By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (July 12) — The Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals hooked up in one of the most ineptly played games of the Major League Baseball season on Sunday at Kaufman Stadium. A total of 21 runs, 27 hits and seven errors marshaled each club into the break for Tuesday night’s All–Star game in Cincinnati. The Blue Jays fell behind, 7–0; roared back to tie, 7–7, and ultimately lost, 11–10, when reliever Bo Schultz gave up a lead–off home run to Paulo Orlando in the eighth inning.
My ol’ pal, Ken Fidlin, covering for the Toronto Sun, called it “one of the sloppiest professional baseball games you will ever see. The ‘shirts’ against the ‘skins’ at the company picnic would make fewer mistakes than the Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals in Sunday’s [series] finale… on general principle, both teams should have been declared losers.”
Even more alluring than the slapstick game was the Blue Jays telecast on Sportsnet. Both the team and the all–sports network are owned by Rogers Communications. As such, there is considerable slant toward the home club from broadcasters Buck Martinez, Pat Tabler and Barry Davis; less so from the balancing–act Blue Jays Central panel of Jamie Campbell and Gregg Zaun. For seven games leading into the break (four at Chicago and three at Kansas City), Toronto Raptors’ TV voice Matt Devlin replaced the vacationing Martinez and worked alongside Tabler.
FINAL LINE–SCORE FROM A BRUTALLY PLAYED BASEBALL GAME SUNDAY AFTERNOON BETWEEN A WORLD SERIES CONTENDER AND A POST–SEASON PRETENDER. SPORTSNET TV IMAGE
Sparks began to fly on the field — and the telecast — when Toronto slugger Jose Bautista was ejected from the ballgame by home plate umpire Jerry Meals in the top of the eighth inning; score tied, 10–10; a runner on first for the Blue Jays and a 1–and–2 count on the batter.
Bautista had angrily swiveled from the box when Meals called a strike on a high/inside pitch earlier in the count. Known for volatility throughout his career, the Blue Jays right–fielder has largely calmed down at the plate this season. He did not, however, heed several warnings from Meals while arguing with the umpire throughout his eighth–inning at–bat. Meals retrieved a handful of baseballs from a ball boy behind home plate and Bautista turned toward him with one further word. Meals pivoted left and demonstrably gave Bautista the heave–ho.
On the telecast, Devlin became incredulous. Neither he nor Tabler had offered a peep of criticism toward Jose Reyes after the bumbling shortstop allowed two more slow–rollers to escape between his wickets earlier in the match — initially opening the gates for a six–run eruption by Kansas City in the first inning. The utter silence after Reyes’s identical second error was both deafening and discomforting. Back in June, the Blue Jays long–time radio voice, Jerry Howarth, had reprimanded Reyes for his declining performance in the field — suggesting the ebullient Dominican flashed “too many smiles” on behalf of a floundering team. Though entirely accurate, Howarth’s comment ignited a sh–storm on social media and the veteran play caller missed two weeks with the longest bout of “laryngitis” in medical history.
Perhaps that is why Devlin and Tabler clammed up after the latest in a string of eye–popping gaffes by Reyes, who is pulling in a remarkable $22 million (U.S.) this season. But, Tabler more than made up for his silence when Bautista was excused from Sunday’s match. Speaking more as a fan than a professional broadcaster, Devlin grumbled at his partner about the ejection. Tabler, impressively, would have none of it.
JOSE BAUTISTA IS WARNED BY HOME PLATE UMPIRE JERRY MEALS (TOP–LEFT), WHO THEN EJECTS THE TORONTO PLAYER FROM SUNDAY’S GAME (TOP–RIGHT). AFTER THE EJECTION, BAUTISTA AND MEALS CONTINUE TO ARGUE (BELOW). SPORTSNET TV IMAGES
DEVLIN: “Meals throws Bautista out of the game in this situation.”
TABLER: “Y’know what? You gotta hold your tongue. You’re [the club’s] best hitter. You’re tied with the team that went to the World Series last year… 10–10; it’s the eighth inning. We need you in the game here. You can’t get thrown out. You just can’t. And, Bautista, unhappy with one of those pitches, kept jawing and jawing with Jerry Meals and [Meals] said, ‘Okay, I gave you your chance to say something and now I’ve had enough [replay is shown].’ You can see, [Meals] lets him say his thing; get back in the box, go ahead and hit. And, if it ends right there, that’s it, he’s still in the game. [Meals] goes back to get the baseballs [from a ball boy behind the plate] and [Bautista] kept jawing… and Jerry Meals said, ‘That’s enough. Out!’ The Blue Jays need Bautista in the line–up and they’re going to finish this game without him.”
