls.  The Cardinals got a few pitches to go their way, but without a rigorous examination (and I was glad to hear that Zach Gifford was hopefully going to do that today), it felt like it was less a bad zone and more of an inconsistent one between the two teams.

Again, I’m bad at this, but in the eighth, Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons was on the mound and two check swings to Andrew Benintendi (one of the few times I’m not rooting for the former Razorback) were called balls.  They were a bit high and I don’t think Benintendi swung, so I believe those were the right calls.  The problem was, in the top of the ninth, Matt Carpenter took strike three in a spot almost identical to where the pitches were on Benintendi.  It’s not like the zone shifted over the course of the game.  That was four batters later!

While the strike zone was the biggest issue folks had with Segal, the real #umpshow came in during the bottom of the ninth.  We’ll talk about why this happened in a bit but John Brebbia had come into the game with two on and one out.  Brebbia was in the process of delivering a 0-2 pitch to Eduardo Nunez when Segal, on his own, called time.  On his own.  He was not honoring a request by Nunez.  There’s aggravation when umpires do that too late in the delivery, but that happens.  He was not honoring a request by Yadier Molina, most clearly.  He just “needed a break”.  If an umpire needs a break in the middle of a one-run game in the bottom of the ninth, he should get one–like a couple of weeks, at least.

Let this be marked on calendars: for the first time ever, Cardinal Twitter was united behind Mike Matheny.  Molina immediately jumped up after the “break” by Segal and started giving him all sorts of an earful (but with the presence of mind to keep his hands behind his back so as not to make incidental contact) before Matheny ran out there and got between them…..then took on the job of lecturer.  Matheny got tossed, of course, and may get suspended because I believe he did bump the ump, but showed a ton of fire as he went after Segal.  Then, in words that may be repeated a million times today, he was caught saying:

“It is not your show, man! Nobody is here to watch you! Nobody!”

Ain’t that the truth.  Yet now, just like Angel Hernandez and Joe West, we all know Chris Segal’s name.  Time will tell if his still has the ring those other two have after some time has passed, but right now, let’s just say he won’t get a warm reception if he does a Cardinal game in Busch this season.

OK, that’s enough on something that may have impacted the game, but didn’t decide it.  Let’s talk more about the ninth in general.  There was a discussion on Twitter about whether this was the toughest loss this season.  Given that the Cards (I believe) have lost 22 games when they led in a game by more than one run, there are so many to choose from, but last week’s winning streak–which feels farther and farther away–gave a lot more hope and optimism.  Earlier in the year, we almost expected them to lose at times.  Last night, it sort of blindsided us.

It might not have had we known about Trevor Rosenthal‘s arm health.  Rosenthal apparently has been feeling tightness and Matheny thought that with a few days off, he might be OK.  However, as someone else pointed out on Twitter last night, he knew there was a short leash as a couple of guys were up warming even as Rosenthal came in.  Rosie had nothing on his fastball, which was proven when Xander Boegarts crushed a 91 mph pitch in the middle of the zone over the Monster to cut the lead in half.  Rosenthal then walked the next batter before Matheny, again making a smart move, went and got him.

Without an effective Rosenthal, this bullpen looks much shakier than it did last week.  On the whole, the pieces have been working better of late, but they need that anchor at the end of the game to really take it to the next level.  Having Lyons become the eighth inning guy, as he was last night, seemed to give them a potent 1-2 punch at the end of a game.  Add in Seung-hwan Oh against righties and Zach Duke against lefties and you could feel confident about things.  Instead, this news makes you wonder if they are going to have to scramble around to find yet another ninth-inning solution.  With a 10-day DL, there seems no reason why the Cards shouldn’t put Rosenthal on it now, see if rest fixes the problem, and go from there.  Whether they will or not still remains to be seen.

Duke came in and struck out Brock Holt.  Segal’s zone played into him walking Jackie Bradley Jr. as ball one was well in the gray box on GameDay. So two on, one out for Brebbia, who after the fireworks got Nunez, but couldn’t put away Mookie Betts and watched him hit the ball off the big green wall.  A good throw by Tommy Pham or, more likely, a solid throw by Paul DeJong and they probably get Bradley at the plate.  As it was, Molina got the ball but lost it trying to swipe the runner.

