The Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs were headed for a quick and tidy 5-2 Nats win on Saturday.
Stephen Strasburg had thrown eight innings with just four hits allowed. Jon Lester got touched up in a third inning rally, ending with a Juan Soto double. The ludicrously awful Nationals bullpen only needed one inning from closer Sean Doolittle to put things away.
And then Joe Maddon got involved.
Joe Maddon launches ninth-inning protest
Doolittle opened the ninth inning with a first-pitch strike to Albert Almora. Immediately, Maddon sprang into action for a heated discussion with home plate umpire Sam Holbrook.
Maddon’s issue: a toe-tap in Doolittle’s delivery that the Cubs manager believed to be a balk. Maddon spoke with Holbrook at length, then Doolittle talked to Holbrook, then Nationals manager Dave Martinez got in there ... then Maddon jumped in again.
All told, three minutes and 20 seconds transpired between Doolittle’s first and second pitch of the inning. And just when the Nationals Park crowd thought the ordeal was finally over, Maddon jumped in again to argue with Holbrook and request the game be played under protest.
Thanks to Maddon’s protests, it took more than eight minutes for Doolittle to throw seven pitches in a 1-2-3 inning to close out the game. Nationals fans were loudly booing throughout.
If Maddon’s protest is somehow granted, the Nationals and Cubs will resume the game at a later date at the same point in the game: the Nationals up 5-2 with one out in the top of the ninth.
Why was Joe Maddon so angry?
After the game, Maddon explained to reporters that he launched the protest not because he had a real issue with Doolittle, but because he simply believed that Doolittle’s motion was quite similar to one that Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. was told was illegal two games into the season.
This delivery, to be specific:
Carl Edwards Jr. said, yes, he studied Kenley Jansen’s delivery this offseason and incorporated the hesitation over the rubber. Hope is that it helps hone his command of the zone. pic.twitter.com/QtsGnUoxtd
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 14, 2019
As you can see, Edwards rests his foot down noticeably longer than Doolittle’s toe-tap. After a full offseason of preparing with that foot plant, Edwards has run up a 7.20 ERA in seven appearances since being told he could no longer use it.
Maddon reportedly went so far as to say the team was aware beforehand of Doolittle’s toe-tap, which would explain why Maddon jumped in after the first pitch. The protest was pre-meditated, and basically intended to try and make a very loud point.
Cubs drop protest Sunday morning
The Cubs filed an official protest with the league, though dropped that protest on Sunday morning after consulting with the league office and MLB’s chief baseball officer Joe Torre, according to NBC Sports.
The league, Maddon said, informed him there “is a difference between Edwards placing his full foot on the ground and Doolittle grazing the mound with a cleat when he delivered.”
“We went through the whole process,” Maddon said Sunday, via NBC. “Our guys in the office spoke to MLB and I talked to Mr. Torre. The whole thing I wanted to really get done was protect Carl. I really didn’t anticipate a whole lot to be done with it.
“Even though I still don’t agree with the conclusion, because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it. But the point was, I would not be a good parent if I had not spoken up for my guy. And that’s what I was doing last night and, again, it’s just to eliminate any gray area there just for future because it’s going to happen again down the road somewhere and you’re just trying to delineate what is right and what is wrong. In my mind, it wasn’t a judgment call, I thought it was black-and-white. It wasn’t gray.”
Doolittle and ump verbally roll their eyes at Maddon
Meanwhile, the always forthright Doolittle was in peak form in the Nationals clubhouse, accusing Maddon of trying to game the system.
Doolittle said of Cubs protest: “it was a thinly veiled attempt to throw me off my game.”
On Maddon: “Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is...he put his stamp on that one for sure.”
— Brittany Ghiroli (@Britt_Ghiroli) May 19, 2019
Holbrook told the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty after the game that tapping your foot during your delivery is not illegal “in itself,” and that Doolittle’s motion was different than Edwards’.
Sam Holbrook speaking with a pool report (yours truly) after tonight's Sean Doolittle-Joe Maddon drama in the ninth inning: “He thought he was tapping his foot, which in itself is not illegal ...
— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) May 19, 2019
" ... and this all kind of stems from his pitcher being called on something that was a little bit different than what Doolittle was doing. So in our judgement, Doolittle did nothing illegal at all.”
— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) May 19, 2019
Maddon said on Sunday that he was well aware of Doolittle’s comments after the game, too.
“Listen, I have no issue with that whatsoever,” Maddon said, via NBC. “We’re all emotional. I’ve said a lot of things I didn’t want to say years ago — even in this ballpark. I think if he understood the entire context, he might have had a different opinion. Even if he was the manager himself — if he was me — or if he was being protected by his manager under similar circumstances, I think his stance may be different.”
Clearly, this is all rather silly. Joe Maddon spent five minutes yelling at umps and demanded a game be played under protest because another set of MLB decision-makers ruled that one of his pitchers’ motions was illegal even though a different pitcher had a slightly similar motion in his delivery.
The Nationals’ Twitter team seemed to think the matter was quite silly as well.
Give it a little tappy.
Tap, tap, taparoo. pic.twitter.com/ksc8Hla5Yd
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 19, 2019
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