Yesterday the San Francisco Giants defeated the Colorado Rockies 6-5 in 10 innings. Angel Pagan‘s inside the park home run was a strange ending to a strange game. Because of the distinct situations that arise in a baseball game, strange things happen sometimes. That’s the beauty of a game built around arbitrary numbers and distances. It is also what happens when there are not uniform dimensions to ballparks. Pagan’s home run was made possible by the ridiculous right-center field gap in AT&T Park. All sports are unpredictable; those are just some of the characteristics that make baseball uniquely unpredictable.
You know what else can sway a baseball game? The umpires. As with the officials in every major sport, the best umpire is the one you’ve never heard of. If you know the umpire’s name it probably means they draw more attention to themselves than they ever should. Angel “don’t show me no stinkin’ replays” Hernandez, “Cowboy” Joe West, “Balkin’ Bob Davidson,” and so on.
The exception, of course, is the ultra classy and accountable Jim Joyce. He is well known for being professional in the face of a horribly visible missed call.
For Giants and Rockies fans, Alfonso Marquez joined the list of umpires whom they know by name, and like many before him, it was not because everybody thinks he did a great job. It started with Marquez’s strike zone, which for most of the game was especially generous low and to each corner. Hitters from both teams griped, including a few whom Marquez allowed to get up in his face a bit as they expressed their displeasure. When it comes to strike zones, the cliche goes something like this: just be consistent and call it both ways. Marquez failed in this regard as his zone floated in the later innings, apparently swayed by the constant complaints.
Marquez’s real problems started in the bottom of the 7th inning. Giants first baseman Brandon Belt tried to score from third on a grounder to DJ LeMahieu. A close play at the plate followed in which Belt’s leg was clearly under the tag of Yorvit Torrealba. Marquez called him out, and the Giants griped minimally about what was at the very least a bang-bang play that cost them a run. Then came Marquez’s mistake that went viral among baseball fans.
Bottom of the 8th inning, former Rockies great Marco Scutaro on first base. Pablo Sandoval blooped a single to left field and Scutaro, for reasons unknown with the play in front of him, tried to go first-to-third on Carlos Gonzalez. Not surprisingly the throw beat him comfortably. Scutaro, showing some serious veteran savvy, weaved and juked his way around the tag of Nolan Arenado, sliding safely into third…until Arenado looked at Marquez, pointed at Scutaro’s back like he tagged him, and got the out call. At this point, the Giants understandably lost their minds, with Bruce Bochy arguing until he got run.
Had the Rockies held on to win after Troy Tulowitzki‘s 10th inning home run, there would have been extensive bellyaching from the San Francisco faithful that the game was stolen from them. Marquez would have been “public enemy number one” even more than he already will be on Sunday.
We’ve all had bad days at work. When you’re having a bad day you might undermine yourself and lose confidence. You might let other people affect how you handle your business because you’re second-guessing yourself. Then, the harder you try to turn things around and make it a good day, the worse things seem to get. Before you know it you feel like you have completely lost control, that things could not get any worse , and that you just want to go home. I know I can relate, and you have to at least feel for Marquez that for him it happened in a fairly high profile game that was viewed by many people.
Marquez might have been as happy as anybody in the stadium when Pagan crossed home plate in the bottom of the 10th for two reasons: it meant the game was over and he did not have to make a call on a play at the plate.
Timing is as much of an issue as anything for Marquez. Struggling and unaccountable umpires are among the favorite baseball talking points in 2013. There seems to be a consensus that it should be OK for umpires to struggle as long as they aren’t stubborn or arrogant about it. Adrian Johnson was accountable for his mistake when Astros manager Bo Porter made an illegal pitching change. Because he was suspended for that mistake, his is probably less of a lingering issue than the mistake by the aforementioned Hernandez. He was so stupidly bullish about a recently blown home run call that his colleagues across the league are being lumped in and paying for it each time they screw up. These painfully visible mistakes combined with increased calls for replay make it a bad time for an umpire to have a bad day.
Unfortunately for Marquez, he had the worst kind of bad day on Saturday.