MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

Watched the Washington Nationals’ 5-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon (Repeat: nothing beats afternoon baseball, nothing beats afternoon baseball, nothing beats afternoon, evening or morning baseball with no F.P. Santangelo in the booth, even though I listen to most Nats games on WCMD 1230 AM), and while the Nats didn’t fare well against the first-place Diamondbacks, the afternoon was not without its moments.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez earned his first ejection of the year in the top of the fifth inning for, I presume, arguing balls and strikes. And while that’s not a huge surprise on a couple of fronts, it might seem to be at least a mild one because Martinez comes across as being such a soft-spoken guy.

That he may be, but he’s proven in his career as a manager that he’ll take up for his team and go toe-to-toe with the umps, as yesterday’s disagreement was the second one for the Nats skipper in just over a week.

Martinez is not afraid; he’s a competitor. You have to be to have had the 16-year big-league career as a player that he had. And, oh, yes, he did manage the Nationals to a World Series title, but, sadly, because of the timing of that title to the pandemic, a lot of people still seem to forget that.

Anyway, the interpretation of the strike zone on Thursday by home-plate umpire Doug Eddings was not the same interpretation of the strike zone that many players from either team seemed to have for it.

In fairness, Eddings and the umpiring crew were the same crew that had worked the Nats’ previous three-game series with St. Louis, and as Thursday’s game with Arizona was a make-up, they stayed in town to do the game.

So perhaps Eddings was tired, perhaps he had a plane to catch on getaway day and was in a hurry, or perhaps he just has a bad and inconsistent strike zone as so many umpires seem to have these days. Whatever it was, he was hearing it from both dugouts. We know this, because there were not many fans in the stands, given the circumstances, and MASN mics on the field were very hot. Those of us who were viewing at home were able to hear far more than we’re accustomed to hearing, so …

So, on a low pitch to an Arizona batter that was called a ball, Eddings heard it again from the Washington dugout, because that pitch seemed to have been called a strike throughout the day against Washington batters.

Make a long story short: Out comes Martinez to discuss things with Eddings, and on his way back to the dugout he offers a parting shot that Eddings turns into a real parting shot by throwing Martinez out of the game.

Martinez quickly returns to the scene of Eddings’ perceived crimes, chirping the entire way, then wipes out the batter’s box chalk with his foot, sweeps off the plate with some papers that were in his hand, then hits the dirt, literally, dropping to the ground on his stomach so he can physically demonstrate his disenchantment with Eddings’ strike zone.

It was a thing of beauty.

All in all, I give Martinez high marks for creativity. I had never seen that move before, and I grew up watching Hank Bauer and Earl Weaver. I wouldn’t put it on scale with one of Earl’s legendary rants, or with one of Billy Martin’s, or Lou Piniella’s; but all in all, it was a very impressive performance, the likes of which I had never seen before through a lot of years of watching baseball.

“We were in a crucial situation there,” Martinez said after the game, “and the call was bad. Nothing against the umps, but I’m going to take care of my players, and it was bad.”

It capped yet another frustrating day for the Nats in this very frustrating season, which, in itself, comes as no surprise, as the Nats organization has been committed to this rebuild for the better part of a year now.

The Nationals, though, committed two errors on Thursday that led to their giving up four unearned runs.

“We have to get better than that,” Martinez said. “We clean it up and we can compete. We have to stay on these guys to get better, and we will.”

I believe him.

The Nats, who find themselves comfortably in last place of the National League East, clearly do not win most of their games, yet most of the games you watch them play, you see they’re not far from doing so, including Thursday’s when they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth.

For being in a complete rebuild, the Nats are not that bad, which at this early stage is remarkable and a credit to General Manager Mike Rizzo for having acquired the young and developing talent at the big-league level that be brought to D.C. through his fire sale of established veteran talent.

It is also quite a credit to the Nats’ manager Dave Martinez. He knows baseball inside and out, and he loves baseball because he’s a baseball lifer. And, oh, yes, he has managed the Washington Nationals to a World Series championship.

On top of that, he proved on Thursday afternoon my long-standing and long-stated belief to be true:

Every time you watch a baseball game, you see something you’ve never seen before in your life.

Baseball is good. Baseball is our friend. Baseball is very good.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT