Saturday September 20th, 2014

The Tigers beat the Royals 3-2 to expand their lead in the American League Central to 2 1/2 games. That victory, which came in a riveting, suspenseful game played in an intense playoff atmosphere in front of the largest Saturday afternoon crowd at Kauffman Stadium since June 2012 , continued Detroit’s dominance over Kansas City this season, improving the Tigers’ record against the Royals to 13-5. The final regular season head-to-head game between the  teams will take place on Sunday. Jeremy Guthrie, who has a 10.13 ERA in three previous starts against Detroit this season, takes the mound for the Royals against Rick Porcello.

On Monday, the Royals will find themselves just three outs from adding another loss to their record when their suspended game against the Indians resumes with them losing 4-2 in the bottom of the 10th with the bottom third of its order due up. Given the fact that there will be just seven games left in the season once the outcome of that game is resolved, Saturday’s loss may prove to be the one that broke the Royals’ backs in the AL Central race.

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It was a game the Royals could have won, and nearly did. It started out as a pitchers’ duel between staff aces Max Scherzer and James Shields, but with the game tied 1-1 in the seventh, Shields tired first, walking Eugenio Suarez on four pitches with a man on first and two outs in the top of the inning. He uncorked a wild pitch to move both runners into scoring position, then giving up consecutive RBI singles to pinch-hitter Tyler Collins (on a good pitch, it should be noted) and Rajai Davis before getting the hook at 103 pitches.

Even then, the Tigers’ lead was just 3-1, and the Royals rallied for a run in the eighth on singles off reliever Joba Chamberlain by Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer to put the tying and winning runs in scoring position against Joe Nathan in the ninth. Pinch-hitter Raul Ibañez grounded out to first to end the threat and the game.

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The Royals had other chances, as well, two of which they frittered away with sacrifice bunts. Alcides Escobar crushed Scherzer’s second pitch of the game over left fielder J.D. Martinez’s head for a leadoff double, after which Norichika Aoki, who was 13-for-his-last-16 coming into the game, took it upon himself to sacrifice Escobar to third base. Scherzer then struck out Josh Willingham and Alex Gordon to strand Escobar at third.

In the third, Jarrod Dyson and Escobar, who were a combined 7-for-9 in the game, led off with singles to put men on first and second for Aoki, then Royals manager Ned Yost called for another bunt to push both men into scoring position with one out. This time, Willingham popped out on the first pitch he saw and Gordon, again, struck out to end the threat. Aoki, Willingham, and Gordon would go 0-for-11 with five strikeouts, with Willingham yielding to Ibañez for the game’s ultimate at-bat.

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The pivotal moment in the game, however, may have come in the bottom of the sixth. With the game tied 1-1 and one out, Perez singled and Hosmer doubled to put men on second and third. Omar Infante followed by working a 2-1 count then hitting a line-drive right at Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler caught the ball for the second out and fired to second base to try to double off Hosmer where Suarez, who was covering the bag, completely whiffed on the throw. The ball trickled into shallow left field, allowing Perez to score what appeared to be the go-ahead run with Hosmer moving to third on the play. However, replay showed that Perez never tagged up at third after the line drive to Kinsler. Perez was ultimately ruled out on appeal for what was a bizarre inning-ending double play that negated Suarez’s error and the Royals’ rally.

What was most troubling about that play, however, wasn’t Perez’s costly mistake (he did retreat toward the bag when the catch was made, but broke for home as soon as the ball got past Suarez despite being less than a foot away from tagging the base). It wasn’t the umpires’ ruling, either. They got the call right in a manner that didn’t disturb the course of the action, even if it did take the Tigers’ appeal and considerable huddling for that to happen. What was most troubling was how the umpires arrived at the right call.

After the dust settled from the initial play, the Tigers appealed at third base and manager Brad Ausmus came out to challenge the play, which is the correct procedure per the new rules. However, according to FOX’s Ken Rosenthal, when crew chief Larry Vanover and home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez got on the headsets to talk to the Replay Operations Center in New York, they were informed that the play was not reviewable and were given no additional information about the play.

Here’s where things get sticky. According to Major League Baseball’s official replay rules, “The Umpire’s judgment on whether a base runner left early when tagging up,” is not a reviewable play, presumably because of the difficulty or unreliability of synching up two separate camera angles, one of the runner tagging and the other of the ball being caught (never mind that the networks do it regularly). However, “whether a baserunner touched a base,” is a reviewable play. In the case of Perez, the game situation suggested the tagging up exception applied, but since Perez never actually touched the base, the actual rule that should have applied was the one concerning whether a baserunner touched a base. The timing of his tag, the aspect meant to be exempted, was irrelevant given that the tag never occurred.

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The replay, as seen in the video above, showed clearly that Perez never tagged up, and the umpires should have been allowed to review that aspect of the play. To confuse things even further, while Vanover and Hernandez were being told the play was not reviewable, they were watching the replay in high-definition on the Kauffman Stadium scoreboard and hearing the hometown crowd let out a massive sigh each time Perez was shown not to have touched the base.

Whether or not seeing that unofficial replay impacted the umpires’ eventual ruling that Perez was out on appeal isn’t the point. It's that the official replay should have been allowed. This marks yet another limitation placed on instant replay that baseball needs to correct before a blown call impacts the pennant races or postseason. In June, I attempted to bring attention to the fact that trap/catch calls on plays made in the infield or by catchers are currently among the unreviewable plays.

That’s a ludicrous exception for which I can ascertain no reason, though I can easily imagine the lack of review causing a problem in the postseason given that we already saw it happen with the A.J. Pierzynski play in Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series. In this game, the umpires demonstrated their lack of understanding of another of those limitations. Just as he did with Rule 7.13 concerning home plate collisions, MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre needs to provide guidance for the umpires should a situation like the one involving Perez on Saturday occur again.

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