Joe Maddon noticed it while studying video of Sean Doolittle recently — that the Washington Nationals closer tapped his right foot to the ground before delivering pitches. That’s what first brought the Chicago Cubs manager out of the visiting dugout on Saturday night.
There were no outs in the ninth inning of the Nationals’ eventual 5-2 win over the Cubs. Doolittle had thrown one pitch to pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr., a middle-in fastball for strike one. Maddon conversed with home plate umpire and crew chief Sam Holbrook, who then conferred with the other three umps, who then all spoke with Doolittle by the mound to explain the situation.
Maddon thought his delivery illegal because, in his eyes, Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. was told he could not touch the ground with his foot mid-delivery during spring training and at the start of the season.
Doolittle laughed as he heard this. Nationals Manager Dave Martinez walked onto the field to offer his two cents. Holbrook told Maddon that Doolittle was doing nothing wrong. Before leaving the field, Maddon promised Holbrook that he would file an official protest if Doolittle did it again.
Two pitches later, Maddon was back out arguing with Holbrook and — true to his word — filed a protest with one out. The league will now review Maddon’s complaint. If it is decided that there was a rules violation, the game will resume from when the protest was filed.
There was no replay review, Holbrook confirmed to a pool reporter after the game. He put on a headset in the ninth inning to inform the league office in New York City that the Cubs were playing the rest of the contest under protest.
According to the league’s website, “The game will not be replayed unless it is also determined that the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning.”
“In that moment he’s not trying to do anything other than rattle me,” Doolittle said of Maddon. “And it was kind of tired. I don’t know, sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game. So he put his stamp on it for sure.”
Maddon expressed frustration with the previous decision on Edwards and felt he had no choice but to defend his player by raising the point with Doolittle. Holbrook acknowledged the past situation with Edwards after the game and said Doolittle was doing nothing illegal by the judgment of the four-man crew for Saturday’s game.
In quickly describing a possible difference between Edwards and Doolittle, Doolittle noted that Edwards was putting his whole foot on the ground and pausing his delivery, while he taps his toe and doesn’t fully stop.
“It’s really simple. That’s exactly what Carl [Edwards] was told he can’t do. And I was told it was an illegal pitch and he can’t do it,” Maddon said after the game. "I went to Sam [Holbrook], and I told him that. And he said, ‘In our judgment.’ . . . I said, ‘there’s no judgment. If he taps the ground, it’s an illegal pitch, period.’
"There’s nothing to judge. You can judge whether he did or not. It’s obvious that he did. If you can’t tell that, then there’s something absolutely wrong. So that was my argument."
Holbrook and third base umpire Dan Iassogna did not discuss the nuances of the rule book after the game, and instead repeatedly circled back to their judgment that Doolittle’s delivery was legal.
Doolittle joked that he’ll have to thank Maddon because, after the on-field theatrics dissolved, he threw his best fastballs in a while.
The end of the game, for now, was a perfect inning for Doolittle and his eighth save of the season. That could change, if the Cubs win the protest and the top of the ninth has to be replayed with one out and Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber at the plate. But Holbrook and Iassogna were confident in a ruling that is now out of their hands.
“Without getting into the nuts and bolts of what happened before, and all that jazz, in our judgment what Doolittle was doing was fine,” Holbrook said.
“Reason being, we made the call and now it goes to somebody else,” Iassogna chimed in. "Now they will make the call.”
Read more on the Washington Nationals: