HOUSTON — That he was charged with a mound visit for saying three words to his pitcher — "Are you fine?" — on his way to the dugout after helping prevent a brawl on the field admittedly galled Rocco Baldelli. But what really angered the Twins manager is that nobody told him until it was too late.
"I didn't like that it was [charged] in the first place. But I really didn't like the lack of communication on a really unusual play," Baldelli said after the Twins' 4-2 loss to the Astros on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park. "At the bare minimum, it's necessary for someone to come over and let us know. … So I disagreed, and I disagreed on multiple levels."
And, no surprise, the umpires disagreed with Baldelli.
"The mound visit constitutes the manager going on top of the mound and talking to the pitcher. That's a visit," crew chief Todd Tichenor told a pool reporter. "The home plate umpire [Rob Drake] signaled to the press box, and that gives the dugout a signal as well that that is a mound visit."
The incident was an abrupt veer from an otherwise normal Justin Verlander domination of one of his most frequent victims. Twins starter Aaron Sanchez started the fifth inning by throwing a fastball far inside against Jose Altuve, a pitch Drake ruled had hit the batter. Altuve stared at Sanchez for a moment as though offended by the pitch, one that Sanchez said had no ill intent.
"Everybody in the stadium knew I was not trying to hit him in a situation like that. You've already been slapping my sinker to the right side," Sanchez said. "I need to throw a fastball in off your hands, especially to a guy who dives out over the plate."
When Altuve reached first base, he and Sanchez gestured at each other, and players quickly rushed the field in case of a fight. Baldelli was among them, getting between his pitcher and first base, but the situation, though it flared up more than once, was resolved without any punches thrown.
Sanchez "had walked a little ways away and had walked back to the mound. On the way back to the dugout, I just walked over to him and said, 'Are you fine?'" Baldelli said. "He said yes. I walked away. Pretty straightforward."
Except that the umpires huddled near the mound and decided that constituted a mound visit. Drake signaled the press box, but Baldelli said "nobody saw it" in the Twins dugout, "nobody knew."
"There's people walking all over the place, getting settled back in after some type of altercation, and in the middle of it all I'm given a mound visit, and not being communicated with," Baldelli said. "It someone walks over and says, 'Hey, you might not agree with it, but we got together and decided to give you a mound visit because you stopped on the mound and looked like you talked to your pitcher.' They didn't know what I was talking about because there weren't out there with me. Could they have been? Maybe, but they weren't. We didn't get any of that."
Tichenor, asked if the umpires believed Baldelli understood they had ruled it a visit, said "We had a sense that once Rocco went to the mound, he knew that was a visit."
It became an issue four pitches later, after Sanchez walked Yuli Gurriel and Baldelli sent pitching coach Pete Maki to the mound to calm him down. Drake informed Maki that it was the Twins' second visit of the inning and he was required to remove Sanchez from the game. Baldelli quickly objected, and was eventually ejected for it.
"Rocco went past the mound and looked at me and said, 'Are you good?' I said, 'I'm good,' and that was the end of the conversation," Sanchez said, still mystified after the game. "It wasn't like he really stopped. I don't see how you can call it a mound visit when you still have 35 other people on the field."
“The mound visit constitutes the manager going on top of the mound and talking to the pitcher. That's a visit.”
Baldelli said he was upset by his second ejection of the month — he was also kicked out on Aug. 7 for arguing about an overturned play at home plate against Toronto — but wanted to put it behind the team, which has lost four straight games.
"I'm not going to sit here and make excuses that we're losing games because of umpire interactions or poor communication. We are still going to have to find ways to win," the manager said. "We're going to have to play better than good baseball to win tomorrow, and that's where we need to focus our energy right now."