The Boston Red Sox were fortunate to escape with a 9-8 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday afternoon. It took 14 long innings and five hours, 17 minutes of play to achieve, but J.D. Drew’s dramatic game-winning single made it worth the wait for all those involved.

While the final result was sweet for Red Sox fans, the ninth inning was bitter. The Sox were up 7-3 with just three outs left. For closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has been squeaky clean almost all year long, a four run lead was more than enough.

But Pap was roughed up for four runs, three of them earned, before he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Tony Randazzo. Frustration in Pap’s case was understandable: Prior to his ejection, a ground ball that should have ended the game was miffed by normally sure-handed Dustin Pedroia. Shortly after that, catcher Jason Varitek was tossed for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Randazzo as well.

My beef isn’t with Papelbon’s support, however. While he shouldn’t have been in a position to blow a save, he didn’t pitch well, one of the few times all season that he hasn’t looked sharp.

The more pressing issue is that of the attitude of MLB umpiring, for today’s Red Sox-Athletics game was emblematic of an overarching trend which has gripped baseball. 

More and more do MLB umpires insert themselves into altercations without warrant. In some cases, like today, the umpires are the aggressor in verbal arguments. Today, Randazzo removed his mask, stepping out in front of the plate, an overreaction to a mild roll-of-the-eyes of Papelbon, instigating the altercation that led to Pap’s ejection.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona didn’t have much to say in his postgame press conference, but he indicated that he didn’t thing Randazzo handled the situation all that well:

“I thought [home plate umpire] Tony [Randazzo], got a little aggressive there and Pap…once he charged him…I can’t get out there quick enough, I wish I could.”

This incident marks the second time this year where Francona, who is normally reserved in his critique of umpires and personnel around the league, has criticized an umpires handling of an ejection. Following an ejection in early May, Francona had harsh words for umpire Joe West:

“Joe, as we all know, always wants to be in everybody’s business. That was me and [umpire] Angel [Hernandez]. Joe didn’t have anything to do with it. Didn’t appreciate what he did. I think he was wrong…He was grabbing me. I didn’t appreciate that. I thought he was out of line.”

Overzealous umpiring is not just a Red Sox problem, it’s a baseball problem. In no other sport do umpires have as much of a free reign to exhibit personality as in baseball. Again, umpires are as much the instigator in disagreements as players and managers.

Ironically enough baseball umpires face little beleaguerment when compared to sports like football and basketball, where referees have to turn a stone-face towards rampant complaining and whining.

Too often do major league umpires think they’re bigger than the game. If you were to ask an umpire—although you can’t because they aren’t required to speak to the press—they would tell you that they’re never wrong. Every call they make and every action they take is undoubtedly correct…at least in their minds. To admit anything else is a sign of weakness.

Major League Baseball’s product is on the rebound. PEDs seems to be on their last breath, and the game is becoming much more well-rounded and exciting to watch. But the umpiring isn’t doing the game any favors.

Fans don’t pay to watch a group of four men officiate for three and a half hours. All drama incited by umpires is bad for the game. Bud Selig isn’t likely to do anything about this, as he’s stepping down in 2012. The next commissioner of baseball would be wise to crack down on this problem.

Dan Hartel is a Boston Red Sox featured columnist. Follow him on twitter @dantheman_06.

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