In a moment that nearly made the baseball universe explode, a controversial play at home plate called both the new expanded replay system and the new rules regarding home plate collisions into question simultaneously.
The play happened in the top of the third inning of the Yankees 4-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon. Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli came around third attempting to score on Jacoby Ellsbury's single to center field. Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus came up firing with a strong throw that had Cervelli beat, but forced catcher Josh Thole into an area where it appeared he blocked the plate before catching the ball. A tag was then applied with home plate umpire Dana DeMuth ruling Cerveilli out, which immediately drew Yankees manager Joe Girardi out of the dugout to protest.
Girardi's argument centered around the new collision rules, which are as follows.
Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the Umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.
The umpires agreed it was worth reviewing, which didn't cost Girardi a challenge. However, the called was upheld, meaning Cervilli was out and the Yankees were out of luck.
Here's where it gets a little more complicated though. Upon further review on television, it appeared as though Cervelli's foot got between Thole's legs and touched the plate before the tag was applied, which by itself highlights how difficult an umpire's job is watching both the catcher and the plate to make safe or out calls. However, since it was an umpire's review of Thole's position and not a Girardi challenge of whether or not Cervilli actually scored, there was nothing the umpires could do to change that part of the call.
It's a scenario managers have been dreading when it comes to both the replay system and the home plate collision rules, and both came together at the worst time for Girardi. Understandably, he couldn't hide his frustration after the game.
“This is going to be the toughest replay of all of them because it’s such a judgment,” Girardi said. “The way it was explained to us, if the catcher is in front of home plate toward third base, straddling the base, that is considered blocking home plate if you don’t have the ball. And I believe that’s how it was.”
“That’s what we’ve been taught to do for years,” Girardi said. “But I think that’s what they’re trying to get away from.”
Girardi added that he wanted to protest the game because of the ruling, but was told that wasn't allowed.
It's apparent everybody is learning and adjusting to these new rules on the fly, but the only way the differing interpretations and confusion can be settled is through experience. In that regard, Saturday was quite the education for all of us, but also a reminder that perfection is unlikely to be achieved even as we become more comfortable.
As for the managers, it's a reminder to look at the totality of the play before formally making a request or calling a challenge. It's a mistake Girardi isn't likely to repeat, and for wise managers who are taking notes elsewhere, it's a lesson learned for them as well.
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