WASHINGTON — After a pivotal call went against the Washington Nationals in the ninth inning last night, player Jayson Werth and manager Dusty Baker were able to keep their collective cool.
The same could not be said for general manager Mike Rizzo, who reportedly unloaded on the game’s umpire crew in the tunnels of Citi Field after the game. A New York Daily News beat reporter was first to tweet details of the altercation:
The shouting match began when Rizzo passed Jim Joyce and his umpiring crew in the tunnel, loudly proclaiming, “You blew it!” From there:
At one point, Joyce even shouted at Rizzo to identify himself before the Nats executive loudly announced his position.
“I don’t need it out there either. You want to yell? Yell,” said Rizzo. “I’m right here.”
“You’re the one that came up and talked to me,” said Joyce.
The play in question came at a pivotal juncture in the ninth inning, where Werth attempted to break up a double play by oversliding second base, into the legs of second baseman Neil Walker.
The slide was declared illegal under what has become known as the Chase Utley rule, and the runner was declared out at first base, despite the fact that Daniel Murphy was safe by a wide margin:
The call effectively ended the Nats’ comeback attempt and was upheld under crew chief review. The problem is that the Nationals, and many around the league, left the game more confused about the application of the rule than before.
“To me, that’s a clean slide. It’s been a clean slide for over 100 years. There was no spikes involved. I was down early,” Werth explained to the media after the game. “I talked to Marvin Hudson, the third base umpire, and we talked about the slide rule. It seems like everybody’s got a different take on it. It seems like it’s inconsistent.”
“If the rule is you can’t make contact, then Major League Baseball needs to clarify that. Right now I think it’s up to interpretation.”
Baker was likewise miffed.
“I know I’ve been told like four or five different things from different crews about the rules,” he told reporters. “And the last time I was told it was going to be a common sense-type thing if there was no play at first base.
“My contention was (Murphy) would have beat the throw no matter what but (Joyce) said, ‘Hey the rules are the rules.'”
And the application of this rule is why Rizzo was shouting at the umpires, defending his coach and players after last night’s game. After word of the verbal spar spread on Friday, a cooler Rizzo expressed his regret to the Washington media.
“It was unfortunate,” Rizzo said on Friday. “I had words with the umpires after leaving the game last night. It was more about the frustration with the inconsistency and ambiguity of the rules than it was about any specific call.
“There were three calls last night that were interpreted in different ways. There was a call May 10 against the Detroit Tigers that was interpreted in a different way. It was about that. It was unfortunate.”
This is not the first time that Rizzo has tangled with league officials after road games against the Mets. In 2011, he got into an argument after another controversial call involving Werth was levied against the Nats.
He was suspended by Major League Baseball for that altercation, and the league is said to be looking into the current incident as well. Rizzo, for his part, is not backing down from the principle of his point.
“There has to be a consistency to the interpretation of the rule. Until we get that, the players don’t really know what it is,” Rizzo articulated. “They’re kind of searching for different ways to do it. The middle infielders are searching for what’s legal and what’s not.
“Until we get some consistency, it’s really gonna be a mystery for the players.”
The Nationals were actually the original beneficiaries of the rule, as Nick Markakis was penalized for illegally sliding into Daniel Murphy on Opening Day:
At the time, Rizzo was a bit more supportive of the rule, telling the media after the April 7 game: “Hey, the new rule is here, so let’s figure it out, fellas. It’s too tough to go in there and give up two outs when you don’t have to. In our case, you can’t slide past the base so grab the base and hold onto it. If he holds onto the base, there’s no call whatsoever.
“Stay on the base, slide straight into it, go in as hard as you want to go into — you can blow the second baseman up if you do it in a legal manner.
“That’s going to be our approach to it: do everything legal, go in there as hard as you can and try and break up the double play, because that’s been in the rules for 150 years. But just do it the right way and no one will have a beef about it.”