Friday, October 08, 2010

Umpiring leaves a lot to be desired in MLB postseason

By Chris Ruddick

Home field advantage has been anything but thus far in the American League playoffs, as the home team has yet to win any of the four games played.

Both Texas and New York have jumped out to 2-0 leads on the road and could very well wrap up their respective series on Saturday when the American League Division Series shift to Arlington and the Bronx, respectively.

"Again, we've been in difficult situations before, and a lot of times we've come back from that," Tampa manager Joe Maddon said of the predicament his team is in. "I think up until we've had 16 three-game winning streaks this year -- we're going to have to do this one game at a time starting on, what
would that be, Saturday."

Since the Division Series was instituted, AL teams that start the series 0-2 have won four of the 20 series, but only one  of those teams did so after losing the first two games at home (2001 Yankees).

Minnesota has to be demoralized, as it heads to New York. Ron Gardenhire's club has now lost 11 straight playoff games, eight straight to the Yankees and making it even worse is the fact that they have held the lead in all eight of its losses to New York.

Gardenhire's team is just 2-11 all-time in the playoffs against the Yankees, but he doesn't feel as if his team is snake-bitten.

"No, we have to figure out a way to beat the Yankees," Gardenhire said. "We haven't done that very well. I think it is documented and my job is to figure out how we can go to New York and beat the Yankees. They're getting some big hits when they have to. They're playing good baseball right now, and we
haven't got it done. We have to figure out a way to beat the Yankees when we go to New York and get back home."

The Rays though are easily the biggest disappointment in these playoffs. After winning an American League-high 96 games, they have crossed the plate just once in their series with the Rangers.

Tampa, which entered the postseason hitting .247 as a team, lives and dies with the walk, but Cliff Lee did not walk anyone in his Game 1 win and C.J. Wilson issued just two free passes on Thursday.

"They've taken a part or a component of our game away with the walk," Maddon added. "We have not walked that often because of their command issues or how well they've commanded the baseball."

Should the Rays lose this series they will look back to that first inning against Lee. Tampa had the former Cy Young Award winner on the ropes, loading the bases off on him with one out. However, Lee struck out Carlos Pena and Rocco Baldelli to get out of the jam and settled in after that to retire 12 of the next 13 batters he faced.

Of course, the Rangers were helped by a bad call at the plate, as Pena felt that he was hit by a pitch, but home plate umpire Tim Welke ruled that the ball hit the bat, making it a 2-2 count. The pitch did not appear to hit Pena, but at the very least it should have been called a ball because it did not look to hit the bat either.

"Plays like that, we've seen that happen over and over again where a close play like that, it's tough to tell for an umpire -- no doubt about it. But the ball hit my hand," said Pena. "It was the wrong call."

Pena obviously didn't learn anything from Derek Jeter, who put on one of the best acting jobs of all-time a few weeks earlier in St. Pete after a close pitch was determined to have hit him, although replays clearly showed that it hit the bat.

"I think everyone in the park would have thought I was an idiot if I started hopping up and down like the ball killed my hand when the reality was that it nicked it," said Pena.

Tampa's frustration boiled over in Game 2 when it looked like Michael Young struck out on a 2-2 pitch that was ruled a check swing instead of a swinging third strike. Young took advantage of the at-bat continuing by blasting the next pitch to straightaway center for a three-run homer that extended the Rangers' lead to 5-0.

The Twins also felt they were wronged on Thursday when it appeared as if Lance Berkman was called out on strikes on a pitch that was right down the middle of the plate, but was called a ball. Berkman made the most of his extended at bat and doubled off the center field wall to give the Yankees the lead, one they would not relinquish.

That call wasn't the worst of the night, as San Francisco's Buster Posey was clearly out on a stolen base attempt in the fourth inning. He was ruled safe, though, and later scored the only run in his team's 1-0 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Posey even admitted after the game that he may have gotten away with one.

"I guess it's a good thing we don't have instant replay right now," Posey said.

Umpiring, or lack thereof, has once again been the story in these playoffs. But then again, it was also the story in last year's postseason and nothing was changed.

Sadly, it seems as if something is going to have to happen to a New York team to get something changed. The whole replay for home runs ball got rolling back in early May of 2008, when both the Mets and Yankees had home runs taken away from them on national television due to blown calls by the umpiring crew.

Guess what a few months later MLB instituted some form of replay. Mark my words if a bad call costs the Yankees a postseason game, we will have replay in play at the start of next season.

And why not? I have always been an instant replay guy and what has happened in these playoffs has further cemented that. In this day and age, if there is a way to get a call right, how do you not take advantage of it?

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