John McGrath: McClendon’s hat toss gives fans only reason to cheer

May 15, 2014 

Nine pitchers combined to deliver 304 pitches Wednesday at Safeco Field, and the loudest cheer was for a cap Lloyd McClendon threw 30 feet.

You know a game is monotonous when the highlight is a manager reacting to his tossing with a toss of his own. And though McClendon’s tirade did nothing to settle the score — Rays 2, Mariners 0 — at least it gave the crowd something to talk about besides slumping shortstop Brad Miller (as in: how is this guy still on a big league team?) and starting pitcher Brandon Maurer (ditto).

Those questions were put aside once McClendon took the field for an entertaining confrontation with first base umpire Lance Barksdale in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“You guys write what you see,” he said during his postgame meeting with the media. “You tell it. Because if I tell it, I’ll get fined.”

He’ll probably get fined anyway. Whatever the tantrum costs him, at least McClendon knows he got his money’s worth.

The controversy with Barksdale — part of a crew that, to be generous, did not do its finest work during the three-game series

— began when plate umpire Kerwin Danley asked for Barksdale for help on John Buck’s two-strike check swing. Although replays showed Buck was able to keep his wrists locked on the almost-but-not-quite swing, replay challenges aren’t allowed on ball-strike calls.

For that matter, merely arguing a ball-strike call is grounds for ejection, although umpires tend to show latitude if there’s not too much attitude. But Barksdale wasn’t having any of it. He raised his hand as McClendon approached — baseball sign language for “there will be no discussion about this” — a gesture that elevated the manager’s mood from anger to rage.

“Obviously, we didn’t think he swung,” McClendon said of Buck’s check. “But for the umpire to tell me, ‘Don’t come out here,’ that part I don’t get. It is what it is.”

McClendon vented nose-to-nose with Barksdale, and as he made his way to the clubhouse via the Mariners’ dugout, the cap he had thrown was returned to him. He threw it again, this time into the box seats along the first-base line.

The season has approached the quarter mark. While the Mariners remain an enigma — a team capable of scoring nine runs in the Rays series’ opener, then one run in the two games that followed — McClendon is revealing a managerial personality Seattle baseball fans haven’t seen since Lou Piniella.

Tuesday night found McClendon cranky, understandable after having watched closer Fernando Rodney require less than an inning to undo Hisashi Iwakuma’s eight innings of stellar pitching. Wednesday found him unhinged, yet able to cool down to the point he appeared calm, almost stately, in the interview room.

“That’s one of the reasons you’ve got to love playing for him,” said Buck, the backup catcher to Mike Zunino. “I was in ‘starter’s mode,’ so I felt like I couldn’t get thrown out. Lloyd went out there and kind of wore it for me. That’s a players’ manager.”

That’s a fans’ manager, too.

Eight innings into a plodding game that featured five hits and two runs and somehow took three hours and 21 minutes to finish, McClendon earned something his listless team couldn’t: a standing ovation.

“He definitely has our back,” said rookie center fielder James Jones, whose base hit and walk pretty much represented the bulk of the Mariners’ offense. “It feels good to have a manager like that. Now we want to get to that point where we execute more and Lloyd won’t ever have to come out there.

“He has to handle it the way he has to handle it,” Jones went on, “but it’s our job to take care of what’s on the baseball field and not worry about him arguing calls.”

And on those occasional, inevitable days the Mariners don’t take care of what’s on the field?

Lloyd McClendon can combine indignation with imagination to put together an argument so strong, it’s worth the price of admission.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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