Detroit — A baseball manager can forget about the previous day’s game. He must tuck it away or it risks creeping into the next day’s game, or even into the immediate season.
Jim Leyland learned long ago to “turn the page,” as he says a few times each week. But it doesn’t mean that Thursday’s wildfire at Comerica Park, which saw Leyland and Luke Putkonen tossed from the Tigers’ 6-3 loss to the White Sox, will be locked within a 24-hour news cycle.
It was all about issues, some of which might resurface.
Leyland would not talk publicly Friday about his ejection or his rage — he did allow that it was the “maddest” he has been in eight years as Tigers manager — that sent him and Putkonen to the clubhouse in the sixth inning of Thursday’s game.
And the reason he would not talk had everything to do with his relationship with umpires and with his own sensitivity to their jobs and to commissioner Bud Selig’s office.
Leyland respects those parties and had not once in 2013 been dismissed from a game until Thursday.
Umps' inconsistency irks Leyland
But you can bet Leyland’s ire was a product of what was evident to anyone in the ballpark Thursday. He was mad at the umpires’ inconsistency in policing the fifth- and sixth-inning events.
A quick review of the Thursday’s incidents and their sequence, which remained heavy on Friday’s conversation list:
Miguel Cabrera blasted a home run in the fifth inning against White Sox starter Chris Sale to put the Tigers ahead, 2-1. Sale’s next pitch arrived at 94 mph — about 2 mph faster than most of his throws Thursday — and came dangerously close to beaning Prince Fielder.
The Tigers suspected what most seasoned baseball fans would have read into Sale’s missile. It was an angry, you’re-not-crowding-the-plate-on-me response to the Cabrera homer.
Leyland’s batters have been getting dusted of late and the pitch to Fielder was one more brick in the wall. It didn’t hit Fielder, but neither was Cabrera hit by an ear-high fastball by Fernando Rodney two weeks ago in Tampa.
Sale’s fastball to Fielder looked like a frustration pitch, although Sale later said, convincingly, the pitch had no such intent. Still, the Tigers were incensed. And, as often is the case, and as often is accepted in the courtroom of baseball justice, they responded.
With one out in the sixth, Putkonen threw a fastball behind Ramirez. On a 10-point scale of intentional acts, this was somewhere between 9.99999 and 10. And everyone knew it, including Ramirez, who began throwing fiery gestures at Putkonen as he moved toward the mound.
Benches cleared, umpires intervened, and Putkonen got tossed, which obviously sent Leyland into a five-alarm rage. The Tigers were paying for a fight they never started.
The umpires blew it
Leyland would not talk about it Friday, but it was clear the umpires, whose crew was headed by Jeff Kellogg, did not abide by their usual policy.
Normally, after there has been retaliation for a pitch the umpires earlier accepted, the umps get busy. They warn both dugouts and managers: anymore hit batsmen or near misses and the pitcher, as well as his skipper, are gone.
That didn’t happen Thursday. Their passivity with Sale and aggression with Putkonen — minus any public confirmation from Leyland — is no doubt why he went ballistic in the sixth. Leyland argued furiously, and argued some more, that the Tigers were being penalized for Sale’s pitch, for the Tigers’ response, and for Ramirez’s gestures and steps toward the mound.
In fact, the umpires blew it Thursday. There should have been no ejection of Putkonen, which is what did happen and got Leyland tossed. There should have been a warning to both benches after Putkonen’s pitch: No more angry pitches. The game should have resumed, with none of the nuclear fallout that arrived in the sixth.
Leyland protects his players. He repeated Friday that he will go to his grave with the conviction he stood up for his guys.
He did just that Thursday and was satisfied the Tigers’ response had been fair. That the umpires altered the usual criminal procedures was what triggered 10 minutes of apoplexy.
Thursday’s squabble — Leyland and the umpires’ response — will be put into the past. Throwing at Tigers hitters will remain an issue, you can bet, that won’t have disappeared on July 11.