Today In Coulda Beens

There was approximately five baseball games worth of excitement in yesterday’s single match up between the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox, but Alex Avila’s eleventh inning heroics (and Miguel Cabrera’s water hijinks) seem to have stolen the spotlight from a rather questionable call that home plate umpire Dan Iassogna made.

Down by two with two out and one on in the seventh inning, the Tigers went to left handed reliever Phil Coke with Adrian Gonzalez at the plate and David Ortiz on deck. With the wild game still very much in reach for Detroit, it didn’t seem like the time for Coke to mess around.

However, his first pitch to Gonzalez went behind his head, allowing Dustin Pedroia to advance from second base to third, and reminding many spectators that in the previous game Prince Fielder was plunked by Matt Albers after Detroit’s first baseman hit two home runs earlier in the game.Ensuring that no one could mistake his previously questionable intentions, Coke then planted his second pitch of the at bat between the Red Sox first baseman’s shoulder blades.

Cue: Umpire action. Right? Right? I mean it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here. Nope.

Instead of getting to see Coke tossed from the game, we had to make due with some good old fashioned Bobby Valentine outrage.

Unsurprisingly, Valentine’s complaints did little to change Iassogna’s mind, and it was only after crew chief Dale Scott conferred with him, that the umpire issued warnings to both benches about future shenanigans.

According to Jason Turbow, and his rather excellent Baseball Codes blog, the incident isn’t the first time that Iassogna has been in the middle of such a controversy, but instead of being slow to act, last time he was criticized for overreacting.

In 2002, before he had even reached full-time status with MLB, Iassogna was behind the plate for a game in which the Dodgers led the Reds 4-0 going into the ninth inning. After Los Angeles closer Eric Gagne gave up a bloop single and a two-run homer, he hit Adam Dunn with his next pitch. That was all Iassogna needed to see; he tossed Gagne on the spot.

The details of this particular story matter, however. Gagne’s pitch to Dunn was clearly unintentional; it only grazed the bottom of the slugger’s jersey, failing even to hit flesh. When Gagne was ejected, Dogers manager Jim Tracy lost his mind.

It’s worth noting that Coke followed up the hit by pitch by striking out David Ortiz with three swing and miss pitches (pumped up much?). Oddly enough, the southpaw was most likely the only such hurler available to manager Jim Leyland, with Daniel Schlereth having already pitched in the game and the only other left handed reliever, Duane Below, a day removed from throwing thirty pitches out of the bullpen.

Below was eventually used after the game went into extra innings, but I’m guessing it was out of desperation considering the few options remaining to Leyland, and it would have been unlikely to see him come in to face Ortiz if Coke had been tossed.

For his career against right handed pitching, Ortiz’s OPS is 1.015 and he has a wOBA of .422.

In an alternate universe where Coke gets thrown out of the game, the Red Sox add an insurance run in the seventh and go on to comfortably win the game, avoiding much of the 0-3 backlash that has been sent their way. Thanks a lot, Jim Tracy.