In the three-game series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays the umpiring was inexcusably poor, and the crew needs to be held accountable
Anyone who follows Rum Bunter's Twitter knows that I complain about umpires, a lot. I'd be the first person to admit that I probably complain too much about umpires. That said, the umpires for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays series were completely incompetent.
From the get go in game one on Tuesday night the strike zone had the consistency of diarrhea. Well, for the Pirates that is. Far too often pitches that were being called balls for Tampa Bay pitchers were called strikes for Pittsburgh pitchers.
It was on literally the first pitch of the bottom of the 1st inning. Roansy Contreras was called for a pitch clock violation on the first pitch of his outing. He was called for this despite the batter not even being in the box and the Pirate pitch comm not working. When Contreras was called for a pitch clock violation the umpire crew nearly ejected someone from the Pirate dugout, even though it were the umpires who screwed up.
Later on in game one things managed to get worse when the umpires missed an obvious balk on Tampa pitcher Ryan Thompson. After the game, it was revealed that the umpires told Derek Shelton they missed the balk. They missed a balk. A MLB umpiring crew missed a balk. Not just any balk, but a balk that occurred in a 3-1 game with runners on second and third with just one out. If that balk is called the Pirates would have been trailing 3-2, with the tying run on third base with less than two outs.
Umpires will never have a perfect strike zone and that is fine. However, they need to be consistent. Without that consistency they force pitchers to nibble too much and batters to expand their strike zone. Far too often in this series that was the case for the Pirates.
Game two was the peak of poor umpiring. In addition to another bad strike zone and pitch clock issues, there was extreme unprofessionalism displayed by crew chief Adrian Johnson and home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott. All of this shined through when Derek Shelton was ejected.
Shelton was ejected for asking a question about the pitch clock. After yelling about it from the dugout, Wolcott proceeded to be unprofessional and cuss out Shelton. After Shelton exited the dugout to talk to Wolcott, Johnson decided to insert himself into the conversation for reasons that are still unknown.
Johnson shoulder Shelton out of the way - uncalled for. Johnson then decided to continue how unprofessional the crew was by treating Donny Kelly like a toddler, yelling "I'm watching you!" at Kelly into the Pirate dugout.
Oh, did I mention the "I'm watching you" finger motions Johnson made to Kelly? Total and complete ump show crap.
Game three on Thursday saw more poor umpiring with the strike zone. This included a missed ball call by Manny Gonzalez in the 9th inning that hurt the attempted Pirate rally. Trailing 3-0 with two runners on base and no one out, an 0-1 pitch to Andrew McCutchen that was off the plate was called strike. This forced McCutchen to expand the strike zone and swing at a pitch off the plate to strike out to end the at-bat.
In a game that ended in a 3-2 Pirate loss with two runners on base, the McCutchen strikeout was costly. Worst of all it was a strikeout that was not completely on him. After the game, Cutch voiced his displeasure with the umpires. "When we tried to get anything going, it was just being stripped away. It’s frustrating, but what can you do? There’s nothing you can do about it," he told reporters after the game.
Over the course of McCutchen's career he has rarely been a player to complain about umpires. So to see Cutch voicing his frustrations is pretty telling. There is no way around, it was an inexcusably poor series for this umpiring crew.
None of this is to say the Pirates lost this series due to the umpires. They did not. They lost this series because of defensive miscues and going 1-for-21 with runners in scoring position. That, however, does not excuse the work of the umpires.
This umpiring crew needs to be held accountable for this series. Fines, potnetial suspensions need to be on the table. Additionally, Shelton has every right to petition MLB to not allow this crew to umpire another Pirate series this season.