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Overturned call looms large in Nationals’ loss to Braves

Apr 4, 2014, 7:06 PM EDT

Photo by the Associated Press Photo by the Associated Press

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.”

  1. David Proctor - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:10 PM

    “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.”

    Now that’s just fresh coming from the team that still whines about the infield fly from 2 years ago.

  2. Drew - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:16 PM

    What makes it a ground rule double? The outfielder quit on the play. The ball wasn’t lodged at all.

  3. Doc - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    The only thing that was lodged was Upton’s brain.

    Lodged, like in the Wrigley Field Ivy, means you can’t find it, or you can find it but it’s stuck.

    Nothing stuck about that ball. It was just sitting there waiting for someone to throw it back in.

    Andre Dawson would have been able to find it and he wouldn’t have needed Kerry Wood or Upton to help him!

  4. NatsLady - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:49 PM

    They didn’t show any replay at the game, so no one there could see the situation with the ball unless you had an actual view of it yourself (which I didn’t). But they showed replay on TV in the game recap on MLB Network when I got home, and it sure didn’t look like the ball was stuck or wedged in the padding. Upton had already misplayed one ball earlier, and rather than misplay this one it seemed like he just raised his hands and took a chance on a “deke” of the umps. He then “destroyed” the evidence by picking up the ball and throwing it. Now you could say if it was that easy to pick up and throw then it wasn’t a ground-rule double–but OTOH the umps on the field couldn’t go and check the placement of the ball, and who knows what the umps in New York saw. It might have looked “stuck” from their angle.

    • JW - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:06 PM

      The ball doesn’t have to be “stuck” under the padding. It just has to go under the padding and stay there, which it clearly did. Balls don’t get stuck in the ivy at Wrigley Field, but if a ball goes into the ivy and stays there, it’s a ground rule double. Same deal here. The umps clearly made a bad call by not stopping play and declaring a ground rule double as soon as Heyward threw up his hands. The replay reversed that bad call.

      • David Proctor - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:07 PM

        The ground rule at Wrigley makes clear that anything in the Ivy is a ground rule double. Nationals Park has no such ground rule.

      • JW - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:38 PM

        Rule 7.05(f) says “under the fence.” Clearly the replay umps considered the padding to be part of the fence, which makes sense.

      • NatsLady - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:12 PM

        Here is an interesting quote from the WaPo article which analyzes the rule in detail.

        “Hudson told Upton that he was on his way to check. But with Desmond running, and Simmons pleading, he grabbed the ball. One National said afterward that the fact Upton picked up the ball so easily showed that it wasn’t, in fact, “stuck” under the fence, that it should have been live.”

      • JW - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:37 PM

        It was under the fence, and it wasn’t moving on its own. That’s all the rule requires. Doesn’t have to be “stuck” there such that effort has to be made to dislodge it. That’s why all the fielder has to do is throw up his hands when he sees the ball go under the fence. He doesn’t need to prove that it’s “stuck” there. It’s either under the fence or it’s not. The ump should have determined that himself, but because he was slow and Upton panicked, he didn’t. A bad call was made, and replay reversed it.

  5. MicheleS - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:53 PM

    Well that stunk.

  6. ehay2k - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:57 PM

    Upton should be fined by MLB – he either calls for the ump to look at the ball, or he plays it. But he can’t do both. It’s like calling for a fair catch in football and then taking off. He needs to be penalized. Plus, it was very clear that access to the ball was in no way obstructed.

    • zmunchkin - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:04 PM

      Interesting insight. By picking up the ball he made it impossible for the umpire to check if it was truly out of play.

    • JW - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:08 PM

      Read the rule. “Access to the ball” or “obstruction” are irrelevant.

      • zmunchkin - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:21 PM

        Ditto on read the rule. In this case the rule regarding what is required to overturn the call on the field. The call on the field was that the ball was in play. And to overturn a call on the filed, “clear and convincing evidence” is needed. There was no such evidence in the video (you could say the ball was probably under the wall – but that is not “clear and convincing”) and by picking up the ball, Upton prevented the umpire on the field from correcting/changing the ruling on the field.

