In the midst of a one hit shutout during the Diamondbacks-Dodgers series finale, Los Angeles pitcher Clayton Kershaw was again proving why he is the front-runner for baseball’s Cy Young award in the National League. In allowing no runs and recording five strikeouts over five full innings of work, Kershaw dropped his season ERA to 2.30, now first in Major League Baseball, and raised his strikeout mark to an NL-leading 236 Ks. Unfortunately for Kershaw, however, he would only go 5+ IP in what would eventually become the start that earned him his 19th win.
Diamondbacks left fielder Gerardo Parra stood in at home plate to lead off the top of the sixth inning. The first pitch was strike one, a 95 MPH fastball located on the inside corner. Parra stepped out, requested time, and settled back in to prepare for the strike one offering.
Then, it happened.
Kershaw’s 0-1 fastball flew inside and grazed Parra’s elbow as the D’Backs left fielder was twisting to get out of the way. Home Plate Umpire Bill Welke immediately pointed to and ejected Kershaw for what Welke interpreted as an intentional hit by pitch to a chorus of boos from the Dodger Stadium crowd. Warnings had not previously been issued. The score was Dodgers 2 - D'Backs 0, with the tying run coming up to bat.
It was so surprising for the Dodgers that even the generally mild-mannered Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully let out a “holy mackerel.”
It was so surprising for the Diamondbacks, their own broadcasters’ reactions absolutely trumped Scully’s. Play-by-play man Darron Sutton exclaimed: “Oh my goodness. This is unbelievable! There were no warnings, this is stunning.”
Analyst Mark Grace added, “That is wrong by Bill Welke to do that.” Yet as surprising as it might have been for the broadcasters, as far as the umpires were concerned, it was retaliation and it was expected.
As far as the umpires were concerned, Kershaw and Parra have a history. Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo had given up a home run to Parra the day before. After connecting on that moon shot, Parra stood at home plate to admire his home run, breaking one of baseball’s countless unwritten rules.
The Dodgers immediately took offense, and no one yelled at the trotting Parra with more vigor than Kershaw. Slated to pitch the next day, Kershaw yelled at Parra, “you’ll find out, you’ll find out.”
Throughout this entire incident, the umpires were watching. One of the umpires’ many duties is to minimize unsporting behavior. For crew chief Tim Tschida and umpires Welke, Jeff Nelson and Marty Foster, the Kershaw-Parra rift likely played a prominent part in the umpires pregame meeting prior to the series finale.
In a sport where retaliation is as much tradition as "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on the organ, MLB has attempted to crack down on the occasionally dangerous bean ball, the intentional hit by pitch. Rule 8.02(d), appropriately titled, “Intentionally Pitch at Batter,” allows the umpire to expel a pitcher who, in the umpire’s judgment, throws a ball squarely at a batter. Warnings may be issued in lieu of an ejection, though Welke elected to go straight to ejection, sans warning.
Rule 8.02(d) also permits umpires to issue preemptive pregame warnings if they sense a particularly strong aura of foreboding. Tschida and company elected not to do so prior to the D’Backs-Dodgers finale, though, because that would have meant that if Kershaw were to be thrown out under Rule 8.02(d), which is what occurred, his manager would have automatically been ejected as well.
In the end, it was all for naught. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was ejected trying to defend his young pitcher.
Under Rule 8.02(d), umpires are asked to become mind readers and psychologists. They are asked to become police officer, judge, jury, corrections officer, and executioner. Welke graduated with a B.A. in Business Administration in 1990. The MLB veteran umpire is a family man and volunteer coach during the offseason. Bill Welke is not a bad guy. He certainly is not a bad umpire. Like all umpires, he cares more about the game than the average fan will ever know.
Welke and his crew prepared for this exact moment. The umpires, more than anyone, know Rule 8.02(d) inside and out. They've watched video of pitchers going after batters, mound charges, bench clearing brawls, games getting out of control. They know Cy Young candidates like Kershaw have pinpoint control. The day before, Kershaw heatedly yelled at Parra, “You’ll find out.” Earlier in the game, Kershaw surrendered his only base hit, a double, to Parra. When Parra came up to bat, fans were loudly cheering every swinging strike, booing every ball and hit.
Fast forward to Kershaw-Parra in the sixth inning. Pitch No. 1 is an inside corner fastball, strike one. Pitch No. 2 is even more inside and hits Parra.
What would you do?