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Justice Prevails: Umpires Actually Get it Right

Posted By Jay Mariotti On October 24, 2013 @ 10:19 AM In JM - 24/7 Quick Takes,JM - Archive,MLB | No Comments

See how easy that was? Recognize that an umpiring colleague had blown a call. Tell him, en masse, that Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma had dropped the ball in what Dana DeMuth wrongly thought was a forceout at second base. Don’t worry about pride, ego, traditional protocol and the fact major-league umpires never before had huddled to reverse a decision in the World Series.

Change the call.

Get it right.

Thank you very much.

Welcome, at long last, to expanded instant replay, a season before it actually kicks in. Rather than allow a wickedly bad call by DeMuth to potentially alter the outcome of Game 1, crew chief John Hirschbeck and the other four umps made sure justice prevailed in the first inning without even bothering to look at a video. This is what DeMuth saw, mistakenly: “My vision was on (Kozma’s) foot. And when I was coming up, all I could see was a hand coming out and the ball on the ground. All right? So I was assuming.”

No worries. Instead of letting stubborness and foolishness reign, as the umpires normally would, the crew took a minute to consider the obvious argument of Red Sox manager John Farrell. Then, collectively, they confirmed not only what every soul in Fenway Park saw in person but what 20 million Americans saw on replay. And they ruled Dustin Pedroia safe at second, as they certainly should have. Let Mike Matheny and the Cardinals be mad. The umps got the damned play right, tra la, tra la. It’s all that matters in baseball and sports, particularly in the biggest moments.

“There’s five of us out here, OK? And all five of us agreed 100 percent that it wasn’t a catch,” Hirshcbeck told Matheny, the St. Louis manager. “Our job is to get it right.”

Amazing it took Major League Baseball decades to figure that out. Think of all the hideous calls, such as the one made by Don Denkinger that helped cost the Cardinals a World Series in 1985. Think of all the words used by fans and commentators to discuss the screwups, all the hours on talk radio. Finally, common sense prevailed, and if Matheny is still mad, he should be channeling that anger toward a lame effort by the Cardinals, who were uncharacteristically sloppy and, to be blunt, non-existent in an ugly 8-1 loss.

“I said, ‘I know you are not happy with it, that it went against you, but you have to understand that the play is correct.’ ” Hirschbeck told Matheny, who didn’t like what he heard.

Said Matheny, afterward: “Basically, the explanation is that’s not a play I’ve ever seen before. And I’m pretty sure there were six umpires on the field that had never seen that play before, either. It’s a pretty tough time to debut that overruled call in the World Series. Now, I get that they’re trying to get the right call, I get that. Tough one to swallow.”

No, you don’t get it. Your shortstop dropped the relay throw. And your team did all sorts of other dumb stuff, such as the pop fly that pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina allowed to drop between them like two Little Leaguers. The right team won, with the Red Sox immediately capitalizing on the rare umpiring reprieve with a three-run double by Mike Napoli. And the right team lost, with the Cardinals allowing David Ortiz to continue his career-long romance with October with a two-run homer, made possible by third baseman David Freese’s throwing error.

A baseball game is delicate enough to take a wild mood swing on one call at second base. Applaud Hirschbeck and the umps for letting the proper team benefit. “That’s just the way baseball goes sometimes,” said Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter, per ESPN. “When a play like that happens, it kind of unravels the whole inning. And you can’t stop the bleeding. And you’re down 5-0 before you know it.”

Said Matheny, once he realized the call was not the real problem on this night: “We had a wake-up call. That is not the kind of team we’ve been all season. And they’re frustrated. I’m sure embarrassed to a point.”

It would be a mistake to dismiss the Cardinals, even if Carlos Beltran was taken to the hospital with bruised ribs after robbing Ortiz of a grand slam. They easily can even the Series behind rookie pitcher Michael Wacha, who has been nearly unhittable the last month in becoming a much bigger deal in American sports, thank goodness, than his former Texas A&M sportsmate, Johnny Manziel. But they performed as if spooked by the mystique of Fenway Park, cold and intimidating on an autumn night. It was disturbing to see them fall apart so quickly after the call.

“For us, we got a second chance there and we capitalized on it,” Boston’s Shane Victorino said. “And that’s what it takes to win a World Series. You have to capitalize on those kind of mistakes.”

“I think based on their group conversation — surprisingly, to a certain extent — they overturned it and got the call right,” said Farrell, who still seemed shocked by it all.

Last time these teams played in a World Series, nine years ago, the Cardinals barely showed up. The Red Sox were riding the euphoria of their historic comeback from an 0-3 deficit against the Yankees, and nothing was going to stop them. The Cardinals were miserable, stick in a moderate hotel in suburban Quincy, unable even to order late room service. “The worst experience I’ve had in baseball,” said Matheny, then a Cardinals catcher. Game 1 had that same lopsided feel, with Jon Lester throwing zeroes at the Cardinals for 7 2/3 innings and striking out eight.

Next season, expanded replay begins in Major League Baseball. A manager will be allowed to challenge any call that doesn’t involve balls or strikes. In Game 1, we saw a preview of expanded replay with no official mandate to do so. “You rarely see that, especially on a stage like this,” Napoli said. “But I think that was good for the game.”

Great for the game, actually.


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