GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Maturity is a label often assigned Bryce Harper the baseball player. He doesn’t hit like a 17-year-old, doesn’t adjust like one, doesn’t approach pitchers like one, doesn’t look anything like one when standing in a batter’s box.
His is a talent far beyond how many birthdays he has celebrated.
He could have used some of that levelheadedness Wednesday night.
So, too, could the umpire whose ego might have just altered the entire course of this Junior College World Series.
On a night when Jim Joyce went momentarily blind in Detroit and cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game for the Tigers, another umpire jumped into his own pool of controversy when he ejected Harper from what was hyped as the biggest game in this event’s history.
The College of Southern Nevada couldn’t recover from its star catcher being thrown out in the fifth inning and fell to San Jacinto (Texas) 10-8 at Suplizio Field, leaving the Coyotes one loss from being sent home without the championship that many thought they would capture here.
Yep. Things just got ridiculously tough for CSN.
Plate umpire Don Gilmore ejected Harper after the freshman protested a called third strike by drawing a line in the dirt with his bat. At any level, such a move is considered showing up an umpire, never mind before nearly 12,000 in a game between the country’s two best junior college teams.
Harper didn’t say a word to Gilmore. The line was apparently enough.
What hurts CSN most: Given this was Harper’s second ejection of the season, he must now sit out two games, meaning unless the Coyotes advance to Saturday’s final game of the bracket, Harper’s amateur career is probably over.
Meaning that because of a sarcastic bow that got him tossed from a game at Western Nevada on March 13 and a line drawn in the dirt here, Harper’s next official at-bat could be somewhere in the minor leagues for the Washington Nationals, who are expected to make him the first overall pick in Monday’s amateur draft.
"In a situation like this, it deserved a warning," CSN coach Tim Chambers said. "Was it wrong for (Harper) to do it? Absolutely. But that was an awful quick trigger … .
"(Gilmore) definitely wanted to be seen. … Bryce was wrong for doing it. But he didn’t deserve (being ejected)."
Fact: Gilmore missed the called third strike, a pitch that appeared outside live and from replays was definitely outside.
He also watched Harper especially close after the call, well aware of the player’s stature. If it was learned he ejected Harper because of that same fact, nobody would blink. Gilmore sold the ejection. Sold it with an energetic flip of the arm. He was seen, all right.
There was a point earlier in the game when a San Jacinto player disputed a called third strike and Gilmore heard him out. You would think Harper’s reaction would have warranted a similar response, no?
But by not walking away and instead drawing that line, Harper showed up Gilmore in a more dramatic fashion.
When you make that choice, you risk getting tossed.
In that moment, Bryce Harper was all of 17.
Don Gilmore, too.
It would be nice to have heard Gilmore’s side of things, but he was not made available for comment by tournament officials.
For an event that has showcased big-time players and teams and an atmosphere not seen here since the town began hosting the World Series in 1959, not at least releasing a statement from an umpire who made such a significant decision is about as small-time as you get.
It just gives the tournament a sort of Mayberry feel.
Either way, we now see how good CSN really is without its phenom, a journey that begins today in an elimination game against Iowa Western at 2 p.m.
Harper won’t be at the field. He won’t be here if CSN advances to play another game.
For all of it, the Series has changed dramatically, and the next time we see Harper swing a bat, it might be for the Vermont Lake Monsters.
Not a good thought for CSN.
Not good at all.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618.CSN vs. San Jacinto