October 18, 2009
It didn't end up being the most important play in the Yankees' classic 4-3 ALCS victory on Saturday night, but Erick Aybar's(notes) non-tag of second base in the 10th inning definitely ranks as its oddest and most controversial highlight.
To recap: With Melky Cabrera(notes) bearing down on the base after a Jorge Posada(notes) grounder to second, the Angels shortstop straddled the bag and then threw the ball to first. But neither foot ever touched the base and umpire Jerry Layne ruled Cabrera safe. Watch it here
Easy call, right?
Well, not quite. What Aybar did is called the "neighborhood play" in baseball and is widely considered a common practice, even at the highest levels of play.
Because middle infielders are placed in the line of danger and injury, MLB umpires will often overlook a close-but-not-quite tag so long as it looks close and some dirt is kicked up in the air. The concession happens a countless number of times each season and rare is the time that a runner is ever ruled safe. Strange as it sounds to outsiders, it's considered a part of baseball.
Did Layne make the correct call in crunch time or should he have adhered to what has become a weird unwritten rule within baseball's code?
From my viewpoint, I can see where Aybar and manager Mike Scioscia were coming from. That's an awfully gutsy call to make in that position.How can umpires look the other way nearly every other time, but enforce it the one time it actually matters? Considering the cold and wet conditions at Yankee Stadium, why couldn't Aybar get a free pass that's never debated in any other circumstance?
That said, in a postseason that's been riddled with umpire error, how can anyone fault Layne for actually enforcing the rule as it's defined? A player must be touching the base for a force out and I think Layne was right in requiring that Aybar complete the play to earn two outs. After all, there aren't any gimme putts at The Masters, so why should there be free outs in extra innings of a key ALCS game?
In other words, I think it would be one thing if we were applying the neighborhood play rule at a fireman's softball game or even an Angels' getaway day against the A's in Oakland.
But with so much on the line, Aybar has to know that he has to touch the base before throwing to first. Layne made the correct call and to suggest otherwise is to tell the umpires that they're always going to get it wrong, even when the rulebook says they're right.
What do you think? Was Layne right in ruling Cabrera safe?