The Blue Jays beat the Twins, 3-2, in 10 innings on Sunday. The play that ended up being a game-winning RBI for Cavan Biggio — scoring newly-acquired Blue Jay Whit Merrifield — was the source of great controversy, leading to plenty of choice words from the Twins’ dugout, specifically manager Rocco Baldelli.
First up, the play-by-play doesn’t do the play justice. It now simply reads, “Biggio hit sacrifice fly to left, Merrifield scores.” It was a lot more than that.
In fact, the ruling on the field was initially an inning-ending double play. There was one out with Merrifield on third. Biggio flew out and Merrifield, after tagging up, was ruled out at home plate on a close play. It was close enough to garner a review, and the league overturned the call, ruling that Twins catcher Gary Sanchez illegally interfered with Merrifield’s chances to score.
Here’s the best view:
The overhead view very obviously shows Sanchez applying the tag to Merrifield before home plate is touched. We should all agree on that.
The call was overturned on the basis of the plate-blocking rule, though. Keep in mind the umpires at Target Field here were merely following the ruling given by the league office’s replay center in New York. That’s the way it works.
Here’s the pertinent part of the rule:
The catcher is not permitted to block the runner’s path to the plate unless he is in possession of the ball, though blocking the path of the runner in a legitimate attempt to receive a throw is not considered a violation. The runner can be ruled safe if the umpire determines the catcher violated this rule. But per a September 2014 memorandum to the rule, the runner may still be called out if he was clearly beaten by the throw. Backstops are not subject to this rule on force plays.
When receiving a throw, catchers will often provide a sliding lane into home plate for the runner to lower the possibility that they will be called for violating the rule.
Major League Baseball offered an explanation for this specific call on Sunday after the game:
The catcher’s movements into foul territory were not in reaction to the trajectory of the throw and he did not have to be in that position to receive the ball.
The catcher’s actions while not in possession of the ball hindered and impeded the runner.
Baldelli immediately challenged the umpires on the field and, frankly, got his money’s worth on the ejection. He wasn’t done. After the game, he offered up some scathing words about the call (via Bally Sports North).
“That play has not been called since the beginning of replay more than a couple of times. In all of baseball, the thousands and thousands of games and plays at home where the catcher actually does block the plate — over and over and over again — that play has virtually never been called,” Baldelli said. “For someone to step in, in that situation, and ultimately make a decision that that was blocking the plate, that’s beyond embarrassing for our game, for all the players out there on both sides of the field working their ass off, for the entire game, it’s completely unacceptable.
“I can’t even believe I’m sitting here talking to you guys about this right now. It’s one of the worst moments I think we’ve seen of umpiring in any game I’ve ever been a part of in baseball. I think it was pathetic, what just played out. I could go on and on and on about this. The umpires on the field have nothing to do with it. They made a play on the field, which was the right call, which every person in all of baseball, including the umpires, know is the proper call and someone in New York decided that that was worthy of being overturned on the field.”
The loss moves the Twins to 57-51 on the season, which is still good enough for first place in the AL Central. Both the Guardians and White Sox won on Sunday, though, meaning the Twins’ lead is down to one game over the Guardians with the White Sox only two games back.
The Blue Jays’ victory moves them to 60-48, which has them holding the top AL wild card spot. They have also moved into single digits behind the Yankees in the AL East, now trailing by 9 1/2 games.