ARLINGTON, Texas — Umpires don’t want to make the story themselves. If no one notices they’re there, they’re probably doing a good job. But on Saturday afternoon, home plate umpire CB Bucknor made himself the story of the Phillies’ 16-3 loss to the Texas Rangers.
In the second inning, down 3-2, Rangers starter Nathan Eovaldi threw a 97 mph four-seam fastball to Nick Castellanos. It was way out of the zone, but Bucknor called it a strike. In the top of the third inning, again, with the count 3-2, Eovaldi threw a high cutter to Brandon Marsh. It was out of the zone, but, again, Bucknor called it a strike.
In the fourth inning, Eovaldi threw a four-seam fastball inside Marsh. Bucknor calls it for strike three, but this time, the stakes are higher. The call ended the inning, stranding runners at second and third base. If Bucknor had called the pitch a ball, the bases would have been loaded for Trea Turner.
Eovaldi laughed to himself as he walked away from the mound. Marsh had some choice words for Bucknor. They are not words of praise.
According to Codify, Bucknor missed 351 balls and strike calls last season. He made a mistake on Saturday that also hurt the Rangers. It’s hard to say how much of an impact Bucknor had on the outcome of the game. The Phillies’ pitching staff has given up 27 runs in their first two games this season. You can’t blame it all on an umpire. But the inconsistent strike zone certainly didn’t help.
“(Umpires) can have a tremendous impact,” Marsh said. “All the power is in their hands. It’s just part of the game, though. I kind of overreacted there. It’s just the situation that gets me, second and third, two outs, one of the best hitters in planet that comes next.
“It could have changed the whole outcome of the game. One swing, and Trea put us up by two there with a grand slam. We just have to be better. It’s not about the umpire, it’s about us. We have to be better as a unit.”
Phillies starter Zack Wheeler sat out the fifth inning because of an errant ball four call in Adolis García’s at-bat. Bucknor’s pitch called for a ball that landed on the bottom edge of the strike zone. Yunior Marte, in his Phillies debut, came in behind Wheeler with one runner on and one out, and allowed a single before striking out Robbie Grossman. In his next at-bat, he gave up a three-run home run to Mitch Garver to give the Rangers a 7-3 lead.
If Bucknor hadn’t made an error in García’s fifth-inning at-bat, Marte would have had two outs behind him and his strikeout would have ended the inning. Or maybe Marte won’t have to relieve Wheeler in the fifth inning.
It’s a crazy exercise. But Bucknor made enough mistakes Saturday to wonder.
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Things continued to take off from there. Garver hit his second home run of the day, a three-run shot off Seranthony Domínguez, in the seventh inning to give the Rangers a 10-3 lead. Domínguez allowed a single and hit a batter after that to put runners on first and second, and Marcus Semien reached base on a fielder’s choice to load the bases. Domínguez did not record an out and was replaced by Andrew Bellatti.
“That was scary,” Domínguez said of his outing. “I don’t feel good about myself today. Physically, I’m fine, it’s just a bad result today.”
Bellatti allowed three more Rangers runs (all credited to Domínguez) on a sacrifice fly, a groundout, and a single. The Rangers tacked on three more in the bottom of the eighth, off utilityman Josh Harrison, who entered the game after reliever Craig Kimbrel loaded the bases. A position player pitching, two games into the season no less, is never a good sign.
“It wasn’t what we expected, for sure,” manager Rob Thomson said. “But you’ve got to throw the ball over the plate and keep the ball on the ground as long as you can, and that’s not what we’re doing today. You just need to clean it. The defense was slow today. There are many things we do not do. So we cleaned that up, and we will, and we will continue.”
Like Nola, Wheeler doesn’t go deep
After just 3⅔ from Aaron Nola on opening day, the Phillies needed length from Wheeler. They didn’t get it. Wheeler struggled early with his command against the Rangers, allowing a home run to Semien on his second pitch of the game, and three singles after that to score another run in the first inning.
He had more trouble in the third inning, allowing a double, single, and sac fly to score the third run. A fielding error by Turner in the next at-bat tacked on the fourth Rangers run.
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Wheeler seemed to get into a groove in the fourth inning, striking out the side, but any momentum he had built came to an abrupt halt when Bucknor miscalled that fifth-inning walk.
Thomson had to lean on his bullpen early in his first two games of the season, which could prove difficult in games three, four, and five. Reliever-turned-starter Bailey Falter will start Game 3, and reliever Matt Strahm, who left the Padres’ rotation in 2019 but is still on the rampage, will pitch Game 5.
“We have to be aware of it, you can’t control it now,” Thomson said. “We just need to figure it out.”
Bohm’s highlight catch
One of the lone bright spots was a catch Alec Bohm made at third base in the second. With one out and one on, he robbed Semien of a likely RBI double down the third-base line. Bohm came down to his right, extended his arm, and stole Semien’s lineout for the second out of the inning.
Good day at the plate for Hall
Darick Hall went 2-for-3. He hit a line-drive single off Eovaldi in the first inning and a double-to-right field off Eovaldi in the fourth. Hall was one of four Phillies to have a multi-hit game.