Sunday, October 11, 2009

Umping The Foul Lines

The Division Series round isn't even over yet and this post-season already has been a breeding ground for debate over umpiring. With the blown calls in Game 1 of the Angels-Red Sox series, TBS' introduction of PitchTRAX, and Phil Cuzzi's incorrect call on Joe Mauer's flyball in the eleventh inning Friday night, there's been no shortage of fuel for that fire.

No one wants to get jobbed by a bad call. But for better or worse they are part of the game. While the Yanks got shorted on one or two earlier this season, they've been fortunate to be on the good end of some bad calls in the post-season over the past 13 years. Friday night marks at least the third time that one of those calls involved an outfield umpire - the Jeffrey Maier homerun in ALCS Game 1 in 1996 and Jermaine Dye getting picked off by the right field ump in Atlanta during the 1996 World Series come to mind.

In Joel Sherman's Birth of Dynasty, chronicling the '96 team, former umpire Richie Garcia gave a lengthy explanation as to what happened during the Maier home run. Much of the explanation centered around the fact that umpires spend the entire six month season working the plate and the bases, and as such are unaccustomed to the rather unique task of working the foul lines in the post-season. In his post-game press conference Friday night, crew chief Tim Tschida gave a similar explanation as it related to Cuzzi's blown call. I think it's also possible that Melky Cabrera charging into Cuzzi's field of view may have had an impact on the mistake.

Neither Garcia nor Tschida used the unfamiliarity with the task as an excuse, but rather as an explanation as to how it could happen. I don't know if it's just correlation and not causation, but it does seem that umping the foul lines, which should be a rather anonymous task, too often becomes an ignominious task. That it happens when the games mean the most is very unfortunate, because I do think that the MLB umpires generally due a very good, if thankless, job.

I don't expect the Twins to be happy about Friday's call, nor should they be. They likely would have benefited from a lead-off double more than they did from Mauer's eventual single. But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that Mauer assuredly would have scored had he been rightly awarded the double, let me remind you of the "fallacy of the predetermined outcome" that local phallus-head Michael Kay so often likes to mention.

Mauer not getting the double does not change the fact that the Twins left 17 runners on base over the course of the game, nor does it change that they could easily have had an extra run in the fourth had Carlos Gomez either not stumbled or managed to get in a rundown after he did, nor does it change that they failed to score in a bases loaded, no out jam in that eleventh inning.

And as Ron Gardenhire rightly pointed out after the game, the Twins were the beneficiaries of an incorrect call in Tuesday's play-in game, as Brandon Inge was (technically) hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the twelfth and final inning. Instead of forcing in the go-ahead run for the Tigers, Inge bounced into a force play, and the Twins, just as the Yankees did Friday, won it in the bottom of the inning.

Of course, I completely reserve the right to change my tune should the Yankees get hosed at any point this post-season...

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