Up until the ninth inning Tuesday night, we had only witnessed the upside of Brett Lawrie's fierce intensity.
The gritty Canadian runs out every ground ball. He takes an extra base on wild pitches. And he never gives up on any ball hit in his direction, even if it means diving three rows into the stands to retrieve it.
Fans love him for his energy, determination and tenacity, but Tuesday night for the first time, we saw the downside of his competitive fire. It was ugly and resulted in a four-game suspension that Lawrie is appealing.
With the count 3-1 on the Langley, B.C., native, home plate umpire Bill Miller called an outside pitch from Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney a strike. Assuming it was a ball, Lawrie had discarded his bat and jogged about one-third of the way towards first base.
When Lawrie realized it had been called a strike, he paused, looked in Miller's direction and then retrieved his bat and returned to the batter's box.
Perhaps feeling slighted by Lawrie's actions, Miller then rung the feisty Canuck up on the next pitch that was both high and outside.
Lawrie, who had again started towards first base, stopped and did a deep knee bend before springing up and walking towards the umpire. While screaming at Miller, Lawrie violently threw his helmet into the dirt and it bounced up and hit Miller in the leg.
Fortunately, at that point, Blue Jays manager John Farrell, intervened and directed Lawrie towards the Jays dugout and resumed the argument. Both Farrell and Lawrie were ejected.
"I believe [the helmet hit him]," Lawrie told reporters after the game. "That was not my intention at all. I've never, ever done anything to go at an umpire before in my life and I didn't mean to tonight. I apologize for that. It took an unlucky bounce and I think it got him, so I apologize for that."
Lawrie's contriteness may have been a mitigating factor in determining the length of his suspension. League disciplinarians might also have taken into account the fact that the helmet bounced before it hit the umpire and that Lawrie has no previous infractions. And although they would never say it in their ruling, perhaps they considered how bad the last two strike calls made by Miller were.
"It felt like the bat was taken completely out of Brett's hands," Farrell said in his post-game press conference. "Those are not strikes, evident by the reaction of obviously Brett and myself. It was a tough ball game to lose and we've got to regroup and get ready to go for New York tomorrow."
Lawrie will be in the Jays' lineup against the Yankees Wednesday.
Whether it was intentional or not, the fact that Lawrie's helmet hit the umpire earned him a suspension. Contact of any sort with an umpire is strictly forbidden.
Last August, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was suspended five games for making contact with umpire Rob Drake. And no Blue Jays fan will ever forget Roberto Alomar spitting in the face of home plate umpire John Hirschbeck after he was he called out on strikes on Sept. 27, 1996 at the Rogers Centre. The Hall of Fame second baseman was later handed a five-game suspension.
While it's understandable that the fiery Canadian would be upset by the two strike calls, it's unacceptable for him to throw his helmet anywhere in the vicinity of an umpire. I know Lawrie is just 22, but he has to find a way to curtail his emotions in this type of situation.
Some will contend that helmet tossing is part of the fiercely intense package that is Brett Lawrie. If that's the case, he needs to change.
Fair or unfair, the Canadian infielder has become the heartbeat of this young Jays club. He's a leader and arguably the face of the franchise. With this type of role comes a responsibility not to hurt his team with his temper. And by tossing his helmet, Lawrie has done just that.
The good thing is, judging by Lawrie's post-game comments, he knows his actions were wrong. Unfortunately, he'll have four games on the sidelines to stew over what he did.
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