The Los Angeles Angels celebrated a walk-off win Thursday night in the first game of a big series against the rival Oakland Athletics. Albert Pujols scored in the 10th inning on a Howie Kendrick sac fly, giving the Angels a 4-3 win and making them the first team in MLB to 80 wins.
The win, however, didn't come without controversy. In the ninth inning, with the score tied 3-3, Erick Aybar led off the inning and chopped a ball down the first-base line. A's pitcher Dan Otero and first baseman Brandon Moss both went to field it. Otero caught the ball and Aybar ran straight into him. Aybar fell to the ground and a few seconds later home-plate umpire Greg Gibson awarded him first base.
The call? Obstruction. It was a bit baffling, definitely not the type of you play you see often.
A's manager Bob Melvin fumed and immediately protested the game. His logic seemed to hold up. Otero had the ball and wasn't blocking the baseline. Aybar, actually, if you watch closely, changed directions and ran inside the baseline, into play — sort of like a basketball player flopping for a foul call.
After the game, the umpires clarified that the obstruction call was on Moss and not Otero, but said nothing else because of the protest. From the clubhouses, each team was sticking to its side. Aybar said the A's players were in his way, and Moss said Aybar ran out of the baseline. Here are the quotes, via Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Aybar: "I was running, and both guys just got in my way. I was trying to, but I couldn't go anywhere."— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) August 29, 2014
More Aybar: "I'm running & when I pick my head up, I see the pitcher & 1B together. I want to move, & they're on top of me. I kept running."— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) August 29, 2014
Moss says protest should be upheld: The only person Moss ran into was Otero and neither of them was in baseline. And Aybar ran out of it.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) August 29, 2014
Straight from the MLB rulebook, here's the law on obstruction:
OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered in the act of fielding a ball. It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the act of fielding the ball. For example: If an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.
The play was not reviewable per MLB rules, and the application of the obstruction rule doesn't seem to clear things up 100 percent. It is a judgment call, though, which leaves some gray area. So Melvin filed his protest, because, hey, those work sometimes now.
After the controversy died down, the A's went to work keeping the Angels off the scoreboard, and it happened, barely. The Angels worked the bases loaded with one out after a couple of sac bunts, but Kole Calhoun popped up and Mike Trout grounded to third base.
That might render the protest moot because the Angels scored the winning run the following inning. But there's an argument to be made that the obstruction call changed the flow of the game and caused the A's to use their bullpen differently than they would have otherwise.
Will that thinking hold up? We'll see. If MLB sides with the A's, the game would restart from the point of the protest.
Ultimately, as things played out Thursday night, Oakland lost the game because of the Angels' 10th inning rally — Pujols walked, went to third on a Josh Hamilton base hit, then came home on the sac fly.
No controversy there.
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