The difference between a five-run shutout and a six-run shutout, the latter of which seemed a definite possibility as the nightcap of last night’s doubleheader between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals entered the bottom of the eighth inning, is insignificant.
The difference between a 6-6 tie and a one-run lead held by the home team heading into the top of the ninth, however, is huge.
After mounting a six-run comeback in the bottom of the eighth inning last night, the Nationals took a tied ballgame – what should have been a one-run lead – into the ninth inning. The Matt Kemp home run that followed should have tied the ballgame, not won it. But because of a blown call in the top of the fourth inning, one that bestowed one of the most unearned-scored-earned runs ever upon the Dodgers, everything that should not have happened did, in fact, happen.
The play in question, which can be viewed on MLB.com, took place with two outs and runners on second and third in the top of the fourth. Both runners took off – Kemp towards home and Adrian Gonzalez towards third – on a sharp ground ball that jumped from the bat of Hanley Ramirez. Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman knocked it down, stayed with it and made a heads-up play tagging Gonzalez out – all of which took place before Kemp crossed home plate.
The problem, however, was that home plate umpire Alan Porter never made a call. It was only after both teams had left the field and both managers spilled out of the dugouts in protest that Porter called Kemp, who later admitted he did not believe that he reached home plate in time, safe.
One would assume that with four umpires on the field, one of the three not immediately involved with the play at third would have paid at least a bit of attention to the goings-on at home. But – and this is where things get really interesting – none of them did. Why? Well, there seems to be a good explanation for that one.
Nationals catcher Jesus Flores, who was closest to both home plate and Porter, claims to have overheard Porter telling another umpire that he believed the bases to be loaded, thus not looking for Kemp to cross the plate.
“He thought it was the bases loaded, so he kind of didn’t pay attention,” Flores said. “That’s why I guess he went to the other umpires and talk about it.”
Apparently the other umpires were not paying attention either because the correct call was never made, which raises the issue of accountability.
The human element will always exist in baseball, as will the errors that come with it. But something is to be said about being accountable for those errors, especially when they affect outcomes during pennant races.
Until umpires are held accountable for their mistakes in some way – and Porter was presumably not as crew chief Mike Winters declined comment after the game – we can expect these mistakes to continue.