For what seems like an eternity, Red Sox icon David Ortiz has stood triumphant in the Bronx.
On Friday night, Andrew Miller showed him to his seat, right before plate umpire Ron Kulpa tossed him out completely in the Yankees’ drama-filled 3-2 victory. And Big Papi didn’t like the reversal, not one bit.
Bases loaded, one out, Yankees up 3-2 in the ninth inning. Of course, Ortiz at the plate. This was a familiar script, and one that usually meant an unhappy ending for the team wearing pinstripes. But not this time.
Miller twice froze Ortiz with nasty sliders, fighting back from a 3-and-1 count for the huge K. The first controversial slider resulted in John Farrell’s ejection, the last so enraged Ortiz that he was bounced, too.
“It was bad, bro,” Ortiz said afterward. “That’s all I can say.”
Not quite. Big Papi had plenty more to say about Kulpa after the Yankees’ win, an important one for the start of a critical homestand that has the Royals and White Sox next visiting the Bronx. What most infuriated Ortiz was the strike on 3-and-1, a looping slider that badly crossed up catcher Brian McCann.
McCann thought he had signaled for a fastball, and when he got the slider instead, he almost whiffed on the pitch completely, barely stopping it. Because the transfer wasn’t smooth, the pitch looked that much worse, but Farrell believed it was a ball anyway.
“We’ve seen it so many times, if a catcher frames a pitch that’s a borderline pitch, it’s probably going to get called a strike,” Farrell said. “But in addition to a borderline pitch, probably a tick below the zone, that’s pushed down below the zone, that’s a tough one to take.”
That’s why Ortiz initially flipped out. Farrell rushed to separate him from Kulpa, trying to prevent his slugger from being tossed in the middle of the at-bat. Within moments, the furious Farrell was standing at the plate, motioning as if he were ejecting Kulpa.
The Yankees, as you might imagine, didn’t see anything wrong with the pitch.
“I thought it was a strike,” Miller said. “I’m glad the umpire stayed with us. They’re really good at what they do.”
Miller tried to contain a smile, but like the rest of the Yankees, he knew this was a significant win over a Red Sox team currently leading the division. This time he was siding with Kulpa, who defended his view after the game.
“The 3-1 pitch, I had it coming through the zone,” Kulpa said. “McCann didn’t help me out. He took the ball down a little bit. But the pitch still came through the zone. And the 3-2 pitch, I had it in the zone, right down the middle.”
Farrell disagreed on the last one. “He’d need a hockey stick for that pitch,” the manager said.
Upon further review, maybe that final Miller slider was a touch low.
But Kulpa didn’t see it that way, and that’s all that mattered to the Yankees. At first, Ortiz walked off, muttering under his breath. But when Kulpa chose to eject him from the dugout, Ortiz came flying back, waving both arms and yelling before Farrell — who already had been tossed — did his best to restrain him.
“Have you seen Miller’s numbers?” Ortiz said. “He doesn’t need any help. I’m facing one of the best pitchers in the game. So you either keep it fair or you’re going to look bad. I can understand one time, but not two. Both of those pitches were bad. [Kulpa] looked at me like I screwed up. I didn’t screw up.”
A better response, after so many years of this rivalry, would have been for Ortiz to tip his cap to Miller. This time, Big Papi got beat.