Twins manager Rocco Baldelli on call that helped Blue Jays win: ‘I think it was unfortunate’

The Blue Jays beat the Twins 3-2 in 10 innings on Sunday. The play that ended up being the game-winning RBI for Cavan Biggio — scoring newly acquired Blue Jay Whit Merrifield — was the source of much controversy, leading to plenty of choice words from the Twins, particularly manager Rocco Baldelli.

First, the play by play does not do the game justice. Now it just reads, “Bijo hits a sacrifice fly to left, Merrifield scores.” It was much more than that.

In fact, the fielding was originally an inning-ending double play. There was one out with Merrifield on third. Biggio flied out and Merrifield, after scoring, was picked off at home on a close play. It was close enough to get a review and the league overturned the call, ruling that Twins catcher Gary Sanchez had improperly interfered with Merrifield’s scoring chances.

Here’s the best view:

The overhead view very clearly shows Sanchez applying the tag to Merrifield before home plate is touched. We should all agree with that.

However, the call was canceled based on the number blocking rule. Note that the umpires at Target Field here were simply following the ruling given by the league’s replay center in New York. That’s how it goes.

Here is the relevant part of the rule:

The catcher is not allowed to block the runner’s path to the plate unless in possession of the ball, although blocking the runner’s path in a legal attempt to get a throw is not considered a foul. The runner may be declared safe if the umpire determines that the catcher has violated this rule. But under a September 2014 memorandum to the rule, the runner can still be called out if he was clearly beaten by the throw. Reverse stops are not subject to this rule on power plays.

When receiving a throw, catchers often provide a sliding strip at home plate for the runner to reduce the possibility of being called out for breaking the rule.

Major League Baseball offered an explanation for that particular call Sunday after the game:

The catcher’s movements in foul territory were not in reaction to the trajectory of the throw and he did not have to be in that position to receive the ball.

The catcher’s actions while not in possession of the ball hindered and hindered the runner.

Baldelli immediately challenged the umpires on the field and, frankly, got his money’s worth for the ejection. He wasn’t done. After the game, he had some harsh words about the call (via Bally Sports North).

“This play has not been called since the start of the replay more than a few times. In all of baseball, the thousands and thousands of plays and home runs where the catcher actually blocks the plate — over and over and over again — that play has virtually never been called,” Baldelli said. “For somebody to step in, in that situation, and end up deciding that it blocks the scoreboard, it’s beyond embarrassing for our game, for all the players on both sides of the court working their ass off, for the whole game, this is completely unacceptable.

“I can’t even believe I’m sitting here talking to you about this right now. I think that’s one of the worst times we’ve ever seen an umpire in a game that I’ve ever been a part of in baseball. I think what just played out was unfortunate. I could go on and on about this. The referees on the pitch have nothing to do with it. They made a play on the field that was the right decision, which every person in all of baseball, including the umpires, knows is the right decision, and somebody in New York decided that it was worth overturning on the field.”

The loss moves the Twins to 57-51 on the season, still good enough for first place in the AL Central. Both the Rangers and White Sox won on Sunday, however, meaning the Twins’ lead is cut to one game over the Rangers with the White Sox just two games back.

The Blue Jays’ win moves them to 60-48, which has them holding onto the top wild card spot in the AL. They also moved within single digits of the Yankees in the AL East, now trailing by 9 1/2 games.

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