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.