No one can ever accuse umpire Angel Hernandez of making a dubious call to hasten the conclusion of a baseball game.
In fact, Hernandez did just the opposite on Sunday afternoon at Pilot Field. He made a highly controversial, highly suspect call that provided the Buffalo Bisons with new life in an eventual 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Iowa Cubs.
Hernandez is reputed around the league to be an umpire who yearns for the spotlight. He attracted notice in Saturday's series opener by calling a phantom balk on 13-year big-league veteran Rick Sutcliffe. Hernandez attracted more attention Sunday with a call at home plate that replays proved blatantly incorrect.
The Bisons were trailing, 2-1, with one out in the ninth inning. They had Keith Miller on first and Joe Redfield on second when Tom Prince stepped up as a pinch hitter. Prince hit a slow grounder to second baseman Craig Smajstrla, who wanted to tag Miller and throw to first for the game-ending double play. But Miller avoided the tag, forcing Smajstrla to throw Prince out at first.
Miller was entrapped in a rundown, and that prompted Redfield to break for the plate. Shortstop Brian Guinn dismissed Miller and threw home to catcher Erik Pappas. Redfield slid but was tagged on the shoulder clearly a foot shy of the plate. Hernandez ruled otherwise, permitting the tying run.
Pappas immediately began jumping up and down in a classic tirade. Within the next few minutes, Pappas, manager Mick Kelleher and relief pitcher Steve Wilson all were ejected from the game.
Pappas surely got the most for the fine money he will be assessed by the league office. He made an obscene gesture in the face of Hernandez and repeatedly screamed at the umpire from the dugout. The climax came when Pappas flung his shin guards onto the field. He and Wilson, who may have bumped a member of the umpiring crew, are candidates for suspensions.
"That would be just another gutless thing if I get suspended for that," Pappas said. "I think they should realize that on a play like that I have a right to get hot.
"I never argue," Pappas said. "I'm not begging behind the plate for any calls. The other umps will tell you that. But if I think I'm right I'm going to fight it."
Kelleher defended the vehement objections to the call made by his players.
"I thought we got cheated on that play at home plate," Kelleher said. "It showed on the replay that he was out. We had a legitimate beef, and he's got to know about it."
The ninth-inning controversy injected spirit into what had been a lifeless game. Iowa built an early lead against Buffalo starter Carlton Hamilton on Gary Scott's first-inning homer and an RBI groundout by Iowa starter Jose Nunez in the second. Meanwhile, Nunez held the Bisons to four hits through eight innings while protecting his 2-0 advantage.
There seemed little doubt the baseball-concert double-header sellout crowd of 21,050 would see him record victory No. 10 to take over sole possession of the American Association lead. But things unraveled in the ninth.
Jeff Schulz reached on a one-out error by first baseman Doug Strange, moved to second on a balk call and scored on a Redfield single. Miller then drew a walk that finished Nunez. When Wilson came on, Prince was designated to hit for Greg Sparks and stroked the grounder that led to the controversy.
But the Cubs regained their poise. In fact, it was Russ McGinnis, the catching replacement for Pappas, who drove in the winning run with a two-out single off Rosario Rodriguez in the 10th. The winning run was set up with two hits off losing reliever Victor Cole (0-1).
"With the pitcher (hitting) behind me, I knew I wasn't going to get much to hit," McGinnis said. "He threw me a first-pitch slider right over the plate and I pulled it in the hole between short and third."
And so, a half hour late and a few dollars lighter, the I-Cubs finally had their deserved victory.
The series concludes at 7:05 tonight (Radio 550) with Buffalo's Rick Reed (9-3, 2.01) opposing Shawn Boskie (1-1, 6.38).