Overturned play at the plate pivotal in Twins' loss

August 8th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- In the two weeks leading up to Tuesday's Trade Deadline, the Twins lost three series to fellow playoff hopefuls, looking flat and thoroughly uncompetitive in many of those games. They spoke of urgency. They spoke of the need for consistency. They spoke of the need to simply be better.

They thought they were -- and that’s what made it feel worse for them Sunday afternoon, when the Twins rallied in the ninth inning before a disputed replay review led to an overturned out at home in the 10th. Whit Merrifield’s ensuing run for Toronto proved decisive in a 3-2 loss in 10 innings to the Blue Jays that led to a split of the four-game series at Target Field.

“It’s tough to swallow, definitely,” Twins starter Chris Archer said. “We felt like we played a really good game. We felt like we’ve been playing really, really good baseball. Any time you can go into the ninth inning with the game that close, not having [Byron] Buxton and [Carlos] Correa in the [starting] lineup, that’s really, really good for us. But it sucks that it ended the way it ended.”

With the game tied at 2-2 and one out in the top of the 10th, Merrifield tagged up on Cavan Biggio’s fly to left off Caleb Thielbar and took off for home as Tim Beckham double-clutched on his throw. Gary Sánchez caught the ball and lowered his left knee as Merrifield slid into him, making the tag for what appeared to be an inning-ending double play.

But after a lengthy review, the out call was overturned, giving Toronto the lead. An explanation stated that Sánchez moved into foul territory without being forced to do so by the trajectory of the ball. The home-plate collision rule states that the catcher is not allowed to block the runner’s path to the plate unless he is in possession of the ball or making a “legitimate attempt” to receive a throw.

“The ruling is that Gary violated the home-plate collision rule, and that the runner was safe,” said umpire crew chief Alan Porter when asked how Sánchez violated the rule.

“For someone to step in, in that situation, and ultimately make a decision that [he] was blocking the plate, that’s beyond embarrassing for our game, for all the players out there, on both sides of the field, working their [tails] off, for the entire game,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who was ejected. “It’s completely unacceptable.”

Baldelli was adamant postgame that the home-plate collision rule has "virtually never been called" to overturn that play, but there have been at least two other instances in the past week that it was overturned. It happened in Sunday's Pirates-Orioles game, when Baltimore catcher Robinson Chirinos was ruled to have been in violation of the rule, and it occurred in the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader between the Rockies and Padres, when San Diego challenged an out call on Wil Myers at the plate that was overturned in the fifth, leading to Colorado manager Bud Black's ejection.

Sánchez felt he couldn’t have done anything differently. He set up with one foot in the baseline but moved it out of the way as he caught the ball, before planting it, lowering his knee and making the tag. Sánchez felt he left Merrifield a lane toward the outside of the plate, but Merrifield said that he chose to go directly through Sánchez toward home to take advantage of the rule.

“I did move my feet a little, but he had an open lane to slide on the side, and he didn't,” Sánchez said. “He slid towards me. I'm just tagging him. I had the ball first. I think the line was open for him to slide to the side. He didn’t.”

“I looked up and tried to figure out how to get into home plate, and [I] saw Gary straddling home plate, so I tried to just slide into him, straight into him, best I could,” Merrifield said. “I know what the rule is. It was just a matter of if they were going to call it.”

Amid a hotly contested series that might have served as a playoff preview, it’s safe to say the Twins -- and their skipper -- showed the fight and fire that eluded them as they lost three of four to the White Sox before the All-Star break, fell in a two-game sweep to Milwaukee and lost two of three to San Diego before the Trade Deadline.

Minnesota recovered from a blowout loss Thursday to walk it off Friday and deliver one of its more complete performances Saturday. Silent at the plate for much of Sunday’s game, the Twins fought back with runs in the eighth and ninth. Their bullpen, their weakness for much of the season, allowed three runs in 14 innings across the final three games.

They felt that improvement was overshadowed by one play.

“It’s a game that may have playoff implications at some point,” Thielbar said. “And to have it taken away from us, it’s tough.”