When Russell Martin said something naughty

Scott Cunningham

I got home Monday night just in time to see Russell Martin and Clint Hurdle sent off by plate umpire Dan Iassogna.

It was the fourth inning, there were a couple of Braves aboard with two outs, and Kris Medlen stepped into the box, batting lefty. A.J. Burnett first pitch was a fastball, up and in but maybe just clipping the corner of the strike zone.

Iassogna called a ball. It was a borderline pitch, and as Burnett came off the mound to receive the ball from Martin, he made a gesture toward Iassogna, as if to say, "What was wrong with that one?" or "So what do I have to do?" Iassogna took a few steps toward the mound, and held up three fingers, as if to say, "This is the third time you've complained about my calls. Stop it, now."

Burnett turned around and stalked back up the hill.

What was going on? Burnett's first seven pitches of the inning were called balls. After a couple of strikes to Brian McCann -- one called, one swinging -- and a foul ball, Burnett threw yet another fastball into the zone, and McCann shot a line drive into the right-field stands. Chris Johnson followed with a screaming double to left-center field.

Burnett recovered to strike out Dan Uggla and retire B.J. Upton on a grounder. Which brought up Medlen, and the beginnings of the ultimately fateful confrontation.

Burnett's next pitch was another borderline offering, and again Iassogna called it a ball. Martin stood up and took a few steps toward the mound ... but apparently he was also saying something, because after three or four steps Martin got tossed from the game. And then, my favorite part: the broadcasters ...

Greg Brown: WOW. And who just got tossed? It was either Martin or, it might have been Martin who got tossed. Dan Iassogna throws out Martin, are you KIDDING me. That's INCREDIBLE. You hear Martin saying, "I did not say that." Dan Iassogna just throws out Russell Martin. And I don't know, you can't see what's going through an umpire's head but how he didn't give that call to Burnett. It's unbelievable, almost like intentionally not giving him that strike.

Bob Walk: Right. And he doesn't give him a strike, and then he ends up throwing out OUR guy. Because he's missing calls.

Brown: That's incredible.

Walk: It really is. And there's no telling what Russell Martin may have said, that uh--

Brown: And now of course Hurdle's gone...

Wow. Just somethin' else. Just somethin' else. Really. It's just incredible.

Look, here are those first two pitches to Medlen:


Both could have been called strikes. Both probably should have been called strikes, although we have to remember that we're looking at a two-dimensional strike zone, while the actual strike zone is quite three-dimensional.

But this is just secondarily about Iassogna's strike-zone judgment, and primarily about what Russell Martin said. See, there are just some things you're not supposed to say, lines you're not supposed to cross. Martin knows where that line is, and probably thinks he didn't cross it. Or didn't cross it loudly enough. But in the absence of better evidence, I'm going to give the umpire the benefit of the doubt. He's got to maintain some level of authority out there.

Oddly, Burnett's the one who stayed in the game, but he might have wished otherwise. After going through the entire season without giving up more than four runs in a start, resulting in a 2.72 ERA, Burnett gave up six runs in five innings and his ERA jumped a full half-run.

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