Griffin: Brett Lawrie likely to be suspended for striking an umpire
Brett Lawrie is an emotional player. That's what makes him a Blue Jays crowd favourite. He competes hard and wears his heart on his sleeve. But there are some rules about the privilege of playing major-league baseball and, in fact, any professional sport, that contact with an umpire or official is strictly forbidden and punishable by fines and suspension.
So in the ninth inning of Tuesday 4-3 loss to the Rays, with the Jays down by a run, Lawrie was trying his best to compete and get on base against the Rays' hard-throwing closer Fernando Rodney. The Langley, B.C. native worked the count to 3-1, then took a pitch a few inches off the outside corner, a pitch that the veteran Jose Molina pulled back into the strike zone. Lawrie began a typical Pete Rose, Charley Hustle type sprint down to first base, assuming he had the walk. But a late strike call by home plate umpire Bill Miller stopped Lawrie in his tracks.
As he always does in his entertaining way, Lawrie provided some dramatics to the tense moment, stopping dead in his tracks then pausing and posing before turning around and walking back to retrieve his bat, glaring all the while at the umpire.
Lawrie said after the game that he can't recall if he said anything to the ump at that time, but he does know the umpire said nothing to him, although we can probably guess what Miller was thinking. And it is unprintable in a family newspaper.
What happened next is going to cost Lawrie considerable money and some mandated time off from his job. The full count pitch was very high and very much should have been ball four. And even though conventional wisdom is that when you show up an umpire on the previous pitch as Lawrie did by running towards first base, that you would be well advised to swing at the next one if it's anywhere in the vicinity of the strike zone.
However, this one from Rodney was not even close enough to do that. Lawrie started again to sprint to first base and Miller fist-pumped strike three. It was the second out.
What the umpire did was not right. What Lawrie did after that was just plain wrong and not too smart, to boot. In fact, call it dumb. Before turning around, he did a deep knee bend in the baseline, sprung up, spun around, headed for the umpire, removed his helmet and slammed it with ferocity to the dirt at home plate in the general direction of Miller.
As helmets are wont to do, this one bounced and struck Miller on what looked like the right leg above the knee. That's already a fine for throwing equipment and then an ejection for bouncing said equipment off the umpire's person. Further, there is no doubt there will be a suspension. After Colby Rasmus bounced out to end the game, as Miller was leaving the field, a fan threw beer on him as he headed to the tunnel. Don't worry, that will be blamed on Lawrie too. Inciting the crowd by his actions.
Lawrie said after the game, inside a seething Jays' clubhouse with mirrors still fogged up that he had never done anything like that before, that he was just trying to get on base and help his team win. Yes, he admitted he has had disputes, disagreements with umpires, but nothing like this. On the positive side, he's got that first-time-offender thing going for him, but he's also just 22-years-old and in his first full season, so it's not a very big sample size to cite his history of good behaviour.
In any case, manager John Farrell was forced to grab Lawrie by the lapels and square up to his out-of-control third baseman to stop him from further damaging his relationship with all future umpires. Remember the Jon Rauch incident last year. This time he was more of a physical match for his player.
These umpires are a tight-knit fraternity with long memories. An incident like Tuesday night if it had gone any further would have been devastating. Farrell did well to minimize but for the short term, it was already too late.
Lawrie said he was sorry for his actions, but probably not to Miller himself. We'll see how far that contrition gets him in reducing any sanctions, fines and suspensions, that should be announced before game-time on Wednesday.
The Jays will have to make a roster move and call someone up from the minors once they hear what the Lawrie penalty is. The only options for third base on the current roster are Edwin Encarnacion and Omar Vizquel. At Triple-A Las Vegas, Chris Woodward has played 17 games at third base, Yan Gomes has played 10 and Mike McCoy has played eight.
I would go with Gomes, if the suspension is less than 10 games. He would have to be added to the Jays' 40-man roster, but that shouldn't be much of a problem.