ARLINGTON, Texas — Umpires never want to make themselves the story. If no one notices they’re there, they’re likely doing a good job. But on Saturday afternoon, home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor made himself the story in the Phillies’ 16-3 loss to the Texas Rangers.
In the second inning, on a 3-2 count, Rangers starter Nathan Eovaldi threw a 97 mph four-seam fastball to Nick Castellanos. It was well out of the zone, but Bucknor called it a strike. In the top of the third inning, again, with a 3-2 count, Eovaldi threw a high cutter to Brandon Marsh. It was well out of the zone, but, again, Bucknor called it a strike.
In the fourth inning, Eovaldi threw a four-seam fastball inside to Marsh. Bucknor called it for strike three, but this time, the stakes were higher. The call ended the inning, stranding runners on second and third base. If Bucknor had called the pitch a ball, the bases would have been loaded for Trea Turner.
Eovaldi chuckled to himself as he walked off the mound. Marsh had some choice words for Bucknor. They weren’t words of praise.
According to Codify, Bucknor missed 351 ball and strike calls last season. He made mistakes on Saturday that hurt the Rangers, too. It’s hard to say just how much of an impact Bucknor had on the result of the game. The Phillies’ pitching staff gave up 27 runs through their first two games of this season. You can’t blame that all on an umpire. But the inconsistent strike zone certainly didn’t help.
“(Umpires) can have a tremendous impact,” Marsh said. “All the power lies in their hands. It’s just part of the game, though. I overreacted a bit out there. It’s just the situation that gets me, second and third, two outs, one of the best hitters on the planet coming up next.
“It could have changed the whole outcome of the game. One swing, and Trea puts us up by two there with a grand slam. We’ve just got to be better. It’s not about the umpire, it’s about us. We’ve got to be better as a unit.”
Phillies starter Zack Wheeler was unable to get out of the fifth inning because of an erroneous ball four call in Adolis García’s at-bat. The pitch Bucknor called for a ball landed on the bottom edge of the strike zone. Yunior Marte, in his Phillies debut, came in after 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 that mistake in García’s fifth-inning at-bat, Marte would have had two outs behind him and his strikeout would have ended the inning. Or perhaps Marte wouldn’t have had to relieve Wheeler in the fifth inning at all.
It’s a maddening exercise. But Bucknor made enough mistakes on Saturday to make one wonder.
» READ MORE: Let’s play Phillies fact/fiction: Alec Bohm an All-Star? Aaron Nola a concern? Gregory Soto a bust?
Things continued to unravel from there. Garver hit his second home run of the day, a three-run shot off of 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 was unable to record an out and was replaced by Andrew Bellatti.
“That was terrible,” Domínguez said of his outing. “I don’t feel good with myself right now. Physically, I’m OK, just terrible results 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 of 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’s not what we were expecting, for sure,” said manager Rob Thomson. “But you’ve got to throw the ball over the plate and keep the ball on the ground as much as you can, and that’s what we’re not doing right now. You’ve just got to clean it up. Defense was sloppy today. A lot of things that normally we don’t do. So we’ve got clean that up, and we will, and we’ll move on.”
Like Nola, Wheeler doesn’t go deep
After just 3⅔ from Aaron Nola on opening day, the Phillies needed length from Wheeler. They did not get it. Wheeler struggled with his command early 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 ran into more trouble in the third inning, allowing a double, single, and a sac fly to score a third run. A fielding error by Turner during the next at-bat tacked on a fourth Rangers run.
» READ MORE: Rhys Hoskins undergoes ACL surgery, recovery expected to be 7-9 months
Wheeler seemed to get into a groove in the fourth inning, striking out the side, but any momentum he built came to an abrupt stop when Bucknor mistakenly called that fifth-inning walk.
Thomson had to lean on his bullpen early in his first two games of the season, which could make things tricky in games three, four, and five. Reliever-turned-starter Bailey Falter will start Game 3, and reliever Matt Strahm, who pitched out of the Padres’ rotation in 2019 but still is ramping up, will pitch Game 5.
“We’re going to have to figure it out, you can’t control it now,” Thomson said. “We’ve just got 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 dove to his right, extended his arm, and snatched 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.