Phil Sheridan: Los Angeles Dodgers, umpire D.J. Reyburn get to Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon

Posted: June 06, 2012

It is unknown whether D.J. Reyburn can read minds. It is fairly certain, though, that Bud Selig and his posse in the commissioner's office can read written words.

So Jonathan Papelbon won't be fined for being the first player ejected because an umpire read his thoughts. But the Phillies closer probably can expect an involuntary payroll deduction for his comments after Monday night's 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I thought he was terrible," Papelbon said of Reyburn's work behind the plate. "All day. It wasn't just that pitch. All day. . . . I thought he sucked. It's that simple."

When told that Reyburn is a triple-A umpire filling in on the major-league level, Papelbon didn't flinch.

"Doesn't surprise me," he said, "doesn't surprise me. He probably needs to go back to triple A. That's not a knock on him. That's not a knock on the umpires. You're up in the big leagues for a reason: to do a good job. And when you don't do a good job, you should be demoted or fired. It's just like anybody's job. It's like your job, it's just like my job. I don't do my job, I go down to triple A. There's no room for that up here."

Papelbon thought he had thrown a third strike past Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon in the top of the ninth inning. Reyburn called it a ball. Gordon stroked the next pitch into center field, then blazed around the base paths for a triple. He scored the winning run on a single by Elian Herrera.

"I just caught too much of the plate," Papelbon said. "I've got to execute my pitches better than that."

After he struck out Alex Castellanos to end the inning, Papelbon approached Reyburn. He was holding one finger up.

"I said, 'I just want to ask you a question, I want to ask you a question,' " Papelbon said. "And then the other umpire [crew chief Derryl Cousins] came over and said, 'What are you doing over there?' I said, 'I want to ask him a question.' "

The question?

"I wanted to know if he could throw me out for what I was thinking," Papelbon said. "I didn't want to get thrown out and have to pay the fine for getting thrown out."

He averted that fate. It will be interesting to see how MLB handles the situation. Earlier in the game, Reyburn ejected Dodgers manager Don Mattingly for arguing ball and strike calls. And Vance Worley, the Phillies starter, shrugged off his first-inning brush with Reyburn. Two walks led to two Dodgers runs in that inning.

"All night long," Papelbon reiterated. "From [Dodgers starter Clayton] Kershaw to Vance, all the way through the ninth inning. It affected the game. It affected the outcome of the game."

And this is where Papelbon's comments make the jump from mere complaining by the losing pitcher to intriguing insight into the state of the game. Just a few nights ago, an umpire's blown call enabled Johan Santana of the Mets to throw a no-hitter. Just a couple of weeks ago, an umpire was suspended for a game for goading Phillies manager Charlie Manuel into an altercation.

Umpires have enormous control. If they aren't fair, or competent, it changes everything.

"It's the integrity of the game," Papelbon said. "You want to be able to go out there and play the game the way it should be played. That's it. It affects every at-bat. It affects every plate appearance. It affects everything."

Consider Worley's situation. This was his first appearance since coming off the disabled list. He has a bone chip in his right elbow and will have to manage the discomfort all season. Since he hadn't pitched in a game since May 11, the Phillies' plan was to use him for about 75 pitches.

If he was getting squeezed by Reyburn's strike zone, that meant more pitches. That's not just having an impact on a hitter here or a hitter there, it's having an impact on Worley's ability to deliver an effective start under physical duress.

"First inning, he was definitely throwing some close pitches," Manuel said. "He had a hard time getting any of them [called strikes]."

Worley smiled, put it down to "things you can't control."

Papelbon wasn't feeling as conciliatory. He has not pitched nearly as effectively in non-save situations. Surrendering a triple and single to the first two batters he faced would qualify as not pitching effectively. But if the pitch to Gordon was strike three, things would have been completely different.

When Papelbon appeared in the Phillies clubhouse a half-hour or so after the game, he waved the lingering crowd over to his locker. He had something to say, and this time he was able to ask his one question.

Turns out we had a pretty good idea what he was thinking.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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