It was the only game of the year with a four man umpiring crew the entire season in Binghamton. By the end of the night, Binghamton manager Pedro Lopez and his B-Met baseball team and some 4,000 Binghamton fans pined for the return of a three-man crew, or perhaps the two-man officiating teams used to arbitrate a college game, or even the one-man in blue who called a game in yesteryear. As much as the players on either team, the men in blue played a huge role in the outcome of Trenton’s 3-0 victory eliminating the home team from the Eastern League play-offs.
Three umpire decisions, all going against Binghamton, weighed heavily on the outcome of Friday’s game and stirred passions to an almost riotous pitch. The pivotal Eastern League contest rolled along through four innings as a classic pitching duel.
Binghamton’s Logan Verrett and Trenton’s Shane Greene matched zeroes without a baserunner from either team reaching third base during that span. As the zeroes mounted the importance of scoring the game’s first run for each team multiplied.
The controversy began during Trenton’s at bat in the fifth, and as they have all series, it was the bottom of the Thunder batting order kicking up the dust. The inning started innocently with Verrett fanning Mason Williams and getting Reggie Corona on a fly out to right field. It was Ali Castillo, the Thunder shortstop and number nine batter of the line-up card who would stir up a hornet’s nest. Corona laced a double off the left-field wall setting the stage for some baseball madness that would help cut the B-Met season short.
Ramon Flores, Trenton’s designated hitter, followed with a four pitch base-on-balls bringing left-fielder, Zolio Almonte, to the plate. Almonte, a left-handed batter slapped line drive just a whisker over a leaping B-Met shortstop Wilfredo Tovar’s glove into left field. Travis Taijeron charged, played the ball cleanly, and against what seemed like impossible odds, uncorked a remarkable throw toward home plate. It was a breath-stopping race between man and ball with the Trenton runner getting a huge head start. As Taijeron fielded the ball, the Binghamton outfielder may have been the only person in the park thinking he had a chance to throw out Castillo at the plate. But Taijeron rocketed the ball home, almost skimming the Trenton runner’s helmet and arriving in B-Met catcher Xorge Carrillo’s mitt a nanosecond before Castillo arrived.
Castillo, without sliding, bowled over Carrilo, crashing his upper body high into the Binghamton backstop. The pair tumbled in a heap on the plate with Carrilo somehow holding tight to the ball and the Binghamton crowd erupting in glee believing Flores was out at home plate. Not so. The home plate umpire called Castillo safe.
I wish I had an opportunity to hear the umpires explanation of his call. Logic dictates that when a ball and baserunner arrive at home plate simultaneously, but the ball arrives a slit second ahead of the runner, and the runner does not slide but runs over the catcher, the runner should be out. The only explanation I can conjure is the umpire ruled the B-Met catcher had not stepped forward on the third base side of home plate leaving a corner of the plate unprotected before the contact was made.
B-Met manager Pedro Lopez argued vociferously to no avail. Lost in all the drama at home plate was the fact that Flores moved to third and Almonte to second in the implosion at home plate. That setup the next umpiring decision that would help the Thunder take the series.
The score stood at 1-0 with runners on third and second and runs at a premium, making it crucial the B-Mets limit the damage to only Almonte’s run. Trenton second baseman Jose Pirela stepped in the box and grounded a slow roller toward the hole between third and second. Somehow, Binghamton shortstop Wilfredo Tovar got behind the ball then rifled a bullet to first with the ball whizzing slightly to the right field side of the bag. B-Met first baseman, Rhyne Hughes stretched in a full leg split snagging the throw ahead of the runner and once again the Binghamton faithful erupted in joy with the apparent end of the inning. Not so. The first base umpire ruled that Hughes’s foot had come off the bag as he stretched forward to field the throw.
This call was difficult to fathom, especially for an already irritated B-Met manager Pedro Lopez. Lopez argued long and loud, finally convincing the ‘blue crew’ to huddle to see if one of the four might have caught a clearer look at the stretch than the first base ump. The call stood and Trenton led, 2-0.
Trenton added their final run in the top of the seventh. Reggie Corona led off the inning slicing a double into the right-field corner. Verrett lost his concentration when Castillo chopped a soft tap on the infield grass off first base fielded by Hughes, but the B-Met pitcher failed to cover. Verrett, who pitched admirably, was replaced by Jim Fuller who got Flores on a 4U-3 double play with Corona scoring the final tally of the game. Call three came in Binghamton’s at bat in the seventh and precipitated a tumultuous baseball fracas. B-Met catcher Xorge Carrillo led off the inning with a broke bat infield single. Danny Muno sent a ground ball up the middle with Trenton second baseman Pirela diving and getting enough leather on the ball to keep it from going through for an infield single leaving men on second and first.
When Wilfredo Tovar followed tapping a soft ground ball toward second, the rumpus began. Muno had already passed Pirela when the Trenton second baseman fielded the ball, but Pirela spun and fired to second attempting to start a 4-6-3 double play. Muno went into second sliding hard, too hard in the eyes of the second base umpire who called Muno out for baserunner interference and Tovar out at first base because, in his judgment, Muno prevented the Trenton shortstop from making a throw to first to attempt the doubleplay.
Muno erupted. Lopez exploded. In fact, the third pivotal verdict against his team was simply too much to take for Lopez. The B-Met manager was tossed. I’m not sure what happened next, whether a Trenton infielder baited Lopez after he was ejected, but conditions turned unruly, both benches cleared and a gigantic skirmish ensued. It took some twenty minutes, with the usually even-tempered Binghamton crowd standing, booing and chanting the entire time, to restore order and sift out who would leave and who would remain in the game. For Binghamton Muno and Tovar joined Lopez in the clubhouse.
“That’s uncalled for,” Lopez said. “It was a really good series. It was a really good ballgame until that point. I felt like the benches were cleared because of the call at second base. That was a clean slide. Even (Trenton’s) first-base coach said that he blew that call. It’s just sad that this series had to end the way it did.”
After calm had finally been restored, things ignited again, when play resumed and Carrillo, who was on second base and had advanced to third on the double play attempt was ordered back to second when play resumed. Apparently, the interference call resulted in a dead ball with any lead runners required to return to their original bases, a nuance beyond comprehension to an already slighted Binghamton crowd. That decision proved decisive when Josh Rodriquez grounded a single into center field, with Carrillo holding up at third then stranded when Allan Dykstra watched a called strike three.
Flawed umpire decisions or not, give Trenton their due. The Thunder got the big hit, were daring on the base paths, made big pitches in pressure spots and made pivotal defensive plays all night long. And, the B-Mets had their chances. Binghamton left ten men on base without scoring a run from the sixth inning forward. Binghamton left the bases loaded in the sixth with Darrell Cecilani going down swinging for the third out, left first and third in the seventh with Dykstra caught looking, left the bases loaded in the eighth with Alonso Harris looking at a third strike and ended their season with runners on first and second on a Travis Taijeron called strike three. Binghamton outhit Trenton 11-10, but 12 B-Met batters fanned in the game.
The season ending loss marked the first time Binghamton has been swept in a series all season. But congratulations to the B-Mets regardless, for a truly dominating and historic season for the franchise.
Daniel Muno, 2 for 4
Josh Rodriguez, 2 for 5
Rhyne Hughes, 3 for 5
Xorge Carrillo, 2 for 3
Logan Verrett, 6 IP, 3 R, 2 ER, 8 H, BB, 5 K’s
Jim Fuller, 1 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K’s
Chasen Bradford, 1 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 3 K’s
Frank Francisco, 1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 2 K’s
(Photo credit: Gordon Donovan)