Game 6: Nat’s win it, umpires lose it

How officiating almost ruined a good ball game...

If the mark of a good umpire is going unnoticed, we definitely saw some horseshit umpiring in Game 6.

But before we get to the seventh-inning call on Trea Turner, we have a lot of luggage to unpack, so let’s get started.

What’s that rule actually mean?

No matter how clearly something is spelled out in the rulebook, ballplayers want to know how that rule is going to be interpreted. When Moses came down off the mountain with those stone tablets, had there been a big league ballplayer in the crowd, he probably would have had questions:

“Wait…when you say thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, are there exceptions when you catch a neighbor coveting your wife or your ass or worse yet, your wife’s ass?”

Here’s a pretty good example of why players want thing spelled out:

Rule 5.07 (c)

Pitcher delays

When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”

If you’re thinking you’ve never seen that rule enforced, join the club. Even though there’s a rule in the book, if it never gets enforced, players feel free to ignore it. To avoid penalty, players need to know how the umpires are going to interpret the rules they enforce and which rules they’re going to ignore altogether.

Just because it’s in the book, doesn’t mean it’s enforced.

Why the Nationals had a chip on their shoulder

The Nationals thought they got some bad calls in Game 5, so when Game 6 started with another bad call on Trea Turner at first base, you couldn’t blame them for thinking: “Here we go again.”

Fortunately, the call was overturned, Turner was called safe and later scored, so getting the call right was a pretty big deal and a good reminder that umpires make mistakes.

Home plate umpire Sam Holbrook’s strike zone was inconsistent and in the sixth inning he made a bad call on Asdrubal Cabrera; then made another bad call on Victor Robles to end the top of the sixth.  

To rub salt in the Nationals’ wound, Holbrook gave the Astros Alex Bregman the benefit of the doubt on a pitch that was closer to the strike zone than either of the calls on Cabrera and Robles. So if you’re Davey Martinez or anybody else in the Nationals dugout, you could be forgiven for thinking you were getting screwed over.

And now we reach the seventh inning.

A really bad rule that nobody knows how to enforce

Here’s the problem: between home and first base there’s a running lane in foul territory, but every little bit of first base is in fair territory. At some point even the most law-abiding runner needs to veer into fair territory and the rules provide for that.

Most of the time that running lane gets ignored until a pitcher or catcher fields the ball near home plate. If the runner is in foul territory, the pitcher or catcher has a clear throwing lane to first base; if the runner is in fair territory, they don’t.

Plays like that are why that running lane exists.

Yan Gomes started the top of the seventh with a single and Trea Turner followed that by dribbling a ground ball to pitcher Brad Peacock, which Peacock picked up and threw to first base. Peacock had a clear throwing lane, but made a lousy throw that pulled Yuri Gurriel into Turner’s path.  

Bad throws from the infield pull the first baseman into the runner’s path all the time.

Sometimes the first baseman has to let the ball go to avoid colliding with the runner and nobody calls interference. But this time it looked bad because Gurriel lost his glove, so umpire Sam Holbrook decided to get involved and called Turner out.

It was a call that isn’t typically made and Holbrook made it a crucial point in the World Series which is probably at least part of why Davey Martinez went batshit.

Instead of having runners at second and third with nobody out, he had a runner at first with one out. Judgement calls aren’t reviewable, but the umpires went to the headsets anyway.

Afterwards, it was explained that the umpires weren’t reviewing the play, they were getting someone to review the rules for them, which kinda makes you wonder why guys umpiring the World Series aren’t sure of the rules they’re enforcing, but there you go.

And then there’s this from the rulebook:

General Instructions to Umpires

Do not allow criticism to keep you from studying out bad situations that may lead to protested games. Carry your rule book. It is better to consult the rules and hold up the game ten minutes to decide a knotty problem than to have a game thrown out on protest and replayed.

If you’re thinking you’ve never in your life seen an umpire consult a rulebook on the field at any level, much less the World Series, once again you can join the club. The umpires know it makes them look like they don’t know the rules, so they don’t do it.

Once again, they follow the rules they want to follow and ignore the ones they don’t.

BTW: In-between innings, Holbrook double down on bad umpiring and ejected Martinez. Generally speaking, umpires try to avoid throwing somebody out of a big game because they don’t want to play a role in deciding who wins.

A little late for that by the time Martinez was tossed.

The four-minute delay

So everybody stood around while the umpires had the rules explained to them and one of the people waiting was the Astros new pitcher, Will Harris. Three pitches into his appearance Harris threw a cutter down the pipe and Anthony Rendon saved everybody’s ass by hitting a homerun.

Just imagine the shitstorm if the Nationals had lost the World Series because an umpire decided to make a call that isn’t usually made.

The bullshit afterwards

After the game Joe Torre – MLB Chief Baseball Officer, whatever the hell that is – backed up Sam Holbrook by reading from the rulebook:

5.09 Making an Out

A batter is out when:

In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of ) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of ) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of ) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of ) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball

Torre stopped reading at this point because if he kept reading he would have destroyed his defense of Holbrook. Let’s continue where Torre stopped and pay attention to the last sentence, which I’ve put in bold print.

Rule 5.09(a)

(11) Comment: The lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane and a batter-runner is required to have both feet within the three-foot lane or on the lines marking the lane. The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base.

Which is exactly what Trea Turner did.

If he wanted to touch first base there was absolutely no other place on the field Turner could be. Turner did nothing wrong and got penalized for it; Peacock made a lousy throw and got rewarded.  

There’s more I could say, but as Will Shakespeare – huge baseball fan and ardent supporter of the Stratford-upon-Avon Rockets – once said: all’s well that ends well.

However they got there, the Nationals won Game 6 and now the rest of us get to watch the best event in sports – Game 7 of the World Series.

Enjoy tonight’s game.