WASHINGTON — Take a knife to your open wounds, Nationals fans, because Joe Torre and Major League Baseball aren’t going to let you forget about Game 5 of the NLDS yet.
Remember that pivotal fifth inning, in which Max Scherzer yielded four two-out runs? None of it needed to happen, as Scherzer did strike out Javier Baez. Everyone knows that. He struck out Baez, but Baez advanced to first on the passed ball.
But he shouldn’t have, even though it is technically still an umpire’s judgment on the play.
“You know, the whole rule interpretation — there’s rules, and then there’s instructions to the umpires,” Torre told Chris Russo on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio. “There’s separate books. And what Jerry’s feeling was, that the interference didn’t take precedent over the fact that the ball was already past [Matt Wieters] when the contact took place.
“However, the rule states — and you probably have read the rule — that when contact is made — in other words, when the bat came around and hit the catcher’s mask — it’s a dead ball. It’s a dead ball. And that’s the one thing that should have taken precedence.”
Depending on your perspective, that sounds either vindicating or depressing. Vindicating, because it’s some measure of relief and jives with Wieters’ interpretation.
But even with Torre’s support, the rule isn’t that cut and dried. Which is part of the controversy, because the rule leaves room for interpretation.
Rules 6.03(a)(3) and (4): 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.
And in the umpire’s judgment, it wasn’t interference. This is what home plate umpire Jerry Lane said after the game:
“I understand [that] it’s pretty much my judgment,’ he told the pool reporter. “I got together and found [the rest of the crew] was in agreement. That’s what we went with.”
Torre pointed out that Dusty Baker and the Nats could and probably should have argued the call and gotten Layne to call for backup in New York. Instead, Scherzer got shelled, the Nats got eliminated and Baker got fired.
Sorry, no happy ending for this one.