      • zmunchkin - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:24 PM

        Agree on read the rule. In this case the rule is that clear and convincing evidence is needed to overturn the ruling on the field. The ruling on the field was that the ball was in play. Nothing in the videos provides “clear and convincing evidence” that it was out of play. And by picking up the ball, Upton prevented the umpire on the field from determining if the ball was in or out of play.

        If you want to rely on “read the rule” you need to read all the rules. And in this case, the controlling rule is the replay rule – which was not followed.

      • zmunchkin - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:25 PM

        Sorry for the dup. Browser said the update failed, I refreshed a couple times and it was not there, so I posted a similar comment.

      • JW - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:33 PM

        It’s very clear from the replay that the ball went under the padding and stayed there until Heyward took it out. Thus if the umps on the field had not missed seeing that, they would have called it a ground rule double. It’s exactly the same situation as the ump not seeing a tag being made and not calling an out. By looking at the replay, you see that they missed the call.

      • zmunchkin - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:48 PM

        No it is not clear. You can see most of the ball and the video suggests that at least part of it is under the padding. And frankly I have to wonder what videos you are watching since Heyward was in right field, and this was the left field corner and it was Upton who picked it up. What the videos show is that the ball stopped at or perhaps partially/mostly under the padding. They do not show the ball under the padding.

        And the intent of the rule (which is what baseball uses in virtually all of its rules) is to deal with cases where the ball is not accessible. That is not the case here.

        What I will grant you is that the video suggest it was probably a GRD. But that is not good enough to overturn the ruling on the field.

      • JW - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:55 PM

        If the video suggests that it’s a GRD, then the replay umps should call it a GRD. That’s the whole point of replay. The ruling on the field stands only if there is no conclusive evidence to overturn it. In this case, the ball could clearly be seen to be almost completely under the padded part of the fence.

      • laddieblahblah - Apr 4, 2014 at 10:57 PM

        JW, that ball was not “under the fence,” it was under the padding attached to the fence. The ball was actually resting against the fence, not under it. And it certainly was not “lodged” under the fence, or anywhere else, in any reasonable sense of that term. It wasn’t even “lodged” under the padding. It was just sitting there waiting to be picked up.

    • Candide - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:53 PM

      Much as I dislike the result of this, I have to acknowledge Upton pulled off a smart play here. Figuring he had little chance to stop Desmond from at least a triple, he “sold” the umps that the ball was lodged/trapped/whatever and got the replay overruling.

      It was a bit of gamesmanship, which would have been disastrous for ATL if the HR call hadn’t been overturned. My inclination is to give the Devil his due – he gamed the system and got away with it.

      • ehay2k - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:55 PM

        I hope the baseball gods give Upton his due.

  7. Candide - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:05 PM

    Couldn’t see what happened from section 312, though that didn’t stop anyone from booing loudly (Upton got booed every time he was involved in any play whatsoever after that).

    But my takeaway was that we gave the game away with two caught-stealings/pickoffs and one bad call to send LaRoche home with only one out – Adam has never been a gazelle on the basepaths. That’s the equivalent of giving away an entire inning of at-bats, which you can get away with when you’re playing the Mets. But no matter how much we hate the Barves, they’re a good team, and will punish you for mistakes.

    And there was the failure to bring a run home in (what was it – the 7th? 8th? Cunegonde was keeping score, not me) when we had first and second with no outs. Awful memories of last year, when we could never seem to manufacture a single run in those kinds of situations.

    And then Clippard defied the cardinal rule of baseball, never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line never walk the leadoff batter in the late innings of a close game. The results was People’s Exhibit A when the winning run scored.

    Give up three outs on the basepaths, don’t execute when you have the oppo pitcher on the ropes, and put the winning run on late in the game. Good teams will punish you for that.

    Tomorrow. Get ‘em, boys.

  8. Candide - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    The game ended around 4:30 pm. What with 40,000 people there, plus Friday rush hour, plus everyone from Fort McNair and the surrounding area heading home, it took almost an hour to get from our parking meter around 2nd and S to the Frederick Douglass bridge. Usual 20-30 minute drive home took well over an hour. Just a perfect storm of a sellout Friday afternoon game combined with rush hour traffic.

    But it was Cunegonde’s first Opening Day ever, and despite the unhappy result, just told me a couple of minutes ago it was “a wonderful day.”

