ANAHEIM, Calif. – The techniques Marcus Stroman implemented into his delivery to disrupt timing at the plate were meant to confuse hitters, not umpires. Nonetheless, home plate umpire Ramon De Jesus called an illegal quick pitch on the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Sunday afternoon, a grey-area decision in the third inning that left many puzzled and led to the season’s first ejection for manager John Gibbons.
Frustrated amid the ensuing confusion, Stroman ended up surrendering a run that threatened to spoil what finished as a complete-game gem until the Blue Jays delivered a four-run eighth that carried them to a 6-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
After Devon Travis turned a game-ending double play, the always emotional and demonstrative right-hander jumped off the mound, slapped his chest and started shouting as he walked over to catcher Russell Martin to celebrate.
“I just think it’s a big game for us, man,” said Stroman. “We’re struggling at the time so any win that we can get to kind of put us in the right way, I think that’s where the emotion comes from. A little bit of that. I’m an emotional guy to begin with. … To get that late in the game and to get a win, it’s just a feel good moment for the entire team.”
Less impressed were the Angels. Albert Pujols, first and foremost, stood and glowered at him from the dugout, something Stroman noted.
“I’m going to talk to Pujols. A lot of respect for that guy,” he said. “I understand things could have got skewed a bit but I love Pujols. I’m sure I’ll talk to him soon, clear things up.”
The Angels had more reason to be angry with their bullpen.
Travis ripped a two-run homer off Deolis Guerra, Kevin Pillar pummelled the third offering from Brooks Pounders over the wall in centre and Kendrys Morales cashed in an Ezequiel Carrera triple with an RBI single in the decisive eighth to erase a 1-0 deficit.
Ryan Goins added a two-run shot in the ninth that helped the Blue Jays overcome both the De Jesus call and a trio of baserunning blunders that gifted three outs to Angels starter Daniel Wright, who managed to shut the Blue Jays out for five innings before handing over the reins.
Up until the Blue Jays rallied, the game had a grim when it rains, it pours type of feel to it. On Monday, they’ll try to both win consecutive games and a series for the first time this year when Francisco Liriano starts against Jesse Chavez.
“That felt good,” said Travis, who followed his homer with a double in the ninth to break out of a 2-for-48 rut against right-handed pitching. “The biggest thing is Stro’s out there, dealing, under 100 pitches and it was just time for the offence to wake up a little bit. I’m just thankful it worked out the way it did.”
Intriguing is whether there are wider implications from the calls by De Jesus pertaining to Stroman, who’s been using different delivery speeds and hitches in his windup as a way to keep hitters off balance.
Down 3-1 in the count in the third, Stroman was standing in the set position during the third inning at-bat versus Kole Calhoun. Right when the batter brought the bat to his shoulder, Stroman entered into his delivery. The ball looked like a strike, Calhoun waved his arm in frustration and De Jesus put his hands up in the air, deemed it an illegal quick pitch and sent the batter off to first.
The rule reads as follows:
Rule 5.07(a)(2) Comment (Rule 8.01(b) Comment) With no runners on base, the pitcher is not required to come to a complete stop when using the Set Position. If, however, in the umpire’s judgment, a pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, this delivery shall be deemed a quick pitch, for which the penalty is a ball. See Rule 6.02(a)(5) Comment (Rule 8.05(e) Comment).
“What we basically go by is if the batter is reasonably ready,” crew chief Alfonso Marquez explained to a pool reporter. “That’s all we judge it on. With no runners on base, he doesn’t have to come set. In the umpire’s judgment, the batter was not reasonably ready, therefore he considered it a quick pitch.”
Stroman and Russell Martin immediately began to argue with De Jesus, and Gibbons charged from the dugout to join in. Eventually De Jesus, who was involved in some controversy with the Blue Jays last summer, conferred with the rest of the umpiring crew but left Calhoun at first. Gibbons continued to complain and as he was walking away, added a parting shot that got him tossed.
“There was no reasoning for it,” Stroman said of the quick pitch call. “I didn’t really get an explanation as to why I couldn’t do it. That’s the only thing why I was a little upset.”
Mike Trout singled on Stroman’s next pitch and, two pitches after that, an Albert Pujols base hit opened up a 1-0 lead. A C.J. Cron fielder’s choice ended the frame and a livid Stroman had to be calmed in the dugout by teammates afterwards.
“I’ve got a lot of guys around me who know I’m pretty emotional and who help calm me down, Russell being huge for me,” said Stroman. “I’m able to take deep breaths, retract from it, put my mind where it needs to be and then approach the next batter.”
Stroman took his frustration out on the Angels afterwards, retiring the next 17 batters, a stretch Pujols ended with a one-out double in the ninth. Stroman then hit Cron and surrendered a single to Andrelton Simmons. Pujols scored when Jose Bautista bobbled the ball.
In the eighth, De Jesus and Stroman crossed paths again when a late time was granted to Martin Maldonado. Stroman threw his arms up and again began yelling at the umpire, with bench coach DeMarlo Hale running out to take up the case.
Once things calmed, Stroman caught Maldonado looking leading to a different argument for De Jesus. The Angels went down in order from there, Pillar making a terrific diving catch in shallow right-centre on a Calhoun drive to end the frame.
Already having a tough enough time at the plate, the Blue Jays did themselves no favours on the basepaths, either, running themselves out of multiple potential rallies.
In the first, Bautista followed an Ezequiel Carrera single with a base hit that was bobbled by left-fielder Ben Revere. Carrera alertly took third but when Bautista tried to sneak into second, he was thrown out easily by Simmons. Instead of second and third with one out, the Blue Jays were left with a man on third and two outs. Kendrys Morales struck out to end the frame.
In the third, Pillar worked a two-out walk. With Carrera up 3-1 in the count, Pillar was halfway to second when Wright stepped off and threw to first, leading to a rundown that ended the inning.
In the fourth, Carrera led off with a walk but was on base for one pitch, getting picked off by Wright with the count 0-1.
“Jose’s, I can see where he’s trying to make something happen on the throw to third base,” said Gibbons. “A 3-1 count though, you can’t get picked off with Pillar. That can’t happen.”
In the eighth, they found another manner in which to give away an out when Chris Coghlan popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt after Martin opened the inning with a walk. But Travis then bailed him out by ripping a 1-1 cutter over the wall in left for his first homer of the season, with the rest of the damage to follow.
The Blue Jays also were denied a replay attempt in the first, as they took too long to make the decision a safe call on a Trout steal of second base. After initially signalling no challenge, Gibbons later rushed out of the dugout and conferred with the umpires to ask for a review. He was denied and, after a Pujols single, Stroman induced a double play from Cron.
Despite it all, the Blue Jays managed to pitch and hit their way to an all too rare happy ending.