Here is a link to my Sunday column. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — I thought Bob Melvin blew it after the top of the eighth inning against the Red Sox on Saturday, a game the A’s won 2-1 in 10. Melvin got thrown out of the game. For no good reason.
I wrote what I just wrote with trepidation. Melvin is one of the top managers in baseball. He is a certified great guy. I happily certify his great-guyness because I covered him as a player and now I cover him as a manager. Just a great guy.
Still, I feel he blew it. Let me explain.
The A’s led a tense, tough ballgame 1-0 going into the eighth. Luke Gregerson came in to relieve for Oakland, Gregerson who has one weird motion. He doesn’t look like a man pitching. He looks like a man throwing darts in a British pub with World Cup on all the TVs.
Gregerson put runners at first and third with two out. Dustin Pedroia, from nearby Woodland, was the runner at third. Mike Napoli was at the plate. Gregerson got two strikes on Napoli. Gregerson threw the ball and Napoli took a cut. It looked like Napoli foul-tipped the ball. It looked like catcher Stephen Vogt caught the foul tip in his glove. Which meant Napoli struck out. Which would have ended the inning, the A’s still ahead 1-0.
But the plate umpire ruled Napoli was not out. He said the ball hit the ground before Vogt caught it. Replays seemed to show the ball did not hit the ground. Which meant Napoli struck out. It’s possible Napoli’s bat never even touched the ball. Which meant Napoli struck out.
The four umpires knew they had a situation on their hands. They conferred. They confirmed the ruling by home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott. At least, they found no reason to overturn it. FYI, there is no formal review for that kind of play, no boring phone call to New York while baseball stops and everyone is bored to death.
So, Pedroia was at third with two out. On the very next pitch, Gregerson threw some whack-job wild pitch which got away from Vogt. Pedroia, as alert as a ballplayer can be, scooted home while Vogt ran after the ball. Pedroia tied the score, 1-1. It was a whole new ballgame. Napoli flied out to right to end the inning, but that hardly matters.
Now came the interesting part, the dramatic part, the controversial part.
As the A’s trotted off the field, Melvin sprinted toward home-plate ump Wolcott. I never saw Melvin run this fast and I’ve known him for decades. He started arguing with Wolcott. His head was bobbing. No, that’s wrong. His head was lurching back and forth and he was thrusting his arms like a madman.
Think Billy Martin, the ultimate baseball madman. Wolcott executed that ‘you’re-out-of-here’ jerky movement with his hand. He threw Melvin out. Melvin kept shouting. Finally, he left.
After the game, Melvin came into the interview room. To me, he still looked agitated. He said he was fine.
He said he was objecting to the umpire talking to Gregerson. “And then we (he and Wolcott) went into further stuff,” he said.
I thought he was confused. I thought he told the umpire not to bark at his pitcher, Gregerson, right after the strikeout pitch that was not a strikeout pitch. I thought the further stuff came after the top of the eighth. I thought — and I’m pretty sure about this — Melvin yelled that the umpire cost him a run, changed the game and made Melvin use extra pitchers he didn’t want to use.
I think Melvin was wrong to accuse the umpires of costing him a run, if that’s what he did. First off, the umpires did not try to screw the A’s. The umpires did their best. They even talked to each other, performed due diligence. Wolcott asked the first-base umpire, who had the best view of the play, if he saw something different. The first base ump said he saw nothing to overturn the call.
Second, the strikeout that was not a strikeout did not make the tying run score. The next pitch did. The wild pitch. The A’s had every opportunity to keep the Red Sox from scoring but Gregerson threw that crummy pitch. And Pedroia ran home. Melvin needed to own that, to deal with it. You never can change what happened — an honest attempt by the umpires that didn’t go your way. But you can control — or try to control — the next play. The A’s did not. The umpires did not louse them up. They loused themselves up.
Football people understand this issue better than baseball people. A call goes against a football defense allowing the other team’s offense inside the 10-yard line. The defenders don’t throw a fit. They are taught not to. They address the next play. It is their job to address only the next play. It is their job to keep the offense out of the end zone.
The A’s had other opportunities to win the game after Boston tied it up. They got a runner on base in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t drive him home.
Same thing in the bottom of the ninth.
These were chances that had nothing to do with Napoli and Vogt and Wolcott.
Then came the bottom of the tenth, the score still 1-1. Alberto Callaspo stood on second with one out. Coco Crisp, wonderful player that he is, was at bat. On the very first pitch from Koji Uehara, Crisp won the game with a screaming RBI line single to right.
And here’s the point. The A’s — and Melvin — who griped to no purpose after the controversial play, answered the only way that matters. They took control. They won the freaking game. The A’s almost always win the freaking game. That’s why they have the best record in the big leagues.
“It’s frustrating,” Melvin said about the controversial play after the game, “but there’s more game to be played. You’ve got to put it past you and go out there and continue to grind.”
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.