It wasn’t just a game tonight.
The Angels chose to stage their annual Christmas in June celebration during this game at Angel Stadium, and it was clear who the Grinch was.
In the first inning, still pure and innocent, Mike Trout stepped up to the plate, took six pitches, four of which were outside the zone, and Manny Gonzalez, the home plate umpire, sent him packing back to the dugout.
It was fine. It was a bad call. Trout could have salvaged the AB by swinging at Pitch 6. It, in fact, demonstrates the normal day-to-day business of Major League Baseball.
Trout, only a tiny bit scarred and still mostly pure and innocent, stepped back up to the plate in the 3rd, where Manny Gonzalez stripped all that away.
With the count 2-1, Trout took Ball 3.
With the count 3-2, Trout took Ball 4.
Coupled with Laz Diaz wanting to go home late Thursday night, Trout had now struck out three straight times solely because of umpires. Take this gem from Victor Rojas, our amazing TV play-by-play man:
“So the only two guys that can get Trout out, apparently...Laz Diaz last night and Manny Gonzalez tonight.”
It’s entirely possible, of course, that the whole scheme isn’t the fault of Gonzalez, or Diaz, and to a greater extent, it isn’t. Maybe they’re trying their best to call a good game, and they’ve blundered so many times in their careers that they aren’t sure what’s right and what’s wrong.
Yet Trout knows the zone. The fact that he’s walked more times the past two seasons than he’s struck out is clear evidence of that. He struck out twice tonight, yet he may have deserved none. He is chasing an OBP of .500, which is nearly unprecedented, and MLB shuts it all down.
It wasn’t just a game tonight. Because it was a microcosm.
Of Major League Baseball being the Grinch. Of hating fun. They took the greatest player in baseball, who doesn’t even get 15% of his team’s ABs, and forcibly threw him off the field.
People ask how to market Trout. MLB does too, but they do it jokingly. They’re not serious. They think the whole thing is a joke.
In the NBA, Lebron James can control 50% of his team’s possessions in a game. In the NFL, Tom Brady has the ball 50% of the game. In the NHL, Alex Ovechkin can line up on the wing 33% of the time. Trout gets 15%, and they take that away from him.
James complains and they send him to the free throw line. Brady complains and they call pass interference. Ovechkin complains and they set him up on the power play, where he can send slapshots into the net. Trout doesn’t complain, walks around with a smile on his face, signs autographs for children before every game, knows the zone better than most umpires. He doesn’t make their life hard! And they still punish him for it.
Take Andrelton Simmons, probably the best hitter at avoiding strikeouts since Tony Gwynn. He had gone 90 straight plate appearances without striking out until he swung at a pitch up and out of the zone in the 4th inning on a pitch that Manny Gonzalez would have called a strike.
It didn’t stop at Diaz or Gonzalez. In the 7th inning, first base umpire Andy Fletcher (who will be behind the plate Saturday night, joy) called Randal Grichuk safe on a groundout when he was beaten by a step, a la Jim Joyce. He then proceeded to miss an obvious trap-catch ball hit to Michael Hermosillo, freezing a Jays runner and not allowing him to advance from second to third on a single. Despite the delay, he still got the call wrong. For good measure, in a critical moment, with the Jays down 2-1 in the 7th with two runners on, Manny Gonzalez rings up Justin Smoak on a pitch off the plate.
Smoak, talk to Trout. He knows how you feel.
It’s times like these that could pop out at any moment of the postseason, when the eyes of the world are on the baseball field, when the integrity of the sport is at stake. And it’s blown time and time again.
No, it wasn’t just a game tonight. Major League Baseball is the Grinch. Because this game was a microcosm of how the league silences itself into submission when it faces the umpire’s union. Laz Diaz, Angel Hernandez, CB Bucknor, and Manny Gonzalez are all examples of umpires who should not be in the league. They make frequent, high-profile, documented errors, they instigate arguments with players and managers, allowing them to throw them out of games, and they just utterly do not represent what it means to be a major league umpire.
Yet the league lets them ruin games over and over again. In a sport where ALL the calls can hypothetically be clear-cut, Major League Baseball refuses to go anywhere near automated technology. Trout doesn’t get enough love as it is. When you ruin Trout, you ruin the game. Imagine an East Coast fan tuning in, maybe because it’s Friday night, maybe because it’s summer, to see Trout for the first time ever. They don’t see Trout. They see the umpire show. And that’s a damn shame.
Thankfully, Andrew Heaney pitched a gem. Seven innings of one-run ball, scattering hits magnificently. Cam Bedrosian surprisingly shaped up and got the hold with a perfect eighth, and Blake Parker slammed the door shut in the ninth.
Justin Upton made a terrific catch early on to preserve a slim Angel lead.
Luis Valbuena had a few flashy stops at third, and the Angels escaped with the second win in this series on just three hits. Albert Pujols drove in one run, Valbuena drove him in, and it was rough sailing until the end.
By the way, here’s the strike zone for the entire night.
Oh, and the Angels are five games back of the playoff spot. Food for thought?
Who has been the worst umpire this series?
This poll is closed
Laz Diaz (home Thursday, third Friday)
Manny Gonzalez (first Thursday, home Friday)
Andy Fletcher (second Thursday, first Friday)