10/30/08 2:58 AM EST
Close calls footnote of Fall Classic
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
But in an event where the players own center stage, the men in blue occupied a small slice of the spotlight. While calls by the umpiring crew did not decide any one game, nor the series overall, they were prominent as questionable calls or decisions were made in each of the five contests.
In fact, one such moment occurred with the Rays clinging to life in the top of the ninth inning on Wednesday. Lidge snapped off an 85-mph slider that Eric Hinske flinched at.
Before a call was made, catcher Carlos Ruiz pointed down the third-base line for help, but home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg called the second strike on the swing, which the Tampa Bay pinch-hitter disagreed with visibly. One pitch later, Hinske waved at another slider and the World Series was over.
Calls like this take place often in every series during the regular season, but under the larger microscope of the Fall Classic, they loom large.
The Rays were upset with a non-balk call in Game 1 on Hamels, when Carlos Pena saw the left-hander's right leg move toward home plate. Hamels threw to first base instead, and Pena was picked off as Tampa Bay headed to a 3-2 loss.
"It was a balk all the way -- I saw the replay," Pena said. "That's part of the game. Sometimes calls do not go your way. ... These umpires are really good, and they're trying to do the best they can. You can't expect for all the plays to go your way."
Major League Baseball acknowledged a "confusing gesture" on the part of home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley in Game 2, on a check swing by Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli when, in the second inning at Tropicana Field, Brett Myers snapped off a 3-2 slider.
Danley raised his hand as an umpire might typically do on a strike, but instead, he pointed to first base. Then in the next instant, he double-checked with first-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth, who ruled no swing and confirmed a walk.
"The clear action was that the umpire, Kerwin Danley, audibly said, 'Ball,'" said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. "There was also a checked swing. In his effort to point down to first base and the first-base umpire, he made a confusing mechanical gesture with his arm."
Also in Game 2, in the ninth inning with Philadelphia trailing, 4-1, Danley did not award the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins first base after a pitch brushed the front of his jersey. If Rollins had gone to first base instead of popping out, the outcome may have changed.
"There have been some times in the game when mistakes are made," said Mike Port, MLB's vice president of umpiring. "The idea is for a team to score enough runs to overcome anything that happens in the course of the game -- whether it's a runner being thrown out, an umpire misses a call, the third baseman misses a ball."
In Game 3, replays showed that Carl Crawford should have been out on a bunt attempt when Jamie Moyer flipped the ball to Ryan Howard. But first-base umpire Tom Hallion, listening for the smack of ball against glove, was thrown off when Moyer's toss instead was barehanded by the first baseman.
"I tried to get the best angle on it, and it wound up being a great play by Jamie and Howard," Hallion said. "I really didn't get a sound to be able to judge. It winds up being a great play. And looking at a replay here, they just got him. So kudos for them, because they made a great play.
"As an umpire, you never want to be involved in the outcome of the game, any umpire that you have. I would just say that we don't like being involved in something like that. We like to get every play right. We're human beings and sometimes we get them wrong."
One more high-profile moment came in the first inning of Game 4, as Rollins was ruled safe diving back into third base on what replays showed was an incorrect call.
With runners at the corners and one out, Howard hit a ball back to the mound that pitcher Andy Sonnanstine fielded. Spotting Rollins moving off third base, Sonnanstine ran at Rollins and chased him back before flipping the ball to third baseman Evan Longoria.
Rollins dove left of Longoria into the bag and was ruled safe by Tim Welke, the third-base umpire, but replays showed that Longoria had actually applied the tag on Rollins' backside before he touched third base. The play became a footnote as Philadelphia rolled over Tampa Bay, 10-2, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
"I thought he was out and the umpire thought he was safe," Longoria said. "He made his call, so be it. It definitely was a crucial point in the game, because they end up scoring that run and they go up early. It's tough to play down on the road. To look back and say that is the reason we lost the game is completely incorrect."
One possible point of discussion in the aftermath of the World Series is that the issue has been raised of changing the process in which umpires are selected for the Fall Classic after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December 2009.
Currently, there is a provision against umpires being able to work the World Series two years in a row, and another rule that prohibits umpires from working back-to-back postseason series. Both rules widen the field of umpires working the playoffs, but also make it difficult to assign the best umpires to the most important series.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.