The game was stopped after Gearrin threw his warmup pitches upon being summoned with no outs in the top of the sixth, after starter Yusei Kikuchi gave up a solo home run to Matt Olson that pushed the A’s to a 2-1 lead.
Home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn went to the mound to tell the eight-year Major League veteran that the “toe tap” in his delivery, part of the timing mechanism he uses in his motion, was illegal.
That brought Mariners manager Scott Servais out of the dugout for an animated conversation with the umpires, with first-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth eventually getting on the headset with New York to ask for a rules check.
The specific question regarded Rule 5.07(a), which states, "The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).”
But Gearrin said he’s been using the same motion since last year, when he was with the Rangers for five months and then the A’s in September, as well as this season in his first 19 appearances with Seattle.
He wound up adjusting his delivery to keep his spikes from touching the dirt on the little delay in his motion, giving up two singles but getting out of the inning unscathed with a pair of strikeouts.
“Tonight was the first I’d heard anything about it,” Gearrin said. “It’s just one of those things. The game is weird. I’ve never come in and had to wait on a ruling like that, but whatever they say is what you have to do.”
Servais, a former Major League catcher, was mystified by the ruling, as well as how this particular umpire crew would pick up on such a thing in a handful of warmup tosses before Gearrin even threw his first official pitch. Servais says he caught veteran reliever Robb Nen back in his playing days with the Giants, and that he used a similar toe tap.
“It had never been brought up until today,” Servais said. “My feel was that somebody probably tipped off the umpires to that thing, but for years Nen did that. It was part of his thing for the 10-12 years he pitched in the league. I’ve seen a number of guys do that, and I’ve never heard any issue or call about it.
“They called New York and they read the rulebook and that’s the rule. It is what it is. Cory made a really good adjustment. That’s tough. He made a quick adjustment and threw the ball really well.”
The Mariners will pursue a further clarification on the situation before Gearrin throws again, but for this night, they adjusted on the fly, with Servais unable to even cross the line to talk to Gearrin without being charged with a mound visit.
A’s manager Bob Melvin said the issue wasn’t raised from their bench.
“We didn't say a thing,” Melvin said. “The umpires, I guess, got something from MLB about how he was on the rubber, and I guess his foot was coming off a little bit, so that was all them. I didn't even know what was going on for a little while.”
Said Gearrin: “I tried to get as much understanding as I could from them out there as to whether I could tap at all, or if it’s a pause in the delivery, or what it was making it an illegal pitch. So for today, I tried to make sure I didn’t touch at all. I still wanted to have the same timing as far as lift, and come over the rubber and come set.
“It’s an adjustment because you’re trying to figure out where the ground is and be consistent. But I just really wanted to make sure I didn’t give them any free balls or free bases once runners get on. It’s an adjustment, but you just do what you have to do.”
As for the future?
“If they say it’s something I can’t do, I’ll adjust and go forward,” he said. “I don’t know. We’ll keep playing and see how it goes.”