Culbreth suspended two games; rest of umpires fined for Thursday's actions
By Brian McTaggart
Umpire Fieldin Culbreth, the crew chief in Thursday night's game between the Angels and Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston, has received a two-game suspension and a fine for the misapplication of Rule 3.05(b) in the top of the seventh inning, Major League Baseball announced Friday afternoon.
The other members of Culbreth's crew -- Brian O'Nora, Bill Welke and Adrian Johnson -- received fines stemming from the same sequence of events. Culbreth's two-game suspension will be served at a date to be determined by the Office of the Commissioner.
"I look at it that baseball has high standards for their umpires and I have high standards for myself and I didn't meet those standards last night, so I am absolutely OK with everything," Culbreth told a pool reporter after serving as home-plate umpire for Friday night's Padres-Rays game in St. Petersburg.
The Angels were playing the game under protest before rallying for three runs in the eighth inning to win, 6-5. Angels manager Mike Scioscia argued with the umpires that Astros manager Bo Porter made an illegal pitching change in the seventh inning.
If the pitcher is replaced, the substitute pitcher shall pitch to the batter then at bat, or any substitute batter, until such batter is put out or reaches first base, or until the offensive team is put out, unless the substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness which, in the umpire-in-chief's judgment, incapacitates him for further play as a pitcher.
With runners at first and third and two outs, Porter brought in lefty Wesley Wright to face left-handed hitter J.B. Shuck. Before Wright threw a pitch, Porter subbed in the right-handed Hector Ambriz after he saw right-hander Luis Jimenez on deck to pinch-hit.
Rule 3.05 (b) says that a pitcher must face at least one hitter before he can come out of the game, unless he's injured. Wright wasn't injured, and Scioscia argued at length with the umpires before notifying them he was playing the game under protest.
"My contention was that the pitcher who came in had to face one batter," Scioscia said Thursday. "That's why I protested it, and we're happy we won."
Said Culbreth: "We just got to cross-sectioning different rules within the changing of a pitcher and just had a hard time getting back on track from that. We got confused."
Porter issued a public apology Friday afternoon for making an illegal pitching change. The first-year manager was adamant following the game that he was allowed to make a pitching change because the Angels had brought in a pinch-hitter after Wright was announced as being in the game, but he was informed later that night Wright should have faced the batter.
"I would say the first thing is me, personally, I want to apologize to their whole crew for putting them in that position," Porter said Friday. "And it's unfortunate for the game of baseball, but at the same time, I had a chance to speak to [Culbreth] last night after the fact, and he called over and I stand corrected of my thought process and interpretation of what it is I believed the rule to be. I want to give them my apology, and I wish the whole thing never happened."
Porter said Culbreth called over to his office after the umpire had spoken to his superiors and told him the pitching change hadn't been handled properly. Porter said he apologized to Culbreth at that time, and then took time prior to Friday's game to apologize again through reporters.
"When I went out there last night, my interpretation of it and my thought process of what it is I believed the rule to be was the fact that the scheduled hitter had to be faced by that pitcher," Porter said. "After the game, I found out that was not the case and there are some repercussions. As I sit here today, it's more that I feel sorry for the crew chief and crew for having to wear what it is that happened last night."
Porter said following the game that he'd been in a meeting last year with Nationals manager Davey Johnson that laid out the rule. Porter was Washington's third-base coach at the time.
"If you have to pinch-hit for that batter, you now have the right to bring in another pitcher," Porter said following Thursday's game. "Technically, Wesley came in to pitch to the batter that was scheduled to hit [Shuck]. But [Jimenez] pinch-hit for the batter that was scheduled to hit, which, from my understanding of the rule, you can bring in another pitcher to face the pinch-hitter."
Porter said he stopped to talk to the umpires to make sure Jimenez was officially in the game.
"Once I made sure that he pinch-hit for the batter that was scheduled to hit, then I started towards the mound," Porter said. "The home-plate umpire [Johnson], he kind of stopped me. He said, 'Whoa, Bo,' and then Scioscia started yelling, '[Wright] has to face a hitter.'
"I just calmly explained to him my interpretation of the rule is, 'Yes, [Wright] has to face the hitter, as long as it's the hitter that's scheduled to hit.' The hitter that was scheduled to hit had now been pinch-hit for, which now gives me the right to bring a pitcher to face the pinch-hitter."
Culbreth said he accepts "all responsibility" for the incident.
"I look at it that the players and the managers, they go out and play the game and it's our job, whether they are knowingly or unknowingly getting outside the boundaries to get them back in, and I fell short of keeping them inside those lines," he said. "And that falls on me."