Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Game 42: Blame the Umpire

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Baltimore Orioles 5

A disclaimer: I'm not usually one for blaming external circumstances on the failings of my team. Generally, if they did poorly, I'm happy to call them out in the vitriol that is the province of the self-righteous fan, stewing in his (or her) impotence at the reality of trying to influence events from the sidelines.

All of that aside, tonight's contest was so poorly umpired by home plate umpire Laz "Rockit" Diaz that I have no choice but to place the blame for this ill-inspired disaster at his feet. Maybe rub his nose in it, too, for good measure. Diaz's strike zone wobbled - for both teams, mind you - as much as a guy driving home from the bar at 2 AM on a Saturday morning after about fifteen too many. He pissed off Varitek, who had a few words with Diaz after a called strike three to start out of the fourth, even though Tek - consummate professional that he is - would know full well not to risk calls for his pitcher by complaining to the umpire.
He even ejected David Ortiz after Ortiz had the audacity to argue the worst check swing call I've ever seen, killing a rally that might have won the Sox the game. This guy sucked.

Astute box score watchers among you might point out that the Sox left ten men on base, that half of those men were stranded in scoring position, and that no team wins ballgames by squandering runs. You might also point out that Josh Beckett pitched like crap mixed with dookie and gave up eleven hits, or that Drew left the game (and the series) with a strained wrist after trying to land 200 pounds on one hand, or that Coco Crisp retired early with an upset stomach (bad crab cakes?). In pointing these things out, you might ask why I'm not blaming the players who didn't perform. I'll tell you.

Baseball works on consistency: consistent mechanics, consistent velocities, consistent defense, consistently seeing the ball in a certain way. Lock in consistency and you'll get a perfect game, a 5 for 5 game, a 20+ game winner, a batting title. True consistency is perfection and 99% of baseball is athletes trying to achieve that perfection through the achievement of consistency. Lose your consistency as a batter from poor concentration and you'll have a bad night at the plate; maybe even go into a slump. Do it as a pitcher and you'll leave a pitch out over the plate, get shelled, maybe get demoted to the bullpen or off the team. Lack consistency as a defense and you'll get Derek Lowe through most of 2004: afraid to use his sinker because he couldn't trust the guys behind him to do their jobs.

But be inconsistent as an umpire and you're creating the biggest granddaddy problem of them all: no one knows how to pick their pitches. Will that borderline pitch be a ball or a strike? Should I swing here, or should I let it go by? Suddenly, players have no past data to rely on, they make mistakes, opportunities are squandered, pressure builds on pitchers to make even more perfect placement, and all of the sudden you blow a three run lead and can't seem to string the hits together to come back. For tonight's game, the Orioles had the better time of it and they won, but by his actions, Laz Diaz made sure this contest wasn't about Baltimore versus Boston; it was about his poor performance behind the plate. And for that, he should be sorry.