October 8, 2007
The National League Wild Card game this week put the Rockies against the Padres in Denver. A single game would keep the winner in the running for the championship. A shot at the 2007 World Series. The hometown crowd packed Coors Field. San Diego fans huddled around high definition screens. True believers would hang on every pitch – for thirteen innings.
The lead went back and forth. Some would call it the greatest game ever. There was plenty of scoring. Close calls. Errors. Brilliant base running. Terrific throws. It was baseball as it was meant to be. Neither side was disappointed in the performance or the effort of their team. When it came to the ninth inning, and the score was tied at six runs apiece, both sides settled in for the battle to win the coveted Wild Card spot in the National League play-offs. No one knew how late they would be required to stay up on a Wednesday night to witness the illusive finish live.
The thirteenth inning would end with the Rockies defeating the Padres. It was final play neither side would ever forget.
The tie lasted until that inning – the thirteenth. The hour was late. The Padres broke the spell, scoring two runs in the top of the inning to take the lead. The hopeful Rockies took to the batter’s box, tension high in the stands at Coors Field. Bang. Bang. Two doubles off pitcher Trevor Hoffman. Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki. The two now occupy second and third base. Bam! Matt Holliday clobbers a triple, driving both hitters home and tying up the score one more time. The winning run now stands nervously on third base.
The scoreboard lights deliver the message – Rockies 8, Padres 8.
The Padres feel the heat. Pitcher Hoffman intentionally walks Todd Heldon hoping for the force play. Jamey Carroll steps up to the plate. The bat cracks against the ball, and Carroll pops a low line drive to shallow right field. It drops. The crowd roars. Holliday jumps off third and sprints toward home. Victory in his sights. Fans screaming. Padres’ fielder Brian Giles on a full run snatches the ball from the grass, up to into his hand and rifles a throw to catcher Michael Barrett crouched and guarding the plate. Everyone on their feet. All eyes fixed on the little white ball speeding toward home. It looks good. Holliday starts the head-first slide. He bangs his chin on the hard surface and splits the skin. He reaches for the plate with his open hand. The ball arrives just in time. A precision throw from right field. The players collide. The catcher goes for the tag. But as he makes contact, the ball dribbles out of his mitt. Umpire Tim McClelland hesitates. Focused, intense human concentration, processing sequence of the spit second action. A hush falls over the stadium. Then, in a moment of clear resolve, his arms snap outward spanning the scene and he shouts a raspy “Safe!”
The crowd explodes.
The Rockies dug-out empties. Players jump, fingers point skyward, team-mates pile on Holliday. The announcer shrieks, “The Rockies win it!”
But then, after considerable celebration, the broadcasters in the booth hesitate. They take a look at the video replay. Just a minute folks. Let’s take a look. Did Holliday touch the plate?
That became the burning question. The reviews came too late. But close scrutiny made it clear. Super slow motion analysis brought it to light. As Holliday dove head-first toward the plate, the catcher’s shin-guard stood firm covering the base knocking Holliday’s arm away from the baseline. He missed the crucial touch. As Holliday’s body slid by, no part of him got anywhere near home-plate. But from the umpire’s vantage point, he couldn’t see it. He made the call.
Do you win the game because you touch the plate or because the Umpire thinks you did?
Maybe someday Baseball will do what Football has done. In football, the referee can, in a close call, refer to an instant video replay from the sidelines to be sure he gets it right. Not so Baseball. So until then, the human element prevails. Baseball relies on the immediate, close range judgment of the Umpire. Good or bad.
So think about it. Who won? The Rockies. Bad call? Yes. Will fans and players and sponsors live with the contradiction? Yes. No choice. It’s the way the game is played.
And that’s why we love Baseball.
It’s so much like life.
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It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. You may be the one required to make the call. You may be the victim of the call. You may be the beneficiary of the call.
Some calls are good. Some are bad.
Either way, leaders step up. Leaders stand in the box at the ready. Leaders run hard. Leaders throw with conviction. Leaders take the hit.
Leaders get up the next day and suit up to play one more time.
Copyright October 8, 2007 Kenneth E. Kemp