It’s one thing to tear up your own dugout in a celebration, to send your teammates running for cover as you work your way down the line firing high fives and fist punches or flaunt some of the games unwritten rules about on-field decorum in 50-50 situations.
It’s quite another to throw your batting helmet at the feet of a home plate umpire as Brett Lawrie did Tuesday night. It was, as Lawrie said, “an unlucky bounce,” that saw the helmet hit a stunned Bill Miller on the right side of his leg. But the act went well beyond, and Lawrie had to be physically restrained by manager John Farrell. You don’t have a personality like Lawrie’s and play the game in such a brazen manner without collecting your share of teachable moments, but this one comes equipped with a trip to the principal’s office.
Of course, Lawrie was apologetic, following his ejection in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Frustrated, too. He’d seen a 3-1 pitch that thought was a ball and dropped his bat and sprinted to first base only to hear home plate umpire Bill Miller call him back, with Rays closer Fernando Rodney staring at Lawrie as he returned to home plate. Lawrie had already been drilled on the left knee by Rays starter David Price (6-2) and had it been anything other than the ninth inning it’s a safe bet that Rodney would have buried another pitch in the ribs of the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman. But Rodney didn’t have to do that. The whole world, or at least all 15,612 at the Rogers Centre that watched the Rays beat the Blue Jays for the 40th time in 59 games stretching back to 2009, knew that as long as the next pick was in the ballpark it was going to be a strike. Lawrie took it, with predictable results.
Here is how he saw it: “The call was kind of late,” Lawrie said. “I wasn’t just going to stand there and wait for him [Miller]and look at him to make a call. I thought it was ball four and I dropped my bat and ran. Turned out it was a strike and I had to come back and do it all over again.
“I’ve never done anything in my life before to go at an umpire and I didn’t mean to tonight,” Lawrie added. “I apologize for that. The helmet took an unlucky bounce [and]I think it got him, and I apologize for that. It’s my passion for the game. … I just felt that it was ball four and it went against me tonight.”
Of course it did. For a team that has for the most part had an easier schedule and better health than its American League East Division brethren, it’s remarkable how much is going against the Blue Jays these days. And now this: with Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion and Kelly Johnson pretty much all that stands between the Blue Jays and a running shutout – with Jose Bautista and Adam Lind staring longingly at .200 and Lind effectively out as an everyday first baseman – it is likely commissioner Bud Selig will dole out supplemental discipline in Lawrie's direction.
Lawrie could appeal and be available for the two-game series against the New York Yankees that starts Wednesday at the Rogers Centre, but throwing an item at an umpire could be dealt with more harshly than, say, an accidental bump while arguing. And Lawrie’s absence won’t be noted only offensively; before the game, manager John Farrell – who was also ejected by Miller, who in turn would be hit in the right shoulder by a beer thrown from behind the dugout after Colby Rasmus grounded out for the final out of the game, talked at length about how Lawrie’s athleticism allowed the Blue Jays to employ a variety of exaggerated defensive shifts against left-handed batters.
Still, this isn’t Milton Bradley we’re talking about. Lawrie said he hadn’t reacted in that manner before, and the fact is Miller’s called third strike was, shall we say, excessively demonstrative. But it’s one of the accepted unwritten rules of the game that a player does not show up an umpire and Miller wouldn’t be the first umpire to send a message to a young player. Lawrie’s post-game response in the Blue Jays clubhouse was properly measured if not exactly over-flowing with contrition. Some might say that this is merely the flip side of who Brett Lawrie is and how he plays the game. Unfortunately, it won’t wash.