John Hirschbeck’s umpiring crew got, by my count, four calls wrong in Sunday’s game. They split them between the two teams, three going against the Yankees, one against the Blue Jays, but there were moments when it seemed the actions of the players were taking place in a distinct and separate reality from the results of the plays. That didn’t matter much when the Jays were leading 7-1 on the strength of six strong innings from starter Ricky Romero and home runs from Alex Rios (a key three-run shot to the first row of the left-field box seats in the third) and John McDonald (a solo shot in the seventh, his first home run in nearly a year), or when Brian Bruney was helping the Jays add insurance runs in the top of the seventh. When the Yankees mounted a comeback that brought the final score to 7-6, however, one once again began to wonder how things might have been different had the calls been correct.
The first blown call is the one that drew the most post-game attention. After Andy Pettitte worked a 1-2-3 top of the first, Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first with a walk, was balked to second when Romero stepped toward home on a throw to first, then tried to steal third. Catcher Rod Barajas’s throw beat Jeter to the bag, and Scott Rolen got the tag down, but Jeter, sliding head-first, made a swim move with his right hand, successfully avoiding the tag and reaching the bag before Rolen could adjust and tag his chest.
Nonetheless, third-base umpire Marty Foster called Jeter out. According to Jeter, Foster explained to him in the subsequent dispute that, “I was out because the ball beat me, and that he didn’t have to tag me. I was unaware of that change in the rules.” Baseball is a game of phantom tags and neighborhood plays, and it is often true the when a ball beats a runner, the call will go to the defense, but by telling Jeter he was out because the ball beat him, regardless of the tag, Foster was admitting that he’d blown the call. It’s no wonder, then, that Joe Girardi went out and got himself ejected just two batters into the bottom of the first.
Nick Swisher followed Girardi’s ejection with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. Was that blown call at third the run that cost the Yankees the game?
The call that went the Yankees’ way came in the bottom of the third. With two out, Swisher hit what looked like a double to left field, but Jose Bautista, who made two great and ultimately game-changing running catches in left, played the ball perfectly and fired a strike to second base. Swisher, realizing he’d been beaten, popped out of his feat-first slide and attempted to vault over John McDonald’s tag. He was called safe, but second-base umpire Wally Bell failed to notice that McDonald tagged Swisher on the foot before Nick completed his leap. Mark Teixeira, whose 0-for-5 day was as much to blame for the Yankee loss as anything else, struck out to strand Swisher, making the blown call moot.
That blown call came on the heals of another miss by Bell in the top of the third. With one out and Aaron Hill on first, Vernon Wells hit a bouncer to the shortstop hole. Derek Jeter gloved it and made a jump throw to second base to force Hill, but Bell called Hill safe. Guess what? Hill was out by at least a foot. Andy Pettitte struck out Scott Rolen for what should have been the third out of the inning but was actually just the second. Bonus batter Alex Rios then stroked his three-run jack, giving the Jays an early 4-1 lead. Was that blown call the difference in the game?
Believe it or not, Bell blew a third call, this one coming in the bottom of the seventh. With none out, Melky Cabrera on second, and Hinske on first, both via singles, Brett Gardner hit a bouncer to second. John McDonald threw to second to initiate a double-play, but his throw sank in front of the bag, forcing Marco Scutaro to come across the bag and trap it in the dirt. The throw beat Hinske by a mile, but Scutaro was clearly well off the bag by the time he caught the throw and never went back to tag the base. Nonetheless, before Hinske could scamper over to second, Bell called him out on what I can only assume was a neighborhood call.
If Bell thought Scutaro actually had the ball and his foot on second base at the same time, he’s a worse umpire than yesterday’s game made him seem. That play left runners on the corners with one out. Derek Jeter followed with a walk, and Nick Swisher singled home both Cabrera and Gardner before Teixeira and Rodriguez struck out to strand the remaining runners. Was the run Hinske wasn’t allowed to score the difference in the game?
Down 7-1 heading into the seventh, the Yankees got scored those two runs to make it 7-3, another in the eighth to make it 7-4, then staged a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth when Jorge Posada singled, Cano doubled, and Hideki Matsui drove them both in with a pinch-hit single to make it 7-6. That brought it back around to Hinske, who made a nice diving play in the top of the first, then homered off the right field foul-screen in the fifth. Looking to cap off his Yankee debut in style, Hinske, facing Frasor, took to 3-1, checked his swing on a 94-mile-per-hour fastball below the knee but fouled it off to run the count full, then swung through a gut-high slider to end the game. Hinske later said that the first called strike was a slider in the same spot that dropped into the zone. Expecting the same movement, he swung under the 3-2 pitch, which stayed up.
Hinske’s hero-to-goat act should have been the story of the game. Instead it was the umpiring.
Here’s what’s missing from the box score:
Bot 1st: Marty Foster (3B), blown call on Jeter CS, costs NYY a run
Top 3rd: Wally Bell (2B), blown call on Hill FC, extends inning to allow three-run homer for TOR
Bot 3rd: Wally Bell (2B), blown call on Swisher 2B, moot
Bot 7th: Wally Bell (2B), blown call on Hinske FC, costs NYY a run
Finally tally on the umpiring: TOR 5, NYY 0
I’m not saying the game would have played out the same way had all of those calls been correct, but when you can trace five runs to bad umpiring calls, there’s a problem. Both teams were robbed, even if the tally went against the Yankees.