Umps Got It Right ... But Were They Wrong?

So, it was 2-2 in the sixth inning. The Phillies had Ryan Howard on first base, and Hunter Pence drove a fly ball to deep right field. Marlins right fielder Bryan Petersen went back to the track, jumped against the wall ... and that's where things get complicated.

The ball stayed in the park, with Howard circling the bases and Pence pulling up at second base with a double.

Momentarily.

Both managers came out of their dugouts to argue. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel argued for a home run. Marlins manager Jack McKeon argued for fan interference.

McKeon had the better argument; Manuel had the better argument for video review.

See, umpires aren't permitted to check the replay with the express purpose of checking anything except home runs.

Fan interference? Nope.

Non-homer boundary calls? Nope.

Game-ending play on the bases that everyone got right except the closest umpire? Tough shit.

Apparently, there's a loophole, though. Apparently, if an umpire is looking at replay to check a home run, he doesn't have to ignore whatever other tidbits he might glean from the process.

In this case, of course, crew-chief Country Joe West noticed that some goofball in Phillies livery reached over the fence and, cap in hand, deflected the baseball before Peterson could catch it. Now, there's of course no guarantee that Petersen would have made the catch. But in case of fan interference, the umpires are supposed to use their best judgment to determine what would most likely have happened, absent interference. And in this case, I believe their judgment was sound; that Petersen probably would have made the catch. Pence was ruled out; Howard was sent back to first base.

Charlie Manuel lodged a formal protest, and he might win.

According to Major League Baseball, "instant replay will apply only to home run calls -- whether they are fair or foul, whether they have left the playing field, or whether they have been subject to fan interference. The decision to use instant replay will be made by the umpire crew chief, who also will make the determination as to whether or not a call should be reversed."

That seems pretty clear, doesn't it? Joe West presumably wanted to get the call right, and looking at replay made that a lot easier. On the face of things, it seems preposterous that MLB wouldn't want the umpires, when presented with strong evidence, to ignore that evidence. But the rules apparently do suggest that, in this case, the evidence of interference should have been ignored. Because a home-run call wasn't subject to fan interference; a double call was.

Semantics? Sure. But without semantics, you've got no rules. The protest probably won't be upheld, though, whatever the rules; no game has been replayed because of a protest in the last 25 years.

The game itself was essentially meaningless. The Marlins wound up winning in the 14th inning on a bases-loaded walk, but the Phillies still own a 7-1/2 game lead over the Braves that they're not likely to surrender. But if this situation should ever come up again, the umpires should be allowed to use the video -- since they're already watching it -- to acknowledge fan interference, and to determine its impact.

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