Bad calls happen. Umpires make mistakes. It's the "human element," often cited whenever anyone talks about eventually living in a world where flawless, emotionless robots officiate the strike zone and basepaths.
While such miscues are a part of baseball, that sort of acceptance comes with the hope that a bad call doesn't end up affecting the outcome of a game.
Uh-oh, John Tumpane.
The play in question happened in the seventh inning with the Tigers nursing a 1-0 lead. Casey Kotchman(notes) hit a shallow pop-up to right field caught by Magglio Ordoñez. Justin Ruggiano(notes) tagged up from third to score the tying run, and Ordoñez made a strong throw home.
To virtually everyone watching the play, whether in person or on TV, it looked like Ruggiano's left foot crossed home plate before catcher Alex Avila(notes) could apply a tag. Not to the man closest to the play, however. Tumpane called Ruggiano out, prompting immediate helmet-stripping outrage and disbelief from the baserunner. Equally incensed was manager Joe Maddon, who bolted from the dugout to protest the call.
Plays like this also are converting Maddon into a replay believer.
It sure looked like it on replay. Even Tigers TV play-by-play man Mario Impemba couldn't defend it, simply saying "Eww," before going to commercial. That actually captured the sentiment perfectly, because no one felt good about the call after video presented such strong evidence to the contrary.
What exactly did Tumpane see? Even if he thought Ruggiano's left foot first missed the plate when sliding in, he hooked it back to touch the plate before Avila could tag him.
The only possible defense is that Tumpane thought Avila tagged Ruggiano's back foot a split-second before he slid by home plate. Granted, he had a closer view of the play than the TV cameras could provide, so perhaps that's a plausible explanation. However, Tumpane didn't help matters waiting to make a call until Avila had applied a second tag (after which Ruggiano's left foot had touched the plate).
As you can imagine, the Rays weren't buying any of that in their clubhouse after the game.
"The replay speaks for itself. MLB really has to review all that stuff, because it is a play that comes up quite often," Maddon said. "I was a little annoyed that sometimes, it seems to go against us on the heavy side. I had my say, but that's not up to me to rectify."
Ruggiano said he never felt a tag from Avila. (Even Avila wasn't sure he got the tag down.) Furthermore, Ruggiano said he regretted not running into the Tigers' catcher instead. This play could certainly encourage future baserunners to channel their inner Scott Cousins(notes) and leave nothing to chance.
Besides adding yet another argument for broader use of instant replay, this also calls into question why umpires aren't required to answer for themselves after ballgames. It would've been nice if Tumpane spoke to the media afterwards and explained his call. Hey, if Jim Joyce can do it, why can't everyone else?