He Missed The Tag!
Bob "I Must Be in The Front Roooow" Uecker
Fred Willard's catch phrase from "A Mighty Wind"
I want someone to explain to me what Tim Mcclelland was thinking when he made the call that ended the Padres-Rockies wild card playoff marathon last night or rather earlier this morning.
The Rockies had just tied the Padres at 8-8 in the bottom of the thirteenth inning with a Matt Holliday triple. With Holliday on third and none out, closer Trevor Hoffman intentionally walked Todd Helton to face weak hitting utility infielder Jamey Carroll, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh.
Carroll hit a fly to right and Holliday broke for home. The ball and the runner arrived almost simultaneously. Holliday slide headfirst as he approached the plate and saw an opportunity to score by tagging the back half of the plate. Catcher Michael Barrett's left foot slide out to the left as he received the catch, blocking the plate entirely. As Barrett tagged Holliday, he took out the runner's left hand and Holliday took a face flop in the dirt and then seemed to be stuck to the dirt. The ball came loose, however, and after a momentary hesitation, plate umpire Tim McClelland called the runner safe. The winning run scored and the Rockies were celebrating while Holliday tried to remove his face from surface of Coors Field.
Sound good, right? Late inning heroics for a hot team that won fourteen of their last fifteen, including the one-game playoff, to advance to the official postseason. It sounds like a great Cinderella story. Let's cast Scott Bakula as Holliday.
The only problem is that he never scored. Repeated replays showed that Holliday never touched the plate. McClelland initially made the right call waiting for the play to reach resolution, but grew impatient as Barrett attempted to retrieve the call and decided that, eh, thirteen innings is enoughlet's call it a game.
There is no excuse for the call. If McClelland believed that Holliday touched home, then when the ball came free the ump would have called him safe. He did not. If he believed that Holliday missed the plate (as he did), McClelland would have waited for one of two things to occur: either Holliday reaching back to touch the plate, which never happened, or Barrett tagging Holliday, which came after the safe call.
There is actually one other thing that could have occurred: Holliday could have vacated the field believing that he had scored. However, this is covered by rule 7.08k:
Rule 7.08(k) In running or sliding for home base, he fails to touch home base and makes no attempt to return to the base, when a fielder holds the ball in his hand, while touching home base, and appeals to the umpire for the decision.
Rule 7.08(k) Comment: This rule applies only where runner is on his way to the bench and the catcher would be required to chase him. It does not apply to the ordinary play where the runner misses the plate and then immediately makes an effort to touch the plate before being tagged. In that case, runner must be tagged.
The only other thing McClelland could have been thinking was that Barrett interfered with Holliday and didn't allow he access to home, but Barrett according to the definition of obstruction was in the act of fielding the ball and was just doing his job:
OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered "in the act of fielding a ball." It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the "act of fielding" the ball. For example: If an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.
Barrett did not completely block the plate by sliding his left foot until the ball was at home. So even though obstruction is a judgment call, that would be a hard one to sell. Besides I saw no indication that McClelland called obstruction on the play. If he had, why would he have hesitated to call Holliday safe.
The only excuse is that McClelland blew the call and intentionally did so to avoid, as my friend Chris put it, the grief of calling the runner out. There was nothing in the rulebook that turned his hesitation into a safe call. It was McClelland's attempt not to become Don Denkinger.
In that respect, McClelland succeeded: everyone is talking about the Rockies instead of how he screwed up the call, everyone but a minutiae monger such as myself. He wasn't even mentioned in ESPN's recap of the game.
However, Dekinger, it should be remembered, was just doing his job. He missed the call in the 1985 World Series but he did it (apparently) with a clear conscience and no ulterior motives to the play one way or the other. Here, McClelland made a call that he must have know was the wrong one just to avoid controversy.
McClelland such be investigated, and if this is the case, he should be summarily fired. His excuse-me bow-out call does more damage to the image of the umpires than a gross miscall like Dekinger's.
I await the rampid miscalls in the true postseason. More camera time for Steve Palermo
By the way, can we disabuse the media of this believe that Trevor Hoffman is the greatest closer of all time just because he is the career leader in saves, baseball's most dubious stat. Again they made this obligatory reference when Hoffman entered the game. He left with just one batter out, Carroll on the sac fly, three runs allowed, and a loss. If Hoffman is among the top ten best relievers all time that would be quite magnanimous. He is probably not even better than third today with Mariano Rivera, the true "greatest closer", and Billy Wagner both active.
Finally, I have to update the table from yesterday for the least days in first for a division/league winner. The numbers I ran yesterday included all playoff teams and all days that they held a playoff spot, including wild card, not just in first place. Here's the updated list and the Phils drop to a third-place tie: