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Buck Showalter, Tommy Hunter bemoan shrinking strike zone in Orioles' loss

LOS ANGELES – The glare that Buck Showalter shot home plate umpire Hal Gibson III as the Orioles manager exited the visiting dugout during the eighth inning Wednesday to pull left-hander Brian Matusz spoke volumes.

A late-inning shrinking strike zone had made an already tough task — beating the Los Angeles Angels — tougher.

Angels starter Jered Weaver seemed to get the low strike call throughout the night in the Orioles’ 3-2 loss.

But as the Orioles’ one-run lead turned into a one-run deficit in the bottom of the eighth after three walks (one intentional), Gibson stopped giving the low strike call. He umpired his first major league game behind the plate in April.

“It’s an issue like expansion baseball,” Showalter said after Wednesday's game. “When you expand, you have a lot of players in the big leagues who normally wouldn’t be there. He was pretty consistent until late in the game. He’ll get better. He’s got a good attitude and a heart of fire. … That didn’t beat us, but I see the same thing you all do.”

With Erick Aybar, who drove in the tying run on an RBI double, on third base against right-hander Tommy Hunter with two outs, the Orioles opted to walk left-handed-hitting Efren Navarro to face No. 9 hitter Chris Iannetta. Hunter walked Iannetta on five pitches, and the final ball was called low. Weaver had received strike calls in a similar area earlier in the game.

Then, Matusz — coming in for a lefty-lefty matchup — walked Kole Calhoun on five pitches to give up the eventual game-winning run.

As Showalter glared at Gibson during his walk to the mound, Hunter shook his head in the dugout. Several players yelled at Gibson.

“It was a little tight, but I don't know,” Hunter said of the strike zone. “That’s something you can’t control. Try to control the things you can, and move on. He thought they were balls. I would see it a little differently. I’m a pitcher, and he’s an umpire, so I can see the disagreement we would have probably had with each other if we talked about it. Other than that, it is what it is.”

eencina@baltsun.com

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