The fog was so thick, it nearly obscured the latest Jose Bautista controversy.
Following his umpire-fueled tirade in Toronto on Sunday, Bautista waved aside pre-game interview requests and deferred to his bat, hitting a pair of homers to drive in five runs, while Colby Rasmus launched another at fog-shrouded U.S. Cellular Field on Monday night.
Their early production was insufficient though, as the Blue Jays failed in the clutch with runners on base in later innings during a 10-6 loss to the struggling White Sox. The game lasted four hours and 36 minutes, including a 1:10 fog delay. Sox starting pitcher Dylan Axelrod had the best line of the night, after surrendering the three homers: "I didn't see all those home runs go out -- so that was cool."
Cascading into the stadium in sheets of white to present an eerie Halloween-like atmosphere, the fog created dangerous conditions for fans who sat through the stew, as foul balls off hitters’ bats were distorted by the filtered light. While the umpires received credit from both teams for handing the situation adeptly, it was left to wonder, six days in the aftermath of the Biogenesis news, how the commissioner’s office can be so vigilant about the war on drugs and yet so tolerant of weather conditions that compromise the integrity of the sport.
So murky were the sightlines, with the White Sox batting in the fifth inning, Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera stumbled around as though drunk while trying to locate a Jeff Keppinger fly ball, and Bautista in right lost the next fly ball before Rasmus settled under it.
“It was tough from the outfield,” White Sox right fielder Alex Rios told reporters. "From the batter's box you could see the ball, but from the outfield there were times … you had no idea where the ball was at.”
Coming off a masterful performance in San Francisco last week when he shut down the Giants on two hits in 8-1/3 innings, Jays starter R.A. Dickey struggled to deal with the moisture once the fog began to roll into the stadium. Suddenly, his knucklers were coming in flat rather than breaking late on hitters. He returned after the delay in the third inning and departed for good after five, giving up seven runs on 10 hits. Adam Dunn accounted for four of the runs with a pair of bombs travelling a combined 885 feet.
“I’ve been playing a long time and that’s the first game I’ve ever played in those conditions, so it was challenging," Dickey said. "I didn’t have anything to go back on and say, ‘OK, I’ve done this-and-this in these conditions.’”
The Jays went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners in total. They left the bases loaded in the third (Josh Thole fly out) and seventh (Melky Cabrera pop out), two in scoring position in the eighth (Rasmus comebacker to the pitcher; shortstop Alexei Ramirez game saving play on a J.P. Arencibia grounder up the middle) and two aboard in the sixth when home plate ump Jeff Nelson rang up Bautista on a high fastball and Encarnacion popped out.
The latter situation evoked a comparison to Sunday’s – that is, two runners aboard, the Blue Jays trailing, an umpire calling a borderline strike. This time, Bautista walked away from the plate without complaint, and left his equipment intact.
In the ninth inning Sunday, Texas Rangers broadcaster Tom Grieve called Bautista a “cry baby”, when the Blue Jays slugger erupted at home plate umpire Gary Darling, punctuating a running battle that Bautista can’t win. After seething about a strike-one call and proceeding to strike out, he screamed at Darling and flung his bat, helmet and elbow pad angrily after being ejected.
Not all players are the same. Not all players are able to swallow what they believe is a bad call and walk away without saying a word, a false calm painting their expressions. Bautista, said DeMarlo Hale, acting as manager with John Gibbons attending his son’s high school graduation, is an “emotional” player who expressed himself, got over it, came ready to play the next day.
But the more he barks at umpires, the longer the grey-area calls will go against him. Fairly or unfairly, his protests turn balls into strikes. Major leaguers know how to make their feelings known without showing up the umpires.
“You turn into a cry baby when you act like that,” said Grieve, formerly the team’s general manager. “Go sit down and look at the pitch and then apologize to the umpire … That was a weak display of immaturity right there.”
With his actions, Bautista exposed himself to charges of selfishness, as Encarnacion had to wait for the tirade to run its course before he popped out, leaving the Rangers with a 6-4 victory.
In the first week of the season, speaking with a handful of reporters in Toronto, Bautista made a simple appeal, stating that a strike should be a strike, a ball should be a ball, with no other factors involved. His broad implication was pure, if naive: personal feelings should never influence an umpire’s decision. As published by The Globe and other outlets, he added a quote that was bound to make the rounds: “Sometimes I have trouble, more than other players, dealing with my production being affected by somebody else's mediocrity. That's just the way I am as a person."
With faint hopes of a postseason berth slipping, while lining up his his defence, the club was awaiting word on the discipline coming Bautista’s way. On the radio Monday, general manager Alex Anthopoulos noted how Bautista has generally controlled his reactions to iffy calls in the past two months, and added that “almost any player would get upset” due to the strike-one call on Sunday.
The Jays (27-35) arrived in Chicago needing to make up ground against the White Sox (28-34), a team that’s been struggling as the Blue Jays were showing signs of turning their season around. Having left a plethora of runners on base, they paid homage to a season-long theme by committing two infield errors in the eighth inning, leading to three White Sox insurance runs.
Tuesday is to bring the Blue Jays debut of Chien-Ming Wang, 33, of Taiwan. Between 2006 and 2008, the right-hander went 46-15 for the Yankees before breaking his ankle while base running during an interleague game. In 2009 he was 1-6 with an ERA near 10, and the Yankees let him go. He missed 2010 with shoulder problems, and appeared in only 21 games for the Washington Nationals these past two seasons. Back in the Yankees organization this season, pitching for the Triple-A affiliate at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he was 4-4 with a 2.33 ERA.
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