Ozzie ejected over controversial balk calls

Ozzie ejected over controversial balk calls

CHICAGO -- Joe West's umpiring crew clearly has a different perspective than the rest of Major League Baseball on Mark Buehrle's pickoff move -- considered one of the best in the game.

That piece of information is certain.

During the 2010 season, Buehrle has been called four times for a balk. Two of those balk calls came courtesy of home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez during the White Sox 4-3, come-from-behind victory over the Royals on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field, with West stationed at third.

The other two came from West as a first-base umpire on May 26 in Cleveland, as part of a 5-4 White Sox victory. On that sunny afternoon, Buehrle was ejected by West after 2 1/3 innings upon throwing his glove to the ground following the second balk.

Buehrle maintained his composure on Friday, working seven innings. But he risked fines and reprimands when talking about the controversial calls after the game had concluded.

"I don't know. I've got four balks -- and they're all against this crew," Buehrle said. "I've looked at the replay, and you look at side angles. We've got cameras from every angle. I stepped the same, just like I do every time."

According to Buehrle, these particular balks came with an explanation. He was stepping home and not to first base on the move.

"Which to me, it isn't possible for me to step home and throw the ball to first without tripping on myself and falling over," Buehrle said.

Balk call No. 1 from Hernandez came in the fourth inning with one out, when Buehrle appeared to have Brayan Pena picked off first base. Willie Bloomquist doubled one out later to score Pena and tie the game.

In the fifth, after walking Gregor Blanco to open the inning, Buehrle made a pickoff move to first but was called for a balk again by Hernandez, who pointed to his right leg as if that part was the offending one in the move for Buehrle. The left-handed pitcher threw his hands in the air and catcher A.J. Pierzynski immediately showed his displeasure.

But neither of them was as angry as Ozzie Guillen. The White Sox manager came out to protect his players and was ejected within seconds of his argument with Hernandez, marking his sixth dismissal this year and 25th of his career.

Let's just say Guillen got his money's worth with both Hernandez and West, whom Guillen presented an earful to before departing. West continued to stare down Guillen in the dugout after he left the field.

Nobody from the crew had a comment when approached by a pool reporter from The Associated Press. Guillen, possibly buoyed by the victory and gaining ground on the first-place Twins, kept his postgame critique to a minimum.

"I wish I was in Venezuela. I could say whatever I want," Guillen said. "But I've got to protect my players. I never thought it was a balk, but when they called the balk you have to respect that. But this is my job, to go there and protect them. I will do anything to protect my players. That's what I do best."

Picking off runners is one of the things Buehrle does best, and he won't change his ways despite this crew's opinion. Buehrle did point out how the two early Friday calls prevented him from keeping Jai Miller close at first in the sixth after Miller's two-out single -- with Miller eventually stealing second and scoring.

"If I pick over, he's going to call a balk and get the guy on second base," Buehrle said. "I mean he steals anyway. If I do a cheesy move over there to first, just pick up and go straight over, he might squeeze me at home for making a mockery of him -- and kind of making fun of him and just showing him up."

Hernandez also asked J.J. Putz to take off a bracelet he was wearing while pitching in the eighth, and then asked Chris Sale to remove a necklace he had on in the ninth. All of these moves wouldn't lead Buehrle to claim a vendetta against the White Sox with West's crew, but he did put forth this final assertion.

"Jim Joyce said it best," Buehrle said. "As an umpire, you don't want to be in the media and controversy. There are some people that, I guess, enjoy being in the middle of stuff."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.