Ump rules out fan interference, saying Reddick wasn't going to make catch
DETROIT -- Victor Martinez raised his arms in triumph. Right-field umpire Gary Darling circled his right fist above his head decisively, signaling that the drive by the Tigers designated hitter was a home run. The Comerica Park crowd erupted. Game 4 of the American League Division Series was tied again.
Simultaneously, Athletics center fielder Coco Crisp and right fielder Josh Reddick began protesting, pointing, insisting that a fan had leaned over the rail and interfered with the leaping Reddick's chances of making the catch in the seventh inning of a 4-3 game.
It was the kind of play that can turn a game, a series or even an entire postseason around. It was the kind of play that instant replay for boundary calls involving home runs was instituted for back in 2008. And it's why Major League Baseball is working toward implementing expanded replay for next season.
At that moment it was impossible to not recall that 17 years ago Wednesday, 11-year-old Jeffery Maier reached over the right-field stands at Yankee Stadium and not only altered the trajectory of the batted ball, but may have changed the course of that AL Championship Series between the Yankees and Orioles as well. It was also a reminder that 10 years ago, Steve Bartman reached for a foul ball at Wrigley Field, a play that still lives in infamy for Cubs fans.
In the Tigers' 8-6 win Tuesday night, the system worked exactly the way it was supposed to. The umpires left the field to review all the available angles. They had slow motion at their disposal. And when they looked it was clear to them that that while a fan did reach out of the front row and touch the ball in a futile attempt to snag a souvenir, it was already over the yellow line at the top of the fence that separates a ball in play from a home run.
Darling, the crew chief, told a pool reporter that he saw the play as a homer in real time and that replay confirmed his call. Asked what ruled out fan interference, he added: "It was clear [Reddick] was not going to catch the ball, so it was clearly going to be a home run. There wasn't any other evidence on the replay to turn it the other way."
Afterward, Reddick continued to insist that he had a shot at making the play.
"One hundred percent," he said. "I looked at it on the replay, and I had no doubt in my mind before I even looked that it was going in my glove."
Replay on home runs has become an accepted part of the game. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said it's become so routine that he normally doesn't even bother to look at the replay himself, but just accepts that whatever the umpires decide is correct. Because of the importance of this game, though, he peeked.
"I usually wait for the guys to come out of the video room and let me know," he said. "But in this case I went down there to look at it. I was actually pretty relaxed because I saw the first replay they showed and I knew it was definitely a home run."
Athletics manager Bob Melvin shrugged it off.
"Reddick's reaction was that that he thought he could have potentially caught it," Melvin said. "The explanation was that it was over the yellow line and it wasn't interference even though ... a fan touched it."
Every replay review has its own wrinkles. In the Maier case, right-field umpire Rich Garcia immediately ruled that the ball hit by the Yankees' Derek Jeter was a home run despite vehement protests from Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco and manager Davey Johnson. Later, after seeing a replay, Garcia reportedly conceded that Maier had interfered with the ball, but still believed the ball was not catchable.
That play would have been reviewable today. The Bartman play would not, although it would fall under the scope of the proposed expanded replay.
So far, the postseason has been largely free of controversies involving umpires. The only other call that has been questioned came when the Dodgers' Dee Gordon was called out trying to steal in the ninth inning of what turned out to be a 4-3 Braves win in Game 2 of that NLDS. That, too, is a call that would be reviewable under the new format. But Joe Torre, who was on the committee with Tony La Russa and John Schuerholz that devised the new replay system, wasn't sure that call would have been overturned.
"All the replays I looked at, it wasn't enough to tell," would say later. "You really have to see something that's really defined to overturn it."
As crucial as the call on Martinez appeared at the time, there were several more turning points that went Detroit's way before the finally pulled out the win. After striking out his first three at bats, Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson drove in the go-ahead run with a broken-bat single in the seventh. That drove in Jhonny Peralta, whose double against Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle landed just inside the line. The A's had the bases loaded in the eighth when pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo hit a line drive to left that barely went foul.
Still, Jackson said the importance of having Martinez home run count shouldn't be overlooked.
"That home run right there, that was unreal," he said. "And I'm glad there was replay so [the umpires] could go in there and check."