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‘A pretty big swing moment': Breaking down a game-changing overturn of a blown call

10.24.13 at 2:55 am ET
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Off the bat, it seemed like it might be two outs. Then it was ruled one out. And then overruled to be no outs.

The biggest swing moment of Game 1 of the World Series undoubtedly took place in the bottom of the first inning. With runners on first and second, David Ortiz got jammed on a 92 mph cutter and rolled it to second baseman Matt Carpenter. Carpenter struggled for an instance to get a grip on the ball before he flipped it to shortstop Pete Kozma. While the feed was true, the ball ended up on the ground.

Kozma knew what had happened.

I just missed it,” the shortstop rued. “Carpenter made a good feed and I just didn’t get my glove on it.”

But second base umpire Dana DeMuth ruled that Kozma had lost the handle on the ball only after securing the ball for a force out. The Sox, however, felt confident that Kozma had closed his glove too soon, with the ball never making it inside and instead kicking off the tip of the glove.

Dustin Pedroia, who had been ruled out at second, lodged the first protest.

“I just slid in there and I thought [the drop] wasn’t on the transfer,” Pedroia said. “I saw what everyone else did. I said, ‘He dropped it.’ He said, ‘No, it was on the transfer.’ I just said, ‘OK.’ It’s not my job to argue.”

It is, however, the job of manager John Farrell to do just that. And so, he jogged from the Red Sox dugout to talk to DeMuth and to ask him to confer with his peers.

“I thought from the dugout view it was pretty clear that that ball just tipped off the fingertips of his glove,” Farrell said. “I think we’re fully accepting of the neighborhood play, but my view is that it wasn’t even that. There was really no entry into the glove with the ball.”

DeMuth was open-minded about doing just that. He acknowledged that his vision was focused not on the ball in the glove but rather in making sure that Kozma’s foot stayed on second base for the force out. Thus, he didn’t have a good read on whether the Cardinals shortstop actually caught the ball.

“It was my call. I stayed with the foot too long is how I ended up getting in trouble. When I was coming up, all I could see was a hand coming out and a ball on the ground,” said DeMuth. “I was focused on the bag and used my peripheral vision to see the ball go in heel or hit the glove. When the ball hit the glove, then in my peripheral vision, I’m looking up and the ball was down. … I was saying that he was in the exchange and he was out right there. Then with our crew signals, I had crewmates that were giving me the signal that they were 100 percent sure … that they had it and I had the wrong call.”

“He looks up,” explained crew chief and home plate ump John Hirschbeck, “and he knows by having several umpires standing around him that we want to — there’s something there. We want to get it right.”

The group convened for a brief discussion.

“We started with each guy, ‘What do you have? A hundred percent?’ Each guy said, ‘I’m a hundred percent.’ When they got to me, I said, ‘I’m a hundred percent, too,’ ” said Hirschbeck. “As a crew we want to get everything right. We want to be perfect in our job. Whatever base we are on, wherever we’re working, something that doesn’t happen, but the ultimate thing is we want to get the play right.”

The conversation was a disconcerting one for DeMuth to hear. But he recognized it was an important one.

“It’s an awful feeling, especially when I’m sure that I had the right call,” said DeMuth. “But I’ve got to be a team here and get the right call. Definitely get the right call. When I see that — it’s an awful feeling.”

Yet it was the right call. And so, as mortified as DeMuth felt, it was Cardinals manager Mike Matheny who likely felt an even stronger response when the call was reversed, and Pedroia — who had retreated to the Sox dugout — was sent back to second base.

“That’s not a play I’ve ever seen before. And I’m pretty sure there were six umpires on the field that had never seen that play before, either. It’s a pretty tough time to debut that overruled call in the World Series,” said Matheny. “Now, I get that trying to get the right call, I get that. [But] tough one to swallow.”

The impact was considerable. While the Cardinals hadn’t been able to turn two to get out of the first inning, the out at second would have given them runners on the corners with two outs in a scoreless tie. Instead, St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright was left to face Mike Napoli without benefit of a safety net — bases loaded, one out, trying to make the perfect pitch but unable to try to expand the strike zone too aggressively for fear of walking in a run.

Wainwright fell behind, 2-0, and had no choice but to attack the strike zone with a fastball in a fastball count. Napoli was ready and clubbed it to left-center for a bases-clearing, three-run double that gave the Sox a 3-0 lead from which they would never look back. As has been the case throughout the postseason, the Red Sox recognized the cracking of a door of opportunity in the form of the error and came crashing through it.

“It is a pretty big swing moment, even though you’re not fully expecting something like that in the first inning,” noted Farrell. “Instead of it being a two’€‘out situation with runners on first and third, we’re in a bases’€‘loaded situation, where there’s not a whole lot of margin for error in terms of the strike zone, and the ability to possibly have Wainwright expand the zone on Napoli. Fortunately he gets into a 2’€‘0 count and the three’€‘run double, it is a big moment. And we’re able to capitalize on the mistake. And I think we’ve seen that when you give a team extra outs, as good as the teams you’re going to play this late in the season, it can come back to haunt you.”

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