What, no ump? Rays-Reds sees oddity
Injury forces officials to adjust; teams avoid late incident
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Shawn Riggins could only shake his head, smile and laugh.
"It's definitely the first time that's happened," said Riggins, following a 15-1 win over the Reds on Friday night in St. Petersburg.
The 26-year-old catcher could have been talking about the record-breaking night for the Rays at Al Lang Field, one in which the team scored 15 runs for the first time. The last time the Rays had that many runs in a spring game was in a 15-1 win against the Indians in Winter Haven on March 1, 1999.
But Riggins was referring to a situation during the game in which two umpires officiated the game, leaving no one behind home plate to call balls and strikes.
During an at-bat while the Rays were at the plate in the sixth, home plate umpire Marty Foster was struck in the head with a pitch but continued on throughout the rest of the inning. But, then, between innings, Foster disappeared into the Rays clubhouse while first-base umpire Chad Fairchild raced out past the berm in left field, leaving Eric Cooper and Tom Hallion to oversee the game.
Foster had complained of soreness and was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons.
With Foster gone, the umpires conferred at home plate and apparently decided to have Fairchild take over running the game.
While Fairchild raced to his car to gather his gear, Cooper stationed himself behind the pitcher's mound to call balls and strikes, with Hallion along the third-base line.
"That felt weird," said Riggins. "But it felt good. I guess there's always a first time for everything." Riggins even joked that he felt like calling the game with no umpire behind him.
Things got even stranger for Riggins during a seven-run Rays eighth.
With four runs already plated, Jonny Gomes smacked the first-pitch offering from right-handed reliever Wes Wilkerson, who had walked Brendan Harris with one man on and two outs, over the right-field fence for a three-run homer to make the score 15-1.
Riggins stepped to the plate, dug in and received a first-pitch fastball up and in.
"Their catcher let me know he was a Minor Leaguer called over for this game and was pretty nervous," said Riggins. "I even backed up a little bit."
Apparently, it wasn't enough as the next pitch from Wilkerson sailed at Riggins' head. Riggins ducked just in time, but he said the ball glanced off his helmet and then hit his bat as he fell to the ground. The blow, though, caused Gomes to lead a charge from the bench as players from both sides emptied onto the field. The managers, coaches, and umpires seperated both teams before anything major happened, though.
"I just don't think that kid was trying to retaliate," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was helping seperate the players before a brawl ensued. "It was totally unintentional, and that's why I was pushing my guys back."
Gomes, though, didn't want to wait to hear anybody's side.
"It was a non-negotiating situation," said Gomes, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and two runs. "My whole thing is if that happens to one of my teammates like that where a ball going at a player's head could be a career-ender, there's no negotiation."
And Riggins was appreciative of the support.
"It felt good to look up and see the guys have my back like that," said Riggins, who went 1-for-2 with an RBI and a run.
Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.