Jeff Nelson is an unmitigated disaster of an umpire, and one wonders how soon the “robocalls” era of baseball is ushered in thanks to such breathtakingly mediocre displays of officiating. You’d expect more from the Top Prospect of the Joe Brinkman Umpiring School in 1989 (!) who just happened to be behind the plate when Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter against the Astros in 2008, or the fact that he was also calling balls and strikes when Doug Fister turned into Zeus for an afternoon and set an AL record by striking out NINE consecutive hitters. This ridiculous dude is one of those incredibly comfortable, elite unionized umps who forgot that his entire existence stopped being about ‘accuracy efficiency’ a long time ago. Now, it’s only about the need for consistency, where euphemisms like “pitcher friendly” versus “hitter friendly” masquerade as propagandized analytics for a golden group of dinosaurs that need to be rendered extinct because they refuse to fucking evolve. If Nelson had stayed consistent in his inconsistent vision of balls and strikes, the Blue Jays likely win this game, but instead he was a dog’s breakfast and took a shit on 35,000 fans who didn’t come to watch him fail to do his job.
Charlie Montoyo lost his marbles and my respect for him quadrupled. That was some decent melodrama exhibited by a man who normally deserves scorn for his “gosh, darn, shucks” veneer that he busts out for media pressers and Guerrero Jr. camera praise. But yesterday I saw some real fire and angst, and a je ne sais quoi that makes me want to believe he’s slowly turning into a real big league manager. 14 pitches outside the strike zone were called against his team, while only 6 were against Oakland. That’s 20 missed calls by an umpire paid handsomely to bend/break games with his own will and selfish ego. Charlie handled it beautifully while sending a message to everyone in attendance; while he’ll never reach the lofty plateau of a Cito Gaston or a Bobby Cox, I’d settle for a laid back but ready to pounce John Gibbons southern style of managing a club.
With a combined era of 8.38 in his last seven starts not including yesterday, Hyu jin-Ryu’s arm soreness shouldn’t come as a shock. At this point it’s nearly impossible to deduce whether it’s a lack of mental fortitude or an established physical issue that’s causing the discomfort. In all the off-season hoopla of having all these great arms, one tends to forget that a single key injury can be like a house of cards that throws an entire season off the rails and profoundly changes the trajectory of a pitcher. This is where a short prayer to the baseball gods on the health and future of Nate Pearson or Ryan Borucki might be the best thing you’ll do all day.
There’s something especially bittersweet in losing to a team with 1/3rd of your middle-of-the-pack total baseball payroll. These are the kinds of series where dropping games against weaker adversaries in April comes back to haunt you against surging divisional contenders in September, and then suddenly you’re down by a game with the season crashing down around you, and then and only then do you realize that Jeff Nelson will never, ever be fired because he’s protected by a union so powerful it defeats the purpose of trying to certify, upgrade, train or reinforce umpire knowledge and philosophy to improve baseball without having to drastically change the fabric of a game or having to offend the puritanical types and inter-generational traditionalist who love the game as it is. I, for one, will welcome our new robotic umpire masters, but there will be tears of sorrow and nostalgia.
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