Another playoff blown call dooms Reds

PHILADELPHIA – So it happened again in a postseason that should be about Roy Halladay(notes) and the brilliance of pitching and instead has become an indictment of umpiring. Yet another team perhaps has been denied a victory by a call that shouldn’t have been made. And how could anyone explain that to the Cincinnati Reds as they quietly packed in their clubhouse here, down two defeats in a series that doesn’t allow another loss?

Down the hall, in an interview beneath Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley(notes) hid a smirk and tried his best to explain how he had been hit with a 101-mph fastball and yet didn’t flinch with the contact.

Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips called Chase Utley's reaction to a pitch by Aroldis Chapman 'great acting.'
(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

[Rewind: Slumping Utley resorts to voodoo]

“It was pretty close,” Utley said.

He shifted his eyes.

“At first I thought it was going to hit me in the head. Fortunately, it didn’t.”

He paused.

“I felt like I thought it hit me, so I put my head down and I ran to first.”

So did it hit you?

Utley paused again.

“I’m not sure.”

Physics and replays show a different reality. And maybe the Reds should have protested the way they protested two plays later when third baseman Scott Rolen(notes) inexplicably threw to second on a ground ball hit his way, trying to get Utley when the easy play would have been to first. Then again, Utley never should have been on first, a one-run Cincinnati lead should have remained a one-run lead and the worst night of Reds right fielder Jay Bruce’s(notes) career wouldn’t have happened.

That came right after Rolen’s play, when Jimmy Rollins(notes) hit a fly ball to Bruce that he would have caught had it not suddenly disappeared into the blazing lights. The ball missed his glove completely as the Philadelphia crowd howled.

Bruce would later describe that instant as “the most helpless I’ve felt on a baseball field – ever.

“It’s embarrassing.”

And yet that fly ball never should have gone his way, never should have disappeared into the lights or dropped to the ground to the delight of the Phillies who rumbled around the bases, turning a one-run Reds lead into a 7-4 defeat. Because if plate umpire Bruce Dreckman had seen what should have been obvious to the 46,511 in the ballpark, that a ball travelling 101 mph from the left arm of Cincinnati reliever Aroldis Chapman(notes) would have hurt Chase Utley enough to keep him from turning and jogging to first without even the hint of a bruise.

Left-handed hitters, like Utley, batted just .152 against Chapman in his brief time in the major leagues. It’s hard to say if Utley would have reached first had he not pretended to be hit, but the percentages say he wouldn’t. That would have been the first out of the inning. The next hitter – Ryan Howard(notes) – struck out, and Jayson Werth(notes) hit the grounder to Rolen.

Three easy outs. The Reds would have held a one-run lead and disaster might not have befallen Cincinnati. The series could have moved gone to Ohio tied 1-1.

The Reds knew they had been swindled. When Utley got to second base two batters later, Phillips asked if he was OK, having been hit by that blazing fastball and all. Utley gave Phillips a look that told the second baseman what he already knew.

“It was great acting,” Phillips said.

In just three days, this has become the October of the ball call. A catch in the first game of the Yankees-Twins series was called a trap. A nearly full swing in the second game of the Rays-Rangers series was called a checked swing. A stolen base in Game 1 of the Braves-Giants series should have been an out. Strike zones have fluctuated. Three managers have been ejected.

And now, a hit batter never was hit.

Perhaps the bigger indictment should be against the Reds for how they handled the adversity. While Chapman should have had a 1-2-3 inning, his triple-digit fastballs were hit hard enough to give Philadelphia three runs in his one inning. Rolen should have thrown to first. Bruce should have found a way to see the ball as it headed toward the lights. Phillips should have caught Drew Stubbs’s relay throw after the center fielder finally chased down the ball in deep right. By instead dropping it, Phillips allowed another run to score.

Umpires miss calls. That’s part of the game. Yet this postseason it has been especially wretched, and in the case of the Reds it may have cost the game and almost assuredly the series.

But what to tell the Reds? Long after the game was over, after all his players had dressed and left the clubhouse, manager Dusty Baker sat at his office desk, sorting through jewelry. His tie was undone. He was told what Utley said, that the player wasn’t “sure” if he had been hit with a 101-mph fastball.

Baker looked at the ground, smiled and silently laughed.

Then he looked up.

“He did what he was supposed to do,” the manager said.

He fiddled with the jewelry.

“A lot of things wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Les Carpenter is a feature writer and columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Les a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Oct 9, 2010