SAN DIEGO -- Typically mild-mannered Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke directed outrage toward a young umpire following a 10-inning, 3-2 loss to the Padres on Wednesday that denied the first-place Brewers extra breathing room in the National League Central.
Roenicke offered a biting critique of plate umpire Mark Ripperger, a 34-year-old Triple-A callup who ejected Roenicke in the bottom of the ninth inning after Padres catcher Rene Rivera hit a tying home run. The homer came against Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez, who fell behind in the count after he tried to shoot the outside corner with consecutive fastballs -- in spots, Roenicke argued, that had been called strikes all night.
But Ripperger called both pitches balls, and when Rodriguez came back over the plate with another fastball and Rivera hit it into the left-field seats, Roenicke's frustration boiled over.
"This is the thing that bothers me," Roenicke said. "This is the same umpire that we had before, and he is terrible behind home plate. He calls pitches that aren't even close. The catcher sets up six inches off the plate and he calls them strikes. I should have been kicked out the last time that we saw him [on July 26 at Miller Park for a game against Jon Niese and the Mets]. I'm tired of sitting here watching the catcher set up off the plate and hitting his glove and [Ripperger] calling it a strike. They are balls.
"So Frankie misses, OK, it is off the plate [an inch or two] the first one, he calls a ball. He's been calling it [a strike] all night. The next one was a little further off, but he's been calling that also. Just call the same pitches, but they are balls. I should have been kicked out in probably the second inning today. It is the same guy."
In part because Ripperger is not a full-time Major League umpire, crew chief Ted Barrett provided a response to Roenicke's criticism.
"It's pennant-race baseball, and tempers get heated," Barrett said. "Wins are critical, and we understand that as umpires."
Barrett said the crew would receive a report grading Ripperger's ball/strike calls as early as Tuesday, as part of Major League Baseball's Zone Evaluation system.
"We'll go over that and evaluate it and see if there were pitches missed," Barrett said. "If there were, we'll figure out how we can get them right, [perhaps] adjust our stance. We'll see what we're getting right, what we're getting wrong. Without seeing it, I have no idea standing at first base."
Of that evaluation system, Barrett said, "It's not perfect, but it's a pretty good training system for us. It's a good chance to see what pitches we're getting right, what we're getting wrong and what we need to work on."
The blown save was Rodriguez's fifth this season, and denied his bid to be the NL's first closer to reach 40 saves.
He was measured in his response to questions about the strike zone.
"I don't think it's really appropriate to sit here after this game and question the umpires' calls," Rodriguez said. "The bottom line is still that I have to make quality pitches at the end. I gave up that homer to lose the lead. Would one pitch have changed everything in that sequence? Definitely. But he called a ball, so it was a ball."
Rodriguez admitted that in a 2-0 count, he was forced to throw Rivera a fastball "right down the middle."
"I get the call I was supposed to, I'm ahead in the count 0-1," said Rodriguez, who said that on 2-0, his mindset was, "Go ahead, here, I have to challenge."
"In the big leagues, we're taught to be consistent," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "That's what keeps us here. Our jobs require us to be as consistent as possible. Consistency is the key word, and it needs to be what everyone strives for."
Ripperger's perceived inconsistency is what irked Roenicke. He pointed to the seven-inning performance of Padres starter Odrisamer Despaigne, who set a career high with nine strikeouts.
"He was rolling because the umpire was giving him six inches off the plate. That's why he was rolling," Roenicke said. "That's a huge difference when a pitcher can throw that far off the plate. We swing the bat more than anybody in baseball. If we're taking pitches, they are balls. We swing. I went back and looked at pitches after the first inning and I couldn't believe the pitches the guy was calling. But it is the same thing that he did the last time to us.
Asked whether those outside pitches were evenly called for both side, Roenicke argued it was "Absolutely uneven, but you know something, we weren't hitting that spot he was giving them pitches on. They are getting more pitches because their catcher is setting up and their pitcher is hitting the spots that are off the plate."