Missed Hit by Pitch Brings Back Bad Memories


*I’m going to deviate a bit from my normal format this week, the What’s Next format should resume next week. Thank you for indulging me here.

The New York Yankees stand one loss away from elimination after a 10-3 loss last night at the hands of the Texas Rangers. There were plenty of places in this game where the Yankees cost themselves opportunities to win. Most of the national talking heads will focus of the situation that unfolded in the top of the sixth, but even after the Yankees trailed 7-3 in the eighth, what could have been their comeback rally was thwarted, not by a great defensive play, but by a possibly missed call.

Derek Holland, who had pitched wonderfully in relief of Tommy Hunter to that point, walked the first batter of the inning on five pitches. Holland was removed after his 56-pitch relief effort in favor of right hander Darren O’Day. After O’Day retired Marcus Thames via strikeout, he issued a walk to Alex Rodriguez. With a four run lead and only five outs to get, you simply cannot give the Yankees, of all teams, free baserunners. Clay Rapada was then summoned to face Robinson Cano, but he was no relief either, issuing a five-pitch walk to load the bases. Now just one swing away from a tie game, Ron Washington turned back to the bullpen for yet another left hander, veteran Darren Oliver, to face Nick Swisher.

Oliver’s 0-1 offering was a slider down and in. Swisher danced to get out of the way of the pitch, winding up chest down on the ground. He almost immediately looked up at home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, motioning that the ball hat hit him in the leg. Hernandez would have none of it and Swisher didn’t push the issue, resuming his at bat. Several replay angles were shown and in my opinion, one that was shared by the TBS broadcast team, the pitch clearly did make contact with the uniform, though likely not the leg itself. But the uniform is part of the player and as such, Swisher should have been awarded first base, which also would have forced in a run and brought the go-ahead run to the plate with still just one out.

Instead, Swisher flied out harmlessly and Oliver retired the next batter to escape the jam. The Rangers would pile on with three more runs in the ninth and win going away.

Look, I’m not saying it was an easy call for Hernandez. As Crew Chief Gerry Davis said after the game, speaking about reviewing the play as umpires do once the game is over, “We looked at it. Obviously in Angel’s judgment, the ball had not hit him. We looked at the replay, and even from different angles, it’s inconclusive.” Nor am I saying that Swisher even knew the ball had in fact hit him, had he known for sure he may have made a stronger appeal to Hernandez. But if the correct call had been made, who knows what would have happened next.

Clearly, the momentum of the inning had swung to New York. The Rangers relievers, four of them in the inning, would have each given a base to a Yankee hitter. After blowing a five-run cushion in Game One, perhaps the Rangers bullpen would have folded under the pressure and surrendered yet another lead. The point is we don’t know what would have happened, and now we’ll never know.

As a Tigers fan, I despise the Yankees probably more than any other club, but I certainly can sympathize with them today. When the Tigers and Twins finished deadlocked at the top of the AL Central a year ago, they met in a classic Game 163 at the Metrodome. In the top of the 12th, in a 5-5 game, with the bases loaded and one out, Minnesota’s Bobby Keppel came inside with a fastball that caught a good amount of the jersey of Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge. Home plate umpire Randy Marsh said he didn’t see nay contact and called the pitch a ball. Inge protested, as did Tigers manager Jim Leyland, but to no avail. Inge would eventually ground into a force play and the Tigers failed to score in the inning. Eventually, what should have been a 6-5 Tigers lead became a 6-5 Tigers loss in 14 innings.

I consider myself a purist of sorts, at least when it comes to baseball. By purist I mean really that I like the rules the way were when I learned the game. I enjoyed the separation of the two leagues, I don’t care for interleague play. I like the DH, but I also like that the NL doesn’t use one. I have, however, come around to the expanded use of instant replay. In situations like this, where the action is stopped anyway, I can’t see a reason not to review the play.

As I said, the missed hit by pitch wasn’t necessarily the reason the Yankees wound up losing the game. Josh Hamilton‘s two home runs had a lot to do with that, as did the Bengie Molina shot I alluded to earlier, but this missed call might have changed the outcome if it were called differently, and isn’t that what we are trying to avoid?

I’m not saying I want to review every play. Calls on the bases and balls and strikes should be off-limits in my opinion. I’m okay with reviewing home runs calls and fair or foul boarder calls. The phantom hit by pitch that Derek Jeter executed so brilliantly last month, then another by Chase Utley in the NLDS, plus the missed HBP’s on both Inge and now Swisher, those should be reviewable as well. The action is already stopped, there are no baserunners that the umpires would have to arbitrarily place on different bags. There’s simply no reason not to do this.