A night after his controversial third goal ended a Dodgers loss, umpire Paul Emmel found himself in the midst of more controversy with the team on Sunday.
In the fourth inning of the Dodgers’ 10-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, Max Muncy was ejected by Emmel after being called to a called strike and was then thrown by the crew chief, who drove to third base on Sunday On the way back to the dugout, he continued to complain about the call.
Unlike Saturday night, when Emmel’s missed call on a hit by Mookie Betts nullified a potential comeback in the ninth inning, Muncy’s exclusion on Sunday had minimal impact on the remainder of the game.
Clayton Kershaw struggled in a four-run, 3 ⅔ innings start. A lineup that played without Betts, who had a scheduled rest day, couldn’t keep up with a fierce Cardinals offense. And the Dodgers left St. Louis with their first consecutive loss in nearly a month.
“It never feels good to lose a series,” said manager Dave Roberts. “Let alone [three games out of] four.”
Still, Muncy’s sacking was a notable post-game topic.
With no outs in the fourth set, the batter was in a 2-1 hole against Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty when he took a slider in the knees. The pitch reached the bottom of the zone but was called a ball by plate umpire Nic Lentz.
Flaherty’s next offering was a fastball at an almost identical location. Only this time Lentz decided for stroke three.
Instantly, Muncy fumed – and later explained he felt Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras had “pushed” Lentz into making a more favorable decision.
“The pitch in front of it was almost exactly the same spot,” Muncy said. “The catcher sits there and tells him that’s a terrible call, he missed it and needs to get better, and then next time he gives it to him. For me, that was the source of the frustration. I felt like that was happening all weekend.”
Still, he wasn’t ejected until Muncy pointed to Emmel at third base – he pointed his bat at the umpire and then back at home plate.
“I had to be smarter about what I do,” Muncy admitted. “I said what needed to be said at home. it was over Then I went too far by going to the third base umpire.”
Roberts said he believed the tensions created by Saturday’s missed call “played a part” in Sunday’s altercation, but that Emmel’s sacking of Muncy was the “right decision”.
“You can say your words to the home plate umpire, and I think he got that,” Roberts said. “But if you point to the referee who was behind the plate last night, I think that’s non-tolerance.”
Muncy’s absence played a big part in the fifth inning as his replacement, Chris Taylor, made the runs possible in goal position.
“Nobody fails, do they?” Roberts joked about the coincidence.
By this point, however, the Dodgers were already behind the eight-ball due to poor pitching (29-19) – starting with a second straight clunker from Kershaw.
A week after lasting just four innings against the Minnesota Twins, Kershaw again failed to reach the fifth inning on Sunday — the first time he did in consecutive starts in his career.
After a clean opening inning, the left-hander gave up three runs in a 33-pitch second — highlighted by a two-run, two-out, two-strike double against Cardinals No. 9 hitter Óscar Mercado.
Kershaw got into bigger trouble in the fourth round, giving up two singles — including another RBI hit against Mercado — and giving up his second and third walks of the day with two outs in the inning to extend the Cardinals’ lead (21-27).
“[The walks] were the problem,” Kershaw said. “I let an inning fester instead of being able to make three outs quickly.”
Roberts revealed that Kershaw had mentioned feeling a general “body fatigue” after his last start, and wondered if that affected the pitcher again on Sunday, when his average fastball speed of 90.7 miles per hour fell slightly below its seasonal average.
“[This start] showed a lot of similarities with the last one in terms of fatigue,” said Roberts. “I know his health is good. But the fact of the matter is that the ball just didn’t come out the way we used to in the last two games.”
Thanks to the Dodgers’ day off on Thursday, Kershaw is on track to get an extra day off before his next callout on Saturday.
However, he will not be on the team for the next few days and will be on the bereavement list to attend his mother’s funeral in Texas.
“I think he did the best job he could with dividing it up and trying to put it out of mind,” Roberts said. “But sometimes the emotional toll takes a toll on the body. So I’m sure it plays a part.”