Guardians fall after controversial play at the plate

August 17th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- The frustration was palpable throughout the Guardians’ clubhouse after their 4-3 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

A team that entered the year with little to no expectation of being within reach of the postseason was sitting in the middle of August with a 2-game lead in the AL Central entering the day. But after allowing an uncharacteristic three-run first inning due to a controversial replay review, the Guardians fell to just 1 game ahead of the Twins.

The play
With two outs and Javier Báez on second, forced Harold Castro to serve a soft ground ball up the middle that ricocheted off second base and trickled toward left field. Shortstop Tyler Freeman picked up the ball just as it reached the grass and made an off-balance, one-hop throw to catcher , who quickly applied the tag on Báez as he slid towards the plate.

Home-plate umpire Lance Barksdale called Báez out. As Plesac walked off the mound, the Tigers decided to challenge the call.

“I know MLB's cracking down on this around the league,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “I see why their side would be frustrated because that's not really the play that the rule is designed for. But when he's in front of the plate, we were going to have them take a look in New York and we got the call."

So Plesac was forced to take the rubber again with a 1-0 deficit. A two-run homer by Kerry Carpenter promptly followed. “It kind of just, in the matter of two pitches, went from giving up zero runs to three,” Plesac said. “So, that’s just how it turned out that inning.”

The ruling
Rule 6.01 states:

“Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.”

Just in August, this happened in a Pirates/Orioles matchup, a Padres/Nationals game and a Twins/Blue Jays contest. The Twins call got a lot of attention since, similar to the one that went against the Guardians, the call played a pivotal role in a contending team’s one-run loss.

Although Hinch said he knows MLB is cracking down on this play, Barksdale told a pool reporter the opposite. “It’s just happening more now,” Barksdale said. “The same rule has been applied the whole year. Sometimes you have a routine ground ball to the infield and the catcher doesn’t have time to come up. He had plenty of time to move out of the runner’s way.”

Barksdale ruled Baez out at the time of the play. Why?

“Because we don’t make the judgment call when it comes to blocking the plate,” he said.

He continued to explain how the league determined that Hedges was in violation of the rule:

“They said the catcher did not give the runner the lane. He blocked the plate from the beginning. … Then he dropped down and blocked the plate after he received the ball. He set up blocking the plate to begin with his foot.”

The reaction
Hedges didn’t hold back when he had the opportunity to express his feelings.

“First of all, it cost the game,” Hedges said. “It's a play that's been called a few times now recently that really has never been called before. … There's plays at home that are beating the runners and for 150 years you're out. And now, we're calling some type of rule that is really tricky to define.”

The weight of the situation is more than just loss to a sub-.500 team. The Guardians know it’s not going to be easy to clinch a playoff berth. And when they ended up in the loss column on Wednesday, the disappointment was written on everyone’s faces.

“For a team that goes out there and fights every single night to win every game, for it to cost us a game when we're trying to win a division, we're trying to make the playoffs,” Hedges said. “We're trying to do something special. For that to be taken out of our hands like that is a disgrace, and it's extremely disappointing.”