Disputed call leads to renewed cries for replay


Disputed call leads to renewed cries for replay

ATLANTA (AP) The NFL replacement refs are not there to kick around anymore.

Not to worry.

A familiar target has emerged.

Instead of guys wearing stripes, it's the men in blue.

Major League Baseball found itself embroiled in another postseason maelstrom over umpires - and renewed calls for increased use of instant replay - after a disputed infield fly call led to mayhem in the stands in the one-game, winner-take-all playoff in Atlanta.

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Braves 6-3 on Friday, advancing to the division series against the Washington Nationals. But this landmark game - the debut of the wild-card playoff under baseball's expanded postseason format - will long be remembered for a ruling by Sam Holbrook in the eighth inning.

Andrelton Simmons hit a pop fly that dropped safely in left field after a mix-up between two fielders, either able to have caught the ball easily. Holbrook ruled the batter out anyway under the infield fly rule. The fans at Turner Field went nuts, littering the field with beers cups, buckets of popcorn and anything else they could get their hands on, leading to a scary, 19-minute delay.

Almost as quickly as the field was covered in trash, there were immediate comparisons to the NFL's referee debacle. Someone at Turner Field even held up what was apparently a hastily crafted sign: ``Replacement Umps??''

Former Braves outfielder Dale Murphy, who won two MVP awards in the 1980s, weighed in on Twitter.

He wasn't alone.

``Oh my,'' Murphy wrote. ``Not believing this. Calls an infield fly when the ball is almost on the ground?''

``One game elimination and a call like that is made? Inexcusable,'' Oakland Athletics pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

``Wow. Infield fly on a 200 footer,'' added Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson.

Even out in San Francisco, where the Giants host Cincinnati in Game 1 of the NL's other division series on Saturday, the call in Atlanta had everyone's attention.

``I didn't know it was an infield fly,'' reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. ``I don't even know how an infield fly is an infield fly. I don't know where the line's drawn.''

Maybe that's even an issue for some folks at MLB.

Baseball's official Twitter site had a sentence in its profile that said ``We don't understand the infield fly rule, either.'' Sure, it was just somebody's attempt at humor, but that sentence was quietly zapped from the site as the trash was flying in Atlanta.

Indeed, this is no laughing matter, especially for the Braves.

Their season is over.

``This was an exciting game,'' said Joe Torre, who played and managed for both the Braves and Cardinals and now serves as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. ``I'm sorry about the controversy. It's certainly not something we ever plan on.''

Maybe they should.

This certainly wasn't the first time the umps have been at the center of a call that might've gone a different way with instant replay - though, in this case, Holbrook said he was ``absolutely'' sure he made the right ruling even after looking at the video.

From Doug Eddings' noncall on an apparent strike three by the Los Angeles Angels in the 2005 AL championship series to Tim McClelland blatantly missing a clear double play by those same Angels in the 2009 ALCS to Ron Kulpa blowing a tag on a Cardinals runner in last year's World Series, this has become a rite of October.

Even the Braves had been through this before. During their last playoff appearance two years ago, San Francisco's Buster Posey was called safe on a steal of second when everyone in the stadium knew he had been tagged by Atlanta's Brooks Conrad. Everyone, except the one guy who mattered - umpire Paul Emmel. Posey wound up scoring the only run of the game, and the Giants went on to take the divisional series.

``I guess it's a good thing we don't have instant replay right now,'' Posey conceded at the time.

The question that was as relevant then as it is today: Why not?

After years of resistance by Commissioner Bud Selig and his predecessors, baseball conceded to limited use of instant replay late in the 2008 season, to deal with whether a home run was fair or foul, the ball actually cleared the wall, or there was fan interference. Plenty of people are saying it's time to go to the monitor a lot more often.

Torre, who has become baseball's point man on the hot-button issue, isn't so sure.

``There's been an outcry for replay,'' he said. ``To me, it's always the play that happened yesterday. That's what people want replayed, whether it's a tag at the plate, coming off the bag at first, whatever it is. We're certainly looking at expanding replay, but we're making sure if we do expand it through the technology that it makes sense for baseball.

``Baseball has been controversial for a long time,'' Torre went on. ``But I think controversy is what we do because the game is not perfect, the players make errors, the hitters strike out, the home team wants certain things to go certain ways.''

The infield fly is a complicated but routinely used rule designed to help the hitting team. If there are at least two runners on and less than two outs, an umpire will routinely signal an automatic out on a pop-up to an infielder, largely to prevent him from dropping the ball intentionally to set up a double play, since the runners must stay close to bases to keep from getting doubled off.

At issue was whether Holbrook, who wasn't even an infield umpire (he was working the left-field line as part of the expanded six-man crews used in the postseason), should have made the call on a ball that went far beyond the dirt - at least 75 feet, maybe longer. That's not really an issue under the rule, which doesn't place any limitations on where the call is made. There were even quips about future calls being made on the warning track if a team has an especially speedy infielder.

