TORONTO – This was supposed to be a night about the launching of prospect Sean Nolin’s big-league career, a moment for a dream fulfilled, successful or not.
Instead, Nolin’s debut lasted just 1.1 innings, matching a Toronto Blue Jays record for shortest debut by a starter, and a 10-6 thumping from the Baltimore Orioles devolved into a new controversy for Brett Lawrie with umpires, an ejection for flipping his batting gloves toward home after a called third strike stirring yet another debate about the men in black.
Add it all up and it was an especially memorable Friday at the Rogers Centre before 25,104, although not for the reasons Nolin, who was optioned back to double-A New Hampshire afterwards, and his teammates would have preferred.
“From my standpoint, the at-bat was over, flipped my bat down, flipped my helmet down and walked to my position. Apparently you get in trouble for that,” said a clearly frustrated Lawrie, who didn’t realize home plate umpire Dan Bellino verbally issued him an equipment fine and then ejected him.
“I didn’t do anything. Just what you guys saw is what happened. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t say one word to him – not one. Didn’t look at him one time, and I’m in trouble for that.”
For good measure, manager John Gibbons picked up his third ejection of the season for coming out to ask Bellino about Lawrie’s third-inning dismissal, the frustrations of a 9-3 deficit and roving strike zone boiling over.
The excitable third baseman, suspended four games last year for his thrown helmet bouncing off the turf and striking ump Bill Miller, was judged harshly by Bellino in this one, but given last year’s incident he’s going to have a tough time getting the benefit of the doubt, fairly or not.
Up with two on and two out Lawrie took two debatable high strikes, muttering something under his breath after the second one, and then was wrung up on a reasonable breaking pitch down and in. He flipped his helmet and bat down in frustration, undid his batting gloves as he walked up the third-base line in silence, and tossed them back toward home where the rest of his gear was.
“My only thing was that I was going to throw my batting gloves behind me so that the batboy could come pick up my stuff and take it to the dugout,” Lawrie said. “Apparently he took that the wrong way and decided to throw me out.”
The last part was a no-no and got him chucked, but whether it merited an ejection is open to interpretation. If you believe Lawrie was throwing the gloves back at Bellino, then he deserved to get run, if you think he was simply sending them back toward the rest of his stuff, then it was unnecessary.
You can guess which way Bellino saw it.
“It was a called strike three, he threw down his helmet and his bat, and was given an equipment fine by the home plate umpire,” crew chief Wally Bell, speaking on behalf of Bellino, told a pool reporter. “As he walked away, in his opinion, he flipped the gloves back in a bad manner and that will get an ejection. That’s what it was. He threw them back toward Danny in a way that wasn’t etiquette in baseball and he was ejected for it.”
Asked whether a frustrated player deserved some leeway, Bell replied: “That’s all for opinion, the situation handles it. That’s the best way to say it, the situation makes you do as an umpire what you have to do. In this situation, we felt he could have been ejected and was.”
To his credit, an incredulous Lawrie didn’t lose his cool on field after he realized he’d been ejected, but would have done better to have walked down the dugout steps and up the tunnel rather than turning back to yell something at the umpires before finally retreating.
Nolin’s night had been done for a while as all that drama played out, the 23-year-old left-hander having surrendered six runs on seven hits and a walk in an unfortunate debut.
A sixth-round pick in 2010 – the second player from that draft year to reach the Blue Jays, after Sam Dyson last year – Nolin had made just six starts at double-A New Hampshire before getting called up, but had been on the club’s big-league radar since last September and was pitching very well.
Things didn’t fall his way right off the bat, as the Orioles opened with singles by Nick Markakis and Manny Machado before J.J. Hardy golfed a decent pitch over the wall in left to make it 3-0 in an instant. Nolin recovered to escape the rest of the inning unscathed, but the Orioles started the second with a double, walk, single and three-run Markakis double for a 6-1 lead, and once Machado flew out to right, Gibbons came out fetch his starter.
“I was definitely ready to go, but maybe a little over-amped, for sure,” Nolin said afterwards. “Take everything as a learning experience, good and bad.”
Nolin’s spot in the rotation next comes up May 29 at Atlanta, and the Blue Jays aren’t blessed with a plethora of options as they await Josh Johnson’s return from the disabled list. The right-hander is slated to pitch in a rehab game for triple-A Buffalo on Saturday, and the earliest he’d be ready for a return is May 30, although Gibbons insists he’ll get a second outing with the Bisons before rejoining the club for a June 5 outing at San Francisco.
Ramon Ortiz, who allowed three runs in 2.2 innings of mop-up work, is a possibility but the Blue Jays have already seen that movie and it doesn’t end well. Prospect Marcus Stroman is coming fast but his second start of the year at New Hampshire was cut short by rain Friday after four innings of two-run ball with five strikeouts. J.A. Happ won’t be back until July at the earliest.
As for Nolin?
“It was a tough go for him, no question,” Gibbons said. “But I told him – ‘I don’t want you leaving here with any negative thoughts. You’ll be back. Someday you’ll look back and laugh at this, because you’re better than that. You never know how debuts are going to go. It’s the way the game is sometimes at this level. Go down there and continue to work, work your way back up. You have a bright future, son.’”
The Blue Jays had their chances to climb back into this slugfest despite their ineffective pitching, but were unlucky that their three home runs – by Melky Cabrera in the first, Lawrie in the second and Adam Lind in the seventh – each came leading off an inning.
They actually outhit the Orioles 17-16 but were 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position and couldn’t deliver a big blow to put a crooked number on the scoreboard.
Six runs, though, should have been enough, as the Blue Jays were 15-0 when scoring five or more runs before this one.
“Definitely not the way I envisioned it,” Nolin said of his debut. “I think I just had too much energy going. I felt like I had already thrown a few innings, kind of wasted some gas without doing anything. That was a part of it, for sure. …
“I had chills going through my body, it was something I always wanted to do, I imagined it, and it was exciting to be out there, for sure.”
May the memories be better next time, kid.