To be a Washington Nationals fan in October is to know true pain. The team proved that again in 2017 with another brutally painful loss to the Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
With each crushing loss, Nationals fans need more time to deal with the anguish. It’s been weeks since Game 5 now, and the wounds are finally starting to heal.
Well … until Thursday.
Major League Baseball’s chief baseball officer Joe Torre admitted that the umpires blew a huge call in Game 5 that could have completely altered the result of the game. It took place in the disastrous fifth inning, which saw the Nationals surrender four runs and give up the lead with Max Scherzer on the mound.
With two runs already in, and the Cubs leading 5-4, Javier Baez stepped to the plate with two outs. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Baez struck out swinging, but the ball got away from catcher Matt Wieters. Baez reached first on a passed ball, and Addison Russell scored from third to extend the Cubs lead.
However, replays showed that Baez made contact with Wieters on his backswing. According to the rule book, Baez should have been ruled out and the ball should have been dead.
I don't want to be an alarmist, but… it would appear they seriously messed that up. pic.twitter.com/0aABJlzGkC
— Jeff Long (@JeffLongBP) October 13, 2017
That didn’t happen. Baez was awarded first. Russell was allowed to score. And the Nationals would give up one more run in the inning to go down 7-4. While the team attempted to claw its way back, it came up a run short in the 9-8 loss.
Torre appeared on SiriusXM to talk with Chris Russo, and admitted the umps screwed up that call.
“You know, the whole rule interpretation — there’s rules, and then there’s instructions to the umpires,” Torre began. “There’s separate books. And what [umpire Jerry Layne’s] feeling was, that the interference didn’t take precedent over the fact that the ball was already past [Wieters] when the contact took place.
“However, the rule states — and you probably have read the rule — that when contact is made — in other words, when the bat came around and hit the catcher’s mask — it’s a dead ball,” Torre went on. “It’s a dead ball. And that’s the one thing that should have taken precedence.”
And just like that, Nationals fans had a lot of old wounds burst open.
Had the call been ruled correctly at the time, the game would have changed drastically. Baez would have been ruled out, Russell would not have been allowed to score and the inning would have ended. The Cubs still would have had the lead, but they would have only been up 5-4 at the time. The Nationals could have rallied back and won the game.
“And again, the manager — Dusty [Baker] in this case — he could have gone, which we remind the managers,” Torre went on. “If you’ve got a question, a rule question — not a judgment question but a rule question — if you don’t like what the umpire’s telling you, ask him for a rules check. And they can do that. They can go to the replay center on the headset and check a rule.”
To be fair, we’re not sure we’ve seen many managers ask for rule checks. Challenges, yes. Rule checks? A lot less common. Plus, the rule in question is slightly obscure. Maybe Baker should have known that and asked the umps to re-evaluate the play. Maybe no other manager in baseball would have known to do it … we don’t know.
We also don’t know if the Nationals would have truly been able to come back and win the game. The whole thing would have been different, so you can’t expect them to rally in the sixth, seventh and eighth.
But we do know this: Given all we’ve seen from the Nationals in October, they probably would have found another unbelievably disastrous way to blow the game. It would have just added another level of misery to their already depressed fans. So … that’s the positive here, we guess.
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