Mazzilli's inaction raises arguable point about him


BOSTON - Your first inclination when you see a pitcher like Steve Kline fail to cover first base on a grounder to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro is to shake your head and wonder how a veteran like Kline could commit such a flagrant act of brain lock.

So we'll give manager Lee Mazzilli the right to expect more from Kline.

"He needs to get over there on that play. He was a little late getting over," Mazzilli said later.

Still, the fact of the matter is: Kline still did make a play on David Ortiz during the seventh inning of yesterday's 6-4 loss to the Red Sox. Kline was still there in time to put a tag on Boston's designated hitter. The out was made, but the umpire blew the call.

Kline argued, but to no avail. In the dugout, Mazzilli simply lowered his head, shook it once, a sign of frustration that was later echoed when Mazzilli all but admitted that he was unhappy with the way Kline failed to break to first.

Still, does that excuse the manager from doing his part, especially when the umpire blew the call? There's a longer view to be taken on seemingly insignificant scenarios like this, which is that you have to argue - so that the next time your team might get the call.

The eventual loss and series split was enough of a sucker punch to the stomach.

A three-run homer off closer B.J. Ryan by Ortiz with two outs and a full count in the bottom of the ninth gave the Red Sox a come-from-behind win. It's not the way the Orioles wanted to leave Boston.

But something else was lost yesterday at Fenway. Something maybe smaller, or maybe bigger, depending on what happens down the line between Mazzilli and his team.

Once again, Mazzilli decided against arguing a call, just like the time he didn't bother to argue a suspect balk called against Kline last month.

Once again, it left open the door for some players to wonder if it's really all about Mazzilli's "low-key" style that he hasn't argued or been thrown out of a game yet, or whether he's got the back of only a handful of star players.

Once again, a scenario presents itself that leaves some players to wonder: Are the Orioles doing what they're doing, winning, despite their manager?

Seventh inning, game tied 3-3, at Fenway, against a Red Sox team that's going to be down the Orioles' necks all season, yet an opportunity to assert himself was passed up by Mazzilli.

"[Ortiz] was out. We didn't get the call," Mazzilli said.

It made it appear as if it were more important to acknowledge Kline's bone-headed coverage than back him up for the tag Kline indeed did put on Ortiz.

It may seem like a very small matter, given the dramatic way in which the Orioles lost. But it was only one loss. It was one pitch Ryan would like to have back, but he has already established himself as one of the most dominant closers in the game.

But a lot more is being built inside the clubhouse and on the field by the Orioles at this stage in their rise out of mediocrity. Part of that has to do with the way they believe in themselves, the way they'll fight, the way they'll assert their personality over the course of this increasingly interesting season.

If there was ever a time for Mazzilli to show his team, show the world, who he is and what he's made of, maybe yesterday was such a day.

On a day when the Orioles sent their All-Star-vote-leading second baseman home to Baltimore for a magnetic resonance imaging on his shoulder, in a month that starts with their ace pitcher, starting catcher, center fielder and left fielder on the disabled list, maybe this was a time that a manager decides to make sure no one's going to take advantage.

A show of anger, a show of commitment to your troops, is a signal to everyone that you won't be pushed around.

However, there are key moments in a season when a justifiable demonstration of extreme displeasure would do a ton of good. There are codes in baseball about loyalty that exceed those of normal life.

Is it a small matter?

Maybe it could be brushed off, considering the fact that the Orioles still lead the American League East and have been surprisingly able to continue winning despite a rash of injuries.

However, in a week when the contract of White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was extended, when the contract of Toronto manager John Gibbons was extended last month, it should be no small matter to Mazzilli. He wants his contract option picked up, sooner rather than later. He would like an extension, and he'd like to think that he's going to remain the manager of this club for the apparent run it has in it. For all the injuries, the team has shown tremendous heart and resilience.

Failing to argue with an ump might seem like a small matter, but from such things, larger issues reveal themselves - something Mazzilli might want to consider before he again declines to argue on behalf of one of his guys.

He may think it's not his style or that important, but they do.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad