No matter where you fall on the debate of whether Sam Holbrook was correct in calling the infield-fly rule on a pop-up off the bat of Andrelton Simmons during yesterday’s Wild Card between the Braves and Cardinals, this explanation by Harold Reynolds of MLB Network is worth watching.
I still think it’s debatable whether Kozma made what can be considered an “ordinary effort” to get to that ball. And I don’t think he had any grand design on dropping the ball to start a double play. But this is by far the best explanation I have seen as to why Holbrook made the judgment that it was the right call. Of course, the key word there is “judgment,” because a different umpire may have seen the play differently. And that’s why this still feels a little weird. Maybe the wording of the actual rule needs some cleaning up?
The continued controversy over this call is naturally getting a lot of attention, but don’t forget that the Braves shot themselves in the foot by committing three errors and botching a safety squeeze. This loss isn’t on Holbrook.
The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.
Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.
Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.
James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.
The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.