Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish lost another bid for a no-hitter at Minute Maid Park on Monday, but it was the actions of an umpire that unnecessarily sullied his attempt and distracted from it.
In what might be the most A.J. Pierzynski moment in history, he was ejected in the sixth inning by umpire Ron Kulpa for arguing a called ball that helped to break up a perfect game for Darvish. Two innings later with a different catcher behind the plate, Darvish lost the no-hitter and the shutout, but he struck out 15 in an otherwise masterful performance, leading the Rangers to a 2-1 victory against the Houston Astros.
Back in April, Darvish came within one out of pitching a perfect game against the Astros at Minute Maid, losing his bid on a ninth-inning single by Marwin Gonzalez. At least Gonzalez is a player. Kulpa seemed to forget that, while he was participating in the game, he was not among those playing it.
Darvish had not allowed anyone from the Astros to reach base until he walked Jonathan Villar with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Ball four clearly was out of the strike zone, but ball three was borderline and Texas didn't get benefit of the doubt. That's what perturbed Pierzynski as he turned around to protest. Making things worse, Kulpa ripped off his mask and followed Pierzynski for a moment to engage him in an argument, throwing him out a moment after that. All that Kulpa needed to do was turn around and ignore Pierzynski, as (hopefully) any other ump would have. But he just had to get the last word.
Geovany Soto caught the rest of the game for the Rangers and, in the eighth inning, Carlos Corporan hit a solo home run to right field to break up the no-no and the shutout. It's impossible to say that Darvish definitely would have pitched a no-hitter with Pierzynski still behind the plate, but it's not unfair to wonder after Kulpa tipped over the applecart.
"We had to continue to play baseball because we still needed to get outs," manager Ron Washington told the Rangers' TV broadcast.
Rules of Major League Baseball say explicitly that players and coaches are not allowed to argue with umpires about the strike zone, and that doing so is cause for ejection, but umps also are given full discretion in acting on it. Pierzynski should have been given a wide latitude to complain — wider than usual, given the closeness of the score and the extra stakes Darvish was putting up. Not to mention a general allowance for being in "the heat of the moment." Umpires are supposed to be dispassionate and apart from that condition. That's one of the things that makes them major league quality.
Umpires have a tough job, and we complain about them too much — even if Major League Baseball would be better off expanding video replay and adding other electronic officiating enhancements — but Kulpa's behavior and actions make it hard for fans to generate sympathy for those in his profession.
This is not the first time Kulpa has done something grievous involving the Rangers. His call during Game 3 of the 2011 World Series didn't prevent Texas from winning, but it was a mistake just the same. Those will be made. But what happened with Pierzynski could have been avoided.
Though the Astros don't send the most potent lineup out there, Darvish deserves all of the attention we can muster for his effort. It's too bad the players and fans had to endure the distraction of an ump show. It's not what anyone watched a ballgame to see.