PHOENIX -- One play -- or call -- stood out in the Astros' 3-1 loss to the D-backs on Sunday.
"It's a brutal way to lose a game," Astros manager AJ Hinch said.
Justin Verlander was cruising as he protected the 1-0 lead he was given when Alex Bregman hit a solo homer in the second inning. When the sixth inning hit, that changed.
Verlander walked Daniel Descalso to begin the frame. Two batters later, A.J. Pollock powered a ball over center fielder George Springer's head. Descalso scored, and as Pollock was headed for third, shortstop Carlos Correa hurled the relay throw to Bregman.
It looked like the ball and Pollock arrived at third base at the same time. The ball got away. Pollock ran home while Bregman fetched it and threw it to catcher Brian McCann.
Pollock was ruled out -- for the moment.
After a brief second, the Chase Field crowd erupted. Third base umpire Mike DiMuro had called an obstruction on Bregman. Pollock's run counted, and the D-backs led, 2-1.
"I think Correa made a good throw, it was on line and Pollock kind of went out a little bit toward the lane that Correa was throwing into," said Bregman, who had seen the replay a few times. "As soon as it hit him, I turned around and looked to find the ball and I got grabbed and told that I was interfering."
Hinch didn't mince words.
"I saw it as a [terrible] rule and bad interpretation," Hinch said. "You can call obstruction -- you have a free pass as an umpire to call obstruction whenever there's contact. The contact initiated by the baserunner doesn't really do the defender any good.
"It looked like, to me, everything is happening right on the base. And when the ball got past, they both jump up and Pollock sticks his arm out and hits Bregman and gets a free run."
Obstruction occurs when a fielder who is not in possession of the ball or fielding it impedes a baserunner. After the game, crew chief Brian Gorman explained the ruling.
"The runner got obstructed coming around third, and it is the type of obstruction where you let the play happen," Gorman told a pool reporter. "You don't call time automatically. You wait as the play develops, and if the obstruction had something to do with the play at the plate, which it happened, then the umpire has the discretion to score the run. If he gets thrown out by 20 feet and you didn't think the obstruction had anything to do with it, then he would be out. But the obstruction caused him to delay so much that it caused him to be out at the plate. So we scored the run."
Gorman added that umpires are taught that the fielder must "disappear." He acknowledged that was physically impossible, but a fielder "has to get out of a runner's way."
Hinch received the same explanation from the umpires when he went out onto the field after the call was made.
"It is a free pass to call obstruction any time there's contact and the fielder, by rule, loses every right that he has," Hinch said. "But there's nothing Bregman can do. What do you want him to do? Not go after the ball? You can't just make yourself disappear."
From the other clubhouse, Pollock said the play seemed like obstruction to him. Hinch and Verlander both insisted that it was like baseball's version of basketball's flop. Verlander said Pollock "knows the game" and credited him for his role in the play.
"He sold it pretty good," Verlander said.
Added Bregman: "Good acting job."
Even after a difficult loss, Verlander offered perspective. He said he can't blame umpires because they have the difficult task of making calls on close plays during live action. But that doesn't make it sting any less. The Astros dropped a second consecutive series and one play was at the center of attention.
"The hottest hitter in the National League got a pitch to hit and drove it to center field, and that was the ballgame," Verlander said. "Or the umpire's call at third base was the ballgame. You call it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Astros missed key opportunities at the plate all afternoon, but one stood out. Birthday boy Jose Altuve led off the sixth inning with a triple. The next batter, Correa, was hit by a pitch. But the Astros weren't able to add to their 1-0 lead as Josh Reddick struck out and Bregman grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the bottom half, the D-backs scored two runs.
"We had some chances to hit a couple balls and had some runners on base," Hinch said. "Two good teams are going to have some small margins for error. You try to capitalize as much as you can, have some good at-bats, but again, they made good pitches and we had a couple of ill-timed ground balls, maybe a punchout here or there. It's brutal."
Sunday marked Verlander's first regular-season loss with the Houston Astros, who acquired him in August 2017. He had gone 12 regular-season games without picking up a loss.
HE SAID IT
"Justin was good. You always have to get him early if you're going to get him, and he got pretty strong as the game went on and made his pitches. National League-style game, takes him out of the game once we lost that lead. But he was good. He was getting some big outs. He's got another gear when the game's on the line or the at-bat's on the line, and we saw him step up with some big outs when he needed to." -- Hinch on Verlander, who allowed an earned run over six innings
The Astros will travel to Oakland next, and Dallas Keuchel will take the hill on Monday at 5:05 p.m. CT. Keuchel has had trouble limiting home runs lately, giving up three against the A's on April 27 and two against the Yankees on May 2. Brett Anderson will start for the A's, making just his second appearance of the year. He allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings at Seattle on May 2.