Until getting lost in all the madcap hijinks of the game’s final 7 innings, it was a wacky play in the 5th that perhaps best summarized Monday night’s Cubs/Pirates matchup.
In what had otherwise been a pretty uneventful game, to that point anyway, the Cubs made things interesting in the top of the 5th. After giving up a leadoff single to Starling Marte, Jake Arrieta froze David Freese on a sinker. With Francisco Cervelli batting, Marte broke for second and Willson Contreras zipped a frisbee that almost dented Arrieta’s dome before sailing into center. Had the throw not had such nice fading action, it might have ended up in left.
Marte advanced to third and then got a little too aggressive when Cervelli doinked a comebacker to Arrieta. Seeing that he had a shot at the lead runner, Arrieta fired over to Kris Bryant, who chased the runner down the line before tossing to Contreras. Speedier than most backstops, Contreras chased Marte and applied the tag but lost the ball in the process. Marte broke toward home as Javier Baez bobbled the ball and booted it into foul territory. Javy recovered and fired to Arrieta, who was now covering the plate, for the easy tag.
And…exhale. Or, wait, maybe not.
Clint Hurdle challenged the call on the basis of the plate-blocking/collision rule, which is the first time I’ve ever seen it questioned on a play involving anyone other than a catcher. Listen, I get the concept of the rule and the desire to make baseball a safer game. But I can’t be the only one who feels that the rule almost serves at times as a means by which to punish catchers (or pitchers) rather than to protect them.
The call was upheld and Marte was still out so it’s all a moot point, it’s just that I’m not big on semi-subjective rules that are themselves subject to review. Determining whether a ball is fair or foul or whether a batter is safe or out is one thing. Those plays have clear definitions. But when you get into interpretations of intent with slides into second base and plays at the plate, it just gets so murky.
To top it off, no one really knows what’s going on the whole time the umpires are huddled and getting word from the replay room in New York. Not until after the call was confirmed did Joe Maddon get an explanation of what they were actually looking at. It’s one thing if the broadcasters and fans don’t know, but quite another to have the game’s participants in the dark.
I’m sure a few might look at this and say: “Whatever, it’s an inconsequential play in an inconsequential game.” It’s really not inconsequential, particularly given the Pirates’ pursuit of the Wild Card, but what if something like this happens in a game with really high stakes? And what if the Cubs gave up a run on it? I’m putting the over/under on pulmonary embolisms at eleventy thousand or so.
Regardless, it’s pretty silly for me to play the “what if” game on this topic at this juncture, though.
And it was all pretty much forgotten after having strike 3 called ball 4 and replacing a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play with runners on first and second with no outs. Then the game dragged on for a thousand more innings, after which the Cubs prevailed in walk-off fashion on what was really their third winning run of the night/morning. Yet here I am, feeling worse about replay (there was also a questionable call on a Javy Baez play at the plate) and umpires and stuff and things.
Then again, seeing that magic number whittled down once more was nice.