In today’s final game against the Red Sox, Jason Varitek was the center of attention. His two homers won the game for the Sox—splitting the current series—and he was one of four players to draw the wrath of home plate umpire Todd Tichenor.
I got today’s game via radio, so I must rely especially heavily on announcers John Gordon and Dan Gladden to reconstruct the seventh inning showdown. Someone will soon let us know exactly how rare this is, but for now I’m going to assume it’s rare enough to be a first.
In one inning, Tichenor ejected both catchers and both managers. In the top half, the dispute arose from a close play at the plate. Gordon commented that if you had this play called by four umpires, you’d get two safes and two outs. It was as close as they come.
Dustin Pedroia his a sacrifice fly with Jeff Bailey on third. A beauty of a throw from Jason Kubel comes in to Mike Redmond, who sweeps a tag on Bailey. The AP game report says that replays show that Redmond’s tag beat Bailey’s hand to the plate.
So when Tichenor calls him safe, Redmond pops up to protest. The umpire has zero tolerance for this discussion and tosses him. A serious matter, as Joe Mauer is DHing. With Redmond ejected, Mauer will have to take up catching duties and the DH is forfeited. In theory, our pitcher will hit but in practice a pinch hitter will be used.
Provided we have an interim manager to pick one. Ron Gardenhire comes out to defend his catcher, but young Mr Tichenor has the shortest fuse in umpiredom. Gardy is tossed.
In the bottom half of the inning, Josh Beckett is continuing his fine work for the Red Sox. He gets Joe Crede to ground out and then faces Brendan Harris. A pitch that Beckett and his catcher Jason Varitek fervently believe should be called strike three is considered a mere ball. Beckett made a protesting grimace which, like all things, apparently, rubbed Tichenor wrong. When Varitek stood up to echo Beckett’s disgust, Tichenor made his favorite outtahere sign.
Manager Terry Francona then took his turn standing up for his player and became the fourth player ejected. It was fast and furious, and my play by play announcers could barely keep up. Now both teams had lost knights and rooks and play resumed.
By the way, my AP source says that pitch Beckett so loved really was outside—Tichenor got it right. Harris finished the at-bat, with backup catcher George Kottaras behind the plate, with a double.
If this were a movie, Harris would score and that lost strikeout would be the most significant play of the game. Alas, Harris remains stranded and the Twins failed to rally in the remaining two innings as well.
The Twins begin the scoring with a solo homer from Joe Crede in the second. May I pause to observe that the phrase “solo homer” is connected especially often with Crede. Is he hitting in the wrong part of the order? No one is ever on base for him, or the Mauer/Morneau train has already picked up all the passengers at the station.
The Twins lead 1-0 for rookie Anthony Swarzak in his second major league start. He keeps Boston quiet until the fifth, a total of 11 scoreless innings in his first two games. Varitek led off the fifth with a homer to tie the game.
Both pitchers had quick, strong innings. That tie looked like it wouldn’t budge, but in the seventh Varitek led off again and, just to enjoy his last visit to the Metrodome all the more, hit another homer, his tenth of the season.
Swarzak’s pitching line was six innings pitched, 3 earned runs, 5 hits, 3 strikeouts. The glaring glitch was four walks, though none of them scored. It was a solid effort—the only thing that unraveled in this game was the umpire’s temper.
Boston’s 3 runs were courtesy of the two bookend Varitek homers, plus the close play at the plate that scored Bailey. The Twins managed only 5 hits, and their only run was Joe Crede’s quiet little homer. After the raucous scoring fest against the White Sox and Brewers, the Twins have gone eerily silent.
Joe Mauer, for example, looked like a plain old baseball player, not our superhuman catcher. He didn’t get a hit, and collected one K. Yesterday, I believe he had only a single.
Ebb and flow is endemic to baseball, but I realize I had gotten used to the idea that when Mauer comes to the plate we are playing this special version of baseball, the kind in the movies or in the fantasies of young fans. Mauer and Morneau had started to wipe away all our disappointments, and now it’s tough to see that they are only baseball players from the planet earth. Dang!