Freeway Series Finale, What a Game It Very Nearly Was + My Thoughts on Umpire Calls

 

It was a glorious game, Sunday’s Freeway Series meeting between the Angels and the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Jered Weaver vs. Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers’ pregame show announcers joked that, with those two greats on the mound, it was a bad day to be a batter. And they knew what they were talking about. Both Weaver and Kershaw had a shutout going until the 7th inning.

Every now and then one would allow a runner on base, occasionally two. But it never got any farther than that. For six innings. Say all you want about lack of run support, and if you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve said plenty, but this was not a case of the batters not getting it done at the plate. This was a case of two aces baffling each other’s lineups with a good, old fashioned pitchers’ duel and it was fantastic. Beautiful. Frustrating. Nail biting. Cheering. Stomping. Yelling. Faan-tastic. The kind of game where I had to tip my hat to Kershaw as much as I was tipping it to Weaver. And I wished that Seth and I had bought last minutes tickets and gone running off to Chavez Ravine instead of responsibly watching the game at home for free, just so I could be there in person to soak in every nuance.

Even after both lineups finally briefly broke through the gems to knock in a run a piece in the 7th and the Angels ended the duel by pinch hitting for Weaver in the 8th, it was a great game. It was a great game, that is, right up until the call when Dee Gordon stole second. That’s right I said second. Long before the play at the plate that everyone is talking about, Gordon touched second base, overslid the bag, Erick Aybar clearly blocked him from returning and applied a tag. But Gordon was called safe. He shouldn’t even have been in a position to head home on the later sacrifice fly. But he was. And he did. Because that’s how you play the game. And then, he was out again at the plate. 

I have watched the replay more than 20 times on my DVR. Peter Bourjos’ throw could not have been more perfect. Jeff Mathis blocked the plate, wrestled Gordon practically into a bear hug, sweeping arms and legs away from the plate before Gordon could get so much as a finger in, and brushed Gordon’s back with the glove holding the ball. Mathis then triumphantly held up the ball for the umpire to see, allowing Gordon to break free finally and slap the plate. Three outs. Ball game. Angels win, right? Except not…now I’m not saying the umpire outright lost the game for us. At that point the Angels needed to buck up, get the third out (for the third time) and force the Dodgers into extra innings. And they didn’t do that. But the double bad calls really killed the greatness of this particular game. Who knows how it would have really ended if Gordon had been called out at second? Would Jordan Walden have continued his recovery or would the Dodgers have continued their rally? I don’t know. But whatever the outcome, I would have preferred that game to the one we all got. And considering the amazing pitchers’ duel and the quality of the first eight and a half innings, that is a very sad thing to have to say.

It’s baseball. Bad calls happen. They happen all the time. In huge egregious ways, like Armando Galarraga’s perfect game that wasn’t and any number of post season heartbreakers I could site. And in hundreds of smaller ways every week that may only matter to a particular batter or position player. By the end of the season, the bad calls usually even out. Heck, the Angels owe one of their wins against the Blue Jays in this season’s first home series to a truly terrible runner’s interference call that made the Blue Jays’ go ahead run null and void.

So where exactly am I going with this? In all honesty, I don’t know. I don’t want the game to change. I don’t want every umpire’s call second guessed and argued…on the field that is. We fans should continue to exercise our traditional right to beat every dead horse of a call into dust if it pleases us to do so. I don’t want to lose the pacing of the game or the spontaneity. I don’t want a cookie cutter feel to a trip to the ballpark. I don’t want umpires turning to computers to make every call, or even many calls. I don’t want baseball teams developing strategies around how to use a set number of umpire challenges in ways that go well beyond the goal of simply redressing a wrong. I don’t like the idea of increased instant replay eroding decision making.

So what do I actually want? I wanted this particular great game and so many others to remain great games. Angels win or lose, I wanted this game to proceed to its natural conclusion. And, yet, I realize that just saying I want umpires to make better calls is childish. They are only human, they have always been human, and rather than showing any increase in umpire errors, I believe that advancements in camera and television technology allow us even more opportunities to “appreciate” just how human and fallible they have always been. So, do I want MLB to increase the use of instant replay in regular season games? I don’t want to want it. And I don’t want it…yet. But year by year each game changing bad call chips away at the steadfastness of my resolve a little more… 

And now I am off the ballgame again. Angels vs. the Nationals. I’m sure I’ll post pictures later this week. The way things worked out between the games Seth and I always try to get tickets for (the freeway Series at both stadiums, 4th of July…), games we just sort of wound up with tickets for (this evening), and our upcoming Bay Area Baseball Extravaganza, our end of June and first half of July is practically an embarrassment of baseball game riches…and yet I wonder how many of them, indeed if any of them, will be as good as this game almost was.

