Cleveland — The tore-down Tigers aren’t in the same competitive class as the Indians these days — a reality painfully reinforced in this three-game sweep, which concluded Wednesday with the Indians’ winning their record-tying 21st straight game.
But the fact that the Indians are going to run away with the Central Division and the Tigers may or may not end up in the basement should have no impact on how the games are officiated.
That was the point Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and catcher James McCann were trying to make Wednesday. Both were ejected in the third inning by home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott for arguing balls and strikes.
“We felt there was a discrepancy in the strike zone between the two teams early in the game,” Ausmus said. “It’s hard enough to beat the Indians with all things being equal. But we felt we weren’t getting the same calls that they were.”
The Tigers’ frustrations with the umpiring crew began Tuesday night when Scott Barry called out Miguel Cabrera on a ball that was clearly outside the strike zone with a runner at third and one out in the first inning.
The beefing Wednesday began in the bottom of the first when Tigers starter Buck Farmer thought he had Jose Ramirez struck out on a borderline 2-2 pitch. He didn’t get the call from Wolcott, Ramirez walked and two batters later, Jay Bruce hit a three-run home run.
“I felt like it was going on from the get-go,” said McCann, who earned his first career ejection. “There was a borderline call on me in my first at-bat. There was a borderline strike three call on Cabrera. A borderline strike three call on (Jeimer) Candelario. There were numerous ones.
“There are going to be 50-50 pitches where one side is going to be mad whether you call it a ball or a strike. But you have to be consistent. If it’s a strike to us, it has to be a strike to them. And in my opinion, that wasn’t the case.”
It came to a head in the third inning. Wolcott rang up Candelario on a pitch that replays showed was below the strike zone. The Tigers had two runners on at the time. Then in the bottom of the third, Farmer put a 3-2 pitch to Bruce in nearly the exact same spot as the pitch Candelario was called out on and Wolcott called it a ball.
McCann, who rarely turns around to argue balls and strikes, took his mask off and immediately and loudly protested.
“All I said was that I want the same strike zone,” he said. “I want the same strike zone and I don’t care about the situation, their winning streak or where we are in the standings. We deserve the same pitches called a strike that they are getting.”
He was quickly ejected. Ausmus, who was on his way to the mound, intervened and was also broomed.
“I feel like in my career I’ve done a good job all the way back to college and the minor leagues of controlling my emotions,” McCann said. “Today I felt like we weren’t getting the same calls…I was consistent in my request for the same strike zone.”
The actual exchange, McCann said, went something like this:
“He said he’d had enough of me arguing balls and strikes. And I said I’ve had enough of not getting strikes.”
John Hicks replaced McCann behind the plate and Farmer walked Carlos Santana to load the base with two outs. On the first pitch to Yandy Diaz, Farmer and Hicks got crossed up on the sign and a 92-mph fastball struck Wolcott directly in the chest and knocked him flat on his back.
The crowd booed and reacted like the Tigers had hit Wolcott on purpose. The Indians television broadcast also insinuated that it looked fishy and might “raise some eyebrows.” It was an accusation the Tigers vehemently denied.
“To imply that was intentional is, first of all, a lie,” said Ausmus, who was listening to the Indians broadcast from his office. “If any player intentionally tried to hurt an umpire on this team, we’d deal with it severely.
“And the bases were loaded. Even if it crossed your mind to attempt it, why would you do it with the bases loaded?”
Hicks explained exactly what happened.
“Obviously it looked bad right after Brad and Mac got tossed, but it’s bases loaded and we’re trying to win a baseball game,” he said. “Any thought of us trying to do that on purpose is just ridiculous.
“I called a fastball away and Buck shook. So, I called for a slider away. He went into his delivery thinking I called for a fastball in. I was looking for the slider away and he came with a fastball in.”
Hicks was expecting a slider, which Farmer throws at 81-83 mph and got a 92-mph fastball in the opposite quadrant of the plate and he couldn’t react fast enough to catch it.
“For anyone to imply it was intentional is completely wrong,” Ausmus said. “They are out of line saying that, quite frankly.”
Farmer was upset by the insinuation, too.
“It shouldn't be a question,” he said. “Just look at the situation. It's stupid to even think about. It shouldn't even be a thought from anybody that Hicks and I would do that. Anybody that's thinking that should be ashamed.”
Later on Twitter, Farmer said, “Hate that people think I would hit the umpire intentionally…I have more respect for the game than that. Hashtag — not that type of player.”
McCann was asked if he thought Wolcott might have gotten caught up in the hype surrounding the Indians’ streak.
“You’d have to ask him that,” he said. “But you can’t tell me he didn’t know there was a streak on the line. Do I think he went out there and consciously tried to screw us – no, I don’t think that. But at the same time, there’s that old thing about veterans getting calls over rookies.
“Well, in this case, are they getting calls because they have something on the line? I don’t know.”