The debate whether right-hander Jason Hammel intentionally threw at Detroit Tigers left fielder Matt Tuiasosopo's head was markedly one-sided in both clubhouses following the the Orioles' ugly 10-3 loss Saturday.
Both dugouts agreed that Hammel had no intent to harm Tuiasosopo in the fourth inning of Saturday's game. The umpires didn't entirely disagree, but claimed that Hammel — intentionally or not — forced them to prevent a wild game from getting out of hand.
After allowing three consecutive solo home runs to the Tigers in the fourth inning, Hammel's next pitch — an 82-mph slider — sailed out of his hand and toward Tuiasosopo's head, hitting him on the left shoulder as he ducked away from the pitch.
Home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt took off his mask and immediately threw his right hand in the air, ejecting Hammel from the game. Hammel emphatically threw his arms out and he walked from the mound to the plate, repeatedly yelling to Wendelstedt that the pitch wasn't intentional — that it was a slider gone awry.
“Zero intent there to hit him, and obviously, I give up three home runs, but I'm not the guy that answers getting hit around with hitting somebody,” Hammel said. “That's bush league if you ask me. It was a mistake. … I understand his position. I still don't understand why he threw me out. That was the quickest toss I've ever seen. It was almost immediate.”
On a muggy afternoon at Camden Yards, Hammel said he struggled with getting a feel for the ball with the constant sweat developing on his hands. He walked three batters through his first two innings and not even the best rosin bag was going to help his grip.
“Just felt like after three home runs, it's a real quick decision,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Ham had probably 10 to 12 balls slip out of his hand today. [With a] breaking ball, it's tough on umpires trying to judge intent, but they get a lot of pressure from the major league offices. ... I understand what the umpire's trying to do, but it's very tough for them to judge intent.”
With Hammel gone before an out was made in the fourth, his ejection forced the Orioles bullpen to pitch six innings. The Tigers went on to score eight runs in the fourth, capped by reigning American League Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera's grand slam. The four homers the Tigers hit in the fourth inning marked the most the Orioles have allowed in one inning in club history.
The Orioles (31-25), who had their three-game winning streak snapped, allowed five Detroit homers, the most in a game since the New York Yankees hit five in Game 2 of a doubleheader on Aug. 28, 2011 against them.
Hammel battled while he was in the game. He needed 42 pitches to get through the second inning and three consecutive homers by Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila to lead off the fourth inning broke a tied game wide open.
And that's when Hammel's pitch to Tuiasosopo — and Wendelstedt's hurried ejection — turned the game on its head.
“They claim there was no intent,” crew chief Jerry Layne said. “Three home runs and a guy gets hit. You're an umpire, what do you do?”
Layne cited Rule 126.96.36.199 of the major league rulebook, saying that if an umpire deemed a pitch is intentional — especially at the head — no warning needs to be given before an ejection.
“It doesn't mean that someone gets hit that they're automatically ejected,” Layne said. “In the rulebook, it even states that when a [batter] gets hit high in the shoulder ... that's when we feel we have to control the game and to control the game to keep a retaliation from occurring, that's what happens.”
Showalter argued the fact that Hammel threw a slider should show he wasn't intentionally trying to hit Tuiasosopo.
“I've got a real biased opinion of it, and it's pretty obvious to us there was nothing intentional about it,” Showalter said. “You see the ball slipping out of his hand … Most guys that I've ever seen do it want to make sure everyone knows. If you're doing that, you're going to throw a fastball, not a breaking ball.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland agreed that he didn't think Hammel's pitch was intended to harm Tuiasosopo.
“In my heart, I do not think he was throwing at him.” Leyland said. “However, in defense of the umpire, he might not have known it was a [breaking] ball, because in the shadows, it was tough to see.”
But Adam Jones said he could tell from center field.
“I can see that from center field,” Jones said. “You can see it wasn't a heater, but I can understand the umpire. It was up in that region of the head, the neck. I understand it. You don't have to agree with it, but you have to respect it.
“But I think when you see him get hit, you gotta understand what pitch it is because the man is not trying to hurt nobody,” Jones added. “That's the last thing on Hammel's mind. He'd rather just get you out than hurt you.”
In Hammel's last start, he gave the Orioles a boost with eight innings against the Washington Nationals on the road Monday, but his ejection Saturday marked the seventh time in 10 games that an Orioles starter hasn't gone at least six innings.
Hammel's replacement, left-hander T.J. McFarland, didn't fare much better in the fourth. McFarland allowed a single to No. 9 hitter Avisail Garcia, an RBI double to Omar Infante, and he walked Andy Dirks to load the bases for Cabrera.
Cabrera then took a full-count pitch into the left-field stands for a grand slam, ending a run of eight straight batters who reached base and scored in the inning.
Prince Fielder added a solo homer in the sixth off McFarland, his 10th of the season.
Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander was far from his Cy Young form, allowing three runs and eight hits in seven innings, but he still recorded his second straight quality start.
Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy had his 10th career two-homer game, leading off the third and fifth innings with solo homers off Verlander. Since May 4, Hardy has nine homers in his past 26 games.