Missed call brings instant replay into mix
Players, managers still understand human element of game
DENVER -- Charlie Manuel was never necessarily an advocate of instant replay. But since Major League Baseball is now reviewing debatable home runs, the Phillies manager believes the door has been opened for technology to also help provide clarity to other questionable calls made by umpires.
"They can always miss calls," Manuel said. "I mean, they've been missing calls ever since baseball has been 100-something years old or whatever, they've been missing them that long. But at the same time, if they want to get them right, then getting it right is getting them right."
Utilizing his unique language, Manuel was essentially saying that the human element has and will always play a role in the game of baseball. Then to further explain his mindset, he provided indication that he believes instant replay could also be utilized to help umpires in instances like the one that brought umpires Jerry Meals and Ron Kulpa into scrutiny during Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday night.
Replays showed that both Meals and Kulpa may have erred on separate ends of Chase Utley's ninth-inning infield single that helped the Phillies score the run they needed to claim a 6-5 victory and move one win away from eliminating the Rockies.
Still, when Rockies manager Jim Tracy returned to Coors Field to prepare for Monday afternoon's Game 4, he wasn't willing to blame his club's loss on this questionable play. Instead, he said the blame for the loss had to rest on his club, which issued eight walks and went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"I think we need to move on," Tracy said. "I think that was yesterday ... You know what we can do better is, you know, there's other things we can do better rather than sit here and belabor the point about umpiring and this, that and whatever. We can walk less people."
With the Rockies and Phillies tied and a runner on second base with one out in Sunday's ninth inning, Utley chopped a Huston Street pitch into the dirt, and then raced to first base, where Kulpa questionably ruled that Utley beat Street's throw.
Replays clearly showed that the batted ball had hit Utley's right leg while he was still in the batter's box. Meals, who was serving as the plate umpire, reviewed the play after the game and admitted that he had erred by not ruling this to be a foul ball.
Likewise, Utley essentially admitted that the ball had hit his leg. But proving alert in the heat of the moment, the Phillies second baseman raced toward an infield single that was rewarded only because Kulpa ruled that Rockies first baseman Todd Helton was pulled off the first base bag.
"The guy who had the best chance to see it to me was [Rockies catcher Yorvit] Torrealba, and he didn't react," Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino said. "So he probably didn't see it right away, nor did Jerry Meals. Again, I think plays like that. It's just a matter of instincts."
When neither Torrealba nor Utley reacted in a manner that would have suggested the ball should have been ruled foul, Meals instinctively watched the play unfold without reason to believe that controversy was ensuing. The veteran umpire wasn't alone.
When Tracy came on the field to argue, his complaints were simply directed toward Kulpa. Not until he saw replays did the Rockies manager realize that the ball had hit Utley's leg.
"Obviously from where I sat in the dugout I thought there was a strong chance he was out at first," Tracy said. "Changes the dynamics of the way we handle the next two hitters in that one gets walked and the next guy gets pitched to."
Immediately following the controversial chain of events, Ryan Howard delivered what proved to be a decisive fly ball. Had Utley been retired for the second out of the inning, the left-handed Howard likely would have been walked to allow Street the opportunity to gain a better matchup against the right-handed Jayson Werth.
Had an expanded utilization of instant replay been in place, there's certainly a chance that Game 3's result might have been different. But while going down that road, there's also reason to question whether the tone of this series was altered during the second inning of Game 1 when Kulpa ruled Torrealba out at third base.
Replays showed that Torrealba was clearly safe. But Victorino is among the many who understand that these kinds of questionable rulings are simply part of the landscape of baseball, which has forever been affected by the human errors committed by both umpires and players.
"Everybody makes mistakes," Victorino said. " Obviously sometimes mistakes count as a good thing and a bad thing. [If you] start reviewing every play, the games will turn into six or seven hour games. Nobody will sit in the stands for that long."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.