06/18/10 1:27 AM ET
Umpires reverse call in Kansas City
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
Certainly few witnesses could remember a similar ruling that unfolded quite this way. In short, the umpires overturned an original "out" call and turned an apparent double play into just one out that allowed an inning to continue.
"We're under a directive to get calls right if we can get them right," umpires crew chief Tim McClelland said.
And that, according to the parties involved, is exactly what they did.
The decision came after second-base umpire Mike Everitt admitted he missed a call, ruling an out on a ball that was actually trapped by Astros shortstop Geoff Blum.
The decision had no effect on the result of the Royals' 5-2 victory.
With one out in the Royals' fifth inning and Mike Aviles on second base, Yuniesky Betancourt hit a sinking liner toward Blum. He fielded the ball and, after Everitt called an out, Blum stepped on second base as Aviles advanced to third base.
That apparently ended the inning with a double play and the Astros trotted off the field.
But wait, there would be no double play and with good reason.
"I didn't catch it," Blum said. "I looked up and I saw the runner stop, so I was thinking about going to third. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that there was no call, so I looked to the second-base umpire, then he made the out call, so I went to second base and tried to play it off. It almost worked."
Everitt said he made a verbal out call before throwing up his hand to signal that.
"He heard me call it," Everitt said. "He was going to try to get the out at first base."
Indeed, Blum seemed ready to throw toward first before he heard Everitt's call. Instead, he ran to second base to apparently double off Aviles, who was standing on third.
"I didn't think it was going to carry as far as it did, that's why I took off," Aviles said. "I looked back and saw it bounced and I just kept going to third. I didn't know they called it a catch until was I standing at third."
Royals third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez was certain the ball was trapped.
"I knew he didn't catch it from the get-go," Rodriguez said. "I think [Blum] got indecisive afterward and tried to sell it and Everitt bought the sell. But after reviewing it, obviously they changed it. They did come up with the right judgment."
Royals manager Ned Yost came out to question the call with McClelland, the crew chief who also was the home-plate umpire.
"I didn't tell him nothing," Yost said. "I didn't even get to him and he was saying, 'Hang on, we'll check it, we'll check it.'"
So the four umpires -- McClelland, Everitt, Todd Tichenor and Adrian Johnson -- huddled behind the mound. As McClelland explained later, Everitt admitted he was wrong and the other three umpires concurred that the ball was not caught on the fly.
"It was just the fair thing to do," McClelland said. "Mike had a bad angle on it and looking right into the glove, you have no depth perception. He called it out. We got together and realized that the ball was not caught."
Their decision was to leave Aviles at third base and declare Betancourt out, the second out of the inning.
Officially, according to a ruling by the Elias Sports Bureau, Major League Baseball's official statistician, the play was scored an out, shortstop to first base, or 6-3 on your scorecard. That's because first baseman Lance Berkman was the closest player to Betancourt when play stopped.
"I've never seen [such a call] but you can stand out there and argue all you want and, in reality, that's probably what would've ended up happening," Yost said.
So there was no double play and the inning continued. As it happened, pitcher Brett Myers retired the next batter, Scott Podsednik, on a line drive to Blum. There was no doubt that he caught that one and the inning was over.
McClelland noted that the ruling falls under Rule 9.02 (c) which gives the umpire making a decision the right to consult with the other umpires before making a final decision. The umpires then have the discretion to eliminate the earlier call.
There was a delay of several minutes while McClelland explained the decision to Astros manager Brad Mills. Television replays indicated that the ball was, indeed, trapped.
"It's hard to understand it, and I've never seen anything like it," Mills said. "I don't know if there's a precedent like that in the game at all. I don't know if anything like that has ever happened before in the game. [The umpires] feel they got the call right."
But Mills conceded: "From the way it sounds, they got the call right as far as whether he caught it or not." Even so, he wondered what the fallout might be.
"There was just no precedent for it to reverse a call like that. I think that opens up a huge can of worms," he said.
McClelland, however, said the play was not unprecedented and that his crew had reversed a "catch, no catch" call earlier this season at Cincinnati when Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier trapped a ball.
Unusual calls are not new for McClelland, who was the umpire who measured George Brett's bat on July 24, 1983, at Yankee Stadium and called him out in the famous Pine Tar Bat incident.
The reversal certainly summoned up the controversy caused by umpire Jim Joyce's blown call that cost the Tigers' Armando Galarraga a perfect game against the Indians. In hindsight, some observers questioned why that umpiring crew did not huddle and verbally review Joyce's safe call in the ninth inning.
"It's the darndest thing I've ever seen in baseball," said Myers, the Astros' pitcher. "If they can overturn calls like that, I think they should overturn Galarraga's no-hitter. If that's what they are starting to do when an umpire makes a mistake, then we have to live with it."
McClelland said the Joyce incident had no effect on Thursday night's decision.
"We thought the fair thing to do was change the call and make Betancourt out at first," McClelland said. "Our other alternatives weren't very good."
In the aftermath, Blum, the shortstop, was asked if it was fair to reverse the call.
"Well, knowing that I didn't catch the ball there's plenty of open-calls in baseball: phantom double plays, swipe tags, things like that," Blum said. "But in defense of the umpires, they eventually made the right calls, and that's what it's about -- the integrity of the game, and making the right call."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. Associate reporter Samuel Zuba contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.