Right call, but wrong call in the World Series

Right call, but wrong call in the World Series
October 27, 2013, 1:00 pm
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There’s probably no way to write this column without sounding like a whiny, pathetic homer, so I’ll just lay it all out at the top:
 
I’m from Boston.
 
I want the Red Sox to win the World Series.
 
Game 3 left me frustrated and angry.
 
But not insane. I don’t think.
 
And with that, here’s this . . .
 
Jim Joyce made the wrong call last night, even if it was technically the right one. At that stage in the game. At this stage in the season. After six months, nearly 200 games and somewhere around 35,000,000 combined hours of baseball — a borderline obstruction ruling should never decide a World Series game. The winning run should have to touch home plate. And last night, it never did.
 
But of course, what’s done is done. Joyce made the call. And as we learned during that show-stopping postgame press conference, where he and Joe Torre captivated the crowd with a word-for-word reading of the MLB rulebook, Joyce made a correct call.
 
It just wasn’t the right call. While it was totally within his jurisdiction to do what he did, it wasn’t his duty. He didn’t owe it to the game to interject himself at that moment, regardless of what he and umpires like him might think.
 
Truth is that if you covered up the uniforms, laid out the stakes and replayed that scene for any sample size of genuine baseball fans, the overwhelming majority would prefer a no-call. If you polled players and managers: “How would you like an umpire to handle this specific situation?” The overwhelming majority would say to back off. Because more often than not, that’s the right move. That’s what the game deserves.
 
Fewer fouls down the stretch in basketball. Fewer ticky-tack holds and other off-the-ball penalties in the last two minutes of football. Just in general, when any game is on the line, for referees and umpires to stay out of it. To let the players play, and only intervene when there’s no other choice.
 
Obviously, the concept of having “no other choice” is its own gray area. But it’s a gray area that umpires and officials should be able to understand. That they need to understand. It takes a certain level of humility and competence. A certain level of perspective on their role in this whole thing. An unconditional grasp on how much these games mean, how hard these players work and how much they sacrifice in the name of earning the opportunity that currently stands before the Red Sox and Cardinals.
 
“I’m beat beyond words,” Jake Peavy said last night. “I don’t know what to say. I think it’s absolutely a crying shame that a call like that is going to decide a World Series game. It’s a joke. There’s no other way to say it. It’s a joke that call decides a World Series game that two teams are absolutely pouring their heart out on the field. There’s just no other way to say it. That’s the way I feel.
 
“It’s a joke. It’s a joke. I don’t know how [Joyce] is going to lay his head down tonight. I don’t know. When you watch how hard these teams are playing in the World Series and what it takes to get here, what it takes to do what we did climbing back, it’s just amazing to me that it would end on a call like that that’s not black and white. I just don’t know what else to say.”
 
But he said it all. Even though, much like this whole column, it sounds like sour grapes, there’s truth to his words. And that truth is that Joyce didn’t have to make that call last night. He had a choice. It wasn’t black and white. The fact that he referenced Allen Craig being “literally right on the chalk” when got up to run home, when the evidence shows that that literally wasn’t the case is proof that Joyce wasn’t entirely sure of what he saw. That it was at least somewhat of a blur. With that, given the enormity of the situation, it wasn’t his job lay down the letter of the law. He didn’t even have a grasp on the specifics of the play. Instead, it was his job to stand back. To let minimal, incidental contact run its course and the players decide the game.
 
Had he done so, the Cardinals may have made a stink. Mike Matheny may have left the dugout and let the crew hear it. Maybe. But either way, we wouldn’t be talking about that play right now. Not in Boston or St. Louis. It may not have been perfect, but it wouldn’t have been the deciding factor. And once the smoke cleared, the baseball world would have been OK with that. The post game press conference wouldn’t have featured the umpires more prominently than it did the people who actually matter. It would have been a celebration of the player, a new World Series hero, regardless of his uniform, who won the game, as opposed to a defiant explanation from an umpire who took it upon himself to decide it.
 
That said, there are so many other reasons, far beyond that call, that put the Sox in a position to lose. All things equal, they probably deserved to lose.
 
Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s unnecessary throw to third, the fact that Saltalamacchia was out there in the first place, not mention a whole slew of other John Farrell decisions that made no sense in real time and only look worse in retrospect. And obviously, it’s only one game. The Sox still have every opportunity to win this series, and if they don’t, no one in their right mind while stand up and say: “This is all your fault, Joyce! You ruined the World Series!” Because he didn’t.
 
