NEW YORK – A day after saying it “was one of the worst calls I’ve seen,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez doubled down on his criticism of Monday’s ninth-inning umpiring decision ruling and a postgame statement by Major League Baseball regarding the controversy.
“There’s a lot of holes in that statement,” Gonzalez said Tuesday before the second game of a series at Citi Field.
The ruling, which overturned an out call at second base in the ninth inning of the Braves’ 11-inning loss to the Mets, brought into focus an issue that’s cropped up with replay review: It doesn’t eliminate umpires using their own interpretations of what can and can’t be reviewed.
The first season of Major League Baseball’s enhanced video replay has drawn plenty of complaints and second-guessing, and this was Braves’ turn to step to the front and center of a replay controversy only about 15 miles from the MLB’s video center in Manhattan, where replay decisions are made after on-field umpires make the call for a review.
Gonzalez was ejected Monday for arguing after umpires overturned the out call on what appeared to be a “neighborhood play” – which isn’t supposed to be reviewable under the system.
Major League Baseball issued this statement after the game: “The replay regulations allow umpires to determine if they considered a play to be a neighborhood play or not, based on a variety of factors. Some of the factors they consider are the throw and if the player receiving the ball is making the turn. Umpires might consider whether it was an errant throw or if a player receiving a throw who is not at risk of contact made an effort to touch the bag.”
Gonzalez’ criticism of the ruling immediately after Monday’s game was so strong that it could possibly result in a fine for the manager (as of Monday afternoon, he had not been contacted by MLB regarding any such penalty). On Tuesday, he was asked about the statement that MLB had put out following the game. He said it was filled with holes.
“I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Gonzalez said. “You could go in so many directions with that statement. The rule of not being able to replay that neighborhood play was to protect the infielders. And infielders just know how to do it one way. Now, by that statement they came up with, now you’re going to ask the infielders to change their routine, to know whether (the runner is) going to slide into them or not slide into them. That’s almost impossible.”
Braves reliever Shae Simmons escaped the subsequent ninth-inning jam without the Mets scoring in the inning Monday, but that didn’t dull Gonzalez’s sharp criticism. He said the umpires had gotten lucky and that if the Mets had won the game with a run in that inning, the ruling would have put “egg on somebody’s face.”
The replay rules say the traditional “neighborhood play” at second base – when a fielder takes a throw and doesn’t have his foot on the base but rather in the neighborhood of the base when he throws to first for a double play – can not be reviewed by replay. The purpose of not making that play reviewable is to protect infielders by allowing them to get out of the way of a runner barreling into second base.
In Gonzalez’ view it was a clear-cut neighborhood play when, after Eric Campbell’s leadoff single in the ninth inning Monday, third baseman Chris Johnson fielded a Juan Lagares bunt and threw to shortstop Andrelton Simmons covering second. His foot came off the base before he threw to first, a throw that a half-step too late to complete a double play.
After second-base umpire Sean Barber called Eric Campbell out at second, Mets manager Terry Collins convinced the umpires that the play could be challenged. He argued that it wasn’t a neighborhood play because there was no real chance for a play at first to complete a double play (in fact, the play at first base was close).
“I don’t blame Terry,” Gonzalez said Tuesday. “Whatever explanation he gave the umpires, it worked. And I’ve learned so far, when (the umpires) go to the headsets you have no idea what’s coming out of that. So, good for Terry. I’m going to find out how he got them to do that.”
After the umpires talked it over, they decided the play could be reviewed and made the call to Manhattan, where umpires are standing by specifically to review calls on replay. One minute and 57 seconds later, the called was overturned and Campbell was called safe at second.
“Luckily it didn’t cost us the game there,” Gonzalez said after the game. “But whoever interpreted it in the headquarters for video replay … it may be one of the worst calls. They called that the (throw) pulled him off the bag. That couldn’t have been a better throw. You know what, they got away with it (because) we didn’t lose the game there. But it’s a bad interpretation.”
Johnson’s throw was directly on target to Simmons, who stepped towards it to catch it, then turned and threw to first base.
First-base umpire and crew chief Mike Everitt told a pool reporter: “We reviewed the call because, in our judgment, we felt the throw took the fielder off the bag. We judged that the throw took him off the bag.”
Said third-base umpire Tim Timmons: “He’s trying to complete the double play quicker. He’s trying to gain an advantage.”
Simmons was charged with an error on the play, presumably because the official scorer had to justify the scoring.
“I ain’t got nothing good to say about it, so I’d rather not say anything,” Simmons said of the umpire’s ruling.
Gonzalez didn’t buy Everitt’s explanation.
“They got together and went to the headsets to (call) back to the headquarters here (in New York) and somebody there told them that he got pulled off,” Gonzalez said. “If he got pulled off, I want to know where. I’ve never seen a better throw, No. 1. And No. 2, they gave the error to Simmons. If the ball pulled him off, they would have given the error to Chris Johnson. So even the scorer got it right without any replays or anything like that.
“Again, it’s a fine line. We want to protect the guys, the replays at second base, there’s no challenge on the neighborhood plays. That is a neighborhood play. And they got it wrong.”