As we mentioned in the recaps this morning, there was contact and controversy in the ninth inning of last night’s Dodgers-Giants game. To set the scene: tie game, Gregor Blanco on second base. Brandon Belt at the plate. Take it away, Vin Scully:
A couple of things are going on here. One is the contact between third base coach Roberto Kelly, the other is the umpire’s attention, or arguable lack thereof, to the play. But let’s start with the rule that governs all of this:
It is interference by a batter or a runner when — . . .
(g) In the judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base, or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base.
I think we can all agree there was contact here. Blanco was not held by Kelly, but he was touched. The real question here was whether that contact “physically assisted” Blanco in returning to third base. I’ve watched this play a whole bunch of times and, despite my gut instinct in the recaps this morning, I tend to believe that the rules was not violated.
Blanco was slowing down when Kelly and he came into contact. He was not going so fast and was not so out of control that Kelly’s contact with him “physically assisted” him in getting back to the bag. If Kelly was three feet further back, Blanco still would’ve stopped and started back to the bag in the same place and would’ve been safe.
Maybe this is different if Kelly’s contact with Blanco truly helped Blanco apply the brakes. Maybe it’s different if, even with this contact as it was, the ball was close to third base and it might’ve been a close call as to whether Blanco would’ve been tagged out on his minor overrun. But neither of those things applied. Given that this is not a bright line, automatic “no contact” rule but, rather, a judgment call, I think Blanco was properly safe.
Not that this was perfect, of course. Because a judgment call requires the exercise of some informed judgment on the part of the umpire. And I’m not sure how third base umpire Fieldin Culbreth was exercising judgment in this case. Yes, the source of this screencap has an understandable bias, but it doesn’t change where Culbreth was looking:
you had one job pic.twitter.com/GIjHaTtoZ6
— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) April 23, 2015
To be fair, a fraction of a second before this pic, Culbreth was watching the bag (it’s clear on the video). But he was merely looking down at it to see if Blanco touched it before heading home, not watching the entire play unfold. Why he looked away and out to left field is a mystery. By the time he did that it was already clearly a single, so he did not need to signal for an out. He really had no cause other than mere curiosity and spectatorship to be looking out to left. His attention should’ve been at the bag where he may have needed to make an out call, up the line where he may have been needed to assist on a play at the plate or, in this case, at the bag to exercise some judgment with respect to interference.
So, the non-call of interference was right. But it was right despite the umpire’s view and judgment, not because of it. This, I am sure, makes no one really happy. Well, except for Giants fans because their team won the game.