But he affected Game 3 in a way that no umpire should, and that too many others — across all sports — do. Joyce’s decision, and more, how proud he was of it in the aftermath, is just another example of a growing epidemic. Umpires and referees who would rather be the story than let the story tell itself. Who take it upon themselves to make an impact, when no one is asking or expecting them to do so. And the only thing worse than watching it happen last night is the certainty that it will happen again.
 
Anyway, on that happy note, let’s check in on CSNNE’s award-winning World Series MVP tracker. Thanks to the length of the intro, I’m only going to hit on the top five right now, and will expand back out to 10 after tonight’s game.
 
As always, the number in parenthesis was the player’s MVP odds at the start of the series:
 
1. Matt Holliday (12/1): It feels a little weird to have Holliday in the top spot after what happened in the bottom of third. When he hit that fly ball to center, wasn’t running when he was supposed to, then started running when he wasn’t supposed to, and got picked off diving back to first.
 
Not very MVP-like.
 
Neither was his answer to Erin Andrews’ postgame question about the controversial final play:
 
Andrews: “Matt, you’ve had a couple minutes down here. What did you see?”
 
Holliday: “I was actually down underneath. I get kind of nervous in those situations.”
 
But right now, the numbers be the numbers. In Game 1, Holliday hit St. Louis’ only home run of the series. In Game 2, he hit their only triple of the series (and scored an important run). And then, last night, he singled in the first run of the game in the first. He hit the double that scored two runs in the seventh. He doesn’t get the national attention that Carlos Beltran does. He doesn’t bring Joe Buck and Tim McCarver to their knees the way that Yadier Molina does. But through three games, Holliday has been the Cardinals most valuable player, and if the series ended today, he would be holding the trophy. Assuming that they could find him.
 
2. Ortiz (8/1): It was a quiet night for Ortiz, and by quiet I mean he only went 1-2, and reached base in three of four at-bats. Right now, he’s still the front runner to win this thing if the Sox fight back. But at the same time, you get the sense that if they are going to fight back, they’ll need someone other than Big Papi to step up and lead the charge. The Cardinals walked Ortiz twice last night, once intentionally, and once pretty much intentionally. They made it clear that they’re not going to let Ortiz beat them anymore. And it’s up the rest of the Red Sox to make St. Louis pay.
 
3. Yadier Molina (12/1): He went 3-4 with three singles and an RBI. He’s now hitting .417 for the series. And even with those numbers, his impact at the plate pales in comparison to his impact behind the plate.
 
The Sox still haven’t stolen a base in the World Series. They haven’t even tried. At some point, that falls on Boston. They clearly have no faith in their ability to steal on Molina, and that’s an attitude that rarely breeds positive results on this or any stage. But that lack of faith isn’t unfounded. Molina truly is the best in the game. Not that there was any question before this series, but the series itself has erased any possible doubt.
 
4. Trevor Rosenthal (20/1): As I wrote earlier in the week, a reliever needs at least three significant appearances to make a run at World Series MVP. And through two games, Rosenthal already has two. In Game 2, he earned the save; quieting the Sox ninth inning bats in a way that few closers have this season. Last night, he allowed two inherited runners to score in the eighth, but those runs scored on a infield ground out and a single that barely made it up the middle. In the bigger picture, the more significant aspects of last night’s appearance are his 1-2-3 ninth inning (as facilitated by Farrell), and the fact that he earned the win.
 
Regardless of those two runs, if Rosenthal finishes this series with one win and three saves, he’ll deserve MVP consideration. And depending on the circumstances surrounding those two saves, he might very well deserve to win it.
 
5. Jon Lester (16/1): With last night’s loss, Lester’s Game 5 start will now come with:
 
1) The Sox down, 3-1, their season on the line, and needing a transcendent performance to send the series back to Fenway.
 
Or,
 
2) The Sox tied, 2-2, and Lester having an opportunity to carry them to a pivotal Game 5 victory.
 
If he comes through in either scenario, and Sox ultimately come out on top, that and Lester’s Game 1 dominance will make him a popular MVP pick.
 
That’s your Top 5.
 
Apologies to Jim Joyce.

You barely missed the cut.
 
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine