The Folly of the 1 Game Playoff

Sep 30, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin traps a ball hit by Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Delmon Young (not pictured) during the seventh inning at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Last night gave us the second year in a row in which the outcome of a single-elimination game could have been altered by the incorrect judgment call of an umpire.

The box score shows a fairly innocuous entry to end the top of the 7th inning:  “D Young lined out to center.”  Somehow it figures that Delmon Young would be involved, but I digress.

Last year, the Braves hopes of a rally were dashed as Andrelton Simmons was declared out via the Infield Fly rule on a misplayed ball to shortish left field.  This year, it was a fairly obviously trapped ball “caught” by Leonys Martin.

On the play, Wunderkid Wil Myers was already moving, since there were already two outs on the board.  He would have easily scored on the play – raising the Rays’ lead to 5-2. Evan Longoria probably ends up at third base, setting up David DeJesus for yet another run-scoring opportunity.  The inning clearly would have been changed had the correct call been made.

Martin, for his part, did a great “sell” job on the play – and he might have actually believed that he caught it, too.  Replays were conclusively contrary to that.  And twitter kind of exploded:










With respect to both Tim Brown and Jon Morosi, this should have been a straight-forward call.  It wasn’t up to the foul-line umps to see this:  it was Tom Hallion’s call at second base.  It wasn’t about the angles, it was about seeing the ball and making the right call.  No member of that umpiring crew was willing to definitively say “I saw it – he trapped it.”  But for the baseball fan wanted to see all wrongs righted, Jayson Stark is right:  that’s not going to be a fixable situation – even with instant replay.  The reason for that is related to the after-effects of how all other players on the field – especially the base runners – react to a given play.

Let’s suppose that there had only been one out instead of two.  The runners would not have been moving on the crack of the bat.  On a trap, it is quite reasonably possible that Longoria could have been out at second base on a force play.  It would have been another judgment call to determine where to place Myers – third base or home.  And this was a fairly simple example.


It is for this kind of reason that the single-elimination game scenario is a bad idea in baseball.  It does not provide a true test of each team’s abilities – not when judgment calls are involved.  And unfortunately, we’re repeatedly seeing scenarios in which a single – bad – decision can adversely impact a game that each team has fought for six months to reach.  Braves fans know this all too well.  Rays fans could have shared this pain last night – they managed to overcome the error.


With all that said, our friend C.B. Bucknor is working this week -  fortunately for us, he’s doing the Oakland/Detroit series.  Wally Bell is working in St. Louis with the Wild Card winner – and that NL Wild Card game features umpire Joe West.  Good luck to those teams.

Oh:  the Dodgers and Braves get Laz Diaz.  We aren’t immune from dice-rolled decisions, either.


Topics: Atlanta Braves, Infield Fly, One-game Playoff, Playoffs, Umpires, Wild Card

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  • Matthew Jones

    Out of curiosity, are umpires in the playoffs based on seniority or something else? Because it does seem seniority is the basis to me. FWIW, Holbrook’s doing playoff baseball this year, too. Funny enough, Angel Hernandez somehow isn’t…

    • carpengui

      I *think* that playoff crews are assigned on a rotation basis for the first round. Best performers then go to the next round, then on to the World Series in like manner. I have been utterly unable to find anything in writing to confirm that, however.

      From the MLB Press Release:
      John Hirschbeck’s crew is assigned to the Los Angeles Dodgers-Atlanta Braves NLDS and is comprised of Laz Diaz, Marvin Hudson, Bill Miller, regular season crew chief Tim Welke and Hunter Wendelstedt.

      Hopefully Wendelstedt won’t get behind the plate. Diaz will be bad enough… anywhere on the field.

      For the record: Tom Hallion is _not_ given over to habitually bad calls… he seems to be considered to be one of the good guys. But he did miss that one last night.

    • fireboss

      I heard an interview that said the crews were chosen by umpire rating which of course we do not see for the championship and world series. I’m looking into umpire tendencies and will see if I can kidnap and interrogate someone who can help answer this more completely

      • carpengui

        Guess we’re gonna have to attend that ‘plausible deniability’ refresher course now. Dang.

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