The debate largely centered on Holbrook's contention that rookie shortstop Pete Kozma was in position to make the play, which is when the ump's arm went up - right as Kozma veered out of the way, thinking left fielder Matt Holliday had called him off, and ball dropped in the grass. Apparently, Holbrook made the split-second judgment that Kozma was settling under the ball, when he was actually changing directions to get out of Holliday's way.

Clearly, it was a fielding blunder.

``I was under it,'' Kozma said. ``I should have made the play. I took my eyes off it.''

Was it an umpiring blunder, as well?

Holbrook doesn't think so, and he got support from the guys who matter most - Torre and umpiring supervisor Charlie Reliford.

``It's all judged on what the fielder does,'' Holbrook said. ``Once that fielder establishes himself and he has ordinary effort on the ball, that's when the call is made. So it wouldn't matter whether it was third base or on the line out there. It's all based on what the fielder does. That's what I went on, that's what I read.''

But, after the ugly spectacle in Atlanta, baseball must surely take another look at using replay to make sure what umps see in real time is actually what happened.

Maybe it can take a cue from the NFL, which got itself in a mess by locking out the regular referees for the first three weeks of the season in a contract dispute. After all sorts of questionable calls by the less-experienced replacements - most notably, an obvious interception that was ruled a game-winning touchdown in Seattle's victory over Green Bay - the league hastily worked out a new labor deal and rushed back its regulars.

Certainly, if baseball sticks with this new playoff system for the wild-card teams - a sort of October Madness that settles a 162-game regular season with a single one-and-done game - there could be more outbursts like the one at Turner Field.

``Fans get frustrated,'' said Affeldt, the Giants reliever. ``That's the thing about a one-game playoff. It's going to be intense for the fans as well. It's do-or-die. They can get mad.''


AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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3 stars of the game: A lethargic loss in Philadelphia


3 stars of the game: A lethargic loss in Philadelphia

Playing three games in four days takes a toll on even the fittest athletes, and it was their sluggish start that doomed the Capitals in a 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. 

After being noncomittal about his starting goalie all weekend, Coach Barry Trotz put Philipp Grubauer in net. Grubauer ended up making 29 saves on 34 shots. Offensively, the Caps got goals from Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, and John Carlson. Carlson's third period goal cut the Flyers' lead to two with a little over three minutes to go, but a Jakub Voracek empty-netter a few moments later was the nail in the coffin. 

Here are your three stars from the game: 

1. Travis Boyd had the play of the game for the Capitals. Boyd carried the puck into the Flyer's zone, cut through multiple defenders and fired a slick shot to a streaking Ovechkin, who burried the puck in the back of the net. Check it out: 

Not only was the play nice on its own, but it was Boyd's first NHL point. Not a bad way to get it. 

2. Shayne Gostisbehere​ got the Flyers going with his goal in the first period. The defenseman had one goal on five shots along with being an intimidating force in the defensive zone. After going six weeks without scoring, today's goal was Gostisbehere's second goal in three games. 

3. Wayne Simmonds was the best offensive player on the ice on Sunday, scoring twice - both in the final period. It was the 22nd and 23rd goals of the season for the 29-year-old winger. It was also the first multi-goal game for Simmonds since Opening Night, when he had two against San Jose. 

The Caps hit the ice next on Tuesday, when they welcome the Dallas Stars to the Capital One Center. 

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The 2018 salaries of five Redskins become fully guaranteed today

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The 2018 salaries of five Redskins become fully guaranteed today

It may be the 18th of March but today could be like Christmas for five Redskins players.

The Redskins decided to use today, four days after the start of the league year, for some contract triggers. In this case, the triggers are all 2018 salary guarantees (some teams will pay out roster bonuses on trigger dates, but the Redskins rarely use that type of structure).

Here are the players whose have guarantees that kick in today 4 p.m. All data is via Over the Cap.


CB Josh Norman, base salary of $13.5 million becomes fully guaranteed—This was a window for the Redskins to move on from Norman if they were not happy with his performance after two seasons. He is 31 and he had no interceptions last season, leaving some to wonder if the Redskins might think about releasing him. But it never was a consideration.

TE Jordan Reed, $8 million of his $8.25 million salary becomes fully guaranteed—No, I’m not sure why they are leaving that $250,000 out there non-guaranteed. Fans thought that the Redskins might move on from Reed due to his injury issues. But, as with Norman, it never was a consideration.

S D.J. Swearinger, $3 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—This is a mere technicality, Swearinger wasn’t going anywhere after helping to solidify the safety position.


RB Chris Thompson, $1.996 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—His rehab is going well and after last year Thompson’s two-year, $7 million contract extension signed last September looks like a good deal for the team.

DE Terrell McClain, $3.25 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—If the Redskins sign a top free agent D-lineman or draft on early in the draft they could be in a numbers crunch. That new acquisition would be guaranteed a roster spot along with Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Stacy McGee, and Anthony Lanier. That makes five and the Redskins kept six last year. Ziggy Hood is a favorite of the coaching staff but he has no guaranteed money left on his contract. That could tip the sixth spot in favor of McClain if he is on the roster at the close of business today. If they release McClain after today, they would take a cap charge of over $2 million. It seems unlikely that anything will happen but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.