John Lackey, Willson Contreras ejected from Cubs-Cardinals opener
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One pitch — and one hard-to-believe non-strike call by home plate umpire Jordan Baker — and Friday’s Game 1 of a critical Cubs-Cardinals series went haywire.
In the fifth inning of a 1-1 game, with Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez at the plate and facing a two-strike count against John Lackey, a breaking ball danced over the plate — easily inside any “K zone” — and into catcher Willson Contreras’ glove. Strike three, right? Martinez even walked toward the visitors’ dugout, but Baker just stood there.
Lackey nearly got tossed from the game right then and there.
With a runner on second, Martinez stepped back up to the plate and, on the next pitch, singled to center to drive in the go-ahead run. Lackey, shouting at Baker as he ran in to back up home plate, was ejected before the runner even scored.
Then things really got nuts. Baker rang up Contreras, too. The catcher flung his mask into the dirt, but it bounced up and made contact with the umpire’s leg. That instantly raised questions about a potential suspension of one of the Cubs’ most important players.
The Cubs entered Friday leading the National League Central by only three games over both the Cardinals and the Brewers. Baker’s screw-up — and that’s what it was, plain and simple — could end up costing the Cubs at a most delicate time.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.