Collision or obstruction? There is an excellent chance that the A’s and the Angels will play down to the final weekend of the season before deciding the American League West.
If that’s the case, I wouldn’t want to be umpire Greg Gibson, whose call against the A’s forced Oakland to play Thursday’s game under protest. If the protest isn’t upheld and the A’s finish one game behind, or even in a tie with, the Angels, Gibson will have had as much impact on the race as any player on either team.
The A’s see it as a potential win denied them, the Angels winning 4-3 in 10 innings. The A’s need all the wins they can get at this time of the season, and being denied one could be the difference between winning the division and advancing to a five-game division series or winning a wild card berth and having to win one game for the right to advance or be eliminated.
To reconstruct the play, quick Angels’ shortstop Erick Aybar opened the bottom of the ninth inning with a high chopper that was so routine either first baseman Brandon Moss or pitcher Dan Otero could have fielded it. Otero did, bumping Moss in the process.
Aybar, with nowhere to go, collided with Otero. It seemed like a simple call. Batter hits ball. Fielder catches ball. Fielder tags batter/runner (and collides with him). Batter/runner is out.
Gibson, the home plate umpire Thursday night, didn’t hold with that. He ruled that Moss, who never touched Aybar and who never fielded the ball, was guilty of obstruction. It seemed an odd call, and A’s manager Bob Melvin raced out to protest. Gibson said it was a judgment call, and baseball’s long-standing history is that judgment calls can’t be reviewed the way a play at the plate or a home run call can be.
So the A’s did the only thing they could do. They played the game under protest.
The Major League front office will now get the hot potato and will have to rule on the legitimacy of the A’s claim. Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia said the play should stand because the runner has to have a clear access to first base, and between Otero and Moss, there was no such clear lane.
The A’s see it entirely differently. They contend that Moss couldn’t be guilty of obstruction because he never touched Aybar. Oakland contends further that Aybar was running out of the base line at the time Otero caught the ball and that once Otero had made the catch, Aybar ran at him, presumably trying to knock the ball loose.
“I was lost, because I was shocked that he was calling obstruction on either me or Dan, because I know who hit me, and it was Dan,’’ Moss said. “It was not Aybar. I didn’t really know what to say, because I don’t know how that rule is interpreted, but I know neither one of us were in his baseline. I know that.’’
The third party in all this, the umpiring crew, said through crew chief Gerry Davis that Gibson’s decision was a judgment call and that judgment calls are inviolate. Davis wouldn’t talk about the merits of either case because his job, and that of Gibson, will be to talk to the MLB front office.
“He (Gibson) said he had to have a clear lane to the base, but (Aybar) was way out of the base line,’’ Melvin said. “Then he went to try and make contact with the fielder. So hopeful it’s upheld.’’
Knowing the way baseball handles protests, I think it’s a long shot that the A’s would be successful. But that’s not to say I think the Oakland case is weak. Au contraire. It seems to me that the scene played out very much the way the A’s describe it and it’s only baseball’s habit of pushing all but the most egregious rules violations under the rug that would deny the A’s a chance to pick the game up from that point, with one out and no one on base in the ninth.
Rule 4:19 of baseball’s rule book explains things this way: Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.
Moss believes deeply that the A’s cause is just because Otero might well have finished out the inning instead of Melvin turning Fernando Abad and Ryan Cook to get out of a jam.
“I do,’’ he said. “We lost the game, but I feel that way, because with one out and nobody on, it changes the dynamic of the way the game is played from that point on, and it changes where we are in the (Angels’) lineup starting the next inning.
“It changes a lot of things. We don’t use Abad maybe. We might not bring in Cookie. We might just stick with Otero. You don’t know. And all that (the 9th and 10th innings are) based on the leadoff hitter getting on.’’
Under baseball rules, the umpires were forbidden to view replay when it could have helped. I have no doubt that they’ll have viewed it many, many times before Friday’s second game of the series, because it’s their job to do so under a protest, and even if the hotel TV is turned to The Simpsons marathon, there will be a moment when that highlight will be shown.
It won’t be pleasant viewing for the umps, the least of all for Gibson.