Cards, Phillies zone in on Game 2 umpiring
Several close pitch calls by Meals catch attention of both teams
PHILADELPHIA -- There was star power all over Citizens Bank Park on Sunday night, when former Cy Young Award winners Cliff Lee of the Phillies and Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals squared off in a National League Division Series game that featured three former Most Valuable Player Award winners.
The man who garnered much of the attention -- and the ire of St. Louis manager Tony La Russa -- wasn't wearing red, however.
A series of questionable calls on pitches around the strike zone by home-plate umpire Jerry Meals early in the game had the Cards' batters shaking their heads and La Russa unsuccessfully trying to bite his tongue in front of a national television audience.
The strike zone became less of an issue as the game progressed, and the Cardinals ultimately brushed aside the controversy and rallied to beat the Phillies, 5-4, to even the best-of-five series at one game apiece heading back to St. Louis. But La Russa was upset early that Lee and Carpenter appeared to have two different strike zones.
"I don't think there's a manager around, coach, that doesn't watch the game and think about how you want it to be," he said.
When interviewed in the dugout early in the game during the TBS telecast and asked about the performance of Carpenter, La Russa took issue with the umpiring.
"Well, what would I add is -- it'll get me in trouble, but I'll do it anyway -- is they're pitching to two different strike zones," La Russa said. "And against good club, or any club, that's not an advantage you want to give."
La Russa backed off the comment slightly after the game.
"You know, we care," he said. "I care, our team cares, and it's not a great comment to make, but I was upset. I've never had a problem with Jerry before. You go out there, whatever the strike zone is, and it makes no difference to us. We'll adjust to it. That was my only point, [that Carpenter] had to figure out was the strike zone was."
Crew chief Jerry Layne was asked about La Russa's in-game comments directed at Meals.
"My job is to make sure that I have no comment," he said. "It's only right that Major League Baseball is informed of what's going on, and if there's really a comment that should be made, it should come out of [executive vice president of baseball operations] Joe Torre or [senior vice president of baseball operations] Peter Woodfork. That's why they're in the titles that they carry."
But emotions were high. La Russa's visit to the mound in the second inning appeared to have more to do with him getting a chance to talk to Meals than to chat with his pitcher about strategy. And Phillies reliever Ryan Madson made a comment toward Meals on his way to the dugout late in the game.
"I don't know what goes through people's minds," Layne said. "It's basically a game, and it's at high levels, and there's a lot of professionals on the field. Everybody tries to do their best."
Meals is no stranger to controversy. He's the umpire, one might recall, who missed a call at the plate in the 19th inning of a July game between the Braves and the Pirates. Meals admitted his decision to call Atlanta's Julio Lugo safe at the plate with the winning run was the wrong call. Replays showed Bucs catcher Michael McKenry had applied a swipe tag to Lugo.
Carpenter wasn't about to criticize the umpiring.
"There was a lot of commotion going on with the umpire, and Jerry did a nice job," he said. "I've had Jerry many times. I'm never a guy that complains about strike zone, and that's the honest truth. I know that the umpires are human, they're going to make mistakes, just like I'm going to make mistakes throwing the ball down the middle. It's going to happen. Jerry did not do a bad job at all. He missed a couple pitches and that's it. It happens."
The first indication the Cardinals had a problem with the strike zone came when Lee struck out catcher Yadier Molina and second baseman Ryan Theriot looking in consecutive at-bats in the second inning, with both hitters looking upset on their way back to the dugout. Albert Pujols was upset with his called third strike in the fifth.
"We try not to pay attention to that," St. Louis outfielder Jon Jay said. "We try to go out here and not get distracted by anything."
MLB.com's Gameday pitch f/x showed Molina's called third strike on the inside corner in the second inning was a questionable pitch, and similar to the one thrown to Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins in the second that was called a ball.
In the at-bat following Rollins' double in the second, Carpenter's 2-2 pitch to Chase Utley also flirted with the inside corner -- similar to Molina's called third strike -- and was called a ball. Utley eventually walked.
"I thought I threw a ball in there that was a strike to strike him out, and that didn't work out that way," Carpenter said. "And I said to Jerry, I said, 'You know' -- and I believe that the umpires know this -- 'I'm not a strike-zone guy. I'm not going to complain to you about the strike zone. Everybody's human. If you miss 15 or 20, then we have something to talk about.' But everyone's human, just like I am."
But the Phils could have had some issues with the strike zone, too.
Utley struck out looking in the fifth on a ball that appeared out of the zone. And the case could have also been made that a couple of Lee's pitches during the first three innings that were called balls could have been strikes. The first pitch of Allen Craig's at-bat in the third appeared to be in the strike zone, but it was called a ball. A 3-2 pitch later in that at-bat was on the inside corner and called a ball.
"[Lee] threw a couple of close pitches, but again, I'm not able to see height and things, but as far as where the ball is at, in and out, it's hard to see over there," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "It looked like there were some good pitches. They were taking about it in our dugout. That's kind of -- I'm not blaming the umpire -- I mean, they outplayed us. They outhit us, and they scored more runs than we did."