It was out of character for Tabler to stray from the party line; he could have easily concurred with Devlin. Instead, Tabler showed how effective he can be as a baseball analyst when he comments without undue bias.
After the top–half of the eighth inning, Devlin threw to Campbell and Zaun in the Blue Jays Central studio on Jarvis St. As mentioned, Zaun, the 44–year–old ex–Toronto catcher, is the lone supplier of balance on Blue Jays telecasts. His dissenting view — when warranted — offers refreshing insight. In prior seasons, he quite regularly upbraided Bautista for losing his temper and getting thrown out of games. As a one–time hot–headed receiver himself, however, Zaun’s tolerance for umpires has long been limited. Which he proved yet again on Sunday.
CAMPBELL: “What’s your take on the Bautista/Meals confrontation.”
ZAUN [Shaking his head during the question]: “Y’know, this is another prime example of an umpire just trying to be noticed. Jose Bautista — if he’s wrong, fine. If he’s upset about the pitch… but, he never stared Jerry in the face [replay again shown]. He turned; he said something and he walked away. You know who exacerbates the situation — it’s the home plate umpire, Jerry Meals. If he just does his job; keeps his mask on; stays behind the catcher where he belongs and keeps his mouth shut, none of this would’ve happened. Jose Bautista should be able to say something. He’s not staring Jerry Meals in the face; he is not showing Jerry Meals up. Jerry Meals is the one who is throwing gas on the fire here. And, honestly, this is the reason you see so many ejections these days — [umpires] throwing gas on the fire.”
GREGG ZAUN (IN RED) AND JAMIE CAMPBELL CONVERSE ON SUNDAY. SPORTSNET TV IMAGES
Not surprisingly, Sunday’s wacky encounter at Kaufman Stadium ended with a strike–out/throw–out of Toronto catcher Russell Martin and pinch–runner Ryan Goins. Seconds later, Campbell and Zaun appeared for their post–game assessment. Zaun had hardly cooled.
CAMPBELL: “Whether or not it was going to impact the outcome of the ballgame, we’ll never know. But, the ejection by Jerry Meals of Jose Bautista really seemed to set you off. Why?”
ZAUN: “Well, because, when I first came into the league, as a rookie, you kept your mouth shut. But, if you’re an established veteran player like Jose Bautista, you should be allowed to have your say. Jose Bautista never once showed the umpire up. He might have left the batter’s [box] a little bit too far [as replay is shown] but, right here, he kept his head down and wasn’t even looking at Jerry Meals when he said what he had to say. Nobody would have known there was a conversation taking place if Jerry Meals had not exacerbated the situation. He took his mask off. He got in Jose Bautista’s face. ‘I don’t care if you like what I’m saying or not, Jerry Meals. As long as I’m not using profanity or if I’m not calling you a horrible umpire and getting personal, I should be able to have my say.’ And, look at [Meals] — dismissive… get going. Who are you? You’re the umpire. You are not the reason why people are showing up to watch this game. You are an umpire. You are supposed to diffuse the situation by showing some maturity and showing some restraint. Not [by] throwing gas on the fire and making it worse.”
Of course, no one — including Zaun — could have known whether Bautista spoke profanely to Meals or, in fact, called him a “horrible umpire.” What the broadcasters either missed, or chose to overlook, was a scene played out on Sportsnet after a commercial break prior to the ejection. With the temperature at field level hovering near 100 degrees Fahrenheit — and each team prolonging the match by kicking around the ball — Meals’ head was wrapped in a cold towel by the Kansas City trainer. Clearly, he was uncomfortable and perhaps dizzy. Zaun’s take should therefore not be dismissed. But, Meals was hardly the first umpire to become irritable in the heat of mid–summer Kansas City. As such, Bautista should have read the situation and controlled his temper.
Of further significance was that Jays’ manager John Gibbons remained in the dugout after Bautista’s ejection — strolling toward the plate roughly 20 seconds later and not uttering a single word of protest to Meals. It was clear when seen live and on replay: Gibbons separated his player from the umpire and offered Meals only a quick glance. His silence spoke to Bautista getting thrown out with the tying run on first and the Jays hoping to not fall beneath .500 at the mid–summer break.
Instead, Toronto is 45–46 after 91 games.
Having won a team–record–tying 11 consecutively from June 2–14, the club has since prevailed in 11 of 27 games. It is a mediocre and potentially season–killing 19–28 on the road, yet still only 4½ games off the pace in the middling American League East Division.
More on the Blue Jays tomorrow.
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