15 Comments

As a Jays fan I’l admit I was reading what you wrote about the missed call and all I could think of was the horrible call Bob Davidson made in May that cost the Jays the go ahead run against the Angels. It’s frustrating and I really believe missed calls do deflate a team’s morale more than any thing that can happen on the field. It’s a shame when they ruin good games, but over 162 they do usually balance out. I know the Jays have had their share of gives and takes.

http://bluejaysnest.mlblogs.com/

Bluejaysnest – The call against the Jays was a bad call – bad enough that I even mentioned it here and in that series’ post back in May. See even winning like that blows…not that any of us wouldn’t take the win, of course. When I’m calmer, I fall back on it all evens out too, and it does, for everyone.

– Kristen

I think instant replay is needed in todays game. As the players are faster and the game is somewhat quicker, replay is essential. That being said, it’s a beautiful game the way it is. The perfect game that almost was should have been given to the kid. It still frustrates me. I think though when you watch amazing games like the one you saw. It gives the game a majestic feel especially on warm summer summer days.
—Mark Gauthier

http://cubden.mlblogs.com/

Mark – So you see my delimma then? Instant replay would be great…but only if it doesn’t change the game, and you know it will. So I am still coming down against, though as I said there are definite dents in that armor now.

– Kristen

That kinda sucks that the series is tainted like that. At least you’re not letting it ruin the fun you had watching the game. I don’t hink instant reply is the answer…manybe just better umpires. More training, better pay, and so on. Any incentive to get them to do a better job and bring in bettr officials. Good luck to the Angels against the Nats. That should be an interesting series, too.
–Mike
‘Minoring In Baseball’

Mike – I am still in the anti-instant replay camp myself, I just feel more and more “disturbances in the force” lately (I know, how many different metaphores can I use for this in one post, he he.) and start to waiver a little from time to time. I like they idea of more training and incentives for umpires. It’s a b— of a job, I’ll give them that, becuase it’s not like any of us ever log in to MLBlogs to praise all of the good calls they make. The Dodgers series was still fun, and both pitchers were still lights out and the Nats series is shaping up to be fun as well, and those are the important parts. :)

– Kristen

I’ve watched the replays a couple of times. He was out at second on the overslide, but you will never get that call. And at home…….hard call…..tough to give credit for that “tag”.

Russel – But we usually do get the call at 2nd. That’s what was so annoying. Aybar, Kendrick and Izturis are all artists at catching the slightest slip off the bag and then keeping the runner from getting back with strategic foot, knee and arm placement and we usually get the call. As for the tag at home – It wasn’t a forcefull thwacking with the glove or anything but ball in glove, back of the of the glove brushes down the runners back, is this not a tag? You’re not the first I’ve heard say that though and, as with any other call, we fans may debate it until we are blue in the face…and we probably will. :)

– Kristen

I feel like more and more we hear of terrible calls within games that are so obvious. As much as I fear that if instant replay arrives, we will overanalyze every call, I think it is becoming necessary. Perhaps MLB could implement a ‘challenge’ system similar to the one in the NFL.
Catherine

Catherine – If they do implement more instant replay, I think a challenge system is definitley the way to go. I just still don’t want to go there though…99.5% of the time.

– Kristen

The more I think about it, the more I don’t mind the idea of expanded instant replay, to make sure the calls are gotten right (everything but balls and strikes). If an umpire is designated to the booth, with replay in front of him, it shouldn’t take but a minute or two to get a decision down to the field. I am still not over 1985 and Don Denkinger’s blown call… that is what fuels me to accept instant replay, even though I’m a traditionalist at heart.
–Jeff

Jeff – I see your point, I just still worry about the further reaching effects…though some days…

– Kristen

I agree, instant replay is needed, not because I am an Angels fan, but because it’s the right thing for the game. What would have happened if the a call is blown like that on the last play of a game seven in the World Series? Are we going to let human error they said the champion? Or are we going let the players decide for themselves, there’s nothing wrong with instant replay as long as it corrects human error.

-Ice

Ice – I agree human error should never be the basis for a Series decision, but we’re a little to late to keep that from happening. ;) I worry about what we lose as much as what we gain from such a change.

– Kristen

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