    Facebook pictures to follow.

  9. Doc - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:26 PM

    The only thing ‘lodged’ was Upton’s brain.

    Lodged means either hidden, stuck behind, or otherwise enmeshed in something that can’t be extricated

    The little ol’ ball was sitting there waiting for someone to throw it. Upton didn’t want to throw it, because it was too late to catch Desi.

    Andre Dawson would have thrown it, and probably knocked over Kerry Wood’s wheel barrow while he was doing it.

  10. kirbs3256 - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    I will never understand why ANYONE throws Gattis a fastball….ever.

  11. Candide - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:35 PM

    My pictures from today’s game.

    Actually, very little from the game itself. Pregame intros, Presidents’ Race, and so on.

  12. rabbit433 - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:39 PM

    How was the ball lodged? If it’s lodged, doesn’t it have to be pried out? Upton just picked it up and threw it in. The ball wasn’t stuck. He knew where it was. But Upton just raised his hands. Maybe he was just praying. If he was, his prayers were answered.

  13. philipd763 - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:56 PM

    This begs the question, how did the ball get under the fence? Are there gaps? I so, they shouldn’t be there; that needs to be fixed. Maybe the grounds crew is at fault.

    • veejh - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:04 PM

      No fence was in play. The ball was sitting right under the pads in the corner that keep the outfielders from smashing into the wall.

  14. letswin3 - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:47 PM

    Nats Lady says there was no replay at the park, but I’m positive that I read at least 6 weeks ago that all parks would show every play on the big screens (and all other park screens) that was challenged. Moreover the article said that the officials in New York (the ones who make the decisions) would be viewing the exact same video footage and angles that we see at home on out TV sets. Can anyone help me out here? Am I trippin, or what?

    • Section 222 - Apr 4, 2014 at 10:44 PM

      I think you are right, and we were all set to see the replay on the big screen, and instead got: “PLAY UNDER REVIEW”. Very disappointing.

      • letswin3 - Apr 4, 2014 at 11:04 PM

        Maybe our host can get word back to the Nats organization, asking that this question be addressed. Mark?

  15. Section 222 - Apr 4, 2014 at 11:13 PM

    I tend to think the call was correct. But first, let’s dispense with the idea that the ball went “through or under” the fence. That part of the rule sounds like it was designed for spring training or minor league parks where the ball could actually escape the playing field. But the New York play reviewers said it was a ground rule double because the ball was “lodged” in the wall. That part doesn’t require the ball to be lodged so deep that it can’t be found or extracted. If you watch Upton go towards the ball, he prepares for it to bounce out toward him as the ball rattles into the corner. But instead it stopped under the padding. That sure seems like the kind of effect that the “lodged” part of the rule is designed to capture. If the ball had rolled slowly into the corner and naturally stopped under the padding, perhaps that would be different. But this ball was hit hard and it’s natural course was clearly stopped by getting stuck under the padding. That’s why Upton thought it was a ground rule double, and I think he was probably right. He clearly he had to reach under the padding to retrieve the ball.

    The fact that Upton was nearby and could easily pick up the ball is immaterial. Imagine if the ball had been hit by ALR, with the Braves outfield playing way around toward right. Then Upton would be racing toward to corner expecting a carom and all of a sudden the ball stops dead in its tracks. I think that situation is what the rule is designed to address.

    I do wish they had shown the replay in the park as we had been led to believe would happen. Would have made the discussions there even more interesting.

  16. davecydell - Apr 5, 2014 at 12:16 AM

    What bothers me is how calm Williams took it.
    He should have gone “tossed out” berserk, fired up his team.
    Not a good sign going forward.

  17. zmunchkin - Apr 5, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    On Nats Talk this morning both Mike Wallace and Phil Wood commented that the replay official got it wrong. They speculated that the only way that they could come to that conclusion was if the did not watch the replay long enough to see how easy it was for Upton to pick up the ball.

    They also commented that they also messed up on putting Desmond at second since it was clear he would have at least gotten to third.

    And finally, if you want further (admittedly circumstantial) proof the MLB realizes it was the wrong call, the fact that there was no mention of the replay ruling in the MLB network Quick Pitch show, nor did either of the daily newsletters they send out make any mention of it.

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