Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rick Reed, Meet Tim Donaghy

I posted a forum note late last night (well, late for those of us trapped on Eastern time), but I wanted to try to analyze the repercussions of yesterday's "thrilling" conclusion of the Angels-Red Sox slugfest.

First, the rant. I don't know how anyone outside of Boston could call last night's game a good one. It was poorly pitched by the starters, poorly pitched by the bullpens, and very poorly umpired. I didn't get to see the entire contest, but I watched the innings that mattered most, and the umpiring crew in this one made my stomach turn. It was almost as though the umpires felt the game should have ended (or at least become tied) on Jed Lowrie's sharp grounder down the 3rd base line. But wait! Chone Figgins kept it on the infield, preventing the tying run from scoring. "How can we get Boston back into this thing?" they must have thought, only to decide on a newer, better strike zone for the subsequent Red Sox hitter, Nick Green.

A controversial check-swing and a knee high fastball down broadway later, the Red Sox were tied, and it was only a matter of moments before the Angels collapsed and gave up the winning run.

A couple years ago, the idea that a game's outcome could be decided, or at least influenced by its officials would seem nuts, but not any more. Now, we have an NBA official in prison, some mobsters searching wildly for another scam, and some pretty frightening missed calls in a lot of our nation's highest profile games.

As far as the checked swing is concerned, what the majority of the world does not know is that the umpire CANNOT be wrong. The rule is written such that the umpire is merely asked to determine if the batter was making an effort to hit the ball. It doesn't matter if the offensive player's bat crossed a virtual "line" extended vertically from home plate. How far the bat traveled is just one of the many criteria an umpire has to weigh when evaluating a checked swing. All that being said, it sure looked like Nick Green was trying to hit that 0-2 fastball. Even the look on his face said so, as a slow-motion replay showed Green cringing, outwardly annoyed that he would attempt to hit a pitch around his letters.

A handful of foul balls later, Green watched a fastball whiz by, right down the heart of the plate, at his knees, and was rewarded for it! Honestly, it's an at-bat like Green's that makes me want to tune baseball off my television. How can a player earn himself an RBI taking a borderline 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the 9th? This is where the NBA generally has it right. With a few ticks left on the clock in the 4th quarter, 19 times out of 20 the refs are going to swallow their whistle and let the players decide the outcome. Here, the umpires need to make the players earn it, too.

So, while my feelings towards that crap mean something to me, they're thoroughly unimportant to the rest of the world unless I can figure out a way to make them relevant, and I think I can.

My suggestion is a 2-step program. Step 1, watch tonight's game. See if THIS umpiring crew makes any adjustments after the controversy yesterday. My guess is that someone is getting punched out on strikes, today. Maybe moreso, will the outbursts from Scioscia and Fuentes have any impact on future umpiring crews coming into Fenway? It's extremely possible, as every crew is scrutinized by an oversight committee.

Step 2, adjust to what you see. If the umpires seem trigger-happy, look for some Unders. If they seem even more gunshy than usual, watch for a ton of walks and extra runs. Let's see how this goes, and play it from there!

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