Big League Stew

Bring on the robots: Zack Greinke ejected after four pitches for spiking baseball

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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Zack Greinke pleads his case to Sam Holbrook. (AP)

With trade rumors swirling all around him, Zack Greinke took his scheduled turn for the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday afternoon in Houston. Incredibly, it would prove to be the shortest start of his career, though at least the scouts on hand watching could note that it had nothing to do with injury or ineffectiveness, but rather an overreaction by overzealous umpire Sam Holbrook.

Greinke's exit happened after just his fourth pitch of the game. Houston's Jordan Schafer had already led off with a triple. Next up was Houston's speed demon, and lone All-Star, Jose Altuve, who rolled one on the ground to Brewers' first baseman Corey Hart. Hart fielded it with a diving backhand stop and needed some help. Greinke, though, made a late break from the mound and couldn't beat Altuve to the bag, resulting in an RBI infield single.

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This led to a very animated reaction from Greinke, who slammed the baseball to the ground in what seemed to be pretty obvious frustration with himself. Holbrook, who's a member of Joe West's infamous crew, read the reaction as a disagreement with his correct call, and ejected Greinke without even the hint of a confrontation or a side word from the Brewers starter.

Here's a look at how it went down:

After the ejection it was easy to read Greinke saying the words: "I'm mad at myself." But it was too late at that point, Holbrook had already made his call. And although it looked for a split second like he realized he'd probably made a silly, reactionary decision, he went ahead and ran Brewers manager Ron Roenicke as well for defending his pitcher.

''He overreacted,'' Roenicke said of Holbrook, adding that the umpire said he thought Greinke was trying to show him up. ''He didn't even see what happened. Zack was behind him and he didn't even see him. You need to know; you need to know 100 percent what happens when you kick out a starting pitcher.''

As Dayn Perry of CBS Sports' Eye on Baseball blog points out, how is what Greinke did substantially different than a frustrated batter slamming his helmet after grounding into an inning-ending double play or popping up? Well, maybe it's a little dumber since the baseball was still live in this case, and I will grant that I frown upon that sort of reaction from any player at any time, but you get Perry's point.

But with that said, after calming down in the clubhouse, Greinke did take responsibility for his role in the ejection and acknowledged he put Holbrook in a spot to react himself.

''I didn't think there was anything wrong with it at the time, but after looking back at it, I thought: 'Oh, (man), that definitely didn't look good.' I put him in a bad position and he had to make a decision,'' Greinke said.

I admire that from Greinke. I really do, because it's not the reaction I was expecting. But umpires still have to do a better job of keeping their composure and restraining their reactions, just as the players do, and they also have to be smarter. Their opinion is the only one that truly matters, and they also have the ability to change games with one wave of the thumb. Once they've ruled, there's no turning back.

Unfortunately, Holbrook's inability to restrain his own reaction no doubt helped the hapless Astros snap their nine-game losing streak. It also meant a wasted trip for scouts who came to see Greinke. Although it's possible he'll be allowed to turn around and start on Sunday if he feels up to it.

''We already talked to Zack. He thinks he would be fine, but we're not positive which way we're going to go,'' Roenicke said when asked about that possibility. ''We've got some more conversations to go through.''

I'm sure Greinke will be very anxious to get back out there, especially considering the Brewers never could overcome the one run he allowed in the first, meaning he took a ridiculously hard luck loss. But I guess that just lends more credence to an entirely separate debate about the importance of wins and losses.

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