First two blown calls of MLB season come fast

David Brown
Big League Stew

That didn't take long.

I promise, we're not going to do a post every time an umpire makes a mistake. But, with it being opening night in Major League Baseball, and with the country watching (presumably) the Texas Rangers at the Houston Astros on Sunday night, it's worth noting that the boys in blue did not get off to a roaring start this season. At least one of the boys.

Umpire Andy Fletcher missed two calls in the first three innings. In the bottom of the first, he called Jose Altuve of the Astros out at second base on a stolen base attempt. TV replays show Altuve's foot reached the bag before infielder Elvis Andrus tagged him following a one-hop throw from catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Here's an animation to prove it.

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To end the top of the third, Fletcher called Andrus out on a blooper to shallow center that Justin Maxwell actually had trapped. Here's an animation to prove it.

The Altuve call also prompted the first argument in the career of new Astros manager Bo Porter, who came out to question Fletcher but didn't delay the game long. Getting thrown out, over that call, on opening day, in the first inning of the Astros first American League game, well, it would have been awesome. But it didn't happen. That doesn't mean Porter should be satisfied.

And the calls did not seem to impact the outcome of Houston's 8-2 victory, the 4,000th regular-season win in club history. That doesn't mean we should be satisfied with the umpiring.

It was a "bang-bang" play — and maybe it was hard for the umpire to believe Pierzynski actually got the ball there in time, because it doesn't happen very often — but Fletcher appeared to hesitate before calling out Altuve. To me (and Jim Joyce) that's the worst thing an umpire can do. It's one thing for fans in the stands or managers in the dugout to have dubious confidence in umpires. But when they lack it themselves, it's doubly troubling.

Nobody argued the Maxwell trap; and he sold it very well, getting to his feet quickly and acting all along as though he caught the ball.

It was frustrating also because ESPN showed only one replay of Maxwell's trap, and the broadcast team didn't talk about it after the commercial break (though play-by-play man Dan Schulman acknowledged it was a blown call). I'm not saying they were protecting the umpires, but they weren't being thorough, either.

Ironically, the umps huddled after Maxwell came to the plate in the bottom of the fourth and hit a towering two-run triple off the fence in front of Crawford Boxes in left. Potential home runs are eligible for video review, but not the plays Fletcher missed. Fletcher's mistakes gives the league more food for thought on replay issues as they consider changes for the 2014 season.

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