Here’s a new one: with the Angels batting with two on and two out in the seventh inning Thursday, the Astros went to bring in left-hander Wesley Wright to face left-hander J.B. Shuck. The Angels promptly countered with right-handed hitting Luis Jimenez.
And then the Astros suddenly countered with right-hander Hector Ambriz.
If that sounds unusual, well, it is. If it sounds illegal, well, it’s that, too. Except Astros rookie manager Bo Porter didn’t know it. And it seems Fieldin Culbreth’s umpiring crew didn’t know it either, even with Angels manager Mike Scioscia loudly pointing it out several times before play finally resumed several minutes later.
Make no mistake, Wright was in the game. He threw several warmup pitches before Porter went out to bring in Ambriz instead. That, of course, isn’t allowed, according to Rule 3.05. Barring an injury, any pitcher that enters a game has to face at least one batter. It’s a fairly well known rule, one that would surely be exploited frequently if it didn’t exist.
The Angels, down 5-3 at the time, immediately protested the game. It’s a protest that might have actually been upheld by the league, given that it the mistake was entirely an umpire’s error, with no judgment call being involved. Except now we’ll never find out. While Ambriz was able to escape the jam in the seventh after the illegal switch, the Angels came back and scored three runs in the eighth and won the game 6-5, essentially rendering the protest null and void.
In one way, that’s probably for the best; the Astros didn’t deserve to benefit from their illegal move. Still, it is rather too bad we didn’t see MLB’s first successful protest since 1986. Had the protest been upheld, the game would have restarted from the moment the illegal move was made, with Wright back on the mound and the Angels trailing in the top of the seventh inning.