In an interesting battle of managerial gamesmanship, Philadelphia Phillies skipper Ryne Sandberg approached home plate umpire Mark Wegner one batter into the top of the eighth inning during their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night. It was unclear initially what his intentions were, but it soon became obvious that he had an issue with something pertaining to D-Backs pitcher Oliver Perez, who had just retired left-handed hitter Chase Utley and was then set to face Ryan Howard.
Given the recent controversies involving New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda and his use of pine tar to gain a better grip on the baseball, it was easy to make assumptions as the umpiring crew huddled and headed to the mound for an inspection.
But it turns out Perez's "infraction" had nothing to do with an illegal substance, but rather an issue with his uniform. Both sleeves of his undershirt had slits which caused them to flop around, and, in the opinion of the Phillies dugout, were a distraction for the hitters.
"Noticed it from the dugout. It was just flopping," Sandberg said afterward. "There was a lot of movement there with the delivery. It was fairly obvious with that much movement on it that it would be distracting."
The umpires agreed with Sandberg's assessment and immediately ordered Perez to change or remove his undershirt. Perez would then storm off the mound, tossing his glove and ripping off his jersey almost like you'd expect to see when a player is ejected. A minute later he reemerged sleeveless and a little less angry, the game continued on with Ryan Howard delivering a single.
And then just like that, Perez's dramatic two-batter outing was over, but it was definitely still fresh in the mind of D-Backs manager Kirk Gibson after the game.
"[The umpire] said that one sleeve was longer than the other and he had a little tear in it," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "There was nothing we could do about it. The rule says it's supposed to be the same length, the same color. And it can't be flapping. I have a pretty good idea whose call that was in the other dugout and it wasn't Sandberg."
When asked if he was talking about Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa, Gibson responded: "You figure it out!"
We'll just assume he meant Larry Bowa then. It's probably true, too, but even if it is Bowa, he's just doing his job as a bench coach. When he spots something on the field or a matchup that could tip the scales in their favor, he alerts the manager.
Was it a little bit of gamesmanship in this case? Of course it was, but that's all a part of the game too. An infraction was spotted and they felt bringing it up could throw Perez off his game, so they did. And maybe it worked to an extent, because Perez did immediately allow that single. But it they couldn't take further advantage falling to Arizona 5-4.
It's not something you see often, but there have been cases where an undershirt was too light in color, and we've even seen teams complain about the color of the pitcher's glove blending in with the baseball. There's a precedent for it, and on this occasion Philadelphia used the rules to their advantage to gain small edge.
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