TORONTO – Game 3 of the American League Championship Series had been an action-packed delight for seven innings. The Blue Jays chopped down Johnny Cueto behind a raucous home crowd. Kevin Pillar made nifty slides and outstanding catches. The Royals tried to hang in by swinging at seemingly every pitch Marcus Stroman threw. For a lopsided contest, it was a great game.
And then John Hirschbeck decided it needed more umpire.
In the bottom of the seventh, leading 10-4, the Blue Jays protested several strike calls at the plate. Troy Tulowitzki took exception to a called strike three over the outside corner. As the Blue Jays took the field at the top of the eighth inning, Hirschbeck and Tulowitzki shouted at one another, umpire standing behind the plate and Tulowitzki out near shortstop. Before anyone could discern what was going on, Hirschbeck ejected Tulowitzki.
“I think it was obvious I didn’t agree with the called third strike,” Tulowitzki said. “And there were other pitches that were questionable. I’m walking out to the field, and he’s looking at me. And I told him that wasn’t a strike. And it was a quick trigger. Obviously he was either holding on to something or something was going on. But I didn’t think what I did was going to eject me from the game.
“Obviously, you don’t want to get ejected right there. Unfortunately, I was. But it will be interesting to see what he has to say.”
Hirschbeck had nothing to say publicly, because Major League Baseball did not make umpires available to reporters. Typically in the playoffs, MLB public relations responds to a request by a member of the media in the home city when it comes to making an umpire available. It’s not clear if any such request was made.
The bottom line is nobody looked good here. Hirschbeck was the worst offender. It’s an ALCS game, and Tulowitzki’s actions toward him never would have been noticed if he hadn’t escalated the situation. Most likely, Hirschbeck wanted to send a message to the Blue Jays to stop carping, and he chose a blowout to make the statement. Hirschbeck has a history of long-distance confrontation. In 2013, he ejected Bryce Harper for protesting a check-swing call from third base while Harper stood at the plate. He’s the kind of umpire who settles scores, which is not good.
But Tulowitzki and the Blue Jays deserve scorn, too, for how they handled the seventh inning. Moaning about coin-flip ball-strike calls in the seventh inning of a 10-4 playoff game is not what championship baseball is about. The Blue Jays, led by the excellent Jose Bautista, have a reputation in baseball as a group that bellyaches when it does not get its way. They need to quit complaining so much. Umpires shouldn’t have it out for them. But the Blue Jays should stop giving the umpires motivation.
Tulowitzki never should have been ejected Monday night. Hirschbeck is the man most at fault, but he’s not the only one at fault.