The story of this game was supposed to be Roenis Elias. Making his major league debut, Elias held Oakland hitless through the first 4 2/3 innings while issuing only a pair of walks. He would have had his no-hitter intact through five full frames, of course, except that the eventual story of this game hijacked the spotlight. Thing started to get ugly after that, and in the end the game came down to one team choosing to use the worst player on either roster. But while that’s kind of the story here, the big story really ought to be what went on behind the plate.
Here’s the scene: bottom of the fifth, two outs, nobody on. It’s Roenis Elias vs. Nick Punto, and the count is 2-2. Elias breezes a curve that drops essentially over the middle of the plate. Punto is completely fooled, and leaves the box. Elias and Zunino break for the dugout, assuming that the inning is over, as it should have been. But Sean Barber decides that no, the inning is not over, because just as the curve fooled the batter, it fooled the umpire. Sean Barber was expecting a high change or something, and he called this pitch the way he saw it leave the pitcher’s hands. He was dead wrong, of course, and on the very next pitch Punto sliced a fastball into left for the A’s first hit. From that point on, rookie home plate umpire Sean Barber became the story.
Which sucks, it completely sucks, because the whole thing with umpires is that they’re really never supposed to be the story in a game. The umpires are only the story when they’re making egregious, awful calls, and that’s what Barber did tonight, over and over again. The box score will tell you that there were 13 walks in this game. But while those walks are on the scoresheet, many weren’t in the actual game. It is my understanding that Barber is a minor league umpire who was making his big league debut behind the plate last night. He utterly refused to call high strikes, and insisted that several down-the-middle strikes were balls. He cost a guy a no-no in his major league debut, bless his heart.
Who knows if Barber even gets the chance to try this again. Scott Weber at Lookout Landing took a look at the Pitch F/X data from last night, so just go look at his post if you want to further stoke the fires of umpire hate. Point is this: Barber was really bad. Danny Farquhar‘s two walks, for example, just absolutely weren’t. That Punto single that broke up the no-hitter directly affected the outcome of the game, as Sam Fuld immediately tripled him home for the A’s first run. It sucks complaining about umpiring, since what can you do, really, aside from complain? It’s the worst, but especially when it’s unwarranted. Here, at least it was warranted. Which is, in a way, an even bigger bummer.
Against the Angels, the Mariners beat up on a crappy bullpen that pitched to its AAA reputation. Against the A’s, the Mariners managed one hit over the final six frames to go with a walk and five strikeouts. Jesse Chavez, who started the game for Oakland, is a converted reliever who may or may not be headed back to the bullpen when certain other arms are healthier, and he too had no problem with the M’s lineup. The Mariners bullpen projects surprisingly well this year, but man, the A’s have a tough group to top. Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle are pretty nuts, and Drew Pomeranz out of the pen just seems like a good idea. Jim Johnson should be good, but if he struggles, almost any other guy in the bullpen could step up and close. The AL West is really tight this year, and things like a lights-out pen might make a bigger difference than we’d like to think.
Abraham Almonte had two singles and a walk from the lead-off spot, though he did blunder a little bit on the bases and in center, including a missed dive on the Fuld triple that almost resulted in an inside-the-park home run. Mike Zunino clubbed a big double, and Brad Miller made a lot of solid contact despite not having much to show for it. Logan Morrison justified his spot in the lineup, and at one point he and Dustin Ackley executed a gorgeous hit and run that worked like a charm. It’s hard to imagine any offense getting going against Oakland’s relievers, but at least the lineup made Chavez work through his six frames.
Speaking of work, Hector Noesi was allowed to pitch last night. He threw two pitches. One was a home run. Hector Noesi really ought to be done here. He’s on the team because he’s out of options, but he’s out of options because he’s out of chances not to be garbage. He’s only been garbage, and now he’s taking up a roster spot that could go to any of a number of other guys. Hector Noesi is not a “long man.” He’s not here for “mop up duty” since he just pitched the 12th inning of a tie game because the only other remaining option was the closer, and gotta save him in case there’s a tie, right? The M’s only have 25 active roster spots. There’s no way to justify giving one of them to Hector Noesi. There wasn’t before the Coco Crisp dinger, and there sure as hell isn’t now.
More baseball tonight because life is a beautiful thing. Chris Young makes his Mariners debut, pitching opposite Dan Straily. 7:05 start time, as per usual, and the home plate umpire will not be Sean Barber. Hector Noesi will probably not pitch. A new day, a new way! Cross your fingers for no Noesi. Do not uncross them. DO. NOT.