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Opinion

INFIELD CHATTER: Molina shouldn't skirt blame for Sunday fracas

When the Milwaukee Brewers came to St. Louis to play the Cardinals Monday, the home team’s lineup card showed Yadier Molina catching and batting sixth.

This normally wouldn’t be a shock, as the veteran backstop has played more than 1,750 games dating back to his 2004 debut, and averaged more than 130 over his last 13 full seasons. But given the way he conducted himself in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Arizona, it was stunning to see Molina suited up Monday, and even more so to hear next to no discussion about the suspension he most certainly deserves.

Molina wasn’t the instigator in the incident that marred the second inning of Sunday’s game. That’d be Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, who’d already been ejected for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Tim Timmons. According to Lovullo, he was crediting Molina’s pitch-framing skills in offering his argument Timmons was granting Cardinals pitchers called strikes that should have been deemed too low.

However — and Lovullo admitted this part — instead of saying something benign like “this guy gets all the strike calls,” the manager pointed at Molina (who, for his part was just standing by home plate) and twice used words we don’t even allude to here to describe the catcher. Shockingly, this didn’t go over well with Molina.

Timmons immediately sensed Molina had become enraged. Lovullo seemed to as well, putting his hands up and using body language to demonstrate he has no interest in a physical altercation. Molina wasn’t satisfied, though, and got in what can only be described as a shoving match with Timmons until more guys in white shirts could come out to restrain their catcher.

In the TV booth, Cardinals legend Tim McCarver accurately described Lovullo’s remarks as a backhanded compliment. The Diamondbacks crew wondered how Molina could be allowed to stay in the game. Clearly what happened is Timmons — who umpired his first MLB game in 1999 — decided Lovullo was fully to blame for inciting Molina and didn’t want to make things worse by ejecting a hometown hero.

“He made a comment that was aggressive that Yadi overheard, so that’s why Yadi reacted the way that he did,” Timmons said after the game. “I think, at that point, Yadi became agitated, which was understandable.”

If a veteran like Timmons decided that was the best way to preserve order in a potentially hostile situation, that’s at least an understandable position, though probably not the undisputed best option. Lovullo was appropriately deferential in his postgame comments, asserting Timmons “had every right to eject me,” saying he understood Molina’s frustration and reiterating he had no beef with the backstop.

Yet Molina seems reluctant to accept an ounce of blame for losing his cool.

“I hope that MLB sees this, and I hope they fine this guy,” Molina said. “Because you cannot allow that. You can’t talk to a player like that or an umpire. You’ve got to be professional.”

It’s entirely possible to agree with Molina’s assessment of Lovullo’s conduct while also pointing out Molina failed to see the log of unprofessionalism in his own eye. Teachers seeking illustration of the proverb “two wrongs don’t make a right” could do much worse than one of the game’s elder statesmen knocking around a respected umpire in hopes of exacting physical vengeance on a mouthy manager.

Allowing Molina to remain in the game is one thing, but for the league office to carry on like the incident never happened establishes the precedent that a player can shove an umpire just so long as the player heard someone else on the field aim an expletive in his direction. Actual professionalism in this situation might’ve entailed wandering out to the mound to keep the pitcher loose while Lovullo blew off steam, or at the very least staring the other direction and keeping a stiff upper lip.

Molina is right, Lovullo does warrant a fine for that kind of language directed at an opposing player. But Molina could’ve made that case to the league without causing such a scene on the field, and certainly could’ve done so without a physical confrontation with an umpire. The league surprisingly missed an opportunity to make a stronger stand.

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