It’s the seventh inning and the Blue Jays are losing, 2-1. In the cool, Southern California air, Chris Coghlan stands at first, taking a large lead while pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, of the Los Angeles Angels, ready himself of the mound. Petit throws, out of the stretch, to Devon Travis, who just emerged from a 10-game slump to start the season.
Travis swings, and misses, on a pitch that was beautifully painted on the outside corner of the plate. Coghlan, dashing towards second, reaches the bag before the throw -- high from catcher Martin Maldonado -- reaches the shortstop, Andrelton Simmons. Coghlan is called safe by umpire Jerry Layne and the Blue Jays have a runner on second with no outs.
“They’re calling him out.”
“They’re calling him out. Oh my.”
Toby Basner called Travis out. Travis, on his back swing, hit the catcher Maldonado while he was throwing to second -- a play that was eventually ruled batter interference. After much arguing by bench coach DeMarlo Hale, filling in for John Gibbons (ejected earlier in the game), Travis remained out, and Coghlan was forced to remain at first base.
Except, that wasn’t the correct call. MLB Rulebook, rule 6.03(a).
If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.
Travis, when swinging, missed the ball and unintentionally hit the catcher behind him. Therefore, the play that ensued should result in an extra strike on the batter and no runner advancing.
That wasn’t the case. Travis was called out for batter interference -- even though the rule directly states that the play is not interference.
Clearly, Toby Basner’s ruling on this play did not match the MLB rulebook. Unfortunately, a play like this can’t be reviewed, even though it is clearly wrong.
The only option the Blue Jays hold, in this situation, is to play the game under protest. MLB Rulebook, rule 7.04.
Each league shall adopt rules governing procedure for protesting a game, when a manager claims that an umpire’s decision is in violation of these rules. No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire. In all protested games, the decision of the League President shall be final.
Whenever a manager protests a game because of alleged misapplication of the rules the protest will not be recognized unless the umpires are notified at the time the play under protest occurs and before the next pitch, play or attempted play.
Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.
Clearly, it’s too late now. The Blue Jays can no longer protest yesterday’s game, as interim-manager DeMarlo hale did not notify the umpires that they were playing the game under protest prior to the next pitch. If the Blue Jays had protested the play, would it have mattered? Yes.
The first criteria set out by rule 7.04 in the MLB Rulebook is that the call on the field is in violation of MLB rules. As discussed previously, the play in the seventh inning was clearly in violation of MLB guidelines.
The second criteria pertains to judgement -- in other words, a fuzzy line without any clear boundary. The only mention of judgement in rule 6.03(a), the clause pertaining to this specific play, regards the intent of Travis. By all accounts, the contact Travis made with Maldonado was unintentional.
If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference).
The final criteria is the relevance and importance of the play in question. On June 21st, 2009, the Florida Marlins and New York Yankees were playing each other. In the bottom of the seventh, the Marlins made a double switch involving Toronto’s own Chris Coghlan, who was one of the players substituted for in this situation. In the top of the eighth, Coghlan returned to the outfield, even though he was, technically, no longer in the game.
After the first pitch of the inning was thrown, Yankees manager Joe Girardi realized this mistake and notified the umpires. Girardi also signaled that the Yankees were playing the game under protest for the violation of league rules.
The league office, which maintains final say in all protested games, ruled that the play in question did not have a significant affect on the game, therefore not qualifying to be successfully protested.
In this case, however, the play could, arguably, have a significant affect on the final score of the game. With the Blue Jays trailing by one run in the top of the seventh, every out counts -- they had only nine left to score.
As it stands, the play was ruled batter interference, leaving a runner on first with one out. The next two batters proceeded to be called out on a pop out and fly out.
If the play is ruled correctly, the Blue Jays have a player -- Coghlan -- on first with no outs, and Travis at the plate, with a 1-1 count. In Travis’ career, he’s had 276 plate appearances with a 1-1 count. He has a .298 batting average in those appearances -- and an even better .328 batting average in 64 plate appearances when the appearance ended with a 1-1 count.
If Travis gets on base, which he has a 34% chance of doing, the Blue Jays end up with two runners on base and no outs, with Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar coming to the plate, both of whom hit a home run in the game just one day prior. Pillar was on an 11-game hitting streak, tied for the longest of his career.
In the end, the play under question fulfills the criteria laid out in the MLB rulebook for protesting a game. Even so, the Blue Jays likely wouldn’t have found success if they actually did protest -- just 15 games in Major League Baseball history have been successfully protested.
“I know the umpire is probably trying his best effort out there,” Russell Martin told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet after the game. “It’s a tough gig, but like Donaldson said, it’s not the try league. We expect the umpires to get the calls right.”
“It’s just frustrating when you’re battling your butt off out there, trying to help the team win, and you feel like you get cheated a little bit.”
Follow Mark Colley on Twitter: @MarkColley.