ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Taking Mike Napoli at his word, this ranks as one of the oddest pretexts for an ejection ever. The Boston Red Sox first baseman, who was called out on strikes in the second inning and told plate umpire Tripp Gibson he disagreed with the call, was walking away from the plate when Gibson threw him out. The reason? According to Napoli, Gibson tossed him because he didn't pick up his bat and tote it back to the dugout.
"First of all, it was a ball,'' said Napoli, who took a 3-and-2 slider from Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer that he believed was outside, but Gibson thought otherwise. "I thought I walked. That's why I dropped my bat. And I had a conversation with him, told him I thought it was a ball. He said it was a good pitch, so I started taking off my batting gloves and started walking back toward the dugout.''
Napoli had only taken a step or two when the umpire stopped him.
"He told me I forgot my bat,'' Napoli said. "I stopped a little bit, and [then] he told me to come back and pick up the bat. I pointed at the bat boy, who picks up our bats, and he tossed me. So then, when he tossed me, I told him how I felt.''
At that point, Napoli gave an earful to Gibson, who is in his first season as a full-time major league umpire, before manager John Farrell pulled the player away and took up Napoli's cause for him.
"When he was ejected for not picking his bat up, to me, I don't know -- we all have an issue with that," Farrell said after the Red Sox's 5-3 win. "That's why we have bat boys."
"I was walking away, I was going back to the dugout, and he was telling me to come back and pick up my bat when it was over," Napoli said. "It's kind of embarrassing [for Gibson]. I don't know how you can throw someone out for that. I'm not trying to get thrown out in the second inning. We have a short bench.''
The Red Sox had only two bench players available at the start of the game. On Saturday, the Sox had sent down infielder Travis Shaw to add an eighth pitcher, Matt Barnes. And with Hanley Ramirez missing his fourth game with a bruised left wrist and sent back to Boston for more testing on Sunday, the only position players available to Farrell were backup catcher Sandy Leon and rookie infielder Deven Marrero.
Brock Holt, who had started the game at second base, slid over to first base in Napoli's place, while Marrero, a shortstop who had played only five games in the minors at second base, made his big league debut at second. Marrero wound up saving a run in the eighth inning with a diving stop on a hard shot by Brandon Guyer.
It has been a trying season for Napoli, who is batting just .203 with 70 strikeouts in 237 at-bats. On Friday night at Tropicana Field, Napoli objected strenuously to being called out on strikes by umpiring crew chief Brian Gorman, slamming his bat and helmet to the ground. Normally, such a display would be subject to an automatic fine, but Gorman had turned his back to Napoli -- perhaps a case of a veteran umpire giving a veteran player a chance to vent.
"Enough's enough,'' Napoli said. "I think many pitches have been called off the plate, and it's frustrating. I'm the type of hitter who sees a lot of pitches. That's the way I hit. I'm not going to change style, how I came up and the player I became, because they keep calling pitches off the plate.''
"He told me I forgot my bat. I stopped a little bit, and [then] he told me to come back and pick up the bat. I pointed at the bat boy, who picks up our bats, and he tossed me. So then, when he tossed me, I told him how I felt." Mike Napoli
His strikeout Sunday was the 20th time he'd been called out on strikes this season, or 28.6 percent of his total number of strikeouts.
"It's frustrating. I'm going to keep battling, but something's got to give. I'm waiting for the borderline call to be called a ball, one time. That's where my frustration is coming from. I try to get in a hitter's count, and people want to say it's just one pitch, but each swing is an at-bat, and a lot of people don't understand that.
"With the stuff guys have today, Archer's throwing 98 with a 90 mile-an-hour slider. I can't do nothing with a slider off the plate. He's too good to be able to get to his pitches.''
Napoli said he feels obliged to let the umpire know when he thinks a call has been missed.
"I'm not just going to sit there and keep taking it,'' he said. "I'm going to let them know how I feel. I'm not going to do it in a way that I'm going to get tossed.
"I didn't do anything to get tossed. I don't know, maybe it's a rookie mistake, a young-guy mistake, but for me to get thrown out in that situation, for him telling me to pick up my bat, is embarrassing.''
When was the last time that happened to Napoli, in Little League?
"Never,'' he said. "That can't happen.''