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Lawrie suspended four games for altercation with umpire

The Canadian Press

5/16/2012 10:15:21 PM

TORONTO -- Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos sounded like a parent defending young slugger Brett Lawrie.

A good kid who didn't mean to do bad. Caught up in the emotion of the moment. He shouldn't have done it, but he's only human.

"I'm not going to blame him (Lawrie) for being upset," Anthopoulos told reporters Wednesday after Lawrie was suspended for four games in the wake of hitting umpire Bill Miller with his helmet.

"That's what a competitor is. I think anybody in a normal circumstance would get upset, it's just the way you deal with it."

Lawrie's temper tantrum over two controversial strike calls resulted in the ban from Major League Baseball on Wednesday. After being ejected by Miller following a called third strike Tuesday night in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss to Tampa, Lawrie slammed his batting helmet into the ground.

Unfortunately for the fiery 22-year-old from Langley, B.C., the helmet bounced up and smacked Miller's hip.

Lawrie has appealed the suspension, meaning he was in the lineup Wednesday against the visiting New York Yankees.

His defence?

"In a nutshell, it's just I didn't mean to hit him," he said.

"I feel I have the right to explain my side of the story about what happened," he added.

Lawrie apologized after the game Tuesday and said Wednesday he planned to speak to Miller directly to apologize.

He didn't have too far to look. His third base companion for the night was none other than Miller, who made the normal umpire rotation from home plate to the hot corner.

Miller and his colleagues were roundly booed as they walked on the field Wednesday. Lawrie drew warm applause when he came to the plate in the second inning, grounding into a forceout and then stealing second before being driven in by a J.P. Arencibia homer.

Lawrie, who went into Wednesday's game with a club-best .308 average in May, finished the night without a hit and struck out twice without making a fuss.

Helmetgate did manage, at last briefly, to deflect the spotlight from a Jays team that had lost three straight and seven of its last 10 going into Wednesday's 8-1 win over the Yankees before 28,915 under the dome.

Walks and errors had featured prominently earlier in the week but the Jays (20-18) won with the long ball Wednesday with homers from Arencibia, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Kelly Johnson.

Manager John Farrell said the spotlight on Lawrie had not affected his team, which he said has shown all season that it can separate itself from whatever happened the previous day.

"They came out very focused, a lot of energy, and a lot of good at bats," he said. "So it wasn't a distraction, I think, by any means."

In a city with a history of bad bounces, Anthopoulos even cited physics at one point in trying to put the Lawrie incident in perspective.

"He shouldn't throw his helmet. Goes without saying ... He didn't throw it at anybody, it happened to bounce and hit someone. So if he had turned a little to his right, a little to his left, I think you're probably not even involved in an any type of suspension."

The GM returned to that analysis later in his talk with reporters, including the stadium's artificial turf in the equation.

"If he had thrown the helmet a little bit to the right or left, we're not having this conversation today," he said.

"If the turf, like sometimes it'll do with some of the balls, it would have kicked the helmet right or left, I think we would have been fine, " he added.

Lawrie, who was fined an undisclosed amount in addition to the ban, also cited a bad bounce.

"I'm just playing the game the way I've always played it. That's the passion that I have for the game and I don't feel like I need to change anything."

"The only thing I would change is maybe not throw the helmet or throw any equipment towards an umpire because you know you can get an unlucky hop and have kind of the mess that's going on right now."

Farrell spoke up in support of Lawrie's attitude, although he said the youngster would learn from the good and bad he encounters on his major league journey.

"He's an energetic player and we don't want him to lose that energy and that passion for the game and that will to compete and do whatever he has in his power at the moment to make an impact on the game."

Said Anthopoulos: "As good a kid as you're every going to be around."

The Jays GM said the team supported Lawrie's opportunity to explain himself. He also said he wanted to hear the rationale for the suspension being four games.

"And look, if someone explains that four is the right amount, Brett will be the first one to say it's the right amount."

Monday's confrontation seems minor compared to some in other sports. But Lawrie's raw enthusiasm rubs some the wrong way.

Baseball is rife with tradition, which in some quarters is long on respect and paying dues. Payback, even with umpires, is not unheard of.

Asked if the 3-2 strike call was made out of spite, Anthopoulos paused.

"I don't think the umpires would ever do their job that way," he replied diplomatically.

Farrell, meanwhile, denied the suggestion that his team is developing a reputation about complaining to umpires.

Farrell, critical of Miller's calls that sparked the ruckus, said replays and reflection had not changed his view of the incident.

"No different. They confirmed my thoughts at the time," said the manager, who said he had already spoken to league officials and expected a fine of his own.

As for Lawrie, he said he was looking forward not back.

"I woke up today with a smile on my face and a new day at the ball park. Looking forward to coming to get a win against the Yankees today."

Lawrie demonstrated that enthusiasm by hammering a ball into the highest level of the Rogers Centre by the left-field foul post during batting practice.

There was some mild umpire scrutiny in the seventh inning Wednesday when the Yankees' Jayson Nix was called out at second base on a forceout. Replays showed he may have been hard done by.

The Jays said the search continues for the fan who hit Miller with a beer on the shoulder as he walked off the pitch Tuesday.