BOSTON On the verge of falling to 1-5 on the six-game homestand, 1-6 in their last seven, 14-19, and two games under .500 for the first time since May 19, the frustration from the Red Sox dugout was evident in the home half of the ninth inning Sunday afternoon, after the Nationals took a 4-3 lead in the top of the inning.
In the top of the inning, Alfredo Aceves had walked pinch-hitter Bryce Harper with one out, then gave up a two-out double to Nats No. 9 hitter Roger Bernardina on a 2-2 fastball that scored Harper.
With one out in the bottom of the inning and Mike Aviles on first base representing the tying run, Scott Podsednik struck out, bringing Dustin Pedroia to the plate.
Entering the at-bat Pedroia was just 3 for his last 23 since returning to the lineup Tuesday after sitting out six games with a thumb injury.
With a count of 1-2, Pedroia fouled off a 94-mph fastball from Nationals closer Tyler Clippard. With that, manager Bobby Valentine emerged from the Sox dugout, jawing at home plate umpire Al Porter the whole way.
Arguing balls and strikes earned Valentine an immediate ejection, his second of the season.
But, it wasnt just that pitch and it wasnt just one pitch that had Valentine upset. It was the cumulative effect of the series.
"Alfredo struck the guy out on a pitch that the whole ball is on the plate and he calls it a ball, Valentine said. Then he hits an RBI (double).
Valentine was referring to the 1-2 pitch from Aceves to the left-handed hitting Bernardina. According to MLB.coms Gameday View graphics, Valentine is right. The fourth pitch to Bernardina was within the strike zone, making it the third strike of the at-bat, and ending the inning.
It was a fastball set up away and caught it on the inside corner, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. From what I saw it was a pretty good pitch.
Im not going to complain, Aceves said. What do you think of the umpires? I cant complain. Its been like that for years.
But on the pitch that was called a ball for a 2-2 count?
He could have called it a strike, yeah, Aceves said. I missed the spot, but like Ive been saying, theyre tough hitters and we have to make our pitches. Unfortunately he didnt call it a strike, and like I said, its been that way for 10 years or more than that. Weve got to come back and play against the Marlins and win that series.
But, with calls like that, it can force a pitcher and catcher to re-examine their strike zone.
Its tough, Saltalamacchia said. I felt like early in the game we got some pitches that kind of went our way and then later on in the game, I think Ace made a great pitch, 2-2, that from what I understand, what I saw, was a strike. But nobodys perfect and we understand that. All we ask is just a better look at everything.
But, he knows as a catcher, complaining doesnt always do any good.
I dont think it does, he said. When I argue, its protecting the pitcher. I want him to get every pitch that he can. Ace is battling. He did a great job, made a great pitch 2-2 that I felt got us out of that inning, and had a chance to win the game. When it comes down to it, thats what we want to do, we want to win. Were not asking them to expand the strike zone. Were not asking them to completely tighten it up. We just want it to be equal on both sides and just kind of tighten up and get a better look at every pitch.
And when the hitters are uncertain, it can take away confidence. The third pitch to Pedroia, a called strike making the count 1-2 was out of the strike zone according to MLB.coms graphics.
You have to talk to the hitters, Valentine said. The game is simple: Throw it over the plate, call it a strike. Don't throw it over the plate, call it a ball. It's simple. That's all. That's all anybody asks. I know it's been going on for 100 years. I'm not the first one to say it. But this was a pretty lousy series.
Adrian Gonzalez went 2-for-13 in the series, with a home run and a double. Both hits came in Fridays game. On Sunday he went 0-for-4, ending three innings, leaving four runners on base.
Asked his thoughts on the umpiring, Gonzalez replied:
Theyve been great all year. Thats all Ive got to say. And he walked out of the clubhouse.
Pedroia, though, was not so reticent.
Yeah, its pretty disappointing, he said. Were trying to compete, everyone is, both teams, and you dont want the umpires to come into play and stuff like that. Its hard enough playing the game against good pitching and good players. So its pretty disappointing.
Saltalamacchia went 0-for-4 Sunday with four strikeouts.
From a hitters aspect of it, I dont know too much because I swung at pretty much everything he threw, Saltalamacchia said. But I felt there were some pitches they could definitely have went our way. But just the way game is, you know. You cant really rely on the umpires. We got to do it ourselves and thats what it boils down to.