A night after his controversial called third strike ended one Dodgers loss, umpire Paul Emmel was in the middle of more controversy with the team Sunday.
In the fourth inning of the Dodgers’ 10-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, Max Muncy was ejected by Emmel after being rung up on a called strike, getting tossed by the crew chief — who had cycled to third base Sunday — after continuing to complain about the call on his way back to the dugout.
Unlike Saturday night, when Emmel’s missed call in a Mookie Betts at-bat extinguished a potential ninth-inning comeback, Sunday’s ejection of Muncy had minimal impact on the rest of the game.
Clayton Kershaw struggled in a four-run, 3 ⅔-inning start. A lineup playing without Betts, who had a scheduled off day, couldn’t keep up with a scorching Cardinals offense. And the Dodgers left St. Louis with their first series defeat in almost a month.
“It never feels good to lose a series,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Let alone [three games out of] four.”
Still, Muncy’s ejection was a notable postgame topic.
With no outs in the fourth, the slugger was in a 1-and-2 hole against Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty when he took a slider at the knees. The pitch caught the bottom of the zone but was called a ball by plate umpire Nic Lentz.
Flaherty’s next offering was a fastball in an almost identical location. Only this time, Lentz called strike three.
Immediately, Muncy started fuming — explaining later he felt Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras had “bullied” Lentz into a more favorable call.
“The pitch before was almost the exact same location,” Muncy said. “For the catcher to sit there and tell him that’s a terrible call and he missed it and needs to be better, and then the next one he gives it to him. That, to me, is where the frustration was coming from. I felt like that was happening all weekend long.”
Still, it wasn’t until Muncy gestured toward Emmel at third base — pointing his bat at the umpire, then back toward home plate — that he was ejected.
“I needed to be smarter about what I do,” Muncy acknowledged. “I said what needed to be said at home plate. It was over with. Then I took it too far by going to the third-base umpire.”
Roberts said he believed carryover tension from Saturday’s missed call “played a part” in Sunday’s altercation, but that Emmel’s ejection of Muncy was the “right decision.”
“You can have your words with the home plate umpire, and I think he was given that,” Roberts said. “But when you’re gonna point to the umpire who was behind the plate last night, I think that’s a no-tolerance.”
Muncy’s absence did loom large in the fifth inning, when his replacement, Chris Taylor, struck out with the potential go-ahead runs in scoring position.
“Never fails, does it?” Roberts quipped about the coincidence.
By that point, though, poor pitching had already put the Dodgers (29-19) behind the eight-ball — beginning with a second straight clunker from Kershaw.
A week after lasting only four innings against the Minnesota Twins, Kershaw again failed to reach the fifth inning Sunday — the first time he has done that in consecutive starts in his career.
After a clean opening inning, the left-hander gave up three runs in a 33-pitch second — highlighted by a two-run, two-out, two-strike double to Cardinals No. 9 hitter Óscar Mercado.
Kershaw ran into more trouble in the fourth, giving up two singles — including another RBI knock to Mercado — and his second and third walks of the day with two outs in the inning to extend the lead for the Cardinals (21-27).
“[The walks] were the problem,” Kershaw said. “I let an inning fester instead of being able to get three outs quickly.”
Roberts revealed that Kershaw had mentioned feeling general “body fatigue” after his previous start, and wondered whether it impacted the pitcher again Sunday, when his 90.7-mph average fastball velocity was slightly below his season average.
“[This start] showed a lot of similarities to that last one, as far as fatigue,” Roberts said. “I know health-wise, he’s fine. But the fact of the matter is that the ball just wasn’t coming out like we’re used to, these last two.”
Kershaw is on track to get an extra day of rest before his next outing Saturday, thanks to the Dodgers’ off day Thursday.
He will be away from the team, however, on the bereavement list the next couple of days to attend his mother’s funeral in Texas.
“I think he’s done as good a job as you can do compartmentalizing and trying to keep it out of your mind,” Roberts said. “But sometimes the emotional toll takes a toll on your body too. So I’m sure it plays some factor.”