On Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium, Derek Shelton showed that managers can still find a way to express their disagreements with umpires this year. Just do it from a distance, and make sure you wear your mask.
In the bottom of the third inning of Pittsburgh’s 5-1 win over St. Louis, home-plate umpire Jordan Baker ejected left-hander Derek Holland. That alone was interesting enough, as Holland -- who is scheduled to make his season debut on Tuesday at PNC Park -- wasn’t even on the Pirates’ bench. He was sitting in the lower-level seats, as starting pitchers do now to avoid crowding the dugout.
“I've never been ejected before. That was my first,” Holland said Monday afternoon, grinning. “I actually joked around with Jordan when I saw him in the hallway, like, ‘Hey man, we made history. We’ll be [the answer to] a Jeopardy question soon.’ I'm the first player to ever get thrown out of the stands.”
There was initially some confusion at Busch Stadium, with an announcement that the wrong Derek -- Shelton, not Holland -- had been ejected. That was cleared up quite quickly when Shelton returned to the dugout and took his seat.
Pirates third baseman Phillip Evans said afterward he was “pretty parallel” with Holland, so he knew the veteran lefty was the one chirping at Baker while Lane Thomas was at the plate facing starter Mitch Keller. What did Holland say to get tossed?
“I’m not sure,” Evans said Sunday. “It was pretty quick, but I know it was him.”
Holland left little doubt when he spoke on Monday, in advance of his Pirates debut on Tuesday night.
“[Baker] was a little erratic with the zone, so, you know, it was just typical yelling out at the umpire,” Holland said. “What I said, I don't know if I can technically repeat it. Let's just say there was an F-bomb in there. So, it was like, ‘Let’s go!’ but with an F-bomb in there somewhere.
“He pointed into the dugout, and I know Shelton and maybe some of the other guys -- I’m not exactly sure who -- were chirping at him as well. I thought that he thought it came from there, so I automatically stood up and yelled real loud, 'It's me!’ And as soon as he saw that, I got the permission to leave. He tossed me, and I just said, ‘OK,’ and walked out.”
So Shelton, on the way to his first win as the Pirates’ manager, tugged up his face covering and left the dugout. Baker pulled a mask out of his pocket, holding it over his mouth and nose as Shelton came out to argue. At one point, as Baker was walking toward him, Shelton took a noticeable step back to keep his distance.
“We were trying to stay distanced, which we both were aware of. Then, his mask broke midway through it, so I wanted to make sure that my mask stayed up,” Shelton said afterward. “He was great. He handled it professionally. He ended up ejecting Derek Holland, which ... those kinds of things happen. I think it was the first time when we both were in an unknown area.
“When I went out there later, we kind of got a chuckle out of it that it was the first time, just making sure we stayed away from each other.”
After losing their first two games in St. Louis, the Pirates put together a strong pitching performance and scored three runs with two homers the inning after Shelton argued over Holland’s ejection. Coincidence?
“I think Holland’s going to tell you it was 100 percent him,” Shelton said, laughing. “But I would say it was [that] we took good swings. … If Holland wants to say it’s on him, we’ll definitely let him say that. That’s fine.”
“Hey, it rallied the troops and that’s what it's all about. We got the 'W' out of it,” Holland agreed. “The guys got it. We scored three runs right after that. So, you’re welcome.”