ANAHEIM, CALIF.: It was a tough night to watch the Indians, let alone pitch for them.
Yes, they lost the game Wednesday night to the Los Angeles Angels 8-4, but this was no ordinary defeat.
Brent Lillibridge committed two errors and Carlos Santana one in the second inning to all but clinch the loss. But the most bizarre inning was the fifth, when plate umpire Greg Gibson was kicked in the head and forced to leave the game.
All of this was swirling around Roberto Hernandez, making his major-league debut as someone other than Fausto Carmona, the name he borrowed as a teenager.
Hernandez was coming off a three-week suspension imposed by Major League Baseball for identity fraud after finally obtaining a work permit from the federal government. He got his chance to pitch Wednesday, the same night the circus came to Angels Stadium.
“I felt good,” Hernandez said. “I tried not to do too much and throw ground balls.”
Hernandez ran into trouble after one inning. Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo and Alberto Callaspo all singled to start the second and produce the Angels’ first run.
Vernon Wells hit a hard ground ball to Lillibridge at short for what should have been an easy double play. Instead, Lillibridge muffed the ball, Trumbo scoring, Callaspo taking second and Wells reaching first.
“He hit the ball pretty hard, and I knocked it down,” Lillibridge said. “I should have been more patient, instead of rushing. I had plenty of time. It’s one of those things you wish you could do over again.”
Although Lillibridge is a multi-position player, he thinks he has played short only four times the past three years, three times for the Tribe this season.
Maicer Izturis followed with a bunt 20 feet in front of the plate. Hernandez rushed in but couldn’t find the handle. The play was ruled a single, but Hernandez should have gotten the out.
Chris Iannetta’s sacrifice fly scored Callaspo from third, and one out later Mike Trout, who reached on a force play, took off for second. Santana tried to throw him out but heaved the ball far beyond the base and Wells scored. Lillibridge recovered the ball and threw badly for error No. 3 to allow Trout to reach third. The final run scored when Erick Aybar tripled to score Trout.
“The second inning killed us,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “Roberto threw better than those numbers made it look. He threw two double-play balls; he didn’t walk anybody and he was down in the zone.
“His secondary stuff is not as sharp as you would want, but we played terrible defense. That five-spot in the second put us behind the eight ball.”
Hernandez started her fifth by hitting Torii Hunter with an 0-and-2 pitch. Morales then smoked a double to right, and Hunter was determined to score from first. He barreled toward the plate as Jack Hannahan’s relay from Shin-Soo Choo was reaching Santana, who appeared to tag Hunter around the shoulder.
In trying to avoid the tag, Hunter hurled himself into a spin. As Hunter landed, he kicked the umpire above the left eye. Gibson went down in a heap and stayed there for two minutes.
All the while, Angels manager Mike Scioscio stood to the left of the plate and Acta to the right, both waiting to find out the umpire’s ruling.
“It would have been a very sensitive situation for me and Mike to be standing there arguing about the call,” Acta said. “Jerry Davis, the crew chief, came and told us the call.”
After being treated on the field by the Angels’ trainer, Gibson retired for the night, and first-base umpire Manny Gonzalez taking his place.
But was Hunter safe or out? Replays showed that Gibson was in the initial stages of making the call when he hit the dirt. Yet it wasn’t until after he left that it was announced to the fan that Hunter was out.
Had Acta ever seen an umpire go down in that fashion?
“Every day you see something new in this game,” Acta said. “But no, I’ve never seen that. But I wasn’t surprised, either.”
Unfortunately for Hernandez, he had to stick around. He lasted through the sixth inning, giving up all the runs (three unearned) on 10 hits.
By the time he left, Hernandez probably was thinking about giving back the work permit and returning home to the Dominican Republic where he could sit in a rocking chair on his porch and let others worry about the pitfalls of playing big-league baseball.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.