Protest averted, but questions unanswered (so far)

Scott Halleran

Twenty-seven years.

Well, almost 27 years. That's how long it's been since Major League Baseball has upheld a protest:

The umpire in chief, John Kibler, called the game after rain delays of 17 and 22 minutes. Between the delays, play resumed long enough for two pitches to be thrown.

Feeney said he agreed with the Pirates' contention that Kibler called the game prematurely. National League regulations require that umpires wait at least 75 minutes during an initial weather interruption and 45 minutes during a second one before calling a game.

That happened in this game; the Pirates were losing to the Cardinals 4-1 when Kibler stopped it. The next night the clubs resumed play in the top of the sixth, and the Bucs wound up losing 4-2.

Thursday night in Houston, the Angels lodged an official protest when they were losing to the Astros, 5-3. Alas, the Angels actually wound up winning, 6-5. So the protest was necessarily withdrawn. Still, it's worth reviewing the evening's events ...

In the top of the seventh inning, Astros manager Bo Porter -- a rookie, for what that's worth -- summoned lefty Wesley Wright from the bullpen to face left-handed batter J.B. Shuck. That's when things got hinky:

However, after Wright threw his warm-up pitches and Porter saw the right-handed-hitting Luis Jimenez on deck to pinch-hit, Porter made another pitching change, going to righty Hector Ambriz before Wright fired a pitch. Scioscia was furious, got in a long argument with the umpiring crew and informed crew chief Fieldin Culbreth that the Angels would play the rest of the game under protest.

There must have been some extenuating circumstance, because the umpires must be highly familiar with Rule 3.05(b), which says

If the pitcher is replaced, the substitute pitcher shall pitch to the batter then at-bat, or any substitute batter, until such batter is put out or reaches first base, or until the offensive team is put out, unless the substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness which, in the umpire-in-chief's judgment, incapacitates him for further play as a pitcher.

Was there an extenuating circumstance? We don't know yet, because the umpires in this game were approximately as forthcoming as the umpires in Wednesday's night's debacle in Cleveland. Via MLB.com:

However, hours after the game concluded the question lingered: Why did the umpires allow Houston manager Bo Porter to make two pitching changes without his first reliever facing a batter and with no injury involved?

Approached by a pool reporter, crew chief Fieldin Culbreth only had one answer.

"The only thing I can tell you is that all matters concerning protests are handled through the league office, and that's all I can tell you," Culbreth said.

Wait, just so we're straight on this ... That's all you can tell us?

Got it.

Hey, it doesn't really bother me that the umpires are tight-lipped when controversy comes calling. Even if the controversy's their fault. Ultimately, the umpires must answer to their employers, and if that means the reporters (and the rest of us) don't get the goods, so be it. I do think it's incumbent upon Major League Baseball to clue us in, eventually. If only for the sake of good public relations. And of course I wish Fieldin Culbreth had been more forthcoming. This piece would have been a lot more run to write. But again, the arbiters don't serve at my pleasure, so I won't really begrudge them their little secrecies.

It would just be nice to know, you know?

If the league office ever does clear this up, I'll drop an addendum into this space.

Addendum: Ah, here we go ...

For much more about the Angels and the Astros, please visit SB Nation's Halos Heaven and Crawfish Boxes.

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