Which meant that the run the Cardinals lost in the second inning came into play.  St. Louis put up a sustained attack against starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, putting the first four men on in that frame (and scoring two) before Randal Grichuk popped out.  Carpenter came up next and singled in a run and, when the catcher missed the throw in, wound up making it to third.  Carpenter would have been out by 10 feet if the throw had been on the fair side of third, but with it on the foul side he was able to just slide in there.

So runner on third, one out.  Pham comes up and hits a sinking line drive to the outfield.  It’s tough to tell on the replays, but it seems from reading and watching that Carpenter had taken off on contact and then retreated while the ball was in the air, thinking (legitimately) that it would be caught.  Instead, it dropped.  We know Carpenter isn’t a speedster and, honestly, if he wasn’t halfway down the line when the ball dropped, he probably should have just let it be, given the Cardinals runners at the corners and seen if DeJong could have picked him up.  If he was actually on the bag when the ball dropped, I could see taking off, though he’d have to weigh the good outfield arms and the fact that the ball was right in front of an oncoming Bradley.  Of course, given all possible options, Carpenter ran and was cut down by plenty.  You’d have thought it was a ground ball to the infield.

Out of the moment, perhaps Carpenter’s play was more excusable.  He did get caught in a bad situation.  (At the time, it was pretty infuriating, but maybe some of that passion got leeched off by the ninth.)  Unfortunately, that seemed to be the play that turned the inning around for the Red Sox and, indeed, the entire game.  The Cardinals only had five more baserunners the entire game, two of them in the next inning.  Like we’ve seen too often this season, the bats showed up for one big frame, then didn’t do anything else.

Lance Lynn did his best to make that hold up.  Matheny ran him pretty hard, starting him in the sixth with close to 100 pitches already in the books.  Rafael Devers led off the frame with a double, but the manager didn’t go to the bullpen.  Lynn got Boegarts to ground out, moving Devers over, then he walked Mitch Moreland on four pitches.  Over 100 pitches now, it seemed like the place to go get someone out of the pen, especially with just a two run lead.  Matheny left him out there and Lynn ran the count on Christan Vazquez to 3-0 before coming back and getting him to ground into a double play.  It was a huge moment that worked out for Matheny.  I’m not sure it was the right choice, but it definitely produced the right result.

We’ll give the Hero tag to Kolten Wong, who went three for four with a couple of doubles in a game started by a left-hander.  As much as I hate to, I think you still have to give the Goat to Trevor Rosenthal, because he put the whole ninth inning into motion.  I get that he may have been physically hampered, but if he’s on the field he has to produce and I expect that he’d tell you the same thing.  That said, there were a few others that could have gotten the tag from him.

While the Reds gave them a scare, the Cubs wound up winning.  So did the Brewers.  Now the Cardinals, in first place Sunday morning, sit in third place, 2.5 games out.  While it’s not what you want to see, it’s not necessarily the end of the world.  Tara noted last night on Twitter how the 2011 Cardinals slipped back to 10.5 games even after the August 25th game that traditionally “started the run”.  Just because they have stumbled doesn’t mean that the race is over.  That said, when it feels like just everything has to go right, having things go wrong doesn’t give you a whole lot of hope.

Which makes this upcoming series really key.  Adam Wainwright goes against Jameson Taillon tonight in Pittsburgh, who sits three games behind the Cardinals in this race.  Wainwright says he’s fine, that he doesn’t have any pain or discomfort like he did on Friday against the Braves.  With the Cards just now two games over .500 (they’ll have to win just as many as they lose going forward to get 82 wins, that pace we were calculating before the streak), they have to win three of four in this matchup.  Pittsburgh has talent, but they are 58-62.  It feels like if you want to be a contender, you have to beat these teams.  Whether they will or not may depend on Wainwright’s health and effectiveness and what happens to the back of the bullpen.  Here’s hoping for a less dramatic (and more satisfying) result tonight!

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