BALTIMORE – Mariners interim manager Robby Thompson wasn’t backing down Friday from his claim he did nothing wrong when signaling for a pitching change on Thursday.
Thompson drew some national attention on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” and on talk radio Friday after the umpiring crew refused to allow him to make the pitching change he wanted in Thursday night’s critical ninth inning. Second-base umpire Chris Conroy and crew chief Gary Darling said Thompson signaled to the bullpen with his left hand, meaning he had to bring in a southpaw and not right-hander Yoervis Medina.
They forced Thompson to use Oliver Perez, who gave up a pair of hits as Seattle blew a 7-2 lead and lost 8-7. Thompson later said he was merely pointing to the bullpen with his left hand to signal he was making a pitching change, then was about to tap his right arm when Conroy called for a left-hander to come in the game.
“The second-base umpire turned around and said ‘the lefty,’ ” Thompson said. “And I said ‘No, I don’t want the lefty. I was pointing to the bullpen and we’re going to go with the right-hander.’ Gary Darling came over and argued and said that it was not the case.
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“If it was to be done again, I think I was in the right. I really do.’’
There does not appear to be anything in baseball’s rule book saying that Thompson pointing to the bullpen with one hand would prevent him from bringing in an opposite-handed pitcher as long as he corrected any confusion with the umpire right away.
Thompson said he’d received numerous text messages and phone calls from friends around baseball — including manager Eric Wedge. While Thompson declined to say what they thought of the ruling, he left the impression they were not in favor of it.
The move everyone saw coming did indeed happen before Friday’s game as Thompson declared that Tom Wilhelmsen would not be closing games for the time being. Wilhelmsen entered with a 7-2 lead in the ninth inning Thursday night in Boston and allowed a double, a single and two walks against the four batters he faced.
“Watching him, he’s pitching with a little bit of a lack of confidence for me, and he’s not pounding the strike zone,’’ Thompson said. “He’s not pounding it with fastballs like he did in the past, to get to his breaking ball, to get to that changeup.’’
The Mariners will mix and match with relief pitchers in the ninth for now, as they did earlier this season when Wilhelmsen struggled.
• Mariners catcher Henry Blanco hit the third grand slam of his career Thursday just six weeks after clubbing No. 2 at age 41. Blanco waited 13 years between his first grand slam and that second one.
“Sometimes, things are hard to explain,’’ he said. “At that time, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was looking for a pitch that I could drive in a run or two with. But it ended up bring a grand slam. The main thing is, we lost the game, so for me, it didn’t count.’’
Blanco is the second-oldest catcher in history to hit a grand slam, his latest coming at 41 years, 337 days. Carlton Fisk was 43 years, 281 days old when he hit one on Oct. 3, 1991.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @gbakermariners.