Earlier on Wednesday, the Cleveland Indians defeated the Detroit Tigers to notch their . Something else notable happened during that game -- something perhaps more notable, even, than the Indians' streak: a play that led some to accuse the Tigers of intentionally hitting home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott with a pitch.
The play happened during the third inning, shortly after Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and catcher James McCann were ejected for arguing balls and strikes. New Tigers catcher John Hicks couldn't handle a Buck Farmer fastball, and the pitch instead plunked Wolcott in the shoulder. Here's a look at the play:
On its face, accusing a pitcher and/or catcher of hitting an umpire with a pitch is ridiculous. But the conspiracy theories that stick are the ones with just enough logic -- and just the right kind of logic that cannot be outright dismissed.
For instance, eagle-eye viewers will note that Hicks didn't stick around to check on Wolcott. Normally, you'll see a catcher ask the ump if he's OK when they're distressed. Wolcott was on his back yet Hicks chose to head to the mound. Eagle-eye viewers will also note that Wolcott seemed to ask his fellow umpires if they thought the Tigers had hit him intentionally:
On TV view, Wolcott does appear to ask other umps if they thought Tigers hit him on purpose. But he had a smile on his face as he said it.— Evan Woodbery (@evanwoodbery) September 13, 2017
Of course, there are reasonable explanations for both aspects. Hicks might've asked Wolcott if he was OK in a sublime way, or heard Wolcott tell Yandy Diaz -- the batter, who, to his credit, did seem interested in the umpire's condition -- before heading out to the mound. Additionally, Wolcott had a smile on his face when he asked the other umpires the question. He was almost certainly joshing around.
Two people who aren't joshing around about these accusations? Ausmus and Farmer. Here are some of their postgame comments:
"I heard the Indians broadcast. To imply that that was intentional is, first of all, a lie," Ausmus said. "If any player on this team intentionally tried to hurt an umpire, we'd deal with that severely. But for anyone to imply that that was intentional, that's completely wrong ... They're out of line saying that, quite frankly."
Ausmus explained that Hicks was expecting a slider and got a fastball as a result of a signs mix-up. Pitchers and catchers do get their signs crossed up. It's totally possible -- in fact, it's likely -- that Hicks and Farmer had a miscommunication. That would help to explain why Hicks was in a hurry to reach the mound. Perfectly reasonable. Ditto for Ausmus' levelheaded comment that, hey, why would we do that with the bases loaded? (Though a cynic might point out that teams put emotions over smart baseball all the time, especially as it pertains to revenge beanings.)
The bottom line is this: Farmer and Hicks almost certainly did not mean to strike Wolcott. That we live in a world where umpires have been intentionally hit by pitches is just a reminder that we live in a strange, and often scary world -- even when it comes to things as trivial as baseball.