Home plate umpire Laz Diaz lost his mind in the middle innings of Friday night’s Nationals-Braves game. In the bottom of the fifth inning, with the Braves at bat, Diaz jumped up and started screaming at Bryce Harper, who was stationed 150 feet away, in center field. Diaz was pissed at Harper for expressing the mildest displeasure with a called strike in the top half of the inning:

This was weird enough, all on its own. Nationals manager Davey Martinez implored Diaz to calm down and, you know, focus on the actual baseball game, and eventually the umpire was convinced to allow the game to continue, but chirped at Harper once more between innings.

The drama continued in the seventh inning, with Harper at the plate facing a 2–1 count. Braves reliever Jesse Biddle threw an outside curve that missed the plate by a good six inches. Diaz, perhaps still looking for an opportunity to burn Harper, rang it up as another called strike, and then stared down Harper as Harper, again, expressed his displeasure. Here you might be inclined to give Diaz credit for letting Harper vent his frustration without throwing him out, but here you should remember that Diaz’s style is to keep a player in the game long enough for them to suffer the appropriate amount of humiliation, or submit utterly to his authority, because he’s a sensitive penis.

And that seems to be what happened here. Diaz was upset at Harper’s reaction, but thought it would be better to drag the conflict out over several whole innings, rather than either of two sensible, better options: eject Harper right away; or ignore Harper while he was literally all the way out in center field. The path of vengeance, which is what Diaz chose instead, led to this:

The called strike is circled, and NOT CLOSE.
Graphic: Brooks Baseball

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After the game—a Braves win—Harper took the high road but suggested that something Diaz said to him was bad enough that it being overheard by Braves catcher Tyler Flowers was apparently significant. Martinez suggested that MLB “needs to take a look at” Diaz’s confrontational behavior:

“Umpires are supposed to be non-confrontational. They’re supposed to uphold the peace on the baseball field. For me, I think MLB needs to take a look at that. That’s all I’m gonna say. I’ve known Laz for a very long time. I’m not gonna throw anybody under the bus, but we were in a pivotal moment of the game, and he’s saying things to Harp and I thought it was uncalled for.”

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Ultimately this sequence had very little bearing on the game, but it’s a reminder that baseball’s awful umpires can twist a game into an extended personal drama over a slight as minor as someone moping around in disappointment hundreds of feet away. Maybe Ben Zobrist has the right idea, after all.