Giants third baseman Evan Longoria just finished his 13th year in the big leagues, so he knows better than anyone in the clubhouse how to avoid a letter from the commissioner's office politely explaining why you've been fined a few thousand dollars.
It was no surprise, then, when Longoria smiled after being asked about home plate umpire Rob Drake's performance Sunday. Drake had several missed calls in big spots, including the final pitch of the game and season.
"I didn't see the strike," Longoria said of the pitch to Austin Slater. "Was it bad?"
It was indeed, and it was part of the story of the day as the Giants lost 5-4 to the San Diego Padres and officially missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season. To be clear, they are not headed home because of a home plate umpire. The Giants had a chance to clinch a playoff spot before Sunday's finale, and they got plenty of breaks over their final nine innings.
The Milwaukee Brewers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, opening the door. The Giants faced a Padres club that went with a bullpen game and pulled stars Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. early. The Padres also lost their catcher to an injury, forcing Aaron Nola behind the plate and causing two relief pitchers to bat in the DH spot. The visiting team might have lost a run on a ground-rule double.
The Giants had everything fall into place, but couldn't get it done. It didn't help, though, that Drake, a veteran umpire, expanded the zone. In the final three innings, four Giants -- Longoria, Mauricio Dubon and Austin Slater twice -- went down looking on missed calls.
"The ball I got called out on felt like it was down," Longoria said. "There were a lot of moments there that guys are obviously trying to grind through at-bats and put together rallies and just battle back. Listen, we're all out there trying to do our job the best we can. Sometimes it comes down to those moments and I just hope that the umpires look at themselves in the mirror and can be able to say they are doing the best they can as well.
"It's not an easy job. I don't want to minimize the fact that what they're trying to do back there is hard as well. But it's tough. Playing the game of baseball is hard enough trying to get hits and facing guys throwing 100 mph. Definitely not the way we wanted to end the season, but I thought the guys really battled. We had some great at-bats."
To be fair to Drake, he was bad on both sides. The Padres' Greg Garcia got rung up on a pitch well outside in the top of the ninth. But it stings a lot more when you're on the losing end. Before making a depressing walk back to the clubhouse, several Giants yelled back at Drake.
"It was disappointing," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I haven't had a chance to go back and watch the game, but I know there were some calls that went against our guys. Definitely we know one or more to Longo. Definitely one to Slater as well. I understand how difficult it is to make a perfect call all the time. It's obviously tough. That's it. There's really not much to that. I know that the zone is going to be a challenge for both sides most days."