Apr 4, 2014, 7:06 PM EDT
When baseball games come down to one run, when Craig Kimbrel shuts the door on a close game, it’s easy to go back to specific moments and second guess what could have been. The Nationals put themselves in that situation in Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Braves, and one key play stands out as pivotal.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Nats shorstop Ian Desmond roped a line drive down the left field line, a ball that took one hop before stopping right under the outfield fence. Braves left fielder Justin Upton first raised his hands in the air to signal the ball was out of play, but then picked it up and threw it to shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
He was confused because third base umpire Marvin Hudson didn’t run out to see the ball. Generally, the umpire has to confirm the ball is lodged before calling a ground-rule double.
The play continued as Desmond rounded the bases, touched home, and ran quickly into the dugout. Over six minutes later, after a Fredi Gonzalez challenge and an extended delay while umpires debated the decision at second base, MLB officials in New York overturned the call. Desmond ran back to second as 42,834 fans at Nationals Park expressed their displeasure, and the Nats left the inning without a run.
“I saw [the ball]. I saw it was sitting in the corner,” Desmond said. “I was just going. With the replay stuff the way it is now, I’m not going to leave anything out. That’s what we talked about in spring training. No one said anything so I wasn’t going to stop. We’ve seen that happen in the past. I just kept on going.”
Upton said he noticed Desmond was still running, and then decided to grab the ball.
“It went under the fence and, knowing the rule, you put your hands up. I looked in and it didn’t look like Marvin was coming out to look at it so Simmons told me to throw the ball so I picked it up and threw it.”
Though it took a challenge from his manager, Upton was confident as soon as the ball became lodged that it was a ground-rule double and not a live ball.
“I knew that I was right, it was just a matter of if they were going to kill the play or not,” he said. “The next time it happens I will stand there. If I’m 100 percent sure like I was, I would stand there and make sure they come out and see it.”
Pitcher David Hale thought it should have been called a double right from the start.
“[Upton] was telling me that it was stuck under there, that from his angle it just disappeared. But I see what the umpire was seeing too, from our angle we could see the whole thing. It was obviously a double, it’s not an inside the park homer down the left field line. I think they made the right call.”
As both the players and umpires adapt to a new rule, it will take time for everyone to get used to the protocol for each play. The umpire should have run out there, and Upton should have kept his hands up.
The Braves’ outfielder says he knows what he’ll do next time.
“Naturally, knowing the rule, you put your hands up. I should have trusted my instincts. I made the play a little more confusing than it should have been.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez harped on the same idea. He said it will be a big emphasis among coaches and players moving forward.
“I tell you what we’ll do. We’ll talk it over again with the outfielders, but when those things happen you need to raise your hands and not go look for the ball. That’s the number one priority here tomorrow when we talk to the outfielders. When those balls get lodged, whether it’s here or in the pad, in Chicago in the ivy or something, just raise your hands.”
Nationals manager Matt Williams agreed with the call in part, but has reservations about how it was handled. He thinks Upton throwing the ball into the infield should have negated the ground-rule double.
“One of the reasons we have replay is to make sure we get calls right. I have a question with that one though because of what happened after the fact — the fact that when [Upton] had to, he reached down and threw it in.
“[The umpire didn’t signal] so, for me, in the heat of the moment and with my naked eye, tells me that he didn’t think it was lodged. But it is a reviewable call and a reviewable play, so they did and determined that it was a double and the ball was lodged underneath the pad.”
Though the Nationals had the run taken away, it wasn’t the only reason they lost on Friday afternoon. Braves outfielder Jason Heyward downplayed its importance after the game.
“It’s one moment, and there are other moments. You can never look back and say one moment decided the outcome of the game. Not on either side, whether you win or lose. You will never come back.”
Even though it was just one moment, it certainly looms large after the Nationals’ loss. Gonzalez is happy the call was corrected, but is still getting a feel for the new rules.
“The replay rule? I do like that, but ask me in a month or so,” he said. “Maybe I’ll change my mind. At the end of the day, to get all the plays right and correctly, I think it’s good. It’s a good thing. We have the technology now. The way we’re doing it, I gotta get a feel for that.”
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