Josh Donaldson hit what one could describe as a walk-off home run on Thursday afternoon against the White Sox, but it did not come in the ninth inning (the Twins weren’t even the home team) and it did not lead to a Minnesota victory. Instead, it came in the course of an at-bat in which the third baseman got mad, got hold of one and then got tossed.
Donaldson had a 2-0 count with the score tied 2-2 in the sixth inning when plate umpire Dan Bellino called a strike on a slider from White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez on a pitch that was low and outside. Donaldson appeared to try to check his swing and questioned the call from Bellino. He either did not think he had swung or knew Bellino had made a bad call. The conversation between Donaldson and the umpire caused Twins manager Rocco Baldelli to come out of the dugout to talk with Bellino. That conversation seemed cordial.
“I just wanted to communicate with Dan,” Baldelli said. “I wasn’t exactly sure what was being said, but I know Josh was frustrated with some things that happened throughout the game in different at-bats and some calls during the game. I just wanted to go out there and make sure we were all clear on what was going on and I wanted to talk with Dan for a sec. Dan’s an easy guy to talk to behind the plate so we chatted for a minute. (I) was hoping that was the end of it, but obviously it wasn’t.”
Not even close.
Donaldson was taking no chances and pulled the next pitch, a four-seam fastball from Lopez that was inside, into the left field seats for a home run that gave the Twins a 3-2 lead. Donaldson trotted around the bases and then approached home plate. You can see what happened in the video below as Donaldson appeared to attempt to kick some dirt on the plate as he passed by Bellino.
Josh Donaldson did not appreciate a strike call, 2 pitches later he hit a HR and got ejected crossing home plate pic.twitter.com/CitbuyMGZa
— Stu Motown #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) September 17, 2020
That was it for Donaldson, who was tossed by Bellino as the umpire directed a choice four-letter word at the player. Donaldson went back to kick some more dirt on the plate before departing. Considering the umpiring crew the Twins and White Sox had to put up with the past four days, it was not surprising that someone was frustrated.
Of course, the Twins are chasing the White Sox for first place in the AL Central and Donaldson’s timing in getting ejected could not have been worse. The White Sox (33-17) rallied for a 4-3 victory and increased their lead over the second-place Twins (31-21) to three games with eight games remaining in the regular season for Minnesota. Chicago clinched its first playoff berth since 2008 with the win.
“Josh’s emotions got the best of him and his frustration did get the best of him,” Baldelli said. “Does he have gripes on some of those pitches? Yeah, but that’s also part of baseball and something that we all have to adjust too, both players and staff and everybody involved. The umpires do, too. They acknowledge those things, too, sometimes. A tough moment. We need Josh also on the field and out there playing and at third base. That’s when we’re at our best. So, that’s really the end of it. I think we can move past it at this point and go from here.”
That’s as close as Baldelli is going to come to criticizing Donaldson for putting his frustrations with Bellino ahead of what was best for the team. Because Donaldson was in the clubhouse, Ehire Adrianza, who replaced him at third, led off the eighth inning with the Twins down by a run and struck out on three pitches against White Sox reliever Codi Heuer.
“Was Josh’s spot going to come around most likely in an important spot? Yeah, that was certainly the case and we knew that was probably the case immediately after he left the ballgame,” Baldelli said. “Frustration or emotion at that point doesn’t really matter or affect us too much. We carry on, we keep playing and keep trying, work hard with whoever’s available and out there.”
The Twins will head to the North Side of Chicago for a three-game weekend series against the Cubs having lost three of four to the White Sox and having had two players and Baldelli ejected from two games.
On Tuesday, plate umpire Will Little tossed Baldelli and veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz in the seventh after rookie catcher Ryan Jeffers was called out on a third strike that was below the zone. Cruz, who had been called out on strikes in the sixth, was ejected for something he said from the bench. The Twins and White Sox also had issues with plate umpire and crew chief Angel Hernandez’s strike zone on Monday. The only game in which both teams seemed happy with the strike zone was on Wednesday when Nic Lentz had the plate.
The bad news for the Twins, and the Cubs, is that this umpire crew very well could have the weekend series at Wrigley. MLB has done everything it can to cut down on umpire travel and it’s likely Hernandez’s crew will make the 8-mile drive from Guaranteed Rate Field to Wrigley Field.
If that’s the case, Donaldson likely will be playing third base on Friday night, standing near Bellino, who would be the third base umpire. Baldelli is likely to suggest that Donaldson keeps his cool this time.