Let’s be clear about something at the outset: this is not the bizarro Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce play. This is not an egregiously bad call that should have anyone renting one’s garments nor gnashing one’s teeth. But it is inescapable: Johan Santana caught a lucky break on a missed call in the sixth inning of last night’s no hitter that, if called correctly, would have ended it right there.
For those who missed it, in the top of the sixth, Carlos Beltran hit a would-be double down the third base line. Umpire Adrian Johnson called the ball foul. Beltran continued the at-bat and eventually grounded out. Video of it can be seen here. Here’s a closeup GIF of the play. Worth noting: (a) the ball kicks up chalk; and
(b) even though that is not the key inquiry of fair/foul — where it crossed the bag is — there is no way in the physics of this Earth that the ball could have crossed the bag in foul territory and then landed where it did, with its trajectory. It was clearly a fair ball. UPDATE: Sorry: The ball was a line drive, not a grounder so it didn’t matter where it crossed the bag. Hitting the chalk is what mattered. Either way: fair ball.
That said, let’s take the play in its entirety and realize something: it was a fast-moving, bang-bang play in real time, the likes of which are called several times a week. It was not rank incompetence that caused Johnson to miss that call. It was simply one of those calls that happen when you rely on humans to make them. I am not going to pile on Johnson for the call because it was a hard one that I bet even the best human umpires would miss fairly often.
Likewise, I am not going to say that Santana’s no-hitter was “tainted” or otherwise illegitimate. There have been 275 no-hitters thrown in major league history, and I guarantee you that a healthy number of them have had calls such as this one to aid them. It’s just that now we have high-def television and unlimited replays to show us when they are bad. Within the context of history, there is no reason to believe that Santana got any more assistance in his accomplishment than any other number of pitchers got in any other number of no hitters. At least until someone can provide me with high-def video of Johnny Vander Meer’s games or whatever.
But facts are facts: Beltran’s foul ball really was a hit. If we had replay or tennis-style robots for fair-foul calls, it would have been ruled as such. And even if I am not inclined to take a thing away from Santana’s accomplishment because it occurred in the game as it is currently constructed, baseball can do better with these things. And because we as fans all have the ability to see when such calls are missed as soon as they are, baseball should try to do better with these things.