Commentary

Where's the Series-quality replay?

Blown calls in Game 4 hurt Rangers, magnify need for expanded instant replay

Originally Published: October 31, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- On an evening when Bud Selig talked and talked and talked, you have to wonder what the commissioner muttered under his breath as the Game 4 umpiring crew had a Pat Burrell-like performance.

OK, that's not entirely fair. But neither were several of the blown calls by first base umpire Jeff Kellogg. And don't even get me (or the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants) started on plate umpire Mike Winters' wandering strike zone. It moved more than a clay pigeon at a skeet range.

[+] EnlargeRon Washington
Tim Heitman/US PresswireJeff Kellogg's calls at first base didn't help Ron Washington and the Rangers in Game 4.

This is the World Series, not an early March spring training game. It deserves high-tech solutions to low-tech mistakes. It deserves instant replay with biceps.

The Giants won, 4-0, Sunday night to put the Rangers and this Series in a sleeper hold. Unless Texas can beat Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez -- in that order (and the last two at AT&T Park) -- then it's time for Giants management to order confetti.

San Francisco won because a rookie with the least-intimidating name in baseball -- Madison Bumgarner -- tied the Rangers' lineup into little square knots. It won because of an RBI double by Andres Torres and home runs by Metroplex local Aubrey Huff and baby-faced catcher Buster Posey, who ought to be carded before every at-bat.

But somewhere on the list of reasons -- and higher than Selig might ever admit -- was the role this umpiring crew played in the outcome. It wasn't Jim Joyce-Costs-Armando Galarraga-A-Perfect-Game awful. It was more subtle than that. But then again, so is baseball.

Selig spoke glowingly of his friend Henry Aaron before Sunday night's game. And later he told reporters that serious consideration would be given to adding wild-card teams.

That's great. Meanwhile, a World Series game was affected or, at the very least, influenced, by two botched calls from Kellogg. And there was no instant replay to correct them.

Winters had an inconsistent game behind the plate. Balls were sometimes strikes. Strikes were sometimes balls. Instant replay would be too cumbersome and infeasible to address that.

But what happened at first base in the second inning and again in the sixth inning could have been addressed. More importantly, it could have been fixed.

With one out and Cody Ross on first, an already laboring Rangers starter Tommy Hunter threw a 90 mph fastball to Travis Ishikawa. Ishikawa grounded to second baseman Ian Kinsler, who threw to Elvis Andrus for the force play. Andrus threw to first for the bang-bang double play. End of inning.

Wait, no it wasn't. Kellogg called Ishikawa safe. Replays showed otherwise. A 12-pitch inning for Hunter became a 23-pitch inning after extra at-bats by Edgar Renteria and Nate Schierholtz. Hunter got out of the inning without giving up any runs, but his pitch count was already at 44. High.

An inning later, Hunter gave up a leadoff double to Torres and later, the two-run dinger by Huff. San Francisco had all the lead it would need.

Hunter, the stand-up guy, didn't make excuses. And he didn't hang Kellogg on the clothesline to dry.

"You're going to have bumps," said Hunter. "You're going to have all kinds of things. It's just pretty unfortunate that all the bumps happened tonight. It's tough. I'm not going to lie to you. It's definitely tough. But being a pitcher in the big leagues, that's something that you can't let affect you. And it did not affect me in any which way."

In the sixth, with the Rangers trailing, 3-0, Andrus was called out on a bang-bang, inning-ending double play. Replays also showed he was safe. The call deprived the Rangers of having their fastest runner on first with two outs.

"I thought I was safe," said Andrus. "You can't really argue about calls. There's going to be good calls, there's going to be bad calls. As a player, you got to take it and keep playing."

[+] EnlargeVladimir Guerrero
AP Photo/Eric GayThe strike zone from plate umpire Mike Winters left many hitters shaking their heads.

No, you don't.

Major League Baseball has replay. But it's preschool replay; it can be used only on questionable home runs. Everything else is off-limits.

Bumgarner pitched brilliantly (eight innings of shutout ball) and the Giants took an early lead and held on to it. That's what good teams do. And now they have a 3-1 Series advantage.

Of course, who knows if those extra 11 pitches Hunter threw in the second had any effect on the quality of the pitches he threw in the Giants' two-run third. But they could have -- and that's the point.

And who knows if Andrus could have started a two-out rally in the sixth. But he could have -- and that's the point.

A replay official could have easily and quickly examined the plays and made a ruling. We sports writers did it in the press box. It wasn't so hard.

So why not do it for real? Use replay for home runs, fair and foul balls, bang-bang calls on the bases. Future World Series teams will thank you, Bud.

"I don't know," said Hunter. "That's a big part of the game, the human element. If you go to instant replay on bang-bang plays, why have a home plate umpire? Why not just have a robot [out] there?

"No, that's baseball. That's the game -- you have umpires."

The umpires can stay, Tommy. It's the blown calls that go away.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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