SAN FRANCISCO -- Umpire-manager-player confrontations are commonplace in baseball, but this particular one during the Giants’ 5-3 loss to the Dodgers on Thursday at Oracle Park came with a twist. All parties -- San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler, home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi and relief pitcher Jarlín García -- were actually in agreement about the overlying issue that caused the brief fracas.
The heat of the moment, likely compounded by two weeks’ worth of frustration on behalf of the spiraling Giants, was what got in the way.
In short: García made a taunting gesture toward Mookie Betts after fanning James Outman to end the top of sixth inning, which appeared to irk the Dodgers’ star outfielder. García clenched his fist and held it up to his cap, an apparent mocking of the Dodgers’ similar hand motion that they do when someone records a hit.
Kapler didn’t like García’s gesture. Neither did Cuzzi. And García regretted it almost immediately, realizing he got too caught up in a competitive moment.
So what was the problem?
Kapler said he took exception to Cuzzi approaching the Giants’ dugout to admonish the manager for García’s behavior. And that’s when things quickly escalated. Kapler became angry, argued with Cuzzi, and Cuzzi ejected him from the game. He also ejected García.
“The conversation was basically, ‘That wasn’t OK,’” Kapler said, recalling what Cuzzi said to him. “And obviously, I took exception to sort of being scolded in front of our dugout about how to approach and address our players, which obviously, I have done, our veteran players have done and I would do no matter what. So we didn't really need any prompting there.”
In Kapler’s view, he had already made sure García was off the field, had the situation handled and did not need input from the umpire.
“So I took exception to that. No reason for us to have that conversation right there in front of our dugout,” Kapler said.
Crew chief Dan Bellino, speaking with a pool reporter after the game, said he ejected Kapler for “some derogatory comments” directed at Cuzzi.
“García’s actions as he walked off the mound were a gesture in which he was taunting Mookie Betts, who was in the on-deck circle,” Bellino said. “It was decided that he would be removed as well from the game. So Kapler and Garcia were ejected from the game.”
Bellino said that both benches were warned at the time as well.
García was contrite about his role in the incident and insisted he wasn’t trying to be disrespectful – especially to Betts, whom he admires. García recalled Betts using the hand gesture when he homered off García during a game at Dodger Stadium on July 21, and, on a whim, used the same gesture after getting out of the sixth.
“I just did the same gesture that they did when they hit a home run,” García said through a team interpreter. “He did that against me the other day when he hit a home run and I just said, ‘You know what? Let me do the same thing.’ And he just signaled [me] to come towards him, and that was it.”
García added that Betts is one of his favorite players.
“I respect all of them, especially him,” he said. “It’s just getting caught up in the moment, trying to compete.”
Betts downplayed the incident after the game.
“I just said, ‘What’s your problem?’” he said. “I don’t know. I was just standing on deck. You have to ask him, I have no idea.”
The Giants’ recent struggles, especially against their division rival, likely added to the tension at this moment. Very little has gone well for San Francisco since it returned from the All-Star break two weeks ago. They’ve gone 3-12 and are fading quickly in the National League Wild Card race.
Thursday’s loss marked the Giants’ eighth straight against the Dodgers. They hadn’t dropped that many consecutive games to their division rival in a single season since 1979, and the four-game sweep by the Dodgers marked their first one in San Francisco since July 1-4, 1977.
When a season takes a sour turn, little things can become big things very quickly. It’s fair to assume the Giants’ freefall played a role in Thursday’s incident.
“I mean, who wouldn't be frustrated?” Kapler said. “We're all frustrated. We don't want to play like this.”