ST. PETERSBURG — Rays reliever J.P. Howell said he realizes umpires have one of the hardest jobs in baseball.
But in Friday's fireworks-filled 5-3 loss to the Cardinals in front of 19,934 at Tropicana Field, Howell made one thing clear:
"I felt like I deserved better, and our team deserved better," he said.
Howell was one of four Rays, including manager Joe Maddon, ejected in an explosive top of the eighth, when a two-run deficit turned to five and emotions eventually got the better of Tampa Bay's typically laid-back lefty.
"It was just one of the ugly incidents for me," Howell said. "So it was a little circus in that inning."
The drama began with two outs and the Rays (45-37) down 2-0. Howell thought he had strike three on a 3-and-2 inside fastball to Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman, but plate umpire (and Countryside High grad) Vic Carapazza issued a walk.
Maddon said he had heard hitters coming back into the dugout all game complaining about a wide strike zone — even leftfielder Sam Fuld, whom Maddon said "would not argue with anyone." And when Howell got squeezed, Maddon believed it was time to defend his players.
"There was wideness," Maddon said smiling. "And then there was narrowness."
Howell said the pitch to Berkman, and another one later to David Freese, "definitely got to me."
"I was a little amped up," he said. "I wasn't thinking."
And when Colby Rasmus ripped a three-run homer, Howell said the "fireworks started." Out of frustration, Howell spiked his glove to the ground. When Carapazza tossed out a new ball, Howell threw it toward the Rays dugout and said he asked for a new one. He was ejected, with crew chief Dana Demuth saying it was for arguing balls and strikes.
"The home plate asked him, 'Was that directed toward me?' " DeMuth said of Howell tossing the ball.
Howell didn't think he should have been tossed, but since he was, he decided to get his "money's worth," getting in Carapazza's face. Bench coach Dave Martinez moved in to restrain Howell. Demuth said they're reviewing if Howell bumped Carapazza.
"He took it personal," Howell said of Carapazza. "If he can't take it, we're supposed to take it, but he can't take it. I know nobody ever cheers for them and they always get yelled at, and I know that must be frustrating. But the pitches I made … you make a lot of money doing that, and you deserve that call. Especially when you do it twice to two great hitters. That's messing with people's careers, and that's why emotions fly."
Berkman said Carapazza got the call right. "They're not strikes, they're balls," he said.
And when Howell stepped toward the plate, Berkman said he thought of stepping in: "Because I didn't want to see him do anything he would regret later."
As Howell was arguing with Carapazza, infielder Elliot Johnson and left-hander David Price, who were in the dugout, were ejected by first-base umpire Doug Eddings. Johnson and Price felt like they didn't say anything worthy of being tossed. "I have no idea why," Price said.
Demuth said they were ejected because "they were on the top steps, doing what they were doing. … You're not allowed to argue balls and strikes, even if you're sitting on the bench."
After the dust settled, the Rays picked up three runs in the bottom half of the inning, including a two-run homer by Matt Joyce.
"I'm glad it only ended with (four ejections)," Demuth said. "It was headed for more."