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On Wednesday, the Mariners were pretty united in their feeling that Joe Maddon’s prolonged argument in the seventh inning of Felix Hernandez’s perfect game was a pre-meditated attempt to get Hernandez off his rhythm. Manager Eric Wedge said he was yelling at the Rays’ manager to “get his ass out of there, so he could go back to pitching.” Dustin Ackley told me that “usually I can tell if a pitch is off, but that pitch looked like it was right there. I think it was more of a stalling thing. It might not have been, but the way he was pitching there, they were trying to do something to disrupt his rhythm. It was obvious nothing was going to disrupt the way he was today.”
Well, Maddon took some offense at that sentiment. Speaking to the media before Thursday’s game against the Angels — a bounce-back 7-0 win for Tampa Bay — Maddon strongly disputed the notion he had ulterior motives. His only motivation, he said, was displeasure with the strike zone of home-plate umpire Rob Drake, and his desire to win what was at the time, and remained, a 1-0 game.
“It had everything to do with us trying to win the game,” Maddon told reporters in Anaheim. “All game I’d been hearing how big (Drake’s strike zone) was against left-hand hitters, and furthermore, I’m listening to our guys, and there was kind of an abrasiveness in the way it was handled from the ump to our players, which I didn’t like, either.”
The pitch in dispute was a called strike to Matt Joyce. Hernandez wound up retiring him on a grounder to first, then struck out five of the final six batters to preserve the perfect game.
“And on top of all that, that game’s 1-0,” Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times and other outlets. “And on top of all that, we’re trying to win a pennant. So it had nothing to do with delaying the other guy.”
Maddon added that Hernandez’s brewing perfect game was not a consideration in his argument.
“With all due respect, I don’t care about that whatsoever, whether he pitches a perfect game, a no-hitter, whatever,” Maddon said. “I have no interest at all in the success of the Seattle Mariners. I have zero interest in that. So however it’s perceived from the other side, that is a matter of perception, how they’re going to look at things.
“From my perspective, it’s about the Rays, period. And what’s right for our guys at a specific moment. And I’ll always defend our guys first as opposed to trying to put an opposition member into some form of the history book.”
On another matter, Maddon said he wouldn’t have been averse to one of his players trying to bunt for a base hit, despite the unwritten rule against bunting in the latter stages of a no-hitter or perfect game. Ben Davis, then with the Padres, was castigated for doing so late in a game in which Curt Schilling of Arizona was pitching a perfect game in 2001. Davis got a bunt single in the eighth to break up the perfect game, much to the fury of Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly.
Sean Rodriguez, who struck out to end the perfect game, told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times he considered bunting during his at-bat in the ninth inning. But once Hernandez fell behind 2-0, Rodriguez said he thought he would get a fastball that he could possibly drive to the gap or hit over the fence for a game-tying homer. Instead, he swung and missed at a slider, and eventually struck out looking at a changeup.
Maddon said Thursday night he feels the unwritten prohibition against bunting in a no-hitter is “archaic. A lot of that stuff to me is ill-advised, ill-informed, just ill. Why is bunting a non-masculine way of getting on first base? I don’t understand that.”