As we approach 24 hours after the bizarre bullpen screw-ups that may have helped to cost the Cardinals Game 5 of the World Series, one question crystallizes out of the haze:
Tony LaRussa expects us to believe that his bullpen was told to get closer Jason Motte and lefty specialist Mark Rzepczynski ready, but heard only “Rzepczynski”? And following that disaster, they were again told to get Motte ready but instead thought they heard “Lance Lynn”? That the noise was so deafening and the bullpen phone so reminiscent of a string-and-juice-can, that they missed the name of the number one guy down there, and then mistook one name for another that doesn’t sound anything like it?
And most importantly, after it happened once, nobody double-checked the second time they tried to get Motte warm? No “repeat it for me! Spell it!”? Nobody down there with a sense that in a sport where the bullpen coach was blamed and fired for Bobby Thomson’s home run (“Erskine is bouncing his curve,” Clyde Sukeforth said in 1951, sending the other pitcher warming, Ralph Branca, to his Dodger doom), that screwing it up once was a fireable offense?
Even if the bullpen staff is – so to speak – off the hook in the responsibility equation: are there no monitors? Are there no coaches who don’t think Jason Motte and Lance Lynn aren’t the same guy just because they both have beards? Did we really luck out last night because Bruce Sutter didn’t find himself warming up? LaRussa and Dave Duncan never noticed the wrong pitcher was throwing? When it was shown on tv? The second time?
If all of these questions are legitimate, there should have been people fired this morning, LaRussa included. My guess is the questions are not – they’re too amateurish to be believed of the worst manager in baseball, let alone LaRussa.
And if that’s true, it raises two more and far more disturbing questions: why is LaRussa lying and what really happened?
What? You want to know about the Albert Pujols “I called the hit-and-run then chose not to swing” fantasy? Don’t get me started. Let’s just chalk that one up to extra-terrestrials.
We will never know what would’ve followed: Adrian Beltre could have popped up on the next pitch, or homered igniting a 15-run rally, or torn his ACL running out a grounder, or anything in between.
But replays, taking less than sixty seconds of real time to watch, showed conclusively that Beltre fouled a ball off his foot with one out in the ninth against Jason Motte of the Cardinals in Game One of the 2011 World Series, and, unfortunately, home plate umpire Jerry Layne missed it, and called Beltre out on a grounder to third.
There has got to be a way to make those replays useful in the process by which the toughest calls, requiring the keenest judgment and the most chances to get them right, do not become unfortunate shadows on critical games – especially ones as well played as this Series opener.
I’m not calling for mandatory replay, just what I asked for after the heartbreaking screwup by Jim Joyce that cost Armando Galarraga his perfect game in 2010: some kind of option that lets the umps utilize the staggering advances in technology that appear on the scene every year. I know that the Airport Screening Cam added tonight by Fox looked hysterically funny and even grotesquely retro – but why not utilize it? You can go with an umpire’s option to check a replay himself, or a seventh ump in the booth with a replay array, even something that requires the replay review be completed in 90 seconds, or anything you like, but let’s get the right call made, as often as possible.
And I’m sorry, I don’t buy the “human element” argument in the least. Can anybody argue that tennis has been adversely affected since the electronic systems started determining baseline calls, rather than the imperfect ruling of an official too far away to see it clearly? I honor the umpires and think them among the most noble figures in the game, and agree that nobody’s perfect nor should be expected to be. But these aren’t arguments against improved and increased replay use – they’re arguments for it. Let’s give them every tool, and stop making them feel ashamed or incompetent if they choose to use them.
If it’s at all possible, I don’t want to know what an umpire thought happened. I want to know what happened.
The Beltre play may have been decisive, or it may have been trivial. But with a batter incapable of faking a wince fast enough on a ball off his foot, plus Beltre’s not running to first, plus the likelihood that only contact with an uneven, hard surface such as the front of his shoe could have made a ball angling so oddly off the bat then move on such a straight line to the third baseman, all the factors were present for exactly the kind of call the best of umpires should love to have a second look at, and all the technology is now available to get that second look accomplished in literally seconds.