By Shannon Drayer
OAKLAND, Calif. – Before the Mariners game against Oakland Thursday night, manager Lloyd McClendon was asked for his thoughts on the team's "hot" three-game start. McClendon shrugged and said: "Like I told the players, you gotta turn the page. I don't think Oakland gives a (expletive) what we did."
He then added: "At some point we are going to have to win a game 3-2."
M's catcher Mike Zunino was visibly frustrated with home-plate umpire Sean Barber's strike zone. (AP)
I don't think I would be going out on a limb to say that was the worst called game I have ever seen in the big leagues. Perfect pitches were being called balls. No part of the zone was exempt from being called a ball. Top of the zone, left, right, bottom, middle – all was fair game. It was ridiculous to the point of one fateful curveball to Nick Punto being so obvious that the pitcher, catcher and hitter all started to head for their dugouts only to have to return after a ball was called. It was unbelievably bad, but no excuse, according to McClendon.
"The fact is we didn't execute on several fronts and we walked guys. I don't use that type of stuff as an excuse. We just didn't play good," he said.
True, there were miscues, an episode of bad base running, Abraham Almonte getting caught in between on a ball that led to a run, and 10 walks. That said, some of those walks were far from deserved. For catcher Mike Zunino, it was a long night as he tried to keep his pitchers focused while dealing with an unpredictable strike zone.
"Obviously I think there was a couple of really good pitches that he didn't think were strikes," Zunino said. "I'm protecting our pitchers and I wanted to get every pitch we could from our relievers and I thought it was a decent pitch, but he thought otherwise. I'm just protecting my guys and I just want to get all of the strike calls I can get."
Zunino knew better than to talk about the curve to Punto, but it was clear he was still bothered by that call after the game. It was even more clear during the game as Zunino could be seen having words with umpire Sean Barber, who is a fill-in ump from Triple-A. At one point he even turned and faced the umpire while addressing a call, a no-no in baseball. Zunino knows this and usually has a great relationship with the umpires from what I have heard. He knows the importance of the catcher's communication with the umpires and it no doubt would take a lot for him to show that kind of breach of etiquette.
The ball and strike calls were not the only issue with the umpiring. A lengthy, umpire-called review of a play at the plate – not to judge if the runner was out or safe but whether Zunino was blocking the plate, which he clearly wasn't – cost the Mariners an inning from their starter Roenis Elias, who after a nervous start had settled down and retired 10 in a row before the awful Punto call.
"It was unfortunate his pitch count got up and we got that big delay and he couldn't go back out there. It baffled me because my catcher was in fair territory the whole time until he got the ball," McClendon said. "I was not going to send him back out there at that point. That was a very unfortunate incident in a lot of different ways. One that I felt was not supposed to happen, where the team was supposed to stay on the field and you have got your pitcher sitting over there for almost 5 minutes. To me, that is not acceptable, and we have got to get that straight."
A tough, frustrating loss for the team from which McClendon will want to see lessons learned but quickly put behind them. We have seen this group win and we have now seen them lose. On Friday we will see how they bounce back.