Baseball games should not be decided on non-baseball plays

Confession – I don’t handle October baseball very well. Every pitch being do-or-die is both exhilarating and exhausting. The highs are oh-so-high, but the lows. Man. The lows. And the crushing finality of that last out in an elimination game. It’s like we were all on that train that Bryce Harper said was coming after Game 3, but instead of going to LA, we just slammed into an ivy-covered brick wall. And that’s it. We’re just supposed to pick up the pieces of our shattered souls and wait for next season (167 days, for anyone counting).

I wish I had some magical words to say to make everyone feel better, but I don’t. I’m sitting in a Starbucks wrapped in my Jayson Werth t-shirt and yoga pants, because I couldn’t bring myself to put real pants on today, crying into my hot chocolate. Luckily, everyone here has their face stuck in their phones, so I don’t think anyone is noticing my tears. In times like these, I often think of a Psalm – though we may weep tonight, joy cometh in the morning. It’s gonna be a long, dark night, y’all.

A lot can be said about how or why this NLDS loss happened. The bats were anemic through most of the series, and there were defensive lapses throughout. In Game 5, it seemed like everything that could go wrong, did. Jayson lost a ball in the lights at the worst possible time. Max was very un-Max in his relief appearance after getting the first two outs with relative ease. Matt Wieters couldn’t seem to stop a ball from getting past him, and he managed to get called for catcher interference. The umps apparently were unfamiliar with the entirety of the baseball rulebook, and they ignored the fact that Javy Baez’s passed-ball strikeout should have been a dead ball, as he nailed Wieters in the head with his backswing. (Fun fact – baseball reference said that in the in the 2.73 million half innings in their database, never has an intentional walk, passed-ball strikeout, catcher’s interference, and hit by pitch happened in the same one. Only 22 innings have included 3 of those, and only 5 games have had all four happen. Don’t we feel special now??) Both the umpires on the field and the review team in New York didn’t seem to want to enforce the Utley slide rule, which prevented an inning-ending double play from being turned. Oh, and the Nats managed to strand approximately 2035702349 baserunners in the game.

All of this could give armchair managers an entire offseason worth of fodder. However, I want to talk about something different. Backup catcher Jose Lobaton was double-switched into the game when Ryan Madson came in to relieve Sammy Solis after he gave up 2 hits with just one out in the 7th. In the 8th, the Nats were putting together a bit of a rally. Daniel Murphy led off the inning with a walk, and went to 2nd when Cubs closer Wade Davis walked Anthony Rendon behind him. Adam Lind pinch-hit for Madson, and unfortunately grounded into a double play, however Murphy went to 3rd. Michael A. Taylor continued his awesome streak, and brought him home on an RBI single. Lobi, who has at best struggled at the plate this season, came through with a single to put MAT into scoring position. The Nats were now within 1 run of the Cubs, and had the top of their order coming to the plate. Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras noticed Lobi was a touch far from the bag, and rifled a throw to first baseman and feeler of disrespect Anthony Rizzo. Lobi managed to beat the throw back to the base, however the Cubs chose to challenge the call. New York called him out because his foot lost contact with the bag by about an inch for a fraction of a second, which was only visible on super slow-motion replay. The call on the field was overturned, and the inning ended with the tying run stranded at 2nd base.

This is ridiculous. Yes, technically, Lobi was out because he was off the bag while Rizzo maintained the tag on him. But come on. This is not in the spirit of the rule, and it is not what replay was intended for. Lobi beat the throw, but was called out on a technicality that was only visible on slow-mo replay. This is not ok.

When you have big bodies running around at high speeds, this kind of stuff happens because of simple physics. A team shouldn’t be rewarded for physics when it has nothing to do with the skill of any of the players on the field. This isn’t something that guys can improve upon with practice or increased athletic skill. This also seems to encourage head-first dives towards the bag, which increases the chance of player injury (how many guys do we see running the bases with their own Zimmermits to protect their hands?). Something needs to be done about this rule, and it needs to happen this offseason. If the baserunner beats the throw and doesn’t overslide the bag, or if he uses an amazingly athletic move to swim around a tag, he’s safe. Period. This is the kind of stuff fans want to see anyway, and I have to believe it’s what the players want, too. No guy is going to brag “yeah, man, his foot popped up for a fraction of a second, and we got him!” If someone overslides the bag, then he’s out. Victor Robles on his first major league hit overslid 3rd base and didn’t get back in time, and he was called out, as he should have been. Lobi beat that throw and physics caused his foot to pop up for a millisecond. That is just wrong, and it’s something that shouldn’t even be reviewable. (Bonus, this should pick up pace of play because it’ll eliminate something New York has to look at.) This is such a simple fix, too. Say that if you can’t see a loss of contact with the bag in real-time, then he’s safe. Or, even better, say that if they’re still over the bag, then they’re safe. Kind of like the idea of the cylinder and basket interference in basketball. If they’re within a certain area, then it’s fine.

Baseball games should not be decided on non-baseball plays, and this one potentially was. It was late in the game, and the Nats had some momentum. Maybe Trea Turner would have grounded out, and it wouldn’t have mattered. But maybe he would have hit a double, scoring at least one run. We’ll never know, because replay robbed the team, the fans, and baseball of the chance for the competition on the field to decide the outcome of the game, the series, and to potentially re-write the Nationals postseason story. Those are major ramifications for Lobi losing contact with the bag for a fraction of a second, and it’s just not right. Fix the rule, MLB. Let’s let the play on the field decide if it’s going to be a W or a Curly W that is flown at the end of the night.

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