October 23, 2008
When appropriate, Big League Stew reviews key decisions to see if the right one was made.
The Turning Point: His team was trailing 3-2 in the sixth inning when Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena reached first on an error. But Pena was caught stealing second after left-hander Cole Hamels used a pickoff move to start a 1-3-6 putout. The Rays dugout immediately argued that Hamels balked which, if called, would have put Pena at second with no outs and Evan Longoria at the plate.
The Question: Did first-base umpire Kerwin Danley miss the balk call on Hamels, who has never been called for a balk in 89 career appearances — regular and postseason?
Come on, Blue! (Yes): Major League Baseball Rule 8.05 (c) says: [If] the pitcher, while touching [the rubber], fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base... it is a balk.
Nice move, Cole (No): As crew chief Tim Welke pointed out to Maddon in a discussion between innings, the view from home plate was unclear, with Welke adding that he saw Hamels step toward first base — from about 60 feet away. Welke (who wore a microphone during the game) was implying that if Hamels balked, it wasn't very obvious.
Hindsight is 20/20: If Maddon had known that the Phillies were onto the crafty Rays baserunning, would he have put Pena in motion there? Jimmy Rollins, who applied the tag to Pena, said he took note of Pena's baserunning in the ALCS, where he would "get on first and take off, because he thinks no one's paying attention."
• "Timmy told me that he had stepped a bit towards first base, and my response was, 'That may be true, but he also stepped towards home plate.' And I thought it was clearly a balk, and obviously you can't argue a balk. You get kicked out arguing a balk. What I did was even inappropriate. I had to take that chance right there, because I was adamant that I thought he had balked." — Maddon, on his conversation with Welke.
• "Yeah, [Pena] was out. That's all I can say. Being able to get a guy out, especially on a pickoff play, is huge. It puts some momentum back in my shoes." — Hamels, on the pickoff.
• "In my opinion, it was a balk all the way. I saw the lead leg [step toward home]. ... I thought I had the base easily there, but that's the way baseball is sometimes. These guys are good out there, these umpires are really good. They are trying to do the best they can. So you can't expect all the plays to go your way. Today, they didn't." — Pena
• "We'll look at it."— Welke, telling Maddon that umpires will check the tape to see if Hamels, who is scheduled to start Game 5, balked or not
• "I thought it was a great pick-off play."— Chase Utley
Stew Verdict — Balk!Balk!Balk!: This video, sadly, is inconclusive, but other angles show Hamels begin to step toward home before changing course which, the rules say, is a balk.
However, witih the way he and Phillies relievers pitched the rest of the way, it's hard to imagine a blown balk call leading to the Rays winning the game. Double however, the spirit of baseball can be captured (as Joaquin Andujar once said) in the phrase: "You never know." Triple however, it also should be noted the perfect throw that Ryan Howard made to Rollins to retire Pena. He recovered nicely from his error and other failures at the plate.