We shouldn’t be talking about whether this play is reviewable or that play is something you can protest. We shouldn’t be screenshotting parts of the rulebook to post on Twitter and waiting for Joe Torre to show up at the postgame press conference.
And the umpires, we should never be talking about the umpires during the World Series. Something is wrong if we’re talking about the umpires.
Yet here we are, on the eve of a Game 7, in the aftermath of a thrilling Game 6, talking about the interpretation of interference calls at first base instead of this seven-game thrill ride the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals have given us the past week.
This should be an exciting moment for baseball. Instead, it’s embarrassing.
Game 7 should be an entry point for the casual fan, but if they saw this moment from Game 6, they were probably left scratching their head — or even worse, they turned to a different channel or opened a different app and thought, “This is why it’s hard to watch baseball these days.” You even had Kate Upton wondering what was taking so long and Bryce Harper wanting his old manager to step in the ring with the umpires. This was not baseball’s finest moment.
Frankly, MLB should be thrilled it only has one highlight to worry about and not the credibility of an entire World Series. Because that’s how this was looking.
Trea Turner, in the seventh inning, with the Nats clinging to a 3-2 lead, hit a chopper that didn’t even go back to the pitcher’s mound. Brad Peacock fielded it and threw to first. Turner is speedy, so it was a close play, and Peacock’s throw wasn’t exactly on target, which is why we’re having this conversation. If you watched the play in realtime, nothing seemed particularly wrong — except the ball wasn’t caught. It didn’t look like interference to the naked eye.
Turner ran fast and straight. The ball hit him as first baseman Yuli Gurriel stretched into the baseline. His glove was knocked off by Turner as the ball rolled into the outfield. The Nats appeared to have runners on second and third with nobody out, a prime opportunity to put the game away.
But then Turner was shockingly called out. Umpire Sam Holbrook had decided that Turner interfered with the throw. The umpires eventually huddled, put on their headsets and called the review booth, which took five minutes and when it was over, nothing had changed. Except there was even more confusion and contempt.
Rendon came up and hit a homer shortly after the debate. The Nats went ahead 5-2, eventually won 7-2 and the whole issue is moot save for the face-palming it caused.
That will save MLB from having a DEFCON-level-Saints problem on its hands. But there was clearly chaos on the field, including that five-minute delay and confusion about what was challenge-able and what wasn’t. The ordeal left enough fans confused that baseball has to take this as a learning moment.
Because when the game eludes common sense and makes us question our own eyes, something is wrong.
As we learned more about the decision after the game — unlike football, they don’t explain these things on the field afterward — at issue was that Turner was running inside the baseline, not in the three-foot runner’s lane approaching first base. He wasn’t out of the baseline, he just wasn’t “protected.” That’s what made the play interference.
The umpire’s union tweeted that the call was correct, not that you’d expect anything else. Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, said it was the right call and pointed to the fact that Turner knocked off Gurriel’s glove.
Turner argued after the game, that he just hit the ball and ran in a straight line, so how could that be interference? That logic seems to hold up.
"I mean, what else do you do? I don't know,” Turner told Mark Zuckerman of MASN after the game. “The batter's box is in fair territory. First base is in fair territory. I swung. I ran a straight line. I got hit with the ball. I'm out. I don't understand it. I could understand if I veered one way or the other. I didn't."
Whether the call was correct by the letter of the law doesn’t matter as much as the messy aftermath. Even in the age of replay, incorrect calls still slip by. What’s troubling is when baseball looks confusing — and confused itself.
And even worse when the clock is ticking and nobody knows what’s happening.
Was it a review? Turns out it wasn’t, because the interference call is a judgment call and not reviewable. Were the Nationals protesting? They wanted to, but they told you can’t protest a judgment call either. So what the heck took so long?
Torre said the umpires went to their headsets just to double-check everything. But he also blamed it on Nationals manager Dave Martinez being “out of control.” (He would later be ejected). Torre said managers can ask umpires to call the review booth if they think a rule isn’t being interpreted correctly, which is what happened here.
Martinez had cooled down by the end of the game and didn’t want to talk much about his clash with the umpires or his interpretation of the events. But Astros manager A.J. Hinch said something most fans could identify with.
“It took a really long time for nothing to happen,” Hinch said. “I knew the rule, what he called, an interference. It's not a reviewable call. You can't protest it. You can't really do anything, and yet they go to the headset.”
And we didn’t even get a good explanation of what so long.
“I don't know if it was the noise or whatever it was,” Torre said. “I know we had a hard line in our box and we had trouble reaching people because we tried to make some calls, we couldn't do it. It should never be that long. That's unfortunate. And certainly, we have to take ownership of that. But it shouldn't have been that long.”
Baseball has given us a number of modern rules that aren’t easy for fans to parse. It feels like you need to pass a pre-requisite class before you can understand the catcher’s interference rule or the rule about sliding into second base. At least those rules mean well. They’re about protecting players and have a few layers of nuance.
But what about this? Can anybody really watch that play happen, hear the explanation of the rule and muster anything other than a shrug and “Uhh, OK, are you sure?”
We sports fans don’t ask for much relative to the time, money and eventual heartbreak we devote to this hobby of ours. We just want some semblance of order when these things happen. We want them figured out in a timely manner. We want the players — not the umpires — deciding the most important moments.
And we want to believe our own eyes.
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