10/21/09 2:29 AM ET
Umpires shaky on several Game 4 calls
TV replays show three rulings go against Halos, Yanks
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
"Nah," Hunter said. "This is the way it's been forever. Why would we change it? Human error is good sometimes. Trust me."
There was certainly enough of that error to go around in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
While the mistakes didn't ultimately amount to much in the Yankees' 10-1 drubbing of the Angels, it was nonetheless a rough night for umpire Tim McClelland's crew. The umps had to make four polarizing calls in the tops of the fourth and fifth innings, and the television replays revealed that they went 1-for-4.
First, there was Robinson Cano's slide home, just past the tag of catcher Mike Napoli's glove in the fourth. Melky Cabrera had come up with the bases loaded and sent a single to left. Jorge Posada scored easily from third, and Cano came streaking toward home from second. Left fielder Juan Rivera's throw came home just as Cano was sliding in and Napoli tried to apply the tag. Cano was ruled safe by home-plate umpire Jerry Layne, and the replays proved him right, as Napoli's glove just barely missed Cano's jersey.
Next, with Cabrera at first, Nick Swisher at second and Derek Jeter up to bat, Angels starter Scott Kazmir threw a pickoff attempt at second. Swisher had strayed pretty far off the bag, and he slid headfirst back to it. Shortstop Erick Aybar received the throw from Kazmir and applied the tag, but Swisher was ruled safe by umpire Dale Scott. Replays revealed that Swisher did not beat the throw.
The next two mistakes belonged to McClelland at third, and he was the first to admit as much to reporters after the game.
"I'm just out there trying to do my job and do it the best I can," McClelland said. "And unfortunately, there were two missed calls."
The first came moments after Swisher was ruled safe at second. Swisher reached third when Jeter walked to load the bases. And when Johnny Damon lifted a fly ball to center, Swisher tagged up and scored the Yankees' fourth run of the inning.
Or so it seemed. Hunter caught the ball and threw to cutoff man Kendry Morales. The Halos appealed and threw the ball to third, and Swisher was ruled out. McClelland decided Swisher had taken off for the plate before the ball was in Hunter's glove, so he had not properly tagged up.
"In my heart," McClelland said, "I thought he left too soon."
Again, though, the replays disagreed. Swisher's foot appeared to be on third at the time Hunter caught the ball.
When all was said and done, the Yankees had taken a 3-0 lead in the controversial inning.
McClelland was quick to admit his errors. And he's been down this road before. Among other things, he was there for the George Brett pine-tar incident in 1983, the Sammy Sosa corked-bat confiscation in 2003 and the Matt Holliday safe (though replays would suggest otherwise) slide into home for the winning run in the Rockies' 2007 tiebreaker against the Padres.
While replay is not used to immediately review calls such as the ones McClelland made Tuesday night and impact the ruling on the field, umpires do take a look at the plays after the game.
"That's part of our procedures," McClelland said.
More controversy ensued in the top of the fifth inning in Game 4, and it left the Angel Stadium crowd in an uproar. The Yankees had Posada on third and Cano on second with one out. Swisher grounded back to reliever Darren Oliver, who threw home. Posada got caught in a rundown and hustled back to third. Trouble was, Cano had already advanced toward third as well.
Napoli saw both runners off the bag and instinctively tagged them both -- Cano first and then Posada. But McClelland ruled Posada out and Cano safe.
"When he tagged Cano, I thought Cano was on the base," McClelland said. "[The replay] showed that Cano was off the bag when he was tagged. I did not see that, for whatever reason. So, obviously, there were two missed calls."
That last play turned out to be moot anyway, as Cabrera grounded into a force to end the inning.
The umps got it right on some close plays late. Swisher was thrown out by Napoli on a bang-bang stolen-base attempt in the sixth, and "out" was, indeed, the right call. Same with Jeter getting called out on a close play at first later that inning, after Aybar had fielded his chopper barehanded and made the throw to first.
But controversial calls are nothing new to this postseason and, more specifically, to this ALCS.
In the sixth inning of Game 1, Angels manager Mike Scioscia argued first-base umpire Laz Diaz's call that Hunter was out when he tried to bunt off CC Sabathia and Sabathia's throw to first just barely beat him. Replays proved Diaz was correct.
In the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 2, Posada grounded into an apparent double play. But when Aybar received the feed from second baseman Maicer Izturis, his foot never touched the second-base bag before tossing the relay to first. Though Aybar was "in the neighborhood" and fielders are often granted some margin for error in this area, Aybar had no such luck. Layne accurately ruled Cabrera safe at second. In that same game, Jeter was ruled out at first on a double play, though replays showed he beat the relay throw.
Now, one would have a difficult time arguing that any of these calls have significantly impacted a best-of-seven series the Yankees now lead, 3-1. Because the fact of the matter is, they haven't. And for both teams, that was the bottom line after Game 4.
"People are human," Jeter said. "They're going to make mistakes sometimes. Umpires are trying their best. Sometimes you get calls and sometimes you don't. I don't think it had any effect on this game."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.