In baseball, it has long been said that a "tie goes to the runner" when it comes to a bang-bang play at a base. In the 2012 MLB Playoffs, however, "better late than never" seems to be the latest unwritten rule of the basepaths.
San Francisco Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco was on first base in the 8th inning when Brandon Crawford drove a ball deep to center field. As is his habit, Jon Jay made a breathtaking grab, robbing Crawford of a base hit. Confident that the ball was going to drop, Blanco had turned the corner at second and was on his way to third when he realized Jay had made the catch. Re-touching second and making his way back to first, Blanco seemed sure to be doubled off. Jay's throw to first baseman Allen Craig pulled him a bit off the bag but it clearly beat Blanco, who tried avoiding the tag and diving for the base. By the time that Blanco hit the ground there was just one question being asked by many baseball fans.
Was Blanco out by way of the tag or because he left the baseline?
The answer delivered by first base umpire Bill Miller? "SAFE!"
Although Miller seemed in prime position to make this call, he whiffed on it. Even worse, the umpiring crew affirmed his ruling after huddling up. As has been the case with these blown calls throughout the postseason, the time needed to have a replay official overturn the decision would have been far less than it took the umps to conference and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and his players to argue their case.
A second look at the replay even shows that Miller ruled "safe" before Blanco eventually tagged the base. Even if he had avoided the tag then he still wasn't safe at the point that Miller emphatically spread his arms.
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE PICTURES FROM THE PLAY
The New York Yankees were on the wrong end of a similar bad call (although that play occurred at second base) in Game 2 of the ALCS. In both cases, the umpire got himself into the correct position but was unable to make the correct call. Noting the effort it took for umpire Jeff Nelson to get into position on that controversial ALCS call, Yankees manager Joe Girardi didn't find fault with him. Rather, he called out MLB for not using replay to assist the umpires who are "under tremendous amount of pressure."
"It takes more time for me to argue and get upset than [if] you get the call right, Girardi lamented after that game. "There's just too much at stake. I mean, we played 235 days to get to this point."
At least his team, had the chance to return to Yankee Stadium for Game 2 after that play cost his team. The Atlanta Braves weren't so lucky after a controversial "infield fly" call by Sam Holbrook short-circuited a rally in the one-game Wild Card playoff versus the Cardinals. Fans rained trash on the field after the call, delaying the game.
After that game, the umpires and MLB defended Holbrook's "judgement call" on the infield fly rule being invoked so far into the outfield. There is no such gray area when it comes to these two safe/out plays on the bases. These were blown calls, plain and simple.
"The sad part about it is umpires, players, managers, they are all human. And it happens," MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations (and former Yankees skipper) Joe Torre said after hearing Girardi's call for replay, via The Associated Press. "Certainly we don't mean for it to happen. And the umpires, you have to be in that room to appreciate how the effect it has on an umpire that missed a call, especially in postseason, where obviously the chips are on the table."
If these mistakes are inevitable as Torre suggets and if the umps take them hardest of all then wouldn't Miller, Nelson and Holbrook ultimately be relieved to have the chance to get the call right?
LOOK: Here are several images from the play courtesy of the AP photographers on the scene at AT&T Park.
Blanco ranges to his left (out of the baseline?) as Craig dives for him.
Craig gets closer, seemingly within reach..
And he's got him.
Of course, Blanco didn't even reach the bag with his first dive..
So this should have been an easy call..