Amid what would otherwise have been a forgettable shutout loss for the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon, Bill Miller’s umpiring crew objected to a request from Aaron Nola that enraged Phillies manager Rob Thomson and led to a disqualification.
With two outs in the top of the sixth inning and the Phillies trailing by three runs, Nola threw a baseball that was given to him and asked for another one. He was refused. This particular crew felt that Nola was throwing balls as a tactic to play the pitch clock. They thought he stopped.
Thomson came out to argue and was thrown. He got his money’s worth. He walked off the field to a thunderous standing ovation.
“We have rules with the pitch clock,” Miller told a pool reporter after the game. “It is of course very sensitive: when the pitch clock goes off and whether people are going to circumvent the applicable rules.
“Nola did well the first two to three innings. And then as the game went on he started throwing more and more balls to where we thought he was trying to set the clock back, which is an attempt to get around the pitch clock rules.
“It is at the discretion of the umpire whether a player, at any time, attempts to circumvent the pitch clock rules.”
Miller cited another example his team faced this season with the Giants’ Alex Cobb.
Nola said he was not warned about it once this year.
Thomson cited a rule that players can be called for an offense by causing a delay, but said: “It doesn’t specifically talk about throwing baseballs. Baseballs are all different, they feel different in a pitcher’s hand, and sometimes they get slippery in the pockets after six or seven innings. Referees also sweat. I was angry that they wouldn’t let him change the baseball.
Pitchers have always asked for new baseballs. It’s nothing new. It’s only a topic now because, for the first season ever, pitchers have 15 seconds to deliver a pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds with the bases loaded, or they’ll be penalized with an automatic ball.
“How fast do you really want the game?” Nola asked rhetorically.
“The balls are slippery, you have to smooth them out, like in any match. Sometimes they are chalky, sometimes they are smooth, sometimes the seams are larger than others, sometimes they are smaller. It just depends. I don’t know how to slow down the clock when you’re in the wind up. What am I going to do, get off? Sometimes you have to rub the baseball up to get a grip on it.”
This was a discretionary call from Miller and his crew, who said a last resort from Nola led to the denial.
“The last thing – he caught the ball, he took two steps, he turned around and said I need a new ball,” said Miller. “He didn’t feel the ball until he took it out and wanted another one.”
Thomson and Nola were both skeptical of an umpire’s ability to judge at this point whether a pitcher actually needs a new baseball or is trying to buy himself more time.
“I don’t know how you can tell if a guy is actually throwing a baseball because he doesn’t like it or because he’s trying to stop unless you’re a mind reader,” Thomson said.
The ordeal in the sixth inning didn’t decide the game. Nola was out of the inning one pitch later. The Phillies lost 9-0. He allowed three runs in his first six innings, was omitted for the seventh, put three of the four batters on base and all three scored. The line was uglier than the start, but it was another outing where Nola crossed early and then made too many mistakes.
“It escaped me,” he said.
Nola leads the majors in innings — no surprise there — but has a 4.60 ERA. He is the only pitcher in the majors this season to allow a home run in 10 consecutive games.
“It’s quite inconsistent,” he said. “Good start, bad start, good start, bad start, and so on.”