For you Astros-loving conspiracy theorists, MLB and its band of thin-skinned umpires took a frying pan to Houston’s face on Wednesday night.
As it relates to the Texas Rangers’ latest win, 4-0 over the Astros, look no further than the umpires, and a little home cooking from the home plate umpire on what turned out to be “Ejection Night” at the Ballpark.
In the second inning, home plate umpire Ron Kulpa ejected Astros batting coach Alex Cintron. From the Houston dugout, Cintron apparently was using some choice language, and offered some undesired constructive criticism.
Houston manager A.J. Hinch came out to plead his case to Kulpa before he returned to the dugout. After the next pitch from Rangers starter Mike Minor, Hinch was ejected, too.
“What I have for you is that after a called strike on (Astros DH Tyler) White, the dugout basically erupted, and Ron (Kulpa) addressed it and warned them to knock it off,” crew chief Jerry Meals told a pool reporter. “And A.J. was told the same thing when he came out to ask about it, and then succeeding pitch, it happened again, and that’s where the ejection came.
“I can’t tell you anything about Gerrit Cole.”
Remember, it was Hinch who was ejected by umpire Angel Hernandez in the first inning of a spring training game on March 15. Hernandez was not a member of the four-person crew who handled this Rangers/Astros series.
Umps tend to be a tight-knit bunch, so it would not be a surprise if there are some residual bad feelings by the umpires towards the Astros, and specifically Hinch. Hinch went out of his way to criticize Hernandez after that spring training ejection.
Hinch was ejected twice from games last season, and has been tossed a total of 11 times since he was hired by the Astros in 2015.
“We obviously had a disagreement with the strike zone early in both the top of the first and the bottom of the first. Our dugout will always be involved,” Hinch said after the game. “Cintron got thrown out. I didn’t know what had happened, which is why I went out the first time. And then the next couple pitches later, I’m out of the game. So we know you argue balls and strikes is one thing. When you get ejected more aggressively it’s disappointing.”
Before the bottom of the fourth inning, Kulpa took exception when Astros catcher Max Stassi threw the ball back to pitcher Gerrit Cole after the warmup period between innings. The ball narrowly missed Kulpa’s head.
Kulpa had warned Cole, more than once, about taking an extra throw, and time, on the warmups.
“(Cole) was late coming out and with the MLB policy of trying to keep pace of play going, we’ve been instructed to tell him one more pitch, he ignored that,” Meals said. “Threw another one, fine. Ignored it again, wanted to keep throwing. Well, he has a responsibility to come out of the dugout earlier to warm up.”
Maybe Stassi was trying to buzz the tower. Or have some fun. Or neither. Considering the circumstances, and the tension, the ball just missing the ump’s head looked curious.
Words were exchanged, and by this time it was apparent no one from the Astros planned to send Kulpa a $50 gift card to Red Lobster.
After the sixth inning was over, and Cole was at 105 pitches, he walked to Kulpa to engage in yet another conversation by home plate. With his glove over his mouth, Cole waved his arms a few times as he spoke to Kulpa before heading to the dugout.
The problem was balls and strikes.
In the dugout, Cole paced up and down and could be seen voicing his displeasure. Or it looked like displeasure. Maybe they were recipe ideas.
“Yeah, obviously it was a bit of a distraction,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “A couple of those pitches were borderline. I’m not going to say one way or the other if they were strikes or balls.
“Obviously Cole wasn’t happy a couple of those pitches he thought he should have gotten. That’s part of the game, a big part of it. Clearly it affected them. It affected Cole on the mound, he was frustrated, you could tell.”
Although he had nine strikeouts, Cole was credited with three walks, including two to Rangers outfielder Joseph Gallo.
Across the other side of the field, the Rangers did not seem to object to a single call from any one of the four-person crew.
Cole’s counterpart, however, was not pitcher-perfect, but the scoreboard was.
Making his second start of the season, Rangers starter Mike Minor allowed five hits and zero runs in seven innings. Unlike his season-opening start against the Cubs, Minor closed out batters and never got into any trouble.
He threw 95 pitches, and struck out seven Astros.
Outfielder Nomar Mazara drove in a pair of runs, including his second home run of the season, in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Mazara left the game in the top of the ninth inning with a bruised quad muscle he sustained earlier in the game; he is not expected to play on Thursday at Anaheim.
The only negative was third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera’s error in the fifth that snapped the team’s record streak of 49 innings to open a season without an error. To show support, later that inning shortstop Elvis Andrus had an error, too.
In the biggest upset of the season, the Texas Rangers took two of three games against both the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros.
They did it all by themselves, but a little help from an umpire never hurt.
LOOKING AHEAD TO MIKE TROUT
The Rangers will begin their first road trip of the season on Thursday night, against the California Angels of Greater Los Angeles-And-Anaheim, Too. Texas will play the Angels four games, and then two games in Arizona against the Diamondbacks.
The Rangers’ first order is dealing with the Bill Gates of baseball, Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Trout signed a 12-year, $426 million contract extension last month.
In 590 career plate appearances against the Rangers, Trout is batting .332 with 25 home runs and 86 RBI.
When asked what is the best way to deal with Trout, Woodward smiled and extended his right hand and held up four fingers, as in “Intentional Walk.”
“He has cleaned up a lot of stuff,” Woodward said. “He is special.”