The Minnesota Twins are currently just a hair ahead of the Guardians and the White Sox at the top of the AL Central, in a division race where the runner-up might not even earn one of the three wild card slots. So Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, on a day that Cleveland and Chicago both won, was another in what’s going to be a long and stressful final stretch. And when a critical and complex call didn’t go the Twins’ way, Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli absolutely erupted.
The scene: The Twins forced extra innings at home after going down 2-0 early by scoring a run in the eighth and another in the ninth. In the top of the 10th, a Toronto fly-out moved ghost runner Whit Merrifield to third, and then a sac fly by Cavan Biggio sent the Jays’ newly immunized acquisition sprinting home. It appeared, at first, that a flawless throw from left fielder Tim Beckham allowed catcher Gary Sanchez to stonewall Merrifield, blocking the easiest path to the plate with his knee as he caught the ball and applied the tag.
Merrifield was called out, but after a Toronto challenge, the run was allowed to count. Why? MLB rules say that a catcher has a right to block a runner’s path to the plate if he’s in possession of the ball or making “a legitimate attempt to receive a throw.” It was presumably ruled that Sanchez’s positioning before getting the ball was deliberate and not caused by Beckham’s throw—you can in fact see that he’s standing right in front of the plate just as the ball leaves the outfielder’s hand. But the umpires didn’t do a very good job of explaining, during or after the game. Crew chief Alan Porter, in announcing the call to the ballpark, only said “there was a violation by the catcher,” and when asked by a reporter later, he didn’t elaborate.
“The ruling is that Gary violated the Home Plate Collision Rule and that the runner was safe,” he said. The best clarification anyone got was from Jays interim manager John Schneider, who said he was told that Sanchez didn’t establish a clear lane for the runner to slide through. Sanchez disputed this interpretation in the postgame, arguing that Merrifield could have slid to his side but actively chose to try and pass right through him. Merrifield admitted to the second part, but said he slid the way he did specifically to attract attention to what he saw as Sanchez’s illegal blocking of the plate.
“I know what the rule is. It’s just a matter of whether or not it got called,” he said.
Baldelli certainly did not agree. Right after the call was overturned, he was out of the dugout yelling emphatically and gesturing with conviction. He was ejected, of course, and the Twins went on to lose the game 3-2.
A few minutes in the showers did nothing to calm Rocco down. In fact, it sounded like he spent the bottom of the 10th looking up every single instance of a catcher blocking the plate over the last few seasons to bolster his case that this was an extraordinary lapse in judgement from the replay umpire.
“That play has not been called, since the beginning of replay, more than a couple of times. In all of baseball, the thousands and thousands of games and plays at home where the catcher actually does block the plate, over and over and over again, that play has virtually never been called.” He only ramped up from there.
“For someone to step in, in that situation, and ultimately make a decision, that that was blocking the plate, that’s beyond embarrassing … It’s completely unacceptable. I can’t even believe I’m sitting here talking to you guys about this right now.”
Isn’t it great that replay review stopped all the umpiring controversies in baseball?