ARLINGTON, Texas — Referees never want to become history. If no one notices they’re there, chances are they’re doing a good job. But on Saturday afternoon, home plate umpire CB Bucknor made history 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. He was well out of the zone, but Bucknor called it a strike. In the top of the third inning, again, on a 3-2 count, Eovaldi threw a high cutter to Brandon Marsh. He 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 strike three, but this time, the stakes were higher. The call ended the inning, stranding runners at second and third base. If Bucknor had called the pitch, the bases would have been loaded for Trea Turner.
Eovaldi chuckled as he walked off the mound. Marsh had a few choice words for Bucknor. They were not words of praise.
According Encode, Bucknor missed 351 ball-and-strike calls last season. He made mistakes Saturday that also hurt the Rangers. It’s hard to say how much of an impact Bucknor had on the outcome of the game. The Phillies’ pitching staff allowed 27 runs in their first two games this season. You can’t blame everything on one referee. But the inconsistent strike zone certainly didn’t help.
“(Referees) can have a tremendous impact,” Marsh said. “All power is in his hands. However, it is only part of the game. I overreacted a bit out there. It’s just the situation that puts 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 shot, and Trea leads us by two there with a grand slam. We just have to be better. It’s not about the referee, it’s about us. We have to be better as a unit.”
Phillies starter Zack Wheeler was unable to get out of the fifth inning due to a miscalled four-ball off Adolis Garcia’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 up behind Wheeler with a runner on and one out, allowing a single before striking out Robbie Grossman. In his next at-bat, he allowed a three-run home run to Mitch Garver to give the Rangers a 7-3 lead.
Had Bucknor not made that error in Garcia’s fifth-inning at-bat, Marte would have had two outs behind him and his strikeout would have ended the inning. Or maybe Marte wouldn’t have had to relieve Wheeler in the fifth inning.
It’s a maddening exercise. But Bucknor made enough mistakes on Saturday to raise a question.
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Things continued to fall apart from there. Garver hit his second home run of the day, a three-run shot off Seranthony Dominguez, in the seventh inning to give the Rangers a 10-3 lead. Dominguez allowed a single and hit a batter after that to put runners on first and second, and Marcus Semien reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases. Dominguez was unable to score an out and was replaced by Andrew Bellatti.
“That was terrible,” Dominguez said of his departure. “I don’t feel good about myself right now. Physically, I’m fine, just terrible results today.”
Bellatti allowed three more Rangers runs (all credited to Dominguez) on a sacrifice fly, groundout, and single. The Rangers added three more in the bottom of the eighth off utility Josh Harrison, who entered the game after reliever Craig Kimbrel loaded the bases. A position pitcher, two games of the season no less, is never a good sign.
“It’s not what we were expecting for sure,” manager Rob Thomson said. “But you have to throw the ball over the plate and keep the ball on the ground as long as you can, and that’s what we’re not doing right now. You just have to clean it. The defense was sloppy today. Lots of things we don’t normally do. So we have to 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 distance from Wheeler. They didn’t get it. Wheeler struggled with his early dominance against the Rangers, giving up 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 got into more trouble in the third inning, allowing a double, a single and a sacrifice fly to score a third run. A fielding error by Turner during the next at-bat added a fourth Rangers run.
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Wheeler seemed to get into a rhythm in the fourth inning, striking out a side, but any momentum he built came to an abrupt halt when Bucknor mistakenly called the fifth inning walk.
Thomson had to lean on his bullpen early in his first two games of the season, which could mess things up in games three, four and five. Reliever-turned-starter Bailey Falter will start Game 3, and reliever Matt Strahm, who came out of the Padres’ rotation in 2019 but is still rising, will pitch Game 5.
“We’ll have to figure it out, you can’t control it now,” Thomson said. “We just have to figure it out.”
Bohm Featured Shot
One of the only bright spots was a catch Alec Bohm made at third base in the second. With one out and one in, he robbed Semien of a probable RBI double down the third base line. Bohm dove to the right of him, reached out and snatched the lineout from Semien for the second out of the inning.
Good day at the plate for Hall
Darick Hall went 2 for 3. He hit a liner single off Eovaldi in the first inning and a double to right off Eovaldi in the fourth. Hall was one of four Phillies to have a